Media Podcasts

On the Issues Episode 94: Suzan Khairi Kheder

Today’s guest is Suzan Khairi Khedher, a Yazidi lawyer and activist supporting girls’ development. In this episode, we discuss the genocide of the Yazidi people and their ongoing plight, relations between the Yazidis and the central government in Iraq, and the ongoing need for support from the international community.

Full bio
Suzan Khairi Khedher is a Yazidi lawyer and activist in the supporting and development of girls. Born in 1998 in Khanasor village-Sinjar. She graduated with a BA in Political Science and Law from University of Duhok in 2018. She was the first among her classmates for four consecutive years. After graduating from college, she started working as a lawyer in Duhok Court. She is the founder and Deputy Head of Uranus NGO for Humanitarian Assistance located in Duhok.

Welcome to another episode of “On the Issues with Alon Ben-Meir.” Today’s guest is Helen Lee Bouygues, a world-renowned misinformation and critical thinking expert and President of the Reboot Foundation, which is devoted to elevating critical thinking. In this episode, Alon and Helen discuss the rise in misinformation and the role of social media in that regard, media literacy and the importance of teaching it in schools, and how to encourage the general public to be better consumers of information.

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Helen Lee Bouygues is one of the most successful women in business transformation. She has served as interim CEO, CFO, or COO for more than a dozen companies. She is the founder of the Reboot Foundation, a columnist at Forbes, and working on a book on critical thinking.

The Reboot Foundation is devoted to elevating critical thinking. In a time of vast technological change, the Foundation aims to promote richer, more reflective forms of thought in schools, homes, and businesses.

A former partner at McKinsey & Company, Bouygues has helped transform more than 25 firms. Over the course of a twenty-year career, she has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in capital, renegotiated billions of dollars in debt, and brought dozens of companies into the black.

Bouygues has lectured around the world. She sits on multiple boards, including those of companies in the retail, manufacturing, oil and gas, renewable energy, and automotive-parts sectors. She graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University and earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

Today’s guest is Teuta Sahatqija. She is the former Consul General of the Republic of Kosovo in New York and previously served as a parliamentarian in Kosovo’s Assembly. An electronic engineer by training, she now works in Digital Transformation and is Smart City Advisor for the Municipality of Pristina. In this episode, we discuss the Kurti government’s performance, the status of various domestic issues in Kosovo, and the ongoing dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

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Teuta Sahatqija is the former Consul General of the Republic of Kosovo in New York, and currently serves as Digital Transformation and Smart City Advisor for the Municipality of Pristina.

She is a well-known political activist and a former Member of Kosovo’s Parliament. She was also the President of the Cross-Party Women Parliamentary Caucus and Vice President of the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Development. She was an advisor to the former President Fatmir Sejdiu, chairwoman of the Reformist Party ORA, and a member of the Parliamentary Committees for International Affairs and Development. She was also a Founding Member of KUSA – Kosovo US Alumni.

Mrs. Sahatqija is an electrical engineer, and she has worked as a manager of a computer center in a food production company, as well as being the owner and director of a private telecommunication company in Gjakova.

Today’s guest is Stanislav Puzdriak, a cinematographer and filmmaker originally from Ukraine. In this episode, we discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine’s needs from the international community, and what could be in store for Ukraine’s future after the war.

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Stanislav Puzdriak was born on August 2nd, 1993 in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. At the age 19, he co-founded a video production studio “Boroda Cinema” and at 23, started his own company “Rebel Monkey Production”. The first movie he directed “Immigraniada” on the problem of immigration was shown in more than 10 countries all over the world. His second movie “Project Alpha or Short Instruction on Self-Realization” is a half-documentary, half-feature film, which is unique in its structure and genre. Stanislav is currently working on a documentary, “Tale of the American Dream”, which examines the concept of the American dream and attempts to answer he question, does it still exist, and did it exist at all?

Welcome to another episode of “On the Issues with Alon Ben-Meir.” Today’s guest is Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University and a historian and commentator on fascism, authoritarian leaders, and propaganda, and the threats these present to democracies. In this episode, Alon and Ruth discuss her latest book, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, Trump’s authoritarian behavior here in the United States, and what steps can be taken to reverse authoritarian trends around the world.

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Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a historian and commentator on fascism, authoritarian leaders, and propaganda — and the threats these present to democracies. As author or editor of six books, with over 100 op-eds and essays in CNN, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post, she brings historical perspective to her analyses of current events. Her insight into the authoritarian playbook has made her an expert source for television, radio, podcasts, and online events around the globe.

Ben-Ghiat is Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University and an Advisor to Protect Democracy. She is also a historical consultant for film and television productions. She is a big fan of electronic music, which is her preferred soundtrack while writing. She practices yoga several times a week.

Ben-Ghiat’s work has been supported by Fulbright, Guggenheim, and other fellowships. Her books Fascist Modernities and Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema detail what happens to societies when authoritarian governments take hold, and explore the appeal of strongmen to collaborators and followers. Growing up in Pacific Palisades, California, where many intellectuals who fled Nazism resettled, sparked her interest in the subject.

Her latest book, the #1 Amazon bestseller Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present (Norton, 2020), examines how illiberal leaders use corruption, violence, propaganda, and machismo to stay in power, and how resistance to them has unfolded over a century.

Today’s guest is Stuart Gottlieb, Adjunct Professor of International Affairs and Public Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. In this episode, we discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including the effectiveness of sanctions, international reliance on Russian oil and gas, and what Putin’s broader interests may be.

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Stuart Gottlieb is Adjunct Professor of International Affairs and Public Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where he teaches courses on American foreign policy, counterterrorism, and international security. He also serves as Faculty Director for SIPA’s certificate program in International Relations, and is a member of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. In addition, he teaches courses for New York University’s graduate program in International Relations.

Prior to joining SIPA in 2003, Gottlieb worked for five years in the United States Senate, first as senior foreign policy adviser to Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, and subsequently as policy adviser and chief speechwriter for Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut. He has also worked on several political campaigns, including New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s reelection campaign in 1997 and presidential campaign in 2008.

