Journal Entry: A New Dawn Breaks

After clashes between ‘People’s protection Units’ (YPG) and Turkish backed mercenaries of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) came to an abrupt end west of Manbij in early March, Turkey’s ‘Euphrates Shield’ operation essentially was put on hold. President Erdogan’s bid to dislodge YPG from Northern Syria, started in August of 2016, ended in stagnation. Forces from both Russia and US made sure that Ankara’s efforts to capture Manbij were nullified, and ‘Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) and FSA repelled(1, 2).

Manbij Situation map prior to March 29th. Credit for map goes to Transylvania Intelligence.

Manbij Situation map prior to March 29th. Credit for map goes to Transylvania Intelligence.

This embarrassed Ankara greatly and angered Turkish President Erdogan, as TSK and FSA could not advance any further, unless they wanted to be in direct conflict with Russia and US forces—something that Ankara was not prepared to do. With its hands tied and its forces forced to pull back, Turkey tried in vain to persuade US and Russia to reconsider their actions in Manbij (3). These meetings did not prove fruitful for Turkey and on March 29th, in a reluctant move, Ankara announced an end to its Euphrates Shield operation—one that lasted eight months(4). (August 24, 2016 to March 29th, 2017)

Military leaders meet in Atayla, Turkey March 7th. From Left to right: US Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov.

Military leaders meet in Atayla, Turkey March 7th. From Left to right: US Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov.

Meanwhile, focus now shifted for YPG, as external pressure that had sought to jeopardise Raqqa operation ‘Wrath of Euphrates’ was reduced. ‘Syrian Democratic forces’ (SDF) resumed their push for Raqqa, heavily clashing with ISIS and edging ever closer towards the snake’s heart. Crossing the Euphrates River with the assistance of US Special forces, SDF troops set sights on a city west of Raqqa called, ‘Tabqa’ (5, 6). It stands as one of the last obstacles before Raqqa.

SDF forces airdropped behind enemy lines gear up to prepare an advance towards Tabqa dam.

SDF forces airdropped behind enemy lines gear up to prepare an advance towards Tabqa dam.

A strategically significant city known for its dam, Tabqa stood for many years under the occupation of ISIS militants, ever since August of 2014 (7). ‘Syrian Arab army’ (SAA) fought bitterly to maintain the city and its important airbase when ISIS militants were swarming around it, but were overwhelmed in the end. Majority of those captured were used for ISIS’ propaganda machine in execution videos and as a warning to those forces who dared to challenge it (8).

Years had passed since SAA’s defeat at Tabqa and ISIS now faced a new, as well as more determined foe. Coalition jets flew high above Tabqa and bombed positions around it, crippling ISIS militants defending its dam (9). Bullets ripped through the air, as SDF forces engaged with ISIS militants and edged their way closer to Tabqa’s airbase—taking it completely on March 26th  (10). In a last ditch effort, ISIS claimed that Tabqa dam was on the verge of collapse due to coalition airstrikes(11). These claims circulated widely, but had no basis in reality—disproved later by SDF engineers, who found only minor damage (12).

YPG spokesperson Cihan Sheikh Ahmed speaks from recently liberated Tabqa airbase.

YPG spokesperson Cihan Sheikh Ahmed speaks from recently liberated Tabqa airbase.

-Ankara’s eyes on Europe:

Ankara’s operation to oust YPG from Northern Syria may have been a failure, but Erdogan vowed to reignite new operations at a later date (13). ‘Justice and Development Party’ (AKP) now focused on other matters across the globe; namely, gaining support for a referendum to grant greater executive powers to Erdogan. From Germany to the Netherlands, Erdogan encouraged Turks living abroad to be sure to cast their ‘Evet’ [Yes] vote in April’s referendum (14). This call for support ignited a storm in Netherlands, as authorities turned back Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s plane and turned away other AKP agents from campaigning on Dutch soil (15).

Keeping in autocratic fashion, Erdogan denounced the Dutch government as Nazis—ironic given the president’s fascist tendencies (^Ibid). AKP loyalists in Rotterdam and Istanbul, meanwhile, committed mass genocide on oranges too, through the squashing of dozens of the delicious fruits in protest—a horrifying spectacle for many (16). When AKP loyalists were not butchering food products, they were protesting in the streets with Muslim Brotherhood and Grey wolves hand gestures. Some went so far as to infiltrate the Dutch consulate building in Istanbul and replace its Dutch flag with a Turkish one (17).

Evet supporters horrifically slaughter dozens of oranges in Istanbul.

Evet supporters horrifically slaughter dozens of oranges in Istanbul.

Growing autocracy in Turkey for Erdogan had been simmering for months, but it was drawing towards a singular defining moment—Turkish referendum. AKP’s domestic policy of cracking down on journalists and jailing those with a ‘whiff’ of ‘Kurdish Worker’s party’ (PKK) affiliation, such as members of the ‘Peoples’ Democratic Party’ (HDP), only could go so far (18). It would take more than this and anti-European rhetoric and crackdowns to win Erdogan the referendum. Economic and protection narratives became more prevalent in government spokespersons’ speeches (19).

Evet posters have Erdogan's face on them.

Evet posters have Erdogan’s face on them.

Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State, did not listen to Ankara’s demands for US to end its support for YPG, when he came to Istanbul on March 28th (20). Ankara doesn’t seem to take the hint that maybe, just maybe, US does not want TSK and FSA to lead the Raqqa charge. A lack of organisation, centralisation and infighting amongst FSA does not look good to the ‘United States Central Command’ (CENTCOM). Moreover, why should the United States abandon an ally that repeatedly shows its effectiveness in combating ISIS? Besides, Trump Administration had more to deal with than just balancing its relations with Turkey and YPG.

Rex Tillerson meets with Erdogan.

Rex Tillerson meets with Erdogan.

-US’ reaction to another CW attack:

After a failed offensive by FSA and ‘Tahrir al-Sham’ (HTS) troops to capture northern Hama, bickering amongst Assad opposition forces increased, well SAA steadily pushed back against a splintered opposition (21). For many years now, the ‘Syrian Airforce’ (SyAF) and Russian Airforce had been targeting civilian centres in a long campaign to ‘eliminate terrorists’. (‘Terrorists’ referring to both jihadists and dissenters of Assad regime.) Dropping barrel bombs, using chlorine gas and other chemical weapons, pro-regime forces killed thousands of civilians in an effort to cripple what resistance remained (22).

The International community’s silence and inaction in prior years had given rise to a man who was not afraid to use whatever methods at his disposal to regain control of a broken country. In 2013, Assad showed the world what Sarin could do to thousands in Ghouta—dropping the substance and killing thousands through toxic suffocation (23). Denying responsibility and instead throwing blame on opposition forces, despite the overwhelming evidence presented by UN, Amnesty International, Doctors without borders and OPCW, even hiding behind Russia’s back, Assad displayed back then a refusal to care for the lives of civilians or take responsibility (24, 25, 26). The chemical weapon attacks in Khan Shaykhun in early April would show no different.

A mother and father weep at the sight of their dead child, who was killed in the Sarin gas attacks in East Ghousta, 2013.

A mother and father weep at the sight of their dead child, who was killed in the Sarin gas attacks in East Ghousta, 2013.

