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30 July 2015

Neo-Orientalist Islamophobia Is Maligning the Reputation of the Prophet Muhammad Like Never Before

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Beyond the legacy of colonialism, the often frosty relations between Islam and the West have come to be defined largely by post-Sept. 11 ideas and events. Several narratives such as "the clash of civilizations," the "war of ideas," the "war on terror," the Crusades and Islamofascism have thus been used in vogue in reference to this relationship.
In the West's cultural delirium, the military, economic and political mindsets involving the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan and covert and not-so-covert intrusions into Pakistan, the most prominent target is the life, personality and character of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Islamophobic literature of the current decade, for which the Internet is a fertile breeding ground, has the omnipresence of former "Muslims" (e.g. Ayaan Hirsi Ali , Wafa Sultan and Walid Shoebat) and others with pseudonyms (such as Ibn Warraq or Ali Sina) who have attempted to present neo-Orientalism in a theological garb -- as opposed to Orientalism as a way of depicting people of the East in a condescending manner ("the other," "the savages"). Moreover, the instantaneity with which the text, graphics and audiovisual bits are transmitted today has added new dimensions to this intensified diatribe. Portrayal of the prophetic life these days is a pointed vilification manifested in its focus on pedophilia, slavery, polygamy and "holy" war. In the past, the dominating Orientalist approach used philology, history and comparative religion to describe the life of the Prophet Muhammad.
The hate, rage, calumny and prejudices against Islam in the West do not distinguish between the Quran, the prophet and Muslims at large. Both neo-Orientalism and Islamophobia, though recognizing the archetypal status of the prophet, target one and all in their relentless assaults upon Islamic dignity and integrity. It may be argued that such an ideological blitzkrieg often culminates in the invasion and occupation of Muslim lands.
In 2011 in Gainesville, Florida, an American evangelical pastor supervised the burning of a copy of the Quran in a church after finding it "guilty" of crimes. It is not an isolated incident. There is a pattern to it. The story of the desecration of the Quran at Guantanamo Bay prison was well documented: it was reportedly flushed down the toilet to rattle Muslim detainees (The story was later retracted by Newsweek, but similar incidents have occurred). The same year, American jailers splashed a copy of the Quran with urine, kicked and stepped on it and soaked it with water. A German businessman printed the name of the Quran on toilet paper and offered the rolls for sale. Incidents such as the use of Quranic verses as a tattoo on the lower dorsal side of female body, their imprinting on leather used for women's shoes and garments printed with these verses worn by half-naked female models in fashion shows are not entirely uncommon. The Dutch MP Geert Wilders issued on the Internet a poor collage entitled Fitna, and compared the Quran with Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf." And joining the Islam-bashing bandwagon was none other than Pope Benedict XVI with an affront to the prophet and highly derogatory remarks about Islam.
These incidents are only a tiny fraction of the events and materials that continue to target Islam, its prophet and Muslims in the most denigrate and despicable manner. The language and the graphics employed to create this avalanche of bigotry is, to say the least, unthinkable by any civilized person in any time and age, save for the horrific expulsion of Jews and Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula after the Christian Reconquista.
The verbal and visual onslaught, especially experienced by Muslims who frequent the Internet, hardly ever gets reported in mass media. The magnitude of this hate can be gauged by entering a simple keyword on Google. Early this week, use of a single search term -- Islamophobia -- yielded some 2,000,000 results; over 2,000 for books on the subject and nearly 1,000,000 images out of the keywords "Islamophobia images."
I am awestruck to witness what is depicted in the name of the Holy Grail of freedom of expression. Invoking the maximum reach of modern technology to broadcast hate, no other faith has been maligned like Islam. No prophet has been subjected to such atrocities as the prophet of Islam. No other group of believers has been made to suffer such deep and lasting emotional scars inflicted by this "freedom." However, rising Muslim anti-Semitism, something that has been largely non-existent in the long peaceful history of Jewish-Muslim relations -- a la convivencia -- is a cause of serious concern because it opens up a new gate of hate.
We would be amiss to believe that these statements were made in a "politically correct" context and had transitory value. Nay, they have come to define the way the West looks at Islam, its prophet and Muslims. We do not need to dig any deeper to understand the influence of these opinions in academia as well as the public square. Not to mention reformulation of old state policies or introduction of new controls.
Over the last decade we have witnessed a slow death of multiculturalism, an end to liberal thinking, increasing curbs upon personal freedom, enhanced surveillance of individuals, a lowered threshold of tolerance, harassment, unlawful detention and ultimately a ban on Shariah. In public life, travel restrictions, discrimination, violence, profiling, ban on the burqa, denial of permission to raise minarets or to build mosques and restrictions on halal manufacturing are but some of the prejudices faced by Muslims.
The Oriental romanticism, mystique and the mystery of Arabia deserta with the feuding Bedouins and the opulent harem now is replaced with a new plethora of stereotypes for the "Arabian prophet" and his worldwide followers. They now are cast in new dyes.
Extrapolating the atrocities committed by the so-called Caliphate installed by a bunch of ISIS terrorists, over 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide now face the daily burden of collective guilt for the reports of the alleged crucifixion of spies, child rape, slaughtering of non-Muslims, mass execution of children, burning alive of enemies, savage beheadings, looting and burning of libraries, killing caged enemies by drowning, sexual slavery, stifling human rights of minorities, training of children as executioners and suicide bombers and massive destruction of antiquities, including the tomb of Prophet Jonah, among many other sordid tales of death and destruction. None of the ISIS acts are sanctioned by Islamic doctrines. Yet, the Islamophobes are never tired of chanting the mantra: ISIS is Islam; Islam is ISIS.
It is erroneous to assume that the new brigade of Islamophobic authors is a pseudonym for neo-Orientalism. On the contrary, it is a new genre of its own, devoid of intellectual honesty, conscience or any moral underpinning. In spite of having carved a new path to profit -- for the Islamophobia industry is a money cruncher -- some of them have laid claim to neo-Orientalism.
The classical Orientalism neither had the means nor the evil imagination to portray the prophet in a manner akin to what we are observing today. The paradigmatic shift is, to a large extent, technology-mediated and no longer makes pristine intellectual pursuits a trait of this academic discipline. Truth stands sacrificed at the altar of political expediency to the extent that benign scholarship is made to appear as suspect. In the name of "revenge" for the Sept. 11 attack, an intellectual and political noose is being tightened and attempting to distort the personality and the message of Muhammad,pbuh.
Neo-Orientalist Islamophobia Is Maligning the Reputation of the Prophet Muhammad Like Never Before
by Munawar A. Anees,