Gottlieb continues to consult with political and business leaders, and regularly publishes op-eds and other policy-related articles. A second edition of his book, Debating Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Conflicting Perspectives on Causes, Contexts, and Responses (CQ Press), was published in 2014, and he is currently working on two books on U.S. foreign policy, titled Experimental Power: The Rise and Role of America in World Affairs (Yale University Press), and Founding Tensions: The Age-Old Struggles that Shape America’s Foreign Policy (Oxford University Press).

Gottlieb holds a BA in political science and journalism from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a PhD in international relations from Columbia University.

Welcome to another episode of “On the Issues with Alon Ben-Meir.” Today’s guest is Tarek Heggy, an Egyptian liberal author, political thinker and international petroleum strategist. Heggy is one of Egypt’s more prominent authors on the subject of Egypt’s need for political reform. His extensive writings advocate the values of modernity, democracy, tolerance, and women’s rights in the Middle East – advancing them as universal values essential to the region’s progress. He has lectured at universities throughout the world and various international institutions and think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

In today’s episode, Alon and Tarek discuss the impacts of Islamic extremism within the Muslim world itself, Islamophobia and Muslim immigration in the West, and what can be done in the Arab and Muslim worlds to combat terrorism and extremist thought.

Full Bio
Tarek Heggy is an Egyptian liberal author, political thinker and international petroleum strategist. Heggy is one of Egypt’s more prominent authors on the subject of Egypt’s need for political reform. His extensive writings advocate the values of modernity, democracy, tolerance, and women’s rights in the Middle East – advancing them as universal values essential to the region’s progress. He has lectured at universities throughout the world and various international institutions and think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

An attorney by training, he was associate professor of Law at Constantine University/Algeria and the University of Fes/Morocco from 1973 until 1979. Heggy is the co-Founder of the Chair of Coptic Studies at The American University in Cairo and of the Tarek Heggy Graduate Scholarship in Jewish-Muslim Relations at the University of Toronto.

He has lectured at universities throughout the world, including Oxford University, the University of Tokyo, the University of Melbourne, Sydney University, Princeton University, Columbia University, King’s College London, Colorado University, Colorado School of Mines, The Hayek Institute (Vienna), Erasmus University (The Netherlands), the American University in Cairo, and the University of California Berkeley. Additionally, he has lectured at the European University (Rome), John Cabot University (Rome), the University of Calabria, and the University of Salento (Italy), as well as Marrakesh (Morocco), Fes (Morocco), Zaytouna (Tunis) and Manouba (Tunis) universities. Due to his knowledge of the Middle East, he has been called upon to speak at various international institutions and think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the National Endowment for Democracy, the American Enterprise Institute, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2011, he was asked to speak before the British House of Commons. Because of his intellectual project advocating universal human values, he also participates in international organizations addressing the holocaust and genocide, such as Project Aladdin and the Stockholm International Forum.
Tarek Heggy’s main themes are the need for economic, political, cultural and educational reforms in Egypt and the Middle East. His liberal voice is part of the small but growing minority that calls for self-criticism and massive reforms and that frankly admits the failures of the political ideologies/dogmas dominating Egypt and the Arab world. Moreover, this voice calls the conspiracy theories and overblown rhetoric that pervade the region signs of a cultural crisis that needs resolution. Finally, Tarek Heggy advocates the imperative need to develop a fair political ending to the Arab-Israeli conflict to enable all societies in the Middle East to move towards a pro-active phase of economic and social development.

Tarek Heggy has written 19 books in Arabic, along with 15 books in English, French, and Italian.

Episode Transcript

ABM: Well, thank you, first of all, Tarek, I want to really thank you so much for taking the time. So, you know, this subject matter that you suggested – Islam, extremism, terrorism – is obviously something that’s been and continues to be the talk of the town just about everywhere we go. And there is tremendous, in my view, tremendous amount of misconception and misperception as to the root, the causes of Islamic extremism [and] how to deal with it. And many of the views taken are really based on, I would say, a rather shallow understanding of this whole phenomenon. In anticipation, of course, of this discussion, I looked at some of the statistics just to give us some idea about what’s actually happening. Between 2011 and 2017, there were nearly 71,000 terrorist attacks. Right? 61 of them happened in Arab states, 61,000 of them in Arab countries, 51,000 of that happened in the Middle East. The other interesting number, between 2015 and July 2016, there were a total of 658 Europeans and Americans killed through terrorist activities when in fact, during the same period, which is a startling number, 28,000 Muslims were killed by Muslims through terrorist activity. That was more than 50 times as many. So there is, for this reason I’m saying there is that perception in terms of, in the West in particular, you know, the whole idea, you know, the Islamophobia. How do you, because you are a scholar and second to none when it comes to this particular subject, how do you attribute that? Why is it that we in the West here feel that every act of terror is committed against the West? There’s very little discussion about how much Muslims are fact killing Muslims, or why is that? So I want you to take it from there, and then we can continue.

TH: As far as I understood you, the picture is as follows, according to what you said. That we have a problem, terrorism. But it is not, according to what you said, addressed to Western objectives only.

ABM: Yes.

TH: But [unclear] does not deny that we have a problem.

ABM: Of course.

TH: Yeah, we do have a problem that we need to tackle. But if we say it is only Islamists aiming at attacking western, no, we are wrong.

ABM: Of course.

TH: [unclear] attack more Muslims than Westerners, but this has been the case throughout history, and the two sides were Muslims. So I believe that, I buy what you said, I take it as very critical data. But it tells me only that the exaggeration is related to the target. But the act itself is with us. We do have it. We have to look into it. And being addressed to more Muslims than Westerns, in my view, does not change the problems we are facing, that we have hatred translated into acts.

ABM: That’s right.

TH: Whether the hatred is addressed to a western [or] to a Muslim. It’s very important to realize, but it doesn’t change the fact that we have a hatred that has been converted into an act.

