Denmark’s unnecessary clash of civilizations
March 1st, 2013
11:55 AM ET

Denmark’s unnecessary clash of civilizations

By Fabrizio Tassinari and Mona Kanwal Sheikh, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Fabrizio Tassinari is Head of Foreign Policy Studies at the Danish Institute for International Studies. Mona Kanwal Sheikh is a post-doctoral researcher at the same institute. The views expressed are their own.

It may have escaped most people’s attention, but Denmark is in the midst of a clash of civilizations. And while it may not be an actual war, the perceived fight among some Danes is hardening the lines of conflict between Islam and the West.

It all started a few weeks ago, with a failed attempt to kill one of the country’s staunchest critics of Islam, Lars Hedegaard. Despite the fact that there still is no trace of the gunman, and that the police have not yet established the motive behind the incident, politicians from across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, quickly framed the tragic attack as a possible blow against the principle of freedom of expression.

Last Thursday, in a hastily arranged meeting at the country’s parliament, influential politicians and opinion makers echoed the view that free speech is under siege and needs to be defended.

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Topics: Immigration • Islam
Democracy best served diluted
February 27th, 2013
09:37 AM ET

Democracy best served diluted

By Madhav Nalapat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Madhav Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at Manipal University in India. The views expressed are his own.

Despite the 2008 economic crash and lingering possibility of a Eurozone collapse, the West still clings to its one-size-fits-all mentality – especially when it comes to political systems. Democracy is still almost inevitably defined in terms of the Western model, with periodic elections to choose representatives to a parliament or head of state. Local variants, such as Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga system, are dismissed as not really democratic. But this “universalization” of the Western approach – especially for countries embarking on the path of democratization – is misguided.

I was an early believer in the Middle East democracy project, with the caveat that first there needs to be a comprehensive reform of school curricula. The present fare offered to young minds, especially in Saudi Arabia, is a mishmash of confused ideas cloaked in theology. The result is that the education system fosters minds that are in many cases unable to properly grasp reality, ones that instead too often focus on vague concepts that get superimposed onto the real world. It’s little wonder that conspiracy theories are so prevalent in the region.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Human Rights • Islam • Saudi Arabia
What history can teach us about Islam and democracy
February 26th, 2013
11:03 AM ET

What history can teach us about Islam and democracy

By Nader Hashemi, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Nader Hashemi is director of the Center for Middle East Studies at University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. This opinion piece is in part based on a recent British Council policy brief. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

While the onset of the Arab Spring was widely celebrated in the West, the second anniversary of these democratic uprisings has been marked with waning optimism over the future of the Arab world. A recent Pew Research Poll revealed that nearly 60 percent of Americans do not believe that the changes in the Middle East will lead to lasting improvements for the people of the region. More than half of Americans polled, meanwhile, also believe it is more important to have stability in the Arab world, even if there is less democracy.

So what should the world’s expectations be? How should Western policymakers, intellectuals, and members of the public understand these developments? History should be our guide.

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Topics: History • Islam
Applebaum on Islam
January 2nd, 2013
07:52 AM ET

Applebaum on Islam

"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.

Fareed Zakaria speaks with Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, Anne Applebaum, about democracy and Islam.

When people look at the Middle East now, they’re struck by how difficult it is to build genuine democracy. And there’s some argument they don’t have the institutions. But I think there’s a lingering suspicion that they’re not part of the Western world. They haven’t had the history. And the contrast is often to Eastern Europe, and to 1989. And the idea is that that happened so easily that the Berlin Wall fell and, hey, presto, all these countries became good, solid democracies. Is that a fair reading?

It’s not really.  I mean, first of all, after ’89 was not so smooth. I mean though the countries that were communist before then had very different fates.  The fate of Poland and the fate of Albania and the fate of Russia are quite different. And so it was more in many cases, actually, the degree to which civil society in those societies had been maintained or had been reconstructed that made the big difference between how well they recovered.

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Topics: GPS Show • Islam
An Islamist Egypt inevitable? Not so fast
December 6th, 2012
01:31 PM ET

An Islamist Egypt inevitable? Not so fast

By Jonathan Adelman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.  The views expressed are his own.