However, unlike the Obama Administration’s response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Ghouta (not doing enough), Khan Shaykhun would prompt Trump administration to take a much more ‘firmer’ stance.  In retaliation for the chemical weapons attack that killed dozens, and after having his heart tugged on by the sight of dead children, Trump ordered 59 tomahawk missiles to be launched at an Assad [Shayrat] airbase—a poor move for Trump (27). A poor move, not because of the act itself, but because the administration decided to inform Russia—who informed the Assad regime—beforehand (28).

Flight path of SyAF from Shayrat airbase to Khan Shaykun. As provided by Pentagon.

Flight path of SyAF from Shayrat airbase to Khan Shaykun. As provided by Pentagon.

Russia’s ‘tip off’ to the Assad regime allowed for it to pull most of its aircraft from the airbase, in effect only allowing the missiles to destroy a few aircraft and kill a few SAA personnel (29). This ‘symbolic’ move by the Trump Administration to deter future CW attacks has yet to show its long-term effects. However, one can say that such an act only showed, what was already evident to many, that Russia’s dedication to its ally only is rhetorical. In other words, if US decided to send ground forces into Syria to overthrow Assad, then Russia would not be willing to confront it.

President Assad and President Trump. On opposite sides of the world.

President Assad and President Trump. On opposite sides of the world.

-A new phase with old problems:

Well Trump administration tried further to wedge itself between Russia and Assad regime, SDF forces continued to tighten the noose around Raqqa with continued attacks near Tabqa dam. These attacks aimed at setting the groundwork for Wrath of Euphrates’ next phase. Announced on April 13th by YPG command, as SDF and USSOF edged closer to Tabqa’s west, Raqqa operations entered a new [4th] phase—aim would be to cut supply routes to Raqqa and isolate it completely (30).

SDF commanders announce that liberation of Tabqa is next in Raqqa operations.

SDF commanders announce that liberation of Tabqa is next in Raqqa operations.

During the launch of the new phase, CENTCOM jets received poor ground intel from SDF commanders, which resulted in friendly fire that killed 18 SDF fighters—most from the ‘Raqqa Hawks Brigade’, a former FSA unit that joined SDF in 2016 (31, 32). FSA supporters, as usual, were quick to jump on this tragedy and claimed that Rojava forces were deliberately targeting Arab fighters within their own ranks. An absurd claim, given that there are a large number of Arab fighters fighting in Rojava forces and that are leading in the Raqqa offensive.

Always quick to target the YPG for any failure, the anti-YPG brigade was out in full force when these airstrikes happened. It is no surprise that such a high level of scrutiny was placed on the YPG, as many FSA supporters are quick to point out the faults of a different group and ignore their owns—usual tribalism on show. This was most evident with the apologetics surrounding the attack of busses transporting civilians, as well as SAA forces, from Madaya and Zabadani to the Idlib province.

Map shows area of attack in Idlib province.

Map shows area of attack in Idlib province.

A transfer and exchange deal, agreed to by Iranian militias and FSA, that was supposed to assure safe passage of civilians of Assad besieged cities in Damascus’ west and those of rebel besieged cities in North-west of Idlib, ended in blood shed (33, 34). A suicide bomber blew up busses filled with Shiite civilians and over a hundred died, including many children. FSA and Assad supporters blamed one another, but given the history of attacks by jihadists on Assad loyalists and civilians in the area, one is to wonder if HTS or ‘Ahrar Al-sham’ (AAS) is to blame (35).

Assad opposition had devolved over the years, from a centralised force that wanted to rid Assad and establish pluralistic democracy to a splintered opposition that now was dominated by jihadists who want an Islamic caliphate. This sad regression has been due to the longevity of the Syrian conflict, where thousands of Syrians have become desperate to end the conflict. Throwing their hopes on those who only seek to usher in a new tyranny, blinded by a mindset that has been brought up on Arab supremacy, many side with jihadist factions and any forces that depart from their mindset, such as Rojava forces. It is this mindset that Rojava forces are seeking to change.

FSA rebels of Al Sham brigade.

Jihadists of Jund al-Aqsa, prior to 2017, when their fighters joined HTS.

-Changing minds, but not allies:

Helping to establish a ‘Raqqa Civilian Council’ (RCC) to takeover after SDF have liberated the city of Raqqa, SDF are seeking to change the mindset that has long plagued Syria. Appointing Layla Mohammed—a feminist and Raqqa local—to co-head the Council, Rojava forces sought to make a statement (36). By empowering women and putting them in places of authority, Rojava forces seek to change the gender dynamics and slowly erode the religious traditionalism that had sought to subjugate women as second-class citizens—A stark contrast to the jihadists’ vision.

Layla Mohammed (L) and Hamdan al-Abad (R) are leaders of the Raqqa Civilian Council.

Layla Mohammed (L) and Hamdan al-Abad (R) are leaders of the Raqqa Civilian Council.

Around the same time of Layla Mohammed’s appointment and RCC’s formation, Turkey was holding its referendum. April 16th saw Turks flock to voting booths, guarded at all times by Turkish soldiers and often surrounded by ‘Evet’ supporters, who kept close eyes on what way locals were voting. Intimidation was not the only thing awaiting potential ‘hayir’ [no] voters, but also fraudulent votes and a clear manipulation of votes to favour Evet side. Many counters of the results were filmed accepting fraudulent Evet votes—a clear violation of the voting process, but not to be a surprise, given Erdogan’s tactics (37).

However, what was clear to the world was that in Turkey there was still a resistance to autocratic rule. A majority of Kurdish regions in Turkey voted ‘Hayir’ and many of the major cities, such as Ankara and Istanbul, voted Hayir too. This showed that, even though the Turkish referendum was a victory for Erdogan, with 51.8% Evet votes in his favour, the coming darkness would have its future cracks of light from those areas (38, 39). With new power secured, President Erdogan could now set his sights on Rojava.

Results, as presented by AA - a Turkish state media outlet - for April 16th.

Results, as presented by AA – a Turkish state media outlet – for April 16th.

Now Turkey looks to be amassing troops north of the Tell Abyad border, for what looks to be a likely point of a possible future offensive by TSK into Rojava. Erdogan did say that Turkey would launch future military operations, this time without using the pretext of fighting ISIS, as it did for Euphrates Shield. However, Ankara’s methods of doing this are varied, but what is clear is that Iraqi Kurdistan President Barzani’s ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party’ (KDP), whose party co-administrates the ‘Kurdish Regional Government’ (KRG), would play a part.

President Barzani of the KRG and head of KDP.

President Barzani of the KRG and head of KDP.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s KDP acts as a Turkish organisation that heads a ‘quasi-Turkish protectorate’, as KDP has allowed Ankara’s interests to dictate KRG’s foreign policy. This is no more evident in KDP’s actions towards the PKK in Sinjar and to the Yazidis of ‘Sinjar Resistance Units’ (YBŞ). In August of 2014, when ISIS militants were edging their way towards Sinjar, thousands of Yazidis became victim to a massacre that would see Yazidi women enslaved, children butchered and men killed (40). Many of Yazidis had been disarmed in prior days by KDP forces, which retreated when ISIS militants broke through—leaving thousands defenceless (41).

A corridor was opened just in time by the YPG with the help of the PKK and YBŞ to create a path between Sinjar Mountains and Rojava territory. This corridor served to save thousands of Yazidis from being butchered further, showing that the Rojava forces and PKK wanted to aid those battling oppression (42). However, KDP pushed Ankara’s line and cracked down harder in following years against PKK, as well as the YBŞ. Pushing Rojava Peshmerga into Sinjar in March 2017 to try oust YBS, KDP intended to push any trace of PKK from Iraq. These clashes continued between KDP forces and YBŞ near Sinjar Mountains, inevitably escalating with Turkish airstrikes on April 25th (43).