ABM: Now my question, you know, and again, this is probably on the exaggerated level. But nevertheless, I want to ask you, do you feel? Because many again in the West, among the intellectual community, as well feel that as if there is an implied or direct connection between Islam and terrorism, as if terrorism is a byproduct of the religion, of Islam as a religion? I personally, obviously I don’t personally buy into that agreement. What’s your take on it?

TH: I mean, I lived in Egypt of the 50s and the 60s, and Muslims were more Mediterranean than anything else.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: They were very similar to Cypriots, Greek, Spanish. If in my lifetime, which is nothing in history, I saw different Islams. An Islam that looks today Arabian, nomadic and a bit violent, and Islam that looked to me in the 60s, I went to the university in the 60s, so I was a grown up and I was already a reader, a serious reader since that time. The Muslims looked to me at the time like the Israelis, like the Cypriots, like the Greeks. This tells us that we don’t have the right to fix ideas and say a Muslim is, by definition, a terrorist. History tells us that Muslims until the seventies were not, and tells us about mistakes made by the West. If you allow me to say a few things about this thing.

ABM: Well, of course, yes.

TH: In 1979, the Soviet Army entered Afghanistan. Two key players, USA under Carter’s administration and Saudi Arabia under King Khalid, agreed to create Al Mujahideen, the jihadist movement. The jihadist movement was formed, sent to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Army. What did this also produce apart from the defeat of the Soviets? It produced the Taliban and al-Qaida.

ABM: Exactly.

TH: Produced Osama bin Laden. So any simplification is wrong. OK.

ABM: Of course.

TH: We have factors. Many factors, some of them to blame the Muslims about, and some of them also to blame the West about. Do we have any doubts, because I lived half of my life in the U.K., I saw what makes me absolutely certain that the immigration was never [perfect]. In order to have cheap labor, the wrong people were allowed in. Okay.

ABM: Yes.

TH: Blaming one side is a big mistake. Can anybody say that today France has a major problem, France? The immigrants are not hundreds of thousands, they are millions.

ABM: Of course, yes.

TH: [Unclear] of them are enemies of the value system of France. Is France partly responsible? Of course! Why? They one day wanted cheap labor. So they didn’t do their homework, twice. What do I mean by twice? Number one, when they allowed the wrong immigrants to come, and number two, when they made it also very difficult for the ones who came to integrate. They live in certain parts of the cities. Is this is healthy, to have them come from North Africa or West Africa, and they live in an environment that doesn’t have anything to do with France? And then they say they are not integrated, of course they are not integrated! And this problem, by the way, it doesn’t exist that way in USA. And we have to study this.

ABM: You know, you’re right, it doesn’t exist much in the United States. But going back to the— Recently, because this is very important that you mentioned France in particular. Very recently, President Macron was talking about reforming the Muslim community, as if from his perspective that’s what it’s going to take to reduce violence, to reduce Islamism, to reduce terrorism. We’re going to have to undertake significant steps toward reforming the Muslim community. Do you buy into this argument that can you in fact reform Islam or Muslims in a given community specifically, say, living in France versus say community of Muslim living in an Arab country?

TH: It’s either mistaken or naive.

ABM: Right.

TH: One of the two. Either he’s totally mistaken, he doesn’t know, or he has good intention, but it would never work this way. If you have 50 million people from North Africa who are living miserably and looked at with very [low prospects], and looked at as machines, parts of the machine, of the production machine, so how are you going to do what he said? The best that could be done is to have what we hope is in its [unclear] plan, to integrate the young generations through education, work opportunities and life conditions, but to look back and reform what a phenomenon that took decades to exist is a dream. It is nothing but a dream. I think the best he can do is to work out a plan for the future. A plan that makes the sons and daughters of these immigrants part of the society. By the way, because I live in England and I travel a lot in Europe, the magnitude of the problem in England is less than in France.

ABM: This is true. However, do you—? When I mean, I’ve been in England, I lived, I studied in England. But also if you go to London, there you see the Arab community, Muslim communities are pretty much segregated in different parts of London; they’re all focused, located in a big area. Do you think? I agree with you that the level of integration in England is a little better than that of France. But still, nevertheless we still see significant discrimination against Muslims and Arabs in general in England as well, albeit to a lesser degree. Again, to what do you attribute that, versus what’s happening in France?

TH: Number one, I totally agree that we have the problem in France and England in different degrees.

ABM: Yes.

TH: In England it’s obviously less than, but the problem is there, and in some cities like Birmingham and Bradford, the magnitude of the problem is bigger.

ABM: That’s right.

TH: Yeah, I think we are here dealing with a cultural problem. I don’t want to be very hostile, but let me say to you what I said yesterday in an interview here. I said, when somebody who occupied all of the third world only seventy years ago and did what France did in Algeria and what Portugal did in what used to be the Congo. OK.

ABM: Yes

TH: Comes after seventy years and tries, because human rights are breached in my country. I have the full right to say please, it’s very difficult for me to believe a Western saying—here I’m not talking about individuals, I’m talking about states.

ABM: Yes.

TH: When Western states cry on human rights [unclear] in the third world, people don’t take it, by the way, seriously, people of the third world. They have the right not to take it seriously because they were doing a lot else in 1960 in Algeria and Congo. Today, you are extremely [unclear] because of human rights. I can’t believe it. We are human beings. We don’t [develop] that fast. So also in the third world, there is a big question mark about the credibility and values. For me, I find it very [strange] that values as such are doubted. But people have sometimes the right to doubt them. What would you say to an Algerian that his father was burned in 1962? That France is very sad because human rights are breached today in Algeria? Difficult to believe.

ABM: Well of course, there’s a high level of hypocrisy as far as the Algerians are concerned.

TH: Absolutely. There is a [unclear] Machiavellian use of the word, yeah, you are using it to put. I mean, like in this discussion yesterday, somebody added, how can I believe that the American deep state that dealt with the marshals of South America for decades, are today after human rights in all of these countries? So let us go back. The Western countries that welcomed immigrants to come and work simply because they needed them as workers—

ABM: As labor, yes.