The rapid rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt after the deposing of Hosni Mubarak last year prompted many observers to see an Islamist Egypt as inevitable. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood was the best organized and most popular political party in Egypt, the opposition was divided, there was little Western support for the secular opposition and the United States welcomed Muslim Brotherhood delegations to meet White House officials. Most recently, it worked openly with President Mohamed Morsy to achieve a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict. All this seemed to many to be a rough replay of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Yet, as the mass demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood recently in Tahrir Square and across Egypt have shown, an Islamic Egypt, while still likely, is far from inevitable.

Successful revolutions are usually led by charismatic leaders with strong political intuition – think Mao, Lenin, Tito, Castro and Ayatollah Khomeini. All personified their revolutions and drove the masses on to victory. But Morsy is no Ayatollah Khomeini, who embodied revolutionary mysticism and spent a lifetime steeped in political thought. The reality is that Morsy lacks charisma, and spent his life gaining a PhD and chairing an Egyptian engineering school until 2010. His abrupt and radical moves belie a lack of political savoir faire.

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Topics: Egypt • Iran • Iraq • Islam • Middle East
Freedom means being able to wear the veil, too
December 5th, 2012
04:26 PM ET

Freedom means being able to wear the veil, too

By Sahar Aziz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sahar Aziz is a fellow at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and an associate professor of Texas Wesleyan School of Law. She serves as the president of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association. The views expressed are her own.

In October, in a blatant act of discrimination, a Muslim woman wearing a veil in an Oklahoma bank was reportedly told she had to be escorted from the door to the teller. The Valley National Bank in Tulsa stated that this was not an act of religious discrimination, but rather part of their “no hat, no hood” policy instituted to allow security to clearly identify and take surveillance pictures of customers.

But as Executive Director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Adam Soltani said, "singling out Muslim women or other people of faith who wear religiously mandated head coverings that do not hinder identification is inappropriate and discriminatory."

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Topics: Islam • United States • Women
September 20th, 2012
05:43 PM ET

Rushdie: Unrest a product of the outrage machine

By Ashley Fantz, CNN

Watch Fareed Zakaria’s full interview with author Salman Rushdie on GPS, Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET

Manufactured outrage such as that seen in recent protests in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere is “much more prevalent and much more widespread” than it was when The Satanic Verses was published, the book’s author, Salman Rushdie, has told Fareed Zakaria.

Rushdie sparked controversy, and enraged Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in 1989 with his novel The Satanic Verses, a book widely praised by critics but condemned as blasphemous by Khomeini.

Back then, a fatwa was issued, and on Monday, Imam Hojatoleslam Hassan Sanei raised his little-known organization's original bounty on Rushdie by half a million dollars, to $3.3 million, according to Iran's Mehr news agency. Sanei’s organization, the 15th of Khordad Foundation, made news when it first offered its bounty, but it had in recent years largely faded from public view.

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Topics: India • Islam
September 20th, 2012
10:27 AM ET

A moment for moderates

By Fareed Zakaria

Watching the protests and associated violence spreading across the Muslim world in recent days, I couldn't help thinking, Where are you now, Wael Ghonim? Ghonim is, of course, the former marketing executive for Google who was catapulted onto the global stage in 2011 as one of the organizers of the opposition to Egypt's dictatorship. He became the hopeful face of the Arab Spring–young, hip, modern and passionate in the cause of freedom.

Where is he, and the thousands like him, now that freedom is under assault in Egypt again? Over the past few weeks, mobs have gathered to demand the death of a filmmaker–not really a filmmaker but a bigot who made a crude Internet video satirizing the Prophet Muhammad. It provided a pretext that radical Islamists in Egypt pounced on to advance their cause. But whatever the trumped-up origins of the protests, the question facing a number of newly minted democracies from Libya to Afghanistan is clear: With freedom challenged by the violence of mobs and the intolerance of masses, will anyone stand up to defend it?