Ibrahim Huso and Newroz Guvercin are the two soldiers attempting to stop a Peshmerga vehicle.

Ibrahim Huso and Newroz Guvercin are the two soldiers attempting to stop a Peshmerga vehicle.

-Bombs over Rojava:

Turkish jets flew high across Rojava and the Sinjar mountains, dropping bombs on YPG headquarters in Cizere and YBŞ’ military bases in Sinjar. Dozens killed, including many civilians and even KDP Peshmerga as well, showed that Ankara’s eyes were still firmly set on the Kurds (44). Launching further attacks, TSK clashed with YPG in the Afrin and Cizere cantons—battling at Darbasiyah. During this time, US commanders visited the site of the bombings in Sinjar a day later, despite the anger of both Turkey and FSA supporters (45).

A US officer, from the US-led coalition, speaks with a fighter from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) at the site of Turkish airstrikes near northeastern Syrian Kurdish town of Derik, known as al-Malikiyah in Arabic, on April 25, 2017. Turkish warplanes killed more than 20 Kurdish fighters in strikes in Syria and Iraq, where the Kurds are key players in the battle against the Islamic State group. The bombardment near the city of Al-Malikiyah in northeastern Syria saw Turkish planes carry out "dozens of simultaneous air strikes" on YPG positions overnight, including a media centre, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. / AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN

A US officer, from the US-led coalition, speaks with a fighter from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) at the site of Turkish airstrikes near northeastern Syrian Kurdish town of Derik, known as al-Malikiyah in Arabic, on April 25, 2017.
Turkish warplanes killed more than 20 Kurdish fighters in strikes in Syria and Iraq, where the Kurds are key players in the battle against the Islamic State group.
The bombardment near the city of Al-Malikiyah in northeastern Syria saw Turkish planes carry out “dozens of simultaneous air strikes” on YPG positions overnight, including a media centre, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. / AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN

Rojava supporters began to campaign for a ‘no fly zone’ over Northern Syria, shortly after the airstrikes, to prevent further Turkish aggression. In the interim, US State department, Iraq and Syrian governments denounced Turkey’s airstrikes—US even going so far as to warn Turkey to not take any further action against YPG. However, Ankara ignored Pentagon’s demands and continued to mortar YPG positions, as well as attempt to push armour into Rojava (46). This defiance prompted CENTCOM to authorise US Special forces to come to the aid of YPG in Darbasiyah.

Wedging itself firmly between TSK and YPG, US armed vehicles—with raised American flags—drove with YPG to the border and set up positions to deter Turkish aggression. US flexed its muscle and Russia found itself desiring to do the same, as Russia followed soon after with troops being sent to Afrin canton to deter aggression too (47, 48). It was a Manbij situation all over again, as Turkey again found itself confronted by both US and Russia. Creating, in effect, a ‘buffer zone’ along the northern Syria border, US stands now in Ankara’s way–again.

YPG vehicles escort USSOF along Rojava border with Turkey.

YPG vehicles escort USSOF along Rojava border with Turkey.

Charles Lister and other anti-YPG analysts took this opportunity to beat Ankara’s drum at Congress and on social media, outlying desperately the need for US to reconsider its relations with the YPG. Like Roy Gutman before in February, Lister and friends spared no time in pointing out YPG’s connection to the PKK—a ‘terrorist organisation’ (49). Julian Röpcke, another ME analyst, even went so far as to decry the USSOF that attended the funeral of killed YPG fighters in Qamshilo. Highlighting yet again, how far the anti-YPG brigade will go in their hatred of Rojava forces and their affirmation of Turkey’s narrative (50).

'Jihadi Julian' is what many YPG supporters refer the analyst as.

‘Jihadi Julian’ is what many YPG supporters refer the analyst as.

-A New Dawn for Syria:

Now that Ankara is once again forced to rethink its strategy in Northern Syria, SDF forces are on the verge of liberating Tabqa from ISIS. Well I write this, most of Tabqa’s old districts have been liberated and clashes now go on in the last remaining streets of the city. ISIS is done in Tabqa that is for sure. There seems to be a determination with the SDF that has tickled the fancy of the US, as Trump administration looks to be aligning more firmly on the side of it in the fight against ISIS than Ankara (51, 52). Ankara is starting to read the warning signs and has become increasingly tenser with the US.

Map of situation in Tabqa, May 5th. SDF repelled an ISIS counterattack.

Map of situation in Tabqa, May 5th. SDF repelled an ISIS counterattack.

Turning its eyes to its rebel partners, Ankara, Damascus and Tehran did manage to come to agreement on future ‘safe zones’ for refugees and civilians in the Syrian conflict to return (53). Whether or not these safe zones will work is yet to be seen; however, I am sceptical that such agreements will last unless maintained through force. It is speculated that TSK might intervene to prevent these safe zones from regressing back into conflict zones, and to stop further escalation of tensions between rebel groups, such as HTS and Sham Legion.

Deescalation zones proposal and what it will look like if implemented correctly in Syria.

Deescalation zones proposal and what it will look like if implemented correctly in Syria.

A new dawn breaks for Syria, as the forces of totalitarianism fight for survival in an ever increasingly difficult situation. Their leader gone and their units on the back foot, under siege by those who had suffered the most at their hands, ISIS militants now fight for what is left of a broken caliphate. With the strength of thousands that have perished in the most grotesque of manner behind them and with the cries of thousands in captivity still, female and male fighters—in equilibrium—of the Syrian Democratic Forces march onward. Rojava’s eyes are on Raqqa and its people now. Liberation is on the horizon.

YPG fighter oversees an airstrike.

YPG fighter oversees an airstrike.

Written By Anthony Avice Du Buisson 


A Kingdom of Tears: Male Guardianship in Saudi Arabia

When in the course of human developments, current establishments prove to be unjustified and tyrannical to the requests of human dignity and rights, when these bodies only wish to subjugate, steal and dictate humankind, the individuals within a society most oppressed have the eternal right to dissent against, and revolt against, these establishments. Moreover, for those who wish to spectate to this injustice against human dignity, may it be known that those who are spectators of injustice are unknowing accomplices to tyranny. One has to take a stand when the moment demands it. One has to speak up to break the silence that comes from fear and inaction.

History shows that in every epoch, there are those who are willing to go against what a society deems ‘moral’, ‘traditional’ or—more condescendingly—‘normal’ in pursuit of their own identity; leading lives that inspire others to follow a similar course of action—from Rosa Luxemburg to Mona Eltahawy. These individuals do not choose their paths out of joy, but rather out of a desire to escape what is around them and to seek out or ‘create a better realm. Often doing so as a part of a minority, these individuals nonetheless fight fiercely for dignity, autonomy, identity and other values that make for a better humanity. However, this journey is not easy and many face serious penalties for even daring to take the road less travelled. No better examples of the cost for dissenting than in those societies that depart from human dignity and rights, such as in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

One of the largest kingdoms in the Arabian Peninsula, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (abbreviated ‘KSA’) lays claim to many things; notably, Islam’s holiest sites—Mecca and Medina—and oil reserves that span across its large desert. For these many things, however, KSA also is home to an archaic system of laws that gets its reinforcement from culture, tradition and religion. Those who disobey or dissent from these laws have serious punishments to face, from imprisonment and lashings to execution via public beheading. (Dare to criticise the government and you will find yourself taken away by police, as was the case for blogger Raif Badawi who posted commentaries on Saudi Society and was sentenced to a thousand lashes and imprisonment in 2012. He remains in prison to this day, despite his wife Ensaf Haidar’s activism.) These laws reach all aspects of Saudi society and benefit those few who are wealthy and powerful. However, what is notable is the way tradition and religion play a large part in Saudi society, as both extend to the private sphere and defy the roles of men and women. Women’s role being the worse within Saudi Society, as is evident with the Male Guardianship system.