TH: As labor, and we add as a cheap labor. OK. Now all to do what Macron said, hand it from this angle. If you don’t hand it from this angle, you would never be seen fair. Can they do it? Theoretically, yes. Would they do it? I’m not sure. What can I say about Belgium? Belgium might theoretically be ruled by Islamic people through democratic mechanisms. People will not have to have a coup de etat in Belgium, they will continue to grow demographically, the way they are doing—three percent per annum while the European ones are below one percent per annum.

ABM: Right.

TH: At the end, we have to see the end of this unless you do something before the end of it. Actually, I’m talking now about Europe. Europe is in a problem, yeah.

ABM: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, there is that fear and cause of concern that the growing Muslim Arab population is certainly disproportionate to the population and growth within the European community. There’s no doubt. And you know, I hear this, some of them talk bluntly about it, if we don’t do something about it, we could be overwhelmed within 50, 60, 70 years. They may not be a majority then, but they [will] have a significant percentage of the population. They will be, inevitably, they will have to be inevitably part and parcel of the political process, for the governing processes, I should say. And so there is that kind of fear. But then again, what you are saying is, the problem has been created by the French, by the British, you know, inviting laborers to come cheap, laborers to work. And they did not provide them with equal rights. And that’s today it continues. These conditions continue to exist today. Do you feel that they are now then between the hammer and the hard rock? Yes, they need to take reforms. They need to do something in order to alleviate the poverty, the pressure, the misery of these communities. Suppose they have the means to do so. I’m talking about economic, because eventually it is going to take a significant amount of money to be able to do that. Do you, if they have that, do you think they have the will or the interest in doing that? Or is there some kind of sinister thinking about what’s behind it? Would they prefer to keep them suppressed and perhaps deal with the occasional terrorist activities, or they will be prepared to open the society, give them everything they need and make sure that they stand on an equal footing with the rest of the French or the British people? Do you see that? Do you feel that governments, they are facing that kind of dilemma?

TH: Number one, it’s a brilliant question, and the answer is in the question. I mean, the way you you’ve raised the question is brilliant. I tend to believe and I hate that I think this way, but this is my most honest feeling and thinking, that they will continue in Europe to deal with it without going to the roots, and will deal with the problem on the surface. When there is a big incident, they will react. But this would not eliminate the problem. And I must say that this demographic dimension that we both touched on is extremely important. And it touches other places like Israel as well.

ABM: Oh absolutely, more so there than any other place for that matter.

TH: Yeah, absolutely. So if you now see the pattern West in Europe, which is both of the right wing parties. If this [unclear], it tells us that we are heading to confrontation, not to treatment of causes.

ABM: Exactly.

TH: And we do have this pattern, this trend of growing right. Look at the right wing in France over 50 years, in the elections, they have been growing steadily.

ABM: They have, yes.

TH: Lady, the lady there and her father before her? Yeah. And this tells us that we are headed to confrontation, not to solution. I’m not very optimistic about what you are talking about. I go to the areas you indirectly referred to, in London and Bradford and Birmingham, and see that all solutions are very on the surface, nothing fundamental.

ABM: Yeah, I absolutely agree with you. And you know, in your writing, you are suggesting that if you tackle extremism, you have to take two courses. One, to deal with the extremists with a significant level of force on the one hand, but also now you have to intellectually, you have to deal with the extremism in terms of the narrative. That is, how you approach it, how you counter their narrative on an intellectual level. So you have to take it from your perspective, you have two tracks approach, one you have to deal with first those who are basically hating, despising the West and they will do everything just to to hurt, to kill, to maim, versus actually the vast majority who are not that violent. But we need in this case to change the narrative toward them, say intellectually have a different kind of discourse to be able to change that. That is on the one side, if we want to look at it in the West, what it is that can be done in the Arab countries, that is what kind of reform, what kind of progress needs to be made in the Arab countries in order to reverberate ,will have effect of what’s happening to Muslim and Arab minorities in the European community. So two tracks to the question that I’m posing for you now.

TH: I fully agree that we should now, move from the west to the kitchen of the problem.

ABM: That’s what I, yes.

TH: It’s very important. I was thinking of this today, and I thought that you will be touching on this. In the entire area from, I would go even beyond the Arab world, from Morocco to Bangladesh. We have the two issues—the kitchen, intellectual kitchen, that produces the idea, and the application of the idea, execution. An imam in a mosque in Bangladesh or Egypt or Sudan, and also even in France or in England, that talks about jihad as the most important thing in Islam, and it is your easiest as an individual vehicle to paradise, is to practice it, and then he explains that what jihad means in terms of fighting the enemies of Islam. So we have this part and then we have the execution. I hope I am not wrong in saying that in the area I referred to, from Bangladesh to Morocco, the efforts are exerted in relation to the execution, not the kitchen of the idea.

ABM: Yeah, yeah.

TH: Very little, very little has been done. Very little is being done. And I believe that in all, this is much easier. Of course, it is easier, but not the [unclear] path. It’s much easier to arrest people and put them in jail. It is much [more] difficult to talk to people and change. So what has to be done is to make a balance between fighting the act and fighting the idea. And we agree that there’s very little being done with regard to fighting the idea. So what should be done is related to the public. You need to have a vision. We need to have a vision that states that our target is to work on the mentality of people, the collective mind of the people, and make them see that we can be in the year 2022 and meanwhile, Muslims. There is no contradiction between being a Muslim and living your age. This involves education and religious discourse. Religious discourse was a catastrophe. Because of the role of Saudi Arabia, until the recent changes in Saudi Arabia, there are [unclear], but before that, the financing of Taliban, of Osama bin Laden, of Pakistan, of Afghanistan relied to a very far extent on the Saudi money. Saudi Arabia was doing [unclear], and America was fully aware of that. It wasn’t a secret. And I don’t think that there was any attempt to stop it. We know that al-Qaida started in Sudan at the beginning and moved to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the role of Saudi Arabia of that time is impossible to deny. So, do we have a better educational system in these countries that could help us? The answer is no. Why do I say the answer is no? Let us go to numbers. Today, while we are talking, there are 25 million pupils and students in Asia in all institutions of education. Twenty per cent of them are in Islamic education; in Egypt, 20 percent of 25 million people.