Read about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):

26 July 2015

Less religion, more religion

STATES and societies are struggling to find ways to deal with religion — or religious thought, to be precise. While most states see religion as a challenge, for the common man the attraction of religion is increasing. However, this attraction is not uniform as religion is also losing appeal in many parts of the world.

The question of religion is more critical for Muslim societies which account for about 24pc of the world population. In many Muslim countries, religion has taken over policy discourse and religiosity is increasing among the masses. Religion has also become an important question for Western countries, especially for those that have sizable Muslim populations.

There are two aspects of the religion of Islam that worry the West: the so-called militant Islam and political Islam. The power elites and the majority of the intelligentsia in Muslim countries have little concern in terms of the rise of religious power in their countries. The West, too, seems ready to compromise on the narratives of political Islam as long as it helps control or counter militant tendencies among Muslim communities living there. Many Western countries see no harm if a few hundred among the tiny Muslim minorities hold radical political views.

Western countries are confused about how to accommodate religion in their counterextremism strategies.
However, they see political Islam as a problem in Muslim countries, mainly on two accounts. First, they think, radical political tendencies can easily transform into militant tendencies in Muslim majority states. Second, the West does not feel comfortable in dealing with Islamists when they come into power. The latest example was the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.

The real concern of the West is violent religious extremism. These countries are confused about how to accommodate religion in their counterextremism strategies. ‘Less religion or more religion’ remains a critical question in the processes of policy formation in Western countries, which have so far failed to understand the dynamics of religious as well as extremist tendencies among Muslim immigrant communities.