Slavery still exists and it comes in a variety of different shapes and forms: the Male Guardianship system is one. Male Guardianship is a system within Saudi Society that requires women to have a male ‘guardian’, which is usually a male relative, who has to accompany and give permission to a woman for her to be allowed to do tasks. From wanting to travel abroad to wanting to seek an education or even medical help, under Saudi law, a woman is required to have a Guardian who can grant permission. Furthermore, if a woman should be involved in a domestic abusive relationship with their guardian, then the guardian’s rights supersede those of the woman—under Saudi law. This means that should a woman complain to Saudi authorities of abuse by her guardian, the word of the guardian is listened to first. The Male Guardianship system is geared to favour Male Guardians. Denying autonomy, financial independence, identity and rights for women, Male Guardianship eclipses the life of a Saudi Woman and denies her a future by herself. It is a system that makes women slaves.

Moreover, the quality of a woman’s life depends entirely on her Guardian. There are guardians who are liberal in their approach and allow women to travel abroad, seek an apartment or work. However, and what must be noted, is that just because the quality of a woman’s life may be good in some parts in KSA, it does not negate the negative experiences of women who depart from said ‘good experience’. In other words, just because some slaves are treated better than others, does not deny what happens to the majority of slaves and the reality of slavery. As for every one woman in Saudi Arabia that benefits, there are at least ten others who do not. This must be recognised, as there are always apologists and PR spokes people that Saudi Government is more than happy to prop up, who will deny this and who will state how ‘nice’ women are treated in KSA. Others will justify the treatment of women by appeals to analogies, often along the lines of claiming Saudi women are ‘queens’ who must be protected. Even though queens are treated better than Saudi women are—having their own autonomy, as well as subjects to command—analogies like the ‘queen analogy’ still persist and the privileged stories of some Saudi women continue to be perpetuated, unknowingly at times, by writers.

Mona El-Naggar, an Egyptian writer based in New York, wrote an article in The New York Times called, ‘I live a Lie: Saudi Women Speak Up’ in October of 2016, about the experiences of Saudi Women in KSA. In it are many powerful stories, but one story stands out. Meeting a group of privileged Saudi students in Washington Square Park, Mona asked them about their experiences under the system. What was their response? “We don’t need to abolish male guardianship. We need to teach men how to be better guardians.” This is a slap to the face of those struggling under the system. By including this story, Mona unknowingly has undermined the piece she seeks to make. (Audiences have a tendency to think that a problem is not as big as it is when there are two sides to it.) Many Saudi girls have escaped from their home nation, many desiring ‘to feel the air on their faces’. One example of those who have escaped Saudi Arabia is Moudi, previously known by the online pseudonym, ‘Sinner’.

Using ‘Twitter’ as a means to raise awareness of the plight of Saudi women, as Twitter is just one of the few sites not banned in KSA, Moudhi—like many Saudi girls—sought to give both fellow Saudi women and foreign audiences a window into the life of a woman in KSA. In real life a law student studying in the USA, Moudhi wore a mask to protect herself from both her family and the system. (Saudi Law, especially when it comes to studying abroad, can send back Saudi girls on scholarships for even daring to criticise KSA.) After a long time of contemplation, Moudhi took off her mask and voiced public criticisms of the Male Guardianship system.  Despite the psychological abuse that follows her, both by her own family and Saudi males, Moudhi continues to raise a voice for Saudi Women. Stories like Moudhi’s are not to be taken lightly, as they emphasise what individuals can do and have to undergo when speaking truth to power.

[Writer’s note: More stories will be touched upon later within this essay. However, there are a few stories attached in the appendix.]

Picture: Moudhi Sulaiman, normal face and wearing a veil

Picture: Moudhi, normal face and wearing a veil

History of Oppression

Acknowledging the role religion, culture and tradition play into shaping Saudi Society is imperative, as it fundamentally means accepting reality for what it is and not what it should be. Saudi Arabia in the 60’s and 70’s, just like most countries in the Middle east during that time, from Egypt to Syria, was undergoing radical shifts in culture as more of its populace were experimenting with art and discussing new ideas, such as whether the ban on women driving—imposed in 1957—should be lifted. (What should be noted is that women can drive in non-public areas and only if their guardians allow it; however, they are not allowed to drive on public highways.) However, these shifts in culture did not come without their hostile reactionaries. Ever since its formation as a kingdom in 1932, Saudi Arabia—initially under the leadership of King Abdulaziz—had to deal with trying to synthesise both the non-religious and religious sectors of its nation. Prior to its formation, Al Saud monarchy had a close relationship with the ulama—religious body of clerics. The ulama adhered to a more orthodox version of Islam, ‘wahhabism’ and helped the conquest of Al Saud monarchy over most of the Arabian Peninsula throughout the mid-18th-early 20th centuries. This bond between religion and the state (theocracy) helped to create the kingdom, as the government got its religious legitimacy from the Wahhabi clerics in turn for the clerics being able to propagate the ‘Tawhid’ doctrine—monotheism. (An intertwining of religion and politics was crucial in maintaining KSA’s legitimacy.)

This changed when British imperialistic ventures in the Middle East proved to be an obstacle for the Saudi government, forcing a rigid drawing of strict borders with surrounding nations, KSA had to cut concessions to the ulama and instead pursue secular goals—non-religious national security and foreign policy goals. This would muddle relations between religion and the state. Well more technological and secular influences made their way into the country from western nations, and a ‘modernisation’ of the country began to take root, Mullahs and clerics condemned this ‘westernisation’ of Saudi Arabia in their mosques. However, these mullahs dared not delegitimise the royal family, and when Al Saud monarchy called upon religious justifications for its proposed state policies, clerics dared but refuse. (This contradiction remains, as clerics ‘criticise’ policy in theory, but legitimise it in practise for the state—highlighting something worth note: the power of the monarch.) After the abolishment of slavery in 1962, pushed by Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and in conjunction with international pressure from the United States and Britain, Saudi Arabia’s growing internal struggles and changes led to the abdication of King Saud and the appointment of his successor—King Faisal.