ABM: Yes. Yes.

TH: Of course not. And, you know, life is very a big risk, my friend. The person who converted Al-Azhar from a religious university to a global university that has medicine, engineering, agriculture, science is Gamal Abdel Nasser. For me, I cannot understand. Nasser, with all of his defects was perceived to be secular. Like [unclear], in Al-Azhar, they look to us as secular people.

ABM: Yes, yes. Egypt has been looked upon exactly that way.

TH: But the secular president of Egypt converted Al-Azhar from a religious university to an historic educational organization that gives degrees in medicine, in engineering, in pharmaceutical studies, in agriculture, in science, in everything.

ABM: Right. Right.

TH: Look at mistakes. Look at the magnitude of the mistake. Five million Egyptians are stuck today under the word Islamic education. We don’t need that. We actually don’t need. I was many years ago, a member in the Council of Education of Abu Dhabi. And we studied many educational systems and the top three in the world, people to a far extent agree and endorse what I’m going to say. Finland. Singapore and Japan have the best curriculum curricula in the world. In these countries, twenty percent of those who enter primary schools, reach universities, 20 percent.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: In Egypt it is much more than this much, much more. Yeah, we talk about fifty percent of those who enter first year of primary school. There is no country that can succeed with this, and you will have other problems. You will not have a working class.

ABM: That’s right.

TH: You won’t have good carpenters, and, and. So we need to look at this from the educational standpoint. And there is a lot to be said, a lot, even if somebody says at the end, fanatic Islamic ideas will continue to exist, fine. We don’t mind if they continue to exist as long as they exist within one percent, not 80 percent of people.

ABM: That’s right. Then, go back to the example you cited in Egypt, and now 25 million are in education, 5 million of them are studying Islamic education. And it is under the secular government led by President Sisi, obviously. Is he concerned about that?

TH: Oh, very much.

ABM: Then, if he’s concerned, what is he doing about? What can he do about it?

TH: OK, I will say to you what he has been talking about, and it is the first time these words were used in Egypt. He said that the future of Egypt is related to تجديد الخطاب الديني (tajdiid al-khataab al-diinii ) Modernization of Religious [Discourse].

ABM: Yeah, of religion, modernization of religion. They call it here reforming religion, reforming it so—that is, religion will have to basically be separated clearly between politics and religion, as you obviously, and that’s how it should be. But reforming it so that.

TH: Religious discourse.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: OK. But let me explain to you that he has been opposed by the educational institutions as well. And they refused that there is a need for that. They refuse it. Of course, without this religious discourse, their control will diminish. There is a relationship between the magnitude of control and the religious discourse. And I believe that he knows that until this moment of time, the Egyptian street will side with Al-Azhar, not with him. I hate to say it, but—

ABM: But why do you think it’s that? Why do you think it’s that when in fact, how much are they benefitting? Let me go back for a second to the Muslim Brotherhood and the reason they were elected, came to power. By and large, because as we know from the study of Muslim Brotherhood, they’ve been basically a social institution providing health, education and economic support, and the public basically felt because that’s what they needed. They needed jobs. They needed opportunity. They need to make some money. So here an Islamic organization actually was able to provide that, when in fact the state was unable to do so. So what he can do now in order to change the dynamics?

TH: You can replace the roles, but it will take time. The Egyptian mindset has become, to a far extent, religious. If you come today and say, we want to do a— I myself called for things like family law, similar to Kemal Ataturk’s family law, OK? A family law similar to Bourguiba in Tunisia, people themselves, women themselves reject. Religion is a very dangerous tool. It makes [unclear] say to a woman, it is unfair that you take half of your brother. She defends the rule. Why? Because [of] the brainwashing. Religion is the most powerful tool to control people, making it [unclear] to the fence. When somebody in the middle of a discussion brings religion in the discussion, realize he is aiming at controlling you.

ABM: Exactly. I fully agree with you on that. Let me just go back now to, because you are one of the strong advocates. That is, education is obviously necessary to begin to change mindset. Then you need to confront those who are extraordinarily militant, they are irredeemable. Let’s call it the irredeemable ones. You’re going to have to deal with them separately. But the larger picture, obviously, is the socio-economic condition that exists in just about every Arab country, that is, why the youth are becoming radicalized. What needs to be done? That is, if they lack jobs opportunities, if they lack upward mobility, if they lack health care system, if they lack— So when they hear imams preaching the gospel, that if we do A, B, C, and D, you’re going to go in heaven and you’re going to have all you need. That is the problem that you yourself are advocating. We’ve got to deal with the core issue, that is the socio-economic condition. Where are we going with that? Is there any focus from your perspective?

TH: Number one, I totally agree. You have, if we [start to put] groups, factors, material ones and let us call it the hardware of the subject, and moral ones the software. Hardware: job, salary, hospital education; and the software: curricula of the education the culture of the society. You have to work on both of them.

ABM: Exactly.

TH: If you’d work only on the software components, it won’t work. Also, if you work on the material component, it won’t work because Osama bin Laden was not a son of a poor family.

ABM: Exactly.

TH: So it tells us that you have to make the balance between the two things: materialistic components of the society or elements or factors, and the software of society, and you have to make progress, modernization in all of them. Humanity has been paying, continues to pay a very high price. If we continue to believe that the maximum we can do is to arrest a terrorist—it is required, but totally insufficient.