The worry is that that these Western approaches, which have a completely different context, inspire power and social elites in Muslim countries and in many cases the latter blindly follow such approaches. The nature and challenge of violent extremism in Muslim countries are different from those facing the West.

For Muslim societies, the major challenge is the increasing influence of religion among the common people. This influence, or religiosity, may not necessarily lead individuals to violence or make them vulnerable to political Islam. Religion is mainly transforming Muslim societies, and a religious-socialisation process is shaping the behaviour of Muslim urban classes. Religiosity always connects a person with a broader religious discourse. Religiosity itself is a neutral phenomenon but within religious discourse, certain actors exploit the religious sentiments of the people for their individual or group interests. Managing these actors is a major challenge in Muslim societies. These religious actors could be radical or non-radical, but both could be the exploiters of religiosity.

In Pakistan, the power elites are scared of touching religious issues. Religious actors are largely considered part of the problem, but they should also be considered part of the solution. The power elites do not have connectivity with moderate religious scholars in society, and their views about religious communities and narratives are based on their interaction and working relationship with the leaderships of religious political parties. These parties do not necessarily represent moderate voices in religious discourse. A few such moderate voices might be found in religious political parties, but they do not have a major impact on party policies.

The religious elites are not responding to the challenges state and society are facing. As a result, radical narratives are strengthened, and constitutional, legal, and educational issues are becoming more and more complex. Pakistan and other Muslim countries cannot afford the subversion of their respective constitutions as the social imbalances and rise of violent and non-violent radicalism can completely transform the situation, which the radicals have shown they can achieve without paying a high price.

Many of the counterextremism programmes in the West also focus on the countries of origin of immigrant communities, with the assumption that fixing extremism in immigrants’ native lands will help prevent extremism in host societies. Western nations try to export their models to Muslim countries and think these will be effective in Muslim majority countries as well. The Western nations engage the religious scholars of immigrants’ native countries. It has been witnessed that those who have been engaged by the West were part of the religious elites. The engagement further empowers them, and they make religious discourse more complex.

For the West it is a community issue, but for Muslim countries it becomes a bigger challenge, as the religious elite wants to transform the whole system, the socio-cultural pattern, in a way which helps to make them stakeholders in power-sharing.

How can Muslim countries deal with religion and religious actors? Egypt is trying to manage political Islamists through making an alliance with the Salafis. Saudi Arabia and Iran are playing the most dangerous game: both countries are exploiting sectarian tendencies and trying to achieve their strategic objectives through proxies here and there. Interestingly, most of the Arab states feel more comfortable with the militants’ forces, as compared to the Islamists. It’s an easy choice for Muslim rulers, who want to maintain the status quo, as the militants demand only resources while the Islamists want regime change.

Less religion, more religion
by Muhammad Amir Rana,

Religion cause wars?

22 July 2015

What a choice for Egypt – a megalomaniac president or the madness of Isis by Robert Fisk

The images of an Egyptian gunboat exploding off the coast of Sinai last week were a warning to our Western politicians. Yes, we support Egypt. We love Egypt. We continue to send our tourists to Egypt. Because we support President Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – despite the fact that his government has locked up more than 40,000 mostly political prisoners, more than 20,000 of them supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, hundreds of whom have been sentenced to death. The Egyptian regime continues to pretend that its Brotherhood enemies are the same as Isis. And Isis – in its dangerous new role as the Islamist power in Sinai – has killed hundreds of Egyptian troops, more than 60 of them two weeks ago, after which a military spokesman in Cairo announced that Sinai was “100 per cent under control”. However, after last week’s virtual destruction of the naval vessel, we might ask: who does control the peninsula?

Yet, while the biggest battle is fought in Sinai since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, we psychologically smother this conflict with our fears about Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. So relieved are we in the West that a secular general has replaced the first democratically elected president of Egypt that we now support Sisi’s leadership as benevolently as we once supported that of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Americans have resumed arms supplies to Egypt – and why not when Sisi’s men are fighting the apocalyptic Isis?