King Faisal introduced ‘radical’ policies in the 60’s and 70’s to Saudi Society that would alter its structure. Through the pushing away of Wahhabi draconian rules and condemnations, Faisal was able to allow women the ability to seek an education and allowed for the creation of Saudi television—policies that cemented Faisal as a ‘reformer king’. This angered a great deal of Wahhabi clerics and religious fanatics, who saw these policies as a ‘perversion’ by the west on Saudi society. These clerics were not alone in their attitudes to westernisation, as religious fanatics throughout the Middle East were growing increasingly angry at their governments ‘capitulation’ to Western influences—seeing their nations going away from ‘pure’ Islam. (To those who were not fanatical in their beliefs, this growing change was increasingly affording women rights and public discussions were commonplace.) However, in 1975, Faisal’s reign ended with assassination by his deranged nephew—Faisal bin Musaid. After King Khalid’s ascent to the throne to fill void left by Faisal, KSA found it amidst turbulent political winds, as nations surrounding it were growing increasingly involved in internal struggles, from Iran to Iraq. These winds engulfed Saudi Arabia in 1979 with the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Armed with guns smuggled in via coffins, a group of insurgents stormed the Grand Mosque in Mecca and declared that Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani was the Mahdi (redeemer of Islam), and demanded King Khalid to step down. Allegedly receiving word from Allah while in prison, Juhayman al-Otaybi believed Saudi Arabia to have lost its way and saw it as an imperative to not only rid the country of ‘western perversion’, but to also bring it back to a ‘purer’ form of Islam. Otaybi and his brother-in-law, Qahtani, gathered a group of a few hundred devotees to enter Mecca’s holiest Mosque during hajj (pilgrimage). Taking hostages, Otaybi demanded King Khalid to step down. This ‘mahdist’ group occupied the mosque (whereby it desired to establish a theocratic state), for nearly two weeks. It was quelled when French and Pakistani forces, scrambled together by the royal family in desperation to secure KSA’s legitimacy, stormed the Mosque, killing Qahtani and capturing Otaybi. However, King Khalid had to seek a ‘fatwa’ (religious decree) beforehand from the ulama to allow those forces to be given access to the Mosque to remove the insurgents. The ulama sought the opportunity to push for an amending of relations between the state and religion. In turn for allowing access, it wanted more power to affect policies, which it got after the recapture of the Grand Mosque. This increase in power meant that the Monarch gave Wahhabi clerics more decision making abilities and agreed to help export its religious ideology (Wahhabism) globally in the oncoming decades.

With the reforging of this alliance between the state and religion, Saudi Arabia started to reverse the modernisation that had gripped it in the 60’s and 70’s. The ulama began to impose stricter Islamic law (Sharia) upon the country: censoring media, enforcing greater restrictions on women and banning things like alcohol. Forcing women to cover up, either with an abaya or with hijab, KSA ended the liberal experimentation and started to enforce traditional roles upon Saudi women. King Khalid’s successor, King Fahd, allowed for the formation of the ‘Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vices’ (CPVPV), which intended to maintain these laws. It did this through the Religious police who were given greater reign to enforce dress code, sex segregation (aptly denoted by some as ‘sex apartheid’), the Male Guardianship system and ensure the domination of Islamic state policy. If a woman should be seen in public unaccompanied by her Guardian, then the religious police could take her and lock her up in a ‘care home’, which is a prison for women. In the education system, more schools had to have religious studies. In this way, the ulama wanted to regain Saudi Arabia’s status as an Islamic nation and ensure ‘Islamic values’ were spread to its populace—more orthodox values, as opposed to liberal ones. This ‘Wahhabi’ imposition on Saudi society did not come without its resistance.

Wherever there are those who are willing to subjugate others, there will always be a small pocket of dissenters willing to raise their voices against tyranny and defy state law. This was the case in Riyadh in 1990, where a couple dozen women drove cars throughout Saudi Arabia’s capital. Knowing perfectly well the risks, these women took their guardians’ cars and drove them—defiant of the law. Paying with the revoking of their passports and jail time, such a demonstration only shows the desire of women to have rights and sheer desperation of the Saudi government to keep its legitimacy through force. In addition, as it clamps down harder, there will be more resistance to it as women refuse to be silent. This ‘fire’ to have rights cannot be extinguished merely by physical force, as is evident with the continuation of such protests in the 21stcentury.

Picture: Wajeha al-Huwaider driving a car in 2008

Picture: Wajeha al-Huwaider driving a car in 2008

Moving to end the Male Guardianship system

 

Movements have flurried with the advent of the internet and Social media, as more women gain access to platforms that allow them to voice their experiences under the Male Guardianship System. Despite KSA banning certain social media sites and apps, such as ‘Skype’, ‘Facebook’ and ‘Whatsapp’, sites like ‘Twitter’ and ‘Instagram’ remain, providing a venue for women to write and share videos of what life is like in KSA. Well there are many women who have to adorn pseudonyms to protect their identity from Saudi Authorities, there are those brave few who choose to come out publically—despite the costs. Saudi women activists like Wajeha Huwaider, a woman who was arrested for posting a video of herself driving a car in Riyadh in 2008, and Manal al-Sharif, a woman who launched ‘Women2Drive’ campaign that sought to teach Saudi women to drive in 2011, both have been in the public eye and have protested the ban on women driving. Aziza Yousef is another activist who is involved in the highlighting of women’s rights abuses in KSA. Highlighting a couple cases in 2014 (one of them being where a woman died on campus in Riyadh after not being given access to paramedics, all because of not having a Male Guardian), Aziza sought to petition the Shura Council with other activists to demand an end to Male control over women. These activists seek to highlight the grave human rights violations that Saudi Arabia is guilty of and have inspired many Saudi women to take up a new mantra. A mantra that has since gone on to define a movement: ‘I am my own Guardian’.

‘“When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” I am forced to love someone I hate. However, I am not the only one. There are many like me in my country. Many women who suffer as I do. We want our freedom from this tyranny. We want the Male Guardian system to end. This is my wish. My name is Aisha. I am just another woman who lives in KSA.“-Aisha

[Writer’s note: full story, as well as many others that I have received, will be attached in the appendix of this essay.]

In mid-2016, Saudi women took to twitter to start a movement to end the Male Guardianship system. Tweeting under various hashtags, such as #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen, #TogetherToEndMaleGaurdianship and #سعوديات_نطلب_اسقاط_الولايه (Abolish the male Guardianship system), Saudi Women started to raise awareness of what harrowing experiences that happen in KSA. Many of these women, which included activists like Hala Al dosari, began posting videos and their stories of oppression, and began to demand an end to Male Guardianship and Saudi Women’s liberation. On its 159th day, at the time of writing this, #سعوديات_نطلب_اسقاط_الولايه this Arabic hashtag is the primary one that many Saudis use to voice their concerns. Some of the stories included in this hashtag are very horrifying and provide just a glimpse into the life of Saudi women. Many of these stories include domestic abuse cases, where the Male Guardian has subjected their daughters and wives to torture, psychological manipulation and rape, and have gotten away with it! (Human Rights Watch wrote an excellent piece in July 2016 called, ‘Boxed In’, which highlighted many experiences from Saudi women.) Highlighting the injustice and discrimination of the system, the movement to end Male Guardianship has a couple goals, which many of those involved would agree with:

  1. Abolish the Male Guardianship System.
  2. End the ban on Women driving.
  3. Acknowledge human rights for women.

However, in order to achieve these goals, Saudi Arabia needs to acknowledge the abuses of its government upon its own people. The Saudi government is reluctant to do this and at times denies its treatment of women. This is evident with it saying one thing to United Nations Human Rights Council, but doing another thing within the Kingdom. (It is a sad state of affairs when KSA is Chair of the Human Rights Council of the UN, as it currently is and has been ever since 2015.) Prior to the current King Salman, King Abdullah had made small concessions to international pressure to give women greater rights. Electing thirty female members to the Shura Council, more as a publicity stunt than anything else, Abdullah made snail progressions that are still not enough. There needs to be more action.