ABM: Of course, it is insufficient. So, now the question is, where do we go from here? Now we obviously agree, you need to have two, three track approach. We’re talking, you know, obviously enlightenment, education is the major factor confronting the redeemable, like we’ve said before, by force, whatever means necessary. And then, of course, you have to provide in terms of opportunities. Now when I look at the Arab world and not only the Arab world, Muslim, but take like countries like Turkey, countries like Iran, what we are seeing now [is that] Islamic extremism is rather on the rise. Erdogan, you know, abandoned pretty much what Ataturk has been advocating. Today, Erdogan is as Islamic as he can be, and he is using Islam as a tool by which to, for example, revive elements of the Ottoman Empire. He is not able to provide, but he’s now using Islam as a tool, and he is not alone. So instead of receding, instead of diminishing the influence of religion and extremism, which is somehow built into the religion, we are seeing now a new rise, it is rising rather than diminishing. So how do you deal with that? Again, take Turkey as an example.

TH: Actually, this touches on a very sensitive subject to me. I was a great admirer of both the two names I mentioned, Kemal Atatürk and Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia. These people went far away in modernizing. In Tunisia, [it] is the only Muslim country, with the exception of Turkey, that it is a crime to marry more than one woman, criminalizing a marriage of more than one wife. The inheritance is like Turkey, woman is like man. I was personally in a problem seeing that these cases, I wouldn’t say failed, but collapsed, partially collapsed. When I see a prime minister in Turkey that is an Islamist, and for 10 years, the conductor in Tunisia was Ghannouchi, that was the Muslim Brothers. For me as Tarek, I feel very sad and ask myself, what went wrong? And my answer after years of thinking is that when this happens by order from above, we ended up with this partial collapse. It didn’t happen to [unclear], an upbringing of inheritance. That’s why people went to the box and elected Erdogan. OK. It was done because Kemal Ataturk wanted it to be done. It was done because Bourguiba wanted it to be done. And there is nothing wrong with that. But he shouldn’t have stopped at that. They should have worked systematically and scientifically on having a modern citizen, somebody who believes in these values of modernity. It didn’t happen, and everybody used to talk in the seventies and eighties about the difference between Istanbul and the countryside, where one of them was in the 20th century and one of them wasn’t. So what we need to learn that also, if we have a stick in our hand and tell people as of tomorrow you are all secular, we might make them secular tomorrow, but not forever. Yeah?

ABM: Exactly.

TH: The chance they have to go back. They will go back, especially if it goes with what you referred to, social conditions. In every mosque in Egypt, the Muslim Brothers were doing what you referred to. A clinic and the poor. And this is very close to the hearts of people.

ABM: Exactly, exactly.

TH: Why [unclear] children and their brains? So I believe that in Turkey, I don’t think, it will look to what Erdogan wants it to happen. He is canceling the heritage of Ataturk partially, but he didn’t do it for Turkey. And until this moment of time, he cannot ban alcoholic drinks, he cannot allow men to marry more than a wife, and so on. But if he carries on in power and a successor from the same school carries on, they will be able to have a public opinion supporting the reverse.

ABM: But I want to take this particular example of Turkey itself and now going back, next year, it’s going to be the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. Erdogan would love, wants to preside over this huge celebration as he is now the new Ataturk, so to speak. In the interim, of course, he moved Turkey, made it more and more and more Islamist. And we don’t see as of now sort of an apparent successor, so to speak. I’m hoping there will be no successor who will follow his path. We really hope so. Turkey is just one, is an example. He obviously shifted. I dealt with the Turks for many, many years, you know, until I saw the shift and I shifted my position as well. I started to write and criticized intensely what the Turkish government is doing to this very day. If he does not find a successor that will continue with his religious approach, do you think that it can be reversed, or is the AK Party is already too well entrenched into the Turkish society and Turkish mindset that they’re going to be impossible to reverse?

TH: I believe that after Erdogan, Turkey will recover a great part of Ataturk’s heritage.

ABM You mean of a secular state. Yeah.

TH: But this has to do with other things. Their relationship with Europe, with the U.S.A, they’re a NATO member, yeah, they were aimed at being part of the EU, and I always thought that this is a very tricky area of thinking, yeah? Is it good to see Turkey part of the EU or not? It’s a very puzzling subject, you know.

ABM: I don’t think that’s going to ever happen, as far as I’m concerned.

TH: Exactly.

ABM: It will never happen.

TH: Exactly. And for cultural reasons, before economic reasons.

ABM: I mean, it’s a different kind of conversation in terms of Turkey’s EU relationship and all of that. I mean, there’s tremendous tension between Turkey and the European community nowadays, even within the NATO itself, whether in fact Turkey should belong to NATO. But I want to shift back to your area, that is, you write so eloquently about it, and specifically in your book as well on this subject. Now we have this issue, the phenomenon of terrorism. It is linked directly and sometime indirectly, of course, to Islam, and it is growing rather than diminishing, which is unfortunate. What would you do today? What would you suggest to any Arab government? You have to do A, B, C, and D that it is realistic, not a suggestion that is not going to go necessarily anywhere. But if you were to ask by any of these governments, this is what you need to do, and from this perspective. What sort of advice would you give them in order to mitigate extremism, to reduce the level of terrorism, which is in fact Muslim killing Muslims like we have said in these statistics than any other places? And shouldn’t that come to some kind of slow or gradual end in 10, 15, 20 years or else we get to see the continuing trend today, which is escalating rather than diminishing?

TH: I wrote about that extensively last year. And I wrote an open letter to President Sisi, saying to him that you are focusing on the, what I call the hardware of the society, doing a lot of work in modernizing the villages, the infrastructure, the roads, the city. There’s a lot of work that was done on this side, including the move of hundreds of thousands of people from very miserable living conditions, to modern buildings. But I said all of this, though great, is totally insufficient. We have two things that we did little on: modern education and religious discourse. I need the religious, the educational curricula to help us to have a secular society. But let me look at the other one, the religious discourse. Egypt has 210,000 mosques. 2000, let’s say. Let me say it again. Two hundred thousand mosques.

ABM: Yes.

TH: If we multiply 200,000 by the number of the weeks, we have two [unclear]. So we end up with a number between 10 and 11 million.

ABM: Yes.