To Egyptians, though, it all looks a bit different. They are being treated to Sisi’s almost Saddam-like mega-mind. This includes his grotesque ambitions for a new super-capital to replace poor old Cairo, to be completed in a maximum of seven years, not far from the new two-lane Suez canal which must be finished – and those who know Egypt will literally gasp here – in a maximum of 12 months. The “new” Cairo is going to be 700sqkm in size and will cost £30bn. The unveiling of this preposterous project a few weeks ago was accompanied by none other than our own Tony Blair, who used to be a British prime minister but is now (among other burdensome chores) advising the Egyptian president through a UAE-backed consultancy.

This “spendthrift dream of modernity”, as the American writer Maria Golia puts it, betrays an indifference to Egyptians’ real interests. Over 60 per cent of Cairo – the real Cairo that exists today – was built in the past few decades and is spread across miles of tree-bald rotting concrete estates of poverty and heat. Its thousands of newly developed villa-suburbs high above the city are largely empty; no one can afford to purchase them. Could there be a better environment for Isis?

So let’s take a brief look at Sisi’s real Egypt. Rather than rejuvenate the weary, fetid city that Cairo became under the British and then King Farouk and then Nasser and then Sadat and then Mubarak, Sisi wants to start all over again. There is already a New Cairo outside the original Cairo – it was constructed as an expansion of the city under Sadat and Mubarak – so Sisi’s megalopolis will be new New Cairo, a second attempt to alleviate social failure.

The President need not worry too much about industrial disputes in his fantasy city. The Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court has made strikes illegal on the grounds (Brotherhood-like) that practising the right to strike – albeit legalised under Article 13 of the Egyptian constitution – “violates Islamic sharia”. The court has already “retired” three civil servants and imposed penalties on 14 others for striking in the governorate of Monufia, arguing that withdrawing labour “goes against Islamic teachings and the purposes of Islamic sharia”. Under Islamic law, the court announced with almost Isis-style formality, “obeying orders by seniors at work is a duty”. This was a very weird ruling. The teachings of the Prophet forbid alcohol consumption (mercifully, for millions of Muslims, cigarettes had not been invented in the seventh century), but trade unions would have been incomprehensible in any ancient caliphate.

Not that the Egyptian government has much to worry about from its officially sanctioned unions. Gebali al-Maraghy, chairman of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, declared in an interview with Al-Musry Al-Youm newspaper that “our task is to carry out all the demands made by the President … increasing production and fighting terrorism”. Former deputy prime minister Ziad Bahaa Eddin found the court’s ruling absurd. “Didn’t we demonstrate against the constitution drafted by the Muslim Brotherhood because it attempted to mix religion with the state?” he asked True. Indeed, we in the West are now encouraging a very familiar “new” state in Egypt: paternalistic, dictatorial, haunted by “foreign” enemies – it’s only a matter of time before the Egyptian government declares Isis an arm of Mossad – in which an ocean of poverty is regarded as the very reason why ever more draconian laws must be used against free speech. The people want bread, we are told, not freedom; security rather than “terrorism”.

Egypt is, in fact, following the path of so many other countries that are being torn apart by Isis. For, if you torture your people enough, Isis will germinate in their wounds.

Thus Sinai is now as much under the “control” of Isis as it is of Egypt. The Cairo bomb that assassinated President Sisi’s chief prosecutor proves that Isis operations have crossed the Suez Canal. And even the Egyptian navy can be attacked.

Was there ever a more potent symbol of our choice? Between the devil and the deep blue sea.