Within the movement, there are both non-Saudis and Saudis alike who do their part to raise awareness of the plight of Saudi women. Those who are against the movement claim it to have a ‘western agenda’ in mind, because of the involvement of western individuals. This ‘rationale’ follows the same conspiratorial mindset of those who claimed that Otaybi’s zealots, such as the Ayatollah of Iran, were ‘CIA-backed agents’. In other words, it is ridiculous at best and seeks to undermine the legitimacy of the movement at worst. There is an international presence within the movement, but what must not be forgotten is that the movement is for Saudi Women’s liberation. Saudi women come first and their concerns for rights are the focus of the movement. In a nation where a woman can have her entire life dictated to by a Male guardian, where this guardian can take away her rights to go to school or seek medical assistance and so on, it is imperative to raise awareness of her struggles and seek justice to end them. Not just because she is Saudi, but because she is human. The struggle for Saudi Women’s rights is a part of the larger struggle for a better humanity.

The fight for Saudi Women’s rights is just one of the many fights that exist in the Arab world. Across the Middle East, women undergo their own struggle against oppression, whether it be from the totalitarian forces of ISIS to the theocratic imams of Iran, each one battles for freedom. In each case, there are those who have no personal stake in an issue, but choose to take the side of the victim and aid them in their struggle. Being motivated by a fire that burns within, these humans take up Bertrand Russell’s injunction to ‘Remember your humanity and forget the rest’. Refusing to be spectators of injustice and doing what they can to help. Reminding those facing oppression to continue to raise their voices, as silence is what gives tyranny power. Never forget the power of words.

The government of Saudi Arabia cannot ignore forever its populace’s voices.
Though it may try to, it will not win.
Saudi Women are too strong for that.
Never forget that.

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Artwork: Ms Saffaa’s art for the #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen movement

 

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson (11/12/2016)

 

APPENDIX:

-Aisha’s story: http://philosophyismagic.com/a-womans-struggle-aishas-story/

-Abaya’s story:

 

I do not care anymore for this life.
I have become empty inside, as a result of the abuse around me.
Everyone is against me and accuse me of doing sexual things that I have not done!
They make me out to be an oppressor, but it is they who support an oppressor!

 

When I was nine years old, my father sexually abused me. But I didn’t stay quiet, and I told my mother about what he did to me. It was the worst thing that I did, as he only became angrier and acted crazy. He expected me to be quiet, but I refused! Mother told me to tell her if anyone touched you inappropriately, then I had to always speak up. I never expected it to be my father!

 

As a result of me speaking up, he became very abusive to me. He would deliberately scare me and try to kill me, but my mother would stand in his way and she would threaten him that she would tell everybody about what he did to me. I was only a child and I would not sleep for some nights because I was afraid of him as he always threatens to kill me. He would tell me, “by god I will nail your head to the floor!” When we moved to another house I was relieved to find the room me and my sisters shared had a lock.  I started locking the door each night but he would still threaten me that he would insert a gun from the window and shoot me from there. I spent nights sleeping in the corners of the room so the gun wouldn’t reach me. Why does he do this?

 

I want to understand why this happened to me? I’m a person who hasn’t done anything wrong, I was a ‘model’ girl. I did what I was supposed to do, from prayer to listen to my mother. As the years went on, he continue to deny me things. He tied to prevent me from going to school, but I would go each year and felt involved in a constant fight! Some days I was afraid he would see me and hit me infront of my friends. When I would come off the bus, he would slap me. Even my bus driver tried to stop him. These efforts were in vain, as he would continue to humiliate me and abuse me by telling how he wants to take me out of school.

 

He wouldn’t give me an allowance even. Everything I owned were hand me downs from my sisters and mother since I was a child. I used to wear my brother’s shoes at school because he was the only one who was close to my age at the time and I remember the girls in school would make fun of me since they were boys’ shoes. Even my name he put it in his company so he can prevent me from supporting myself (I never understood why he did this.) He refuses to support me and doesn’t allow me to support myself. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m experiencing severe depression. I’m always thinking about suicide, especially in the last couple of months. But I always think about my mother and my siblings and I don’t want to leave them alone.

 

He doesn’t even allow me to go to the hospital. I have asthma, and a many time I get severe attacks where I can’t breathe and my mother tells him take her to the hospital but he would say No, let her die. I want her to.

 

My father is just despicable. He’s the worst person ever.

 

He would lock me up in my room for days. My mother would bring me food from the window. Even the bathroom, I would only go when he’s not in the house and if he’s back I could never go in. I would avoid drinking anything so that I don’t need to go.

 

He’s always helping everyone, even some of his friends’ daughters so that one would believe us. When I call the police after he hits me they would ask me, what did you do? Then they would give me numbers to call none of which I get a response. So I lose hope.

 

When I called human rights, they called him and he lied to them and told them that he loves me and cares about what’s best for me and that he needs me at home and the worker believed him. He’s a liar. And when the worker called me again to make sure, my father threatened my mother, that if I don’t shut up he’s going to get an official form that proved I’m crazy and that they would take me forcibly to a mental institute.

 

By god everything I told you is nothing compared to what he’s done to me. I literally want to die. He’s not allowing me to live. He intervenes and prevent me from everything even what I wear. I dreamt of being a teacher. Or to just live a normal life like every other girl. God has gave him many things. He has many foundations under his name. Sometimes I feel that god is unjust. This oppressive man who’s stopping my life and future is just so blessed.

 

 

 


Dissecting Thought: NOMA and religion: a naturalist perspective

Question Discussed:

-Is religion and science compatible? (Is faith compatible with science?)

The notion that religion and science are compatible is simply incorrect, religion and science are not compatible, they both explore means of understanding the world in different lights, religion in a different light to science; both express notions of what is, and both define the world differently (science in the light of evidence, religion in the light of revelations). This creates tension, as religion does interfere in scientific inquiry and science in religiosity. It is this contention as well the conclusion drawn from this that makes the NOMA model proposed by Stephen Jay Gould, simply impossible. It is the interest of this piece to express why this is and to explain the reasons why it is this way. So let us begin.

interesting it is to explore the pages of history especially that of natural history and the subsequent individuals involved in its making. History whose pages express the vast theories and scientific discoveries of the early Greek scientists, the first of the many natural philosophers to take upon a cosmic perspective of the universe, and investigate the physical dimension of reality, as opposed to the yearnings of illusory Images made from those physical entities trapped within it. The philosophers and researchers who mapped out the stars, discovered the atom, how the planets rotated and so on. Natural history is a very interesting subject to do research into; it was in this research that one (such as myself) found well looking up the origins of life, Palaeontologist Stephen jay Gould’s essay titled “NOMA” written in march 1997. It was at best to the reader (such as me) something of a no-show “Is this a pandering to religion?” having read this in 2013, it still makes good taste for discussion. So what better way to share those thoughts then in a piece on the subject matter? As mentioned before the essay was published by Stephen Jay Gould in March 1997 and can be found in “Leonardo’s mountains and the diet of worms” (1998) book (as well as “rock of ages”). At the time of the release of the essay, there was still dormant much less criticism it would seem of evolution and biology by the religious then there is today. In the essay Gould captures this brilliantly with a discussion that he had in 1984 well speaking with Jesuit priests in the Vatican well attaining a meeting on stellar science. He mentions how the Jesuit priests found it hard to believe that there was something as ridiculous as “creation science” or “Intelligent design”, even remarking to Gould that Evolution did not lay doubt in their faith. The essay expands on this discussion and the subsequent investigation of Pope John Paul the 2nd remarks in favour of evolution (1996). Yet the heart of the essay deals with the question “Is faith compatible with science?” (Though not in those words directly), a very interesting question to ask and an even more interesting way Gould answered it. In this essay Gould expresses the argument that religion and science are both mutually compatible with one another, and even essential to complement one another. He summarized this contention in the view that science and religion operated different realms of teaching authority (or “Magisterium” in Latin, plural “Magisteria”) and thus were both compatible and did not come into conflict with one another. This gave rise to the principle of NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) that argues both realms do not overlap with one another. The reason for this conclusion rests at the principle that…