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Topics: Islam
Health of Muslims, Arab Americans another victim of 9/11
September 11th, 2012
03:28 PM ET

Health of Muslims, Arab Americans another victim of 9/11

By Abdul El-Sayed & Aasim I. Padela, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Abdul El-Sayed  is an epidemiologist at Columbia University and a fellow at Demos. Aasim I. Padela is assistant professor and director of the Initiative on Islam and Medicine at the University of Chicago and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed are their own.

More than a decade after September 11, 2001 and we are only now really beginning to comprehend the health fallout from the terrorist attacks. The effects suffered by first-responders and those who lived in downtown New York City have become increasingly clear, and have rightly been the subject of much attention. Indeed, only yesterday it was announced that 58 cancers had been added to the list of illnesses covered in the wake of 9/11. Yet, the health fallout of 9/11 was not limited to those who were near the World Trade Center or the Pentagon that day.

Health researchers have been compiling a list of health problems that they believe are directly and indirectly connected to 9/11. There are, of course, the more obvious problems – physicians and epidemiologists have, for example, noted unusually high rates of uncommon cancers among 9/11 survivors and rescue personnel, while the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder have unsurprisingly been high since the tragedy, even among those who did not directly experience the trauma of those events.

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Topics: Health • Islam • September 11 • United States
Gulf union might do more harm than good
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, left, talks to King Hamad of Bahrain last month. Will the two countries form a partnership?
June 20th, 2012
08:06 AM ET

Gulf union might do more harm than good

Editor’s note: Geneive Abdo is director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington. The views in this article are solely those of Geneive Abdo.

By Geneive Abdo, Special to CNN

Ever since Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah proposed forming a political federation among the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the pros and cons have been fiercely debated across the Middle East.

For many Arabs in the region, particularly Shia communities in Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and particularly Bahrain, such a proposal suggests an attempt to form a dominant Sunni bloc that would tip the balance of power at a time when tensions are escalating between Shia and Sunni Muslims in the wake of the Arab uprisings.

Five countries in the GCC — Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — are Sunni-dominated societies. Only Bahrain, the sixth GCC country, has a Shia majority. With the sectarian conflict in Syria escalating and spilling over into Lebanon, the violent clashes between the two sects in Iraq, and the uprising in Bahrain by a predominantly Shia opposition, the proposed political federation is likely to enflame the regional conflict.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Bahrain • Iran • Islam • Middle East • Saudi Arabia
Islam’s place in Europe
In May, counter-demonstrators, above, stand near police barricades as a far-right, anti-Islam political party protests outside a mosque in Germany.
June 7th, 2012
01:36 PM ET

Islam’s place in Europe

Fareed Zakaria looks at how the immigration systems work – and don't work – in Japan, Europe, Canada and the U.S. in the TV special: "Global Lessons: The GPS Roadmap for Making Immigration Work" on CNN at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 10. Watch on CNN International on Saturday, June 16, at 4 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET

Editor's note: Jonathan Laurence is associate professor of political science at Boston College and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of "The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jonathan Laurence.

By Jonathan Laurence, Special to CNN

Last month saw a series of riots in Europe, not over the wobbly Euro, but instead over the integration of Muslim Europeans and immigrants. In Bonn, hundreds of German Muslims clashed with police in a violent reaction to a far-right political party’s anti-Muslim gathering. The angry young men who chanted “God is Great” while battling police in the streets have reignited the ongoing debate over Islam’s place in Europe, a debate which has risen to the top of many politicians’ concerns. The German president said in a newspaper interview that while German Muslims clearly “belong” to the country, it is less clear whether or not Islam does.

But something arguably much more meaningful, if less newsworthy, took place days later. Groups representing hundreds of thousands of German Muslims condemned the violence and called on constituents to fulfill the civic duty of voting in regional elections that month. FULL POST

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Topics: Europe • Global Lessons • Immigration • Islam
April 23rd, 2012
11:20 AM ET

Sharma: Deregulating Islam

Editor's Note: Throughout the week, Ruchir Sharma will be posting thought-provoking questions with answers and explanations on CNN.com/GPS.  Be sure to check out his excellent new book Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles.

By Ruchir Sharma - Special to CNN

Question: There are 15 members in the club of trillion-dollar economies. What are the next two countries that will join the club?

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Topics: Economy • Global • Ideas • Islam
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