What a choice for Egypt – a megalomaniac president or the madness of Isis
by Robert Fisk,

16 July 2015

The Iran agreement marks a new era for the Middle East

A victory for negotiations, international law and reason will pay dividends for years

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On Tuesday morning after the historic agreement between Iran and world powers over Iran’s nuclear program, President Barack Obama and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif both mentioned a new factor at play for their two countries. Obama called for seizing the opportunity to move in a new direction, and Zarif spoke of a new chapter of hope. This is precisely what we can expect if the agreement slowly leads to normal political relations and even an entente between the U.S. and Iran.
The agreement marks a moment of success for the affirmation of steady diplomacy, the international rule of law, mutual respect, simultaneous political concessions and the shunning of hysteria from regional parties. A new era is possible, and we should hope that the U.S. and Iran pursue this process for further gains that can serve all the people of the region and the rest of the world. The alternative, in retrospect, was stupid to the point of criminality. 
No two other states feed regional discord — or can promote regional calm — more than the U.S. and Iran, because of their wide networks of strategic, military and economic relations with parties across the region. The direct enmity and occasional confrontations between them feed a wide regional web of ideological battles in which Iran and its Arab allies, such as Hezbollah and Syria, routinely face off against Arab groups or governments that are supported, armed and funded by the United States, Israel or Saudi Arabia. Consequently, we suffer increasingly violent and occasionally barbaric Sunni-Shia, Iranian-Arab, Israeli-Islamist and revolutionary-royalist existential battles that have created openings for murderous movements such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to take root and grow.
U.S.- and Iranian-backed political actors have steadily ratcheted up their aggressive rhetoric and occasional military clashes over the past two decades, to the point last year that many feared an Armageddon-like regional conflagration. A worst case scenario envisaged Israel or the U.S., perhaps with Saudi backing and facilities, making good on repeated threats and attacking Iran. This could have triggered a serious Iranian response in the region or abroad, another Hezbollah-Israel war and other possible outbreaks of violent confrontations across the region. 
The world can only celebrate if the US stops blindly submitting to the exaggerated fears and extremist policies of Israeli expansionist Zionism and Saudi Arabian hard-line Wahhabism.
The breakthrough on Iran’s nuclear sector and ending international sanctions is important for many reasons, but four in particular deserve appreciation.
1. Iran’s internal development
The first consequences of this agreement should be felt in Iran, as confidence in its post-sanctions economic expansion will trigger immense domestic and foreign investments in many sectors that have languished for years. Iran’s size, human talent and natural resources should see it experience an economic boom similar to what Turkey went through in the last 25 years. As happened in that case, the expansion of a large, comfortable middle class and burgeoning trade ties with countries far and near should promote closer political relations abroad and an inevitable liberalizing transition at home. Iran is likely to follow a similar path, which would positively influence Iran’s now strained political relations with other countries.
2. US-Iran relations across the Middle East
When the U.S. and Iran shunned threats and war in favor of diplomatic talks to resolve their disagreements over Iran’s nuclear program and the sanctions it prompted, they set a tremendously important precedent that could reverberate across the Middle East, especially in three broad conflicts: Arab-Israeli, Israeli-Iranian and Iranian-Saudi Arabian/Gulf Cooperation Council relations. The agreement sets a precedent that calmly putting on the table the issues of concern to both sides enables each side to define its bottom-line demands while allowing the sides to craft mutual concessions to meet those demands. If the U.S. follows the Iran and Cuba experiences of equitably considering the grievances and aspirations of both parties to a conflict, one could even imagine in the future the U.S. meeting with Hezbollah and other mainstream Islamists to discuss the issues that matter to them. How this precedent affects Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and other conflicted lands remains to be seen.   
3. Multilateral diplomatic negotiations over unilateral bullying
The constructive use of the United Nations Security Council has been exemplary in shaping the negotiating sides and also offering the legitimacy of international law to the lifting of sanctions that is so critical for Iran. This legitimacy was largely missing from cases in which the U.S. or EU imposed unilateral sanctions or, with Israel, threatened to attack Iran.
4. Lessons for Israel and Saudi Arabia
Israel and Saudi Arabia tried hard but failed to derail or significantly change the Iran negotiations, making this an important marker for future diplomacy in the Middle East. The United States for decades broadly submitted to Israeli or Saudi wishes on major strategic issues in the region, in most cases leading only to new troubles for Washington: increased anti-Americanism among Arab populations, vulnerable Arab leaders who faced mass citizen revolts, the steady expansion of Salafist militants such as Al-Qaeda and ISIL and the United States’ mostly ineffective direct military action across the region for the past 25 years.
This break in that pattern allows Washington to pursue a wider range of policies that are less shaped by Israeli and Saudi concerns and that better serve the interests of the U.S. as well as the peoples of the region. The Middle East and the rest of the world can only celebrate if the U.S. stops blindly submitting to the exaggerated fears and extremist policies of two ideologies — Israeli expansionist Zionism and Saudi Arabian hard-line Wahhabism — that have been directly involved in some of the region’s most troubling legacies for the past half-century.
Rami G. Khouri, a Jordanian-Palestinian national, is a senior public policy fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut and a senior fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School.