TH: Ten and 11 million what? [Unclear], and from there discourse.

ABM: That’s right.

TH: How can I compete to this with my articles and TV programs?

ABM: That’s the point. That is exactly the point.

TH: Unless these people themselves join me, I’m wasting my time. 11 million per year discourses. Yeah.

ABM: And that’s 11 million sermons given every single week, consistently and very with quite limited— As far as I know, it’s not imams, pretty much they still say pretty much what they want to say, a little bit careful, but they’re still preaching what they want to preach.

TH: They are still preaching the rules of beating your wife.

ABM: Yes, yes.

TH: Yeah, the transplantation of organs is halal, allowed or not. Things, I mean, take, to be precise, taking us to the mentality of the seventh century, ok.

ABM: I mean, exactly. Like you said, Al Azhar refused to allow divorce, verbal divorce. That is, to this day it still continues to exist even in Egypt. So how do you change that, given what you just said, 11 million sermons are given every single week? How do you compete with that? When we when we talk about reform, when we talk about intellectual discourse?

TH: In order that people understand what we are saying, 11 million events, each of them to a number between 200 and 1,000.

ABM: Exactly. Exactly.

TH: Unless Sisi succeeds in modernizing the religious speeches and the religious education, we are wasting our time. The volume is too much.

ABM: Exactly.

TH: I mean, when the TV screen shows me two meetings, one in Ramallah and one in Gaza, although I’m not that happy with Ramallah, but it looks like being in the 21st century.

ABM: It’s a big difference. I agree, 100 percent.

TH: The other one, as if I am taken to the 16th century.

ABM: Yes, yes.

TH: That’s what happens when you have a different discourse. Yeah.

ABM: Right.

TH: And we can do a lot in the short term through education and, more importantly, religious discourse. I mean, the whole idea of— Let me give you another example. In Egypt, for the 25 million pupils and students that go through primary, preparatory, and secondary school and then university, they give them novels to read. Can you imagine until recently, all the novels were Islamic?

ABM: Oh yes. It’s amazing.

TH: Yet you have a history like ancient Egypt. You don’t teach them anything related to the Middle Kingdom. Kings like Ramses, like Seti. No, you teach them [unclear], who conquered North Africa. So we are shooting our own foot, as the English say. When we allow the Egyptian students to read about Khalid ibn Al Walid, and not about Ramses II, what happened to your identity? What happened to our identity is very, very clear. I am an Egyptian who was born 1950. If you addressed me in 1969, when I was at the third school at the university, as an Arab, I would have explained to you that I am not.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: It goes without saying. The whole name is Arab Republic of Egypt.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: So look at what happened to identity in a very short time. For me in 1970, the word Arab means somebody from Arabia. OK.

ABM: Yes. Yeah.

TH: I went to the Hilton Hotel. I found many Arabs. He meant Saudis.

ABM: Yes.

TH: So today, it is not so. Identity has been changed. A lot of work is required. But even if it looks impossible, it is much honorable to work on it. Whether it will work or not, we can’t surrender.

ABM: We are not surrendering, but I always look for the reality, there’s no question you have to [unclear]. But what is the prospect? Egypt is a good example. What is the prospect or take Morocco, take many of these countries. What is the prospect in fact that you can introduce this kind of change that is going to change the fate, the future of Egypt, which used to be the foremost secular, going back now many, many years now, several decades? What is it going to take? And yes, you need to make the effort, but do you think Egypt will succeed, with the best of intention?

TH: I have no doubt that one, if there is a vision, if there is a will to make Egyptians feel that they are [unclear]. And I keep saying when somebody to say to me, but we are Muslims, we are Arabs, I say, no, no, no. Listen to what [unclear] said in 1938. He said we have an Islamic dimension, but we are not the same like Bangladesh, for instance.

ABM: Yes.

TH: We have a common factor with the Arabs, which is the language. But Egypt and Yemen are not identical. Yeah, we are in Africa. Literally, we are in Africa. [unclear] of Zimbabwe. Okay. So what Taha Hussein said that I would make it the spine and the core of the campaign, that we are a product of our geographic location. We are Mediterranean, we speak Arabic, but not we are fully Arabs. We have Muslims, but we are not 100 percent Islamic. So what are we? We are Egyptians. This is what [unclear] said in 1938.

ABM: Well, this has all been a clear distinction over the years, over the centuries. No question, I agree with you.

TH: You can work, not on it, not by words, by education. Make people feel proud. Teach them the kings of ancient Egypt. Teach them that Egypt 5000 years ago had geometry and engineering that was extremely perfect and sophisticated, make them proud of it. But people are not proud of it. Why they were not happy to be proud of it, and they are instead proud of something else. They call what happened to Egypt in the year 642, when the first Arabs, the Muslims invaded Egypt? They call it [unclear], not the equation.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: So [unclear] is a Muslim word, yeah? No, it was an invasion, and [unclear] of it is to call it invasion.

ABM: Right.

TH: [Unclear] means something positive.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: So I believe that a lot can be done, providing that there is a vision. Where do you want to go. do you want to be part of the Islamic world or the Mediterranean? For me, if I have the authority, I say we are part of the Mediterranean. Our history is part of the Mediterranean. Our culture is Mediterranean and we will make everything to serve this purpose. And we are in the year 2022. We are not in the year 700 and we are part of humanity and we want to be linked to humanity. This sounds very difficult in some ears, but I don’t think it is. Do you know for me what rescued Tunisia from Ghannouchi? The women of Tunisia.

ABM: Yes. Yeah. Yes.

TH: [unclear] Bourguiba, yeah? I used to go to Tunisia a lot and speak at their university.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: And I tell you the women of Tunisia are much more advanced than the women of Egypt or any other Arabic speaking country. Why? Because they were given the right curriculum, and these are the ones who made it difficult for Ghannouchi to turn it into a Pakistan or a Bangladesh.