“No such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domains of teaching authority-and these magesteria do not overlap…The net of science covers the empirical universe; what it is made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisterial do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry…“ (Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould, 1997)

NOMA has since then been used as a Segway by both prominent religion and science individuals to express the given neutrality (or alluded) neutrality between the two teaching authorities. Very much to the contention of many this attempted neutrality was been brisked and promoted (however one suspects for different motives then broadly accustomed to; for instance at the time in the USA the “creationist” movement was starting to lay a significant problem to science education, throughout the essay to the rest of the world evolution was a settled thing. Yet in the united states, protestant fundamentalism was gaining traction, so what would be a way to solve this by promoting the example of NOMA that faith and science were compatible, it could work…right?) Later in that same year astronomer and author Carl Sagan took this essay to the Vatican (even the Catholics had no issue with NOMA, given that not too long ago they were the ones burning those who promoted ‘wack’ theories) as (which one can only say) a sign of good “faith” between the two sides. Yet over fifteen years since the paper’s publication (and subsequent republication in the New York Times in 1998) and almost twelve years since the death of Stephen Jay Gould, this principle still raises much discussion and much criticism (as one can imagine if one is really were to put two forces on equal footing). Theologians, cosmologists, astrophysicists, authors, polemicists, rhetoricians and other academic and amateur individuals have expressed either disdain for NOMA or reverence of its notion. For the interest of this piece, the focus will be put on the principle of NOMA and on the subsequent question “Is religious faith compatible with science?” What will be explored is the epistemological conflict that exists between religious faith and scientific inquiry, the metaphysical naturalism that underpins methodological naturalism and the subsequent contrast to that of the theological underpinnings that reside with religious faith, the political ideology surrounding religion, moral argument, with the final verdict being made that religious faith and science both overlap with one another (P1-P4), and thus both magesteria will and in fact, do come into conflict with one another. This is made known beforehand as to provide a structured approach to the NOMA principle and to the question and baggage that it carries whenever it is discussed by contemporaries of either religion or science.

Now one must express at most that the notion that faith (that which will not submit to reason, change, or evidence and instead trust superciliously to the bitter end) is compatible with science (that which uses reason, logic and evidence to explore the reality of the universe, in the means that it is and revising always closer to a better understanding) is simply misleading. There is very much a conflict, and it is between two different means of acquiring knowledge; science on the one hand uses means of investigation of the natural paradigm of existence in order to come to understanding of the world. Knowledge is acquired through justifying one’s beliefs, and this justification for science and for rational individuals’ comes in the form of evidence that goes beyond PBB (proper basic beliefs, common axioms of philosophy), this evidence comes from the natural paradigm of existence. A deeper understanding allows for a deeper knowledge of the world around you, this is what natural philosophy (methodological & metaphysical naturalism) seeks to do. Faith deals with different means of acquiring knowledge this of course is different for every religion, but the general summation usually goes in the tone that some sort of divine revelation permitted by a deity is the means by which knowledge is acquired. Others mandate faith in a deity (ies) as central to acquiring knowledge of the world, this means in most cases believing the ancient writings of nomadic tribesmen, prophets and speakers for faith. The great monotheisms (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) promote the path to knowledge as one of divine revelation, this being through the written testaments of prophets of classical antiquity who had trust and devotion to God(s), who were revealed to them. When one seeks to come to knowledge of the world through two different means, they will conflict with one another, and religion does that with science. Religion claims all answers, or paths to answers through its doctrinal teachings, science seeks to explore the world by the use of the natural sciences to come to knowledge by the justification of beliefs. If one seeks but to believe the word of the leaders as to attain knowledge that most certainly will come into conflict with the epistemic line that knowledge is acquired through inquiry and investigation as opposed to faith and divine revelation. This is but the first point as to why both science and religion are not compatible, and do overlap with their alleged “separate realms of teaching authority”. Yet there is a further note to be raised here, the epistemological conflict that rests with acquiring knowledge from different means (natural philosophy versus theology) is impossible, there is only one means by which to acquire knowledge and that has to do with justification of beliefs and the means by which we do that is through not just empirical means but rational means that all spring from the physical (natural paradigm of existence) realm of inquiry; through an investigation of what is as opposed to what we wish, knowledge can and most emphatically “is” acquired through the means of investigation; something that faith does not permit, as faith is the belief without proof, any definition is but a corruption of this meaning for all people who now use the word “faith” use it as a means of “undying trust” which again raised even more issues. Some of these issues lay in the stark contrast at how these two different realms approach learning. Religion and the notion it rests on which is “faith in God(s)” (speaking about monotheism strictly here, pantheism, and other forms of henotheism and polytheism diverge on different aspects that one could consider not faith but simple equivocation of trust with faith) has a negative view towards learning, anything that is not in benevolence of the deity is “poisonous” to it and thus should not be even approached. The major issue this stirs is confirmation bias, science holds to the notion of peer review and scrutiny; something that is completely opposite to religion! The approach to learning and knowledge from religion goes in direct conflict with the means by which science approaches learning and knowledge; and thus the magisteria overlap.

Science as mentioned already, is natural philosophy, and as so is under the presuppositions of metaphysical naturalism. Now there must be a note here, and that is methodological naturalism uses the means of the natural sciences and the tools of humanity to investigate the natural realm, and in principle is different to metaphysical naturalism which insists that the natural realm is all there is and thus works on specific laws that are unchanged; things such as supernatural entities and the supernatural realm cannot exist, as anything in the natural realm of existence is in reality; as reality is anything that is in existence within the natural. For if the supernatural realm existed with entities capable of amazing feats, then they would have to exist in the realm of nature, and that would then demote them from the status of gods, to normal material entities with abilities explainable to science. For if they existed outside existence, they would not exist at all, so terms such as “non-temporal” are but baseless claims. Methodological naturalism only concerns itself with investigations of the natural realm (that is it). Methodological naturalism however comes from the basis of metaphysical naturalist thought and thus has similar presuppositions 1) The future will be the same as the past 2) the natural laws govern the cosmos and everything within it 3) on the premises of these laws nature can be explored and knowledge of the known universe justified 4) the empirical method is the best means of attaining knowledge of the natural realm (and so on). These presuppositions are both current in methodological and metaphysical naturalism and thus are the basis of science. Religion works differently, it works on theology and the various means by which to secure, protect and validate the faith at the centre of the religion. In monotheism (specifically) Christianity has a religious text, as does Judaism and Islam, all of these texts are professed to be the spoken word of the deity who allegedly created the universe and all within it (through different means and so on). Theology is a means by which the various revelations that the writers of those religious holy text, can be understood in means of allowing a suitable framework for the faiths to have organization leading to active worship and dedication by those faithful. Religion lays origins to the supernatural as opposed to science who lays its origins to the cosmos (the natural), religion wishes to say that the natural arose through means of the supernatural and thus the world can be explained through the supernatural well science wishes to say that life arose from the natural and can be explained through the natural. As one can see both realms are again in conflict. A very good example is expressed in the NOMA document about the discussion that was sparked over the “evolution versus creationism” debate going on in America.

