Another Twist to the South China Sea Dispute

By Chris Lundry Various news organizations reported this week that both Vietnam and the Philippines are refusing to stamp new Chinese passports with a map of China’s claim to the entire South China Sea (VOA report here). India has joined the fray as well, angered because the map shows disputed parts of the Himalayas in Chinese possession as well. Although the dispute has simmered for years, with a status quo of unresolved competing claims and […] Read more »

What Can the U.S. Do in the South China Sea?

China appears increasingly strident in its foreign policy, unilaterally moving to assert control in the South China Sea. There are several actions the U.S. should take to ensure these disputes are resolved diplomatically. Read more »

How Muslims really think about Islam

I have been fascinated by some of the findings of a massive new Pew Research Center global public opinion survey of Muslims in 39 countries in every region of the world. Pew conducted 38,000 face-to-face interviews in more than 80 languages between 2008 and 2012. What makes The World's Muslims especially interesting is that it doesn't ask questions mainly of interest to Americans, such as how Muslims feel about America. Instead, it asks a series of questions about their own understanding of Islam and their own religious practices and beliefs. The findings reveal some really interesting differences across regions, countries, and generations. [[BREAK]]

For instance, the survey found a really disturbing and widespread belief in most Arab countries that Shias are not real Muslims. Interestingly, in Iraq (82 percent) and Lebanon (77 percent), countries with Shia majorities but notably torn by sectarian strife, Sunnis are significantly more likely to say that Shias are Muslims than are Muslims in Arab countries with small Shia populations. But 53 percent of Egyptians, 50 percent of Moroccans, 43 percent of Jordanians, and 41 percent of Tunisians -- all countries with very small Shia populations -- said that Shias are not Muslims. In Indonesia, 56 percent said they were "just a Muslim" and rejected identification as "Sunni."

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that the Middle East is being reshaped by a rising Islamist generation, Muslims older than 35 are significantly more religious than those under 35. They are more likely to pray several times a day, to attend mosque, to read the Quran daily, and to say religion is important in their lives. And the margins are pretty wide. In Morocco, the older generation is 19 points more likely to read the Quran daily; in Tunisia, the older generation is 17 points more likely to attend mosque once a week; in the Palestinian territories, the older generation is 23 points more likely to pray several times a day. This generational divide was the widest in the Middle East compared to any other region of the world.

Another interesting question had to do with the question of interpretation. Asked whether there was a single interpretation of Islam or multiple interpretations, more than 50 percent answered "single" in every African country surveyed, as did more than 69 percent of every Asian country. Seventy-eight percent of Egyptians and 76 percent of Jordanians said "single," but no other Arab country had more than 50 percent.

There's a lot more in this important and intriguing report. Anyone interested in how Muslims today think about their own religion should definitely check it out -- and also look for the second report focused on political and social issues promised for later this year.

Read more »

Wahhabi Perspectives on Pluralism and Gender: A Saudi – Indonesian Contrast

by Inayah Rohmaniyah & Mark Woodward In public discourse about Islam, “Wahhabi” is usually a synonym for intolerance, misogyny, and extremism. Though this is sometimes true it is an over-generalization. In this paper we contrast two very different forms of Wahhabi Islam focusing on education, religious pluralism and gender relations. The first is the Wahhabism of the Saudi state. Saudi Wahhabism couples this theological orientation with intolerance of all other forms of religion and a […] Read more »

A New Cultural Path for Indonesia’s Islamist PKS?

by Mark Woodward, Ali Amin, Inaya Rohmaniyah, Chris Lundry With the commencement of Indonesia‟s transition to democracy, following 32 years of rule by the military dictator Suharto, political space has opened for dozens of political parties to form and regularly contest elections. The Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (the Prosperity and Justice Party, PKS) is an Islamist party that emerged following the first post-1999 democratic elections, with roots that extend to the pre-Suharto era. Although Indonesia has […] Read more »

Lessons from Aceh Terrorist De-Radicalization

by Mark Woodward, Ali Amin & Inayah Rohmaniyah Although the International Crisis Group’s reports on radicalism in Indonesia are extremely detailed and well informed, their recommendations tend to be short-term solutions aimed at preventing terrorist acts in the near term. This report argues the value of a longer term approach to both prevent radicalization as well as to rehabilitate jihadis who have been identified and arrested. Although the ―soft‖ approach to imprisoning arrested jihadis is […] Read more »

Israeli Nukes versus Palestinian Slingshots

by Ronald Lukens-Bull & Mark Woodward Indonesian press reportage of the recent conflict in Gaza claims that the Israelis used “Nuclear Weapons.” To Western readers these reports appear to be wildly inaccurate. But from a local perspective these reports are not fabrications. Rather they employ interpretive strategies rooted in local cultures to bring order to a complex body of information concerning the conflict. They invoke and scientific and pseudo scientific literature concerning degraded uranium and […] Read more »

Islam, Pluralism and Democracy

by Mark Woodward It is now common in both academic and policy circles to ask the question “Where are the liberal Muslims?” Abrurrahman Wahid, former president of Indonesia, leads the world’s largest Muslim organization and advocates for human rights, democracy and religious pluralism. In 1990 he wrote a paper, translated here by Mark Woodward, which was strongly critical of the Suharto regime. When that regime collapsed in 1997, Wahid worked to ensure that the political […] Read more »