ABM: Exactly, yeah. The question today, and I can continue this discussion with you for days, not hours, but just a final thought from your perspective. So we are seeing now, on the one hand, you mentioned Saudi Arabia trying to reform. Tunisia is a good example of that. On the other hand, you have countries like Turkey, like Iran, and there’s these competing forces on both sides. To me, the reformers are not winning as yet. Do you agree with that premise?

TH: They are not winning. Absolutely, you are absolutely right.

ABM: They are not winning. And so, what? Again, just final thought on your part. What, is there anything that dramatic, significant that can be said, can be done to begin to change that, to change the trend that is happening today?

TH: We need to see the efforts that are made to fight terrorist acts, equal efforts made to fight terrorist ideas. Very little is done, very little. And I’m sure that the international community is concerned. There is a degree of concern, but insufficient. I mean, I’m sure that with good work from America and from Europe, regimes of the third world could be directed to, instead of making all of your efforts to counteract terrorist activities, do half of it to counter ideas. And furthest from general to particularly, I mean, too general, yeah, we need to convert this to policies. What do we have to do to counteract the mentality that produces the terrorists? The terrorist that goes from Manchester to Syria to kill people is not more dangerous than the imam who educated him.

ABM: I agree with you, you know, you very well distinguish between those who advocate and those who follow. And to advocate you have to deal with them on their level and to follow, you need to deal with it by improving the socioeconomic conditions in order to make it unnecessary and undesirable for that matter to follow the preaching of those who advocate extremism and terrorism. Tarek, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time, and I do really hope that we do it one more, talk again about this and different subjects. And more than that, I’m very hopeful to see you in person. And inshallah, shufak. Soon, sooner than later.

TH: God bless you, my dear friend.

On the Issues Episode 87: Wiola Rębecka

Today’s guest is Wiola Rębecka, a psychoanalyst, human rights activist, founder of “Rape: A History of Shame” project, and author of the book Rape: A History of Shame, Diary of the Survivors. A credentialed psychoanalyst, she has over 23 years’ clinical experience working with trauma, PTSD, War Rape Survivors Syndrome, and transgenerational trauma, and has conducted field work on the consequences of sexual violence during war in Rwanda, Congo, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

In this episode, we discuss transgenerational trauma, particularly in relation to sexual violence, societal reactions to rape and rape victims, the difficulties of sharing experiences on a personal and cultural level, and her family’s personal experience with sexual violence and transgenerational trauma stemming from her grandmother’s experience during the Holocaust.

Full bio
Wiola Rębecka is a credentialed psychoanalyst IPA, alumna member of Women’s Therapy Center Institute NYC, and author of the project and book Rape: A History of Shame. She is a therapist with over 23 years of clinical experience working with trauma, PTSD, War Rape Survivors Syndrome, and Transgenerational Trauma. Her research and focuses on the theories of cultural and psychoanalytic development in many regions all over the world. She is interested in understanding different societies and people, using available psychological tools. Her area of interest is related to sexual abuse and its trauma-related consequences. Currently, she is a clinical director of the Residential HANAC program, a rape counselor at the emergency room of Presbyterian Methodist Hospital, and a private practice therapist working with and for war rape survivors.

Her current project, Rape: A History of Shame, is her dedication to understanding the consequences of rape/war/trauma. She has conducted field work on the consequences of sexual violence during war in Rwanda, Congo, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Her family is her most significant influence and inspiration with their history of the Holocaust and her work in the field with war rape survivors—Wiola’s grandmother was imprisoned in Ravensbrück camp and was one of the Rabbits of Ravensbrück; during the camp’s liberation, Russian soldiers raped her. Wiola Rębecka is the third generation of Holocaust survivors. Her variety of experiences working with people are being utilized for the creative development of humanitarian organizations, workshops, classrooms, and non-profit organizations. Her knowledge of foreign languages allows her to understand people and their cultural backgrounds – she speaks English, Polish, Russian, Swahili, and French.

On the Issues Episode 86: David Ottaway

Today’s guest is David Ottaway, Middle East Fellow at the Wilson Center. He received a BA from Harvard, magna cum laude, in 1962 and a PhD from Columbia University in 1972. He worked 35 years for The Washington Post as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, Africa and Southern Europe and later as a national security and investigative reporter in Washington before retiring in 2006. He has won numerous awards for his reporting at home and abroad and was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Ottaway was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in 1979-80 and again in 2005-06 and is currently a Middle East Fellow. He just released a book about contemporary Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman: The Icarus of Saudi Arabia? His book before that, co-authored with his wife, Marina, is A Tale of four Worlds: the Arab Region After the Uprising, published by Oxford University Press in 2019.

In today’s episode, we discuss the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel, both countries’ concerns over Iran, US interests in the Gulf, and evolving US-Saudi relations. 

On the Issues Episode 85: Ibrahim Anli

Today’s guest is Ibrahim Anli, Executive Director of the Rumi Forum, which works toward strengthening a culture of peace, pluralism, and social harmony among faith communities and individuals of diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and ethnicities. In today’s episode, Alon and Ibrahim discuss the current state of affairs in Turkey, including the Turkish people’s dissatisfaction with Erdogan, the ongoing economic crisis, the demise of free media, and Erdogan’s continued quest to revive elements of the Ottoman Empire.

Bio
Ibrahim Anli is a civic entrepreneur and a researcher with a career record that bridges nonprofit and academic experience. Ibrahim was a visiting researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2007-08. He joined the Journalists and Writers Foundation’s (JWF) Ankara office as the diplomacy coordinator in 2010. In 2013, he became the secretary general of Abant Platform, JWF’s Istanbul based forum of intellectuals. He was a full-time lecturer and acting chair at the International Relations and Diplomacy Department of Tishk University in Erbil in 2016-17.

Ibrahim was a regular contributor to the online edition of English daily Today’s Zaman, writes opinions in his independent blog, and has published peer reviewed book chapters and articles. He holds a B.A. in Economics from Istanbul University, an M.A. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from Sabanci University, and a certificate in Strategic Management for Leaders of NGOs from Harvard University.