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    Fruits of Daesh war: The Arab world’s anti-Israeli front is crumbling

    For many Arab countries, averting the mortal dangers posed by ISIS and a nuclear Iran has become more important than backing the Palestinian cause.
    What is generally referred to as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has, in effect, been over the years, a three-dimensional conflict involving, in addition to the Palestinians, also the Arab world and the Muslim world. Hostility to Israel has been the one unifying factor in the Arab and Muslim world, which overcame disagreements on other matters between the constituent members. Since the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, the Palestinian issue has served as the linchpin around which hostility to Israel has been built and unity maintained.

    Israel’s existence was endangered three times — in 1948, 1967, and 1973 — by the combined attacks of Arab armies, which enjoyed the support of the entire Muslim world. Although the Israel Defense Forces brilliant victory in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 has served as a deterrent against further attempts by Arab armies to attack Israel, the continued hostility of the Arab and Muslim world toward Israel has been demonstrated by their support for terrorist activities against Israel and their backing of anti-Israeli motions at international forums like the United Nations.

    But there is a change in the wind as far as the Arab world is concerned. For some Arab rulers greater enemies than Israel have appeared in recent years. Iran, reaching out for nuclear weapons, Al-Qaida, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL), Hamas, and assorted Arab terrorist groups, are aiming for the jugular of the ruling classes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt. They are a mortal danger to them, the kind of danger that Israel never constituted. Averting this danger is far more important to them than backing the Palestinian cause. From this new perspective, in the eyes of these Arab rulers Israel is beginning to look not like an enemy, but rather like a potential ally.

    An Iranian nuclear bomb scares the wits out of them. They see little future for themselves in a Middle East dominated by an Iran with nuclear weapons in its arsenal. Most threatened is the Saudi ruling class who are likely to be the first in line to be toppled as Iranian influence grows. They surely must have quietly applauded Benjamin Netanyahu as he appeared in front of both Houses of the U.S. Congress in March to make the case against a nuclear armed Iran. The Israeli opposition may have criticized him, but the Saudis were surely on his side.

    In the meantime, armed Islamic State terrorist gangs are knocking on Jordan’s door in the north. It is not hard to guess whose head is going to be severed first if they succeed in reaching Amman. Is it any wonder that King Abdullah II looks to Jerusalem for help if worse comes to worst. Although he repeats almost daily his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, he knows full well that it would only be a matter of time until such a state would be taken over by Islamic State terrorists, or Hamas, and he would find enemies knocking at his door in the West as well. The establishment of such a Palestinian state on his western border is something he is not likely to welcome.

    In Egypt, beset by Islamic terrorists in Sinai and in the streets of Cairo, ruler Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi has declared all out war against them. At this time that seems to take precedence over all else, including his support for the Palestinian cause. Israel’s agreement to allow Egyptian army units to enter into eastern Sinai, a deviation of the provisions of the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979, is a clear indication of the commonality of interests between Egypt, the largest Arab country, and Israel.

    The Arab anti-Israel front which existed for over 60 years is in the process of disintegrating. The rulers of major Arab countries are finding shared interests with the State of Israel. Support for the establishment of a Palestinian state may continue to exist in Washington, Brussels, and at the UN, and among the Israeli opposition, but it is losing support in much of the Arab world. Israel has enemies in the Middle East but it is also gaining friends in the Middle East. These friends may prefer to meet their Israeli counterparts in back alleys, but you can be sure that these meetings are taking place with increasing frequency.