Now the theory of evolution is a well-established scientific process that explains the origin of species and the vast diversity within life, this includes individual organisms, DNA, proteins, molecules and species; a theory stating that organisms (and the all other aforementioned subjects) adapt to environmental pressures thrust upon them by nature actively selecting the best of those organisms to pass adaptation characteristics to other generations over successive generations. Those species thus will have greater chances of reproducing their genes in the gene pool and surviving their environment. Different environments mean different adaptations, and it is these adaptations over time that lead to the vast complexity we have today; random mutation (so far as we know it to be) will occasionally occur with a species giving it certain characteristics that may or not be useful. It is thus all species and all of life holds a common ancestry with one another, a “universal ancestor(s)”. This theory proposed by Alfred Wallace and revolutionized by Charles Darwin is not only factual but has like all good scientific theories the margin of predictability and determination. On the opposite side of the “argument” (not really being a serious danger) is intelligent Design, the simple notion that all of life is too complex and intricate and must therefore have a designer. Both ID and evolution deal with the field that NOMA states science should have dominion over, and it is this point that I raise that religion seeks to impose over science’s ability to accurately explain the natural realm, ID is just another argument thrown out by the religious community to try (and successfully is falling in support) and bring religion into the scientific class room. ID is not science it is pseudo-science, it does not hold to an accurate model of predictability, no explanatory value, no margin for experimentation it is just an assertion based on ignorance, speculation and psychological need and thus is not a valid (in any form) scientific theory.

One more point that needs to be raised is the political ideology that surrounds religion, unlike science which has no dogma (and to all those shouting ‘scientism’, there is simply no such thing, the whole notion of scientism is a philosophical pandering to religious critics who are saw that religion is being denigrated from social sphere of influence and now heading out with astrology, alchemy and all the other means by which our infant species came to first understand the world) as if it did it would not change for anything, unlike religion, science revises itself constantly finding better and more efficient ways of exploring the cosmos. Scientists spend long hours, and constant research that then will be peer reviewed and scrutinized vigorously; to say science is dogmatic is a pandering to religious paranoia. Scientists actively revise their thoughts in light of new evidence, always seeking to follow the evidence where it leads and making sure that what the findings they get are accurate. It is in this light that science (and one will have to repeat for sceptics) holds to no dogma and political ideology. Religion on the other hand holds sternly to the notion of not revising its dogmas, organizing collectively the downward notion that man is the subject to the gods. The purpose of this life (monotheism specifically) is to worship the deity and prepare for the next life, it is thus in this notion that religion holds a very stern (and has held a very stern) notion against progression. It silenced Galileo when he proposes that geocentricism was wrong. It burned those who dare question its dogma, killing individuals who spoke out against the church, imposed itself against the rights of women and the rights against LGBT. It continues to impose itself against the individuals rights, in places such as Iran Homosexuals are hung for committing sodomy, apostates are killed for denouncing Islam, homosexual and lesbian individuals are not allowed their fundamental liberties (in places such as Australia, their still exists excessive bigotry from the liberal government, with their obvious Christian conservatism). Religion holds an active political ideology to instigate control over civil society, and it has shown to do this time and time again. Religion as it stands has no interest in progression, whereas science is interested in progressing knowledge, religion is not, it stands at every single step of the way for scientific inquiry. Its supporters adamantly detest any inquiry as to go against religious dogma and doctrine, always trying to lay claim to scientific revolutions and twisting the light of reality to the illusory images promulgated by religious doctrines.

The final point that will be raised is the issue of NOMA’s principle, Religion is said to have teaching authority over meaning and morality, which Stephen Jay Gould fails to realise that what he instead is instigating is moral philosophy. Science can study human behaviour and morality and meaning have to do with human behaviour so in this aspect science does and can comment on alleged “religious concerns”. Religion is not in complete authority of meaning, science can explain the physical world and what is, but why cannot it comment on the why? Different cultures of religiosity have different meanings; in Buddhism (which is a philosophy and not a religion) reaching a state of Nirvana is considered fulfilment of the individuals’ inner sanctum. In Christianity meaning is found with a faith in God and an active serving of him, this may involve attending church spreading the gospel and preparing for the next life. Religion in these respects is not interested in finding meaning at all! Instead it wants to give you the meaning, science is different. In science the main understanding is to grow a greater understandings of the workings of natural existence, in these respects science wishes to find answers to unanswered questions involving the natural realm. Stephen jay Gould expresses that religion deals with “taking people to heaven” whereas science deals “discovering heaven”. This of course fails to realise that religion in most respects was our first aspect of discovering the world around us, the first ways at which to understand the world. Moral philosophy is different to religion, yes religion will deal in aspects of moral philosophy such as the origins of morality and what is moral. But science can provide means of finding efficient ideas about the true nature of morality, and can document (not yet, still a work in progress) where morality comes from, its use, the ideal system of morality and so on. In this respects Science (science of morality) does come into conflict and does overlap Religions alleged “teaching authority” (magisterium).

So what can be said so far in conclusion? Is faith compatible with science? Does NOMA work? In short the answer is no. Faith and science do come into conflict at a fundamental level, both deal in ways of attaining knowledge of the world, the one relies on divine revelation and unwavering trust in a deity for knowledge and the other deals with inquiry and revision into the realm of the natural. Faith deals with the belief in the supernatural, and science deals with investigation into the natural, which is all there is. The margin for belief and faith in a deity dwindles as scientific inquiry progresses, resulting in an ever dwindling regression to the point at which the need for faith and the supernatural inevitably become null and void. Faith undermines learning and progression, as religion seeks to avail a constant monopoly over the “Truth”, which is never changing and never growing unless with the deities’ permission (or the dear leaders of the sects’ permission) whereas science is interested in investigation and inquiry into the world always ready to progress and learn more about the cosmos. The underpinning aspects that science holds onto, the metaphysical natural perspective and has inevitably no draw of the supernatural aspect that religion plays to, as to the natural philosopher the supernatural realm just cannot exist as it would underpin science itself. Religion holds to a political ideology that undermines the individual’s right to his body, his voice and to his mind, whereas science holds no such constraints and no such dogma. The final nail in the coffin as to why science and faith do not work as well as the NOMA principle is because science can explain meaning and morality, and religion is not interested in pandering to progression and discovery more interested in the already pre-made product. Non-overlapping magesteria, the principle that religion and science hold to two different realms of teaching authority and thus do not overlap is simply not true and it is because of this fact that the model fails completely; as there is a conflict. The fact of the matter is (in the perspective of this writer) religion needs to die for progression and science to truly take off; across the globe there are quasi-religious states, with religion undermining the rights of the individual and pandering to the illusions of grandeur who seek not peace and not acceptance but seek separation and control. It is this reason as well as all the aforementioned reasons why religion and science can never truly be compatible with one another, and it is this understanding that only one is permissible and for this writer that has to do with the naturalist perspective, as it, is the only perspective truly valid. All others are pandering to the illusory psychological needs of the individuals. It may sound abrupt and it may sound prejudice but it is the truth, an inconvenient truth.

Knowledge is power

Use it

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson