“Islamists Do Not Want Anyone To Sing”

Mali is a country well known for its strong musical traditions. In a country where music is viewed as part of a cultural heritage, it is especially used as a means through which history is recorded. Music is considered to be Mali’s “greatest and most important export product”. It is also a tool of resistance. While most of Mali’s popular musicians have been from the southern part of the country, northern Mali holds up as its own. A few of Mali’s most renowned musicians are from the North, and this region is also home to the famous Festival au Desert (currently “in exile”).  Music has been banned in the parts of Northern Mali which are currently under the rule of religious extremists.

Earlier this year, in March, a military coup took place in Mali. And although the details were at first confusing, it seems Tuareg secessionists, MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) used the opportunity to make their move and form their long-sought-after separate and independent state, Azawad. At the same time, other groups rose in the turmoil, including the so-called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and a Tuareg splinter hardline Islamic group Ansar Dine who aim to implement a strict code of Sharia in Azawad/Northern Mali. Recently, Ansar Dine, with the support of Al Qaeda, have subdued the Tuareg rebels and secessionists who sought a secular state. [Read more...]

Al-Shamikha: Not Your Average Ladymag?

A new magazine is “making waves” in Europe and North America—or so it would seem from the media coverage. Al-Shamikha, a publication directed to women and published by Al-Fajr Media Centre (Al-Qaeda’s online propaganda distributor), has been defined as “Al-Qaeda’s Cosmopolitan” or “Jihad Cosmo.” The magazine, which is roughly 30 pages long, covers a variety of topics that range from beauty to “proper” wifehood and motherhood.  The magazine’s conception of “jihad,” which it defines specifically as violent actions against those deemed to be against Islam, including Muslims who reject these acts of violence or befriend those against them, is always present explicitly or implicitly in the articles.


Al-Shamikha magazine.

The magazine has received lots of media coverage. The Week questioned its authenticity, while The Toronto Star reports that the magazine not only encourages women to marry mujahideen, but it also teaches them how to raise children who will want to follow in their footsteps. The Mail Online states that suicide bombing is glamorized in this magazine and the women featured are proud of the men that risk their lives in the name of “jihad.” The magazine also invites women to join the “struggle” and to support their men, while offering beauty tips and interviews with fellow Muslim women who have complied with the lifestyle that the magazine promotes.

Much has been written describing the magazine, but little attention has been paid to what Muslim communities think of the magazine around the Western world. None of the articles covering Al-Shamikha include Muslim women’s voices— either those who might be interested in the publication, or those who are against it. In addition, once again, the media makes it difficult to distinguish between extremism (religious and political) and Islam.

There is no doubt that the publication of such a magazine is troubling for Muslims and non- Muslims. However, the high profile coverage Al-Shamikha has received isn’t ordinary. Extremist magazines are not uncommon: publications such as Bombardero Skinhead and American Renaissance feature racist and anti-Semitic content for white-supremacist readers. Moreover, Al-Qaeda has also published Inspire, to encourage people to become fighters, just as the Tea Party advances its own agenda through its online magazine. And yet, the only publications to receive press are Al-Shamikha and Inspire.

[Read more...]

Newsweek Turns a Widow into a Terrorist Mastermind

Christopher Dickey’s analysis of an interview with Defne Bayrak (pictured below), the wife of the Jordanian suicide bomber Humam Al-Balawi in Afghanistan, asks the wrong questions. Instead of pondering the reason why a woman of Bayrak’s intelligence would condone suicide bombing, he creates an image of women involved in al-Qaeda that made me feel like I was reading the review of a Lifetime movie called Wives of Terror: the Women of al-Qaeda. The article did not shed much light on the role of women in al-Qaeda, and it was misleading because neither the article nor the interview contained any evidence that Bayrak was a member of al-Qaeda. Furthermore, what seemed to be most incriminating were her views on suicide bombing.

Defne Bayrak. Image via Engin Irız (Newsweek Türkiye)

Defne Bayrak. Image via Engin Irız (Newsweek Türkiye)

While I applaud Dickey for mentioning the WISE Muslim Women’s Shura Council’s initiative to speak out against “violent extremism and domestic violence in Muslim households,” it was unfair to place Bayrak at the other end of that spectrum. What is significant about her is that she seemed to have a more egalitarian marriage with her husband, yet she supported such an extreme view of Islam. The question that really needs to be asked was not her role in her husband’s plot, but rather why she thinks violent jihad is the answer.

In the way that Dickey describes Bayrak’s marriage, it almost as though her husband fell prey to her will, and was doing her bidding. Al-Balawi is described as anti-social, and is portrayed as a somewhat victimized character, being described as “struggling with his medical career,” while Bayrak was developing her role as a “propagandist for violent jihad.” While women have a more pronounced initiative in the jihadist movement, the interview was only clear about her being a journalist, and she was not necessarily completely clear about her own views. In fact, she even said that she did not really read what her husband wrote.

[Read more...]