A young Indian Shiite Muslim who bleeds after self-flagellating during Ashura looks at the camera at a street in New Delhi last year. Ashoura, commemorates the 7th-century death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed who is revered by Shiites. Bernat Armangue / AP Photo
A young Indian Shiite Muslim who bleeds after self-flagellating during Ashura looks at the camera at a street in New Delhi last year. Ashoura, commemorates the 7th-century death of Imam Hussein, a graShow more

A new McCarthyism has reached the Middle East

Nikola Tesla, the Serbian- American inventor best known for his experiments with electricity, has been “revealed” as a Muslim.

The claim, which comes from a prominent Serbian mufti, has electrified – pun intended – the wider Balkans over the past few weeks, with eulogies and angry denunciations littering social media. Whether or not it is true, the claim is being treated as true. More importantly, and of greater concern, this small detail of Tesla’s biography is being treated, more than half a century after his death, as if it were a decisive part of his career.

Tesla led a dramatic life. But in recent years he’s acquired cult status among young, internet-savvy users, especially in geek subculture. It isn’t clear why he’s been adopted as a hero – perhaps it has something to do with a feeling that Tesla was marginalised by the less intelligent but more business-savvy Thomas Edison, a feeling that resonates in geek subculture.

His new status as a hero is reflective of the modern era. But so too is this focus and fascination with his religion.

Faith, and in particular Islam, holds an unusual position in public discourse at this moment – a position, I am certain, we will look back on in perhaps a generation as a moment of collective madness, a sort of McCarthyism for the 21st century.

This collective madness, this mania for interrogating, suspecting and blaming Islam for so many of the ills of the modern world is one of those historical events borne out of a confluence of domestic and geopolitics, society and culture. It is quite unique to this moment in history, just as Communist witch-hunts in 1950s America were specific to their time.

Yet what is most fascinating about this particular drama is that many of the leading players don’t appear to realise what a period piece they are acting in. Those who earn a living by suspecting people based on their faith appear unable to reflect that they are doing exactly what was done a few years ago. Forgetting the past, they are dooming all of us to repeat it.

Take one well-known example. When people like the former scientist Richard Dawkins say they are surprised at how few Muslims have won Nobel Prizes, people seek to defend him – even though he doubtless has a similarly conspiratorial explanation for why so few women and so few black people have won Nobel Prizes.


Read more about the war of ideas in the Middle East:

The most dangerous group is the Middle East are not who you expect

Why is Europe exporting jihadis to the Middle East?


That’s what’s interesting about this new racism – it purports to be about religion, but it is really about the old-fashioned assertion of privilege and assumption of superiority. Dawkins today is attacking Muslims – but a few short years ago, he would have been attacking black people or women, were it socially acceptable. An old racism returns in new clothes.

It is not merely the West, however, that is gripped by this mania. The Arab world is, too. The region may not have caught the mania for interrogating Islam, but it has certainly bought the idea that sect matters.

The idea of a Sunni-Shia schism, the idea that someone’s sect is an important element of their biography and that, worse, has a role in understanding their motivations, has reappeared with startling ferocity in the region.

Just like the new McCarthyism that the West is living through, this sectarian lens has come about because of a unique political and social context. The shattering of old expectations and certainties, beginning with the 2003 invasion of Iraq and stretching through the Arab Spring, and the rise of Iran, have created fertile ground for old suspicions to resurface. But, again, as with the West, those who believe in the sectarian lens appear to have short memories.

Do the centuries – centuries! – of Sunni-Shia coexistence, intermarriage and, even better, ignorance of the sects of friends and colleagues, mean nothing?

It is one thing to recognise the reality of Iranian influence in the Middle East and see how the Shia faith, of which Iran is a leading centre, is used as an entrepôt and identity marker. But far too many, particularly in the online space but tragically also in person, believe it to be real, and ask about people’s sects as if that tells them something of value.

Which brings us all the way back to Tesla and his apparent Islamic faith. If you believe his supporters, it was Islam that made him such a great scientist – though they struggle to explain the many millions of Muslim scientists who live and have lived, some of whom were and are mediocre. His detractors face the same problem: they argue he couldn’t have been Muslim because he was such a good scientist – forgetting, too, the millions of Muslim scientists.

The fact is that Tesla’s temperament and his science were influenced by many factors – some of which, like religion and politics – he was born into, and others, such as being an immigrant in America, he grew into.

The idea that Tesla’s faith, which he appears to have made little of in public, is the defining element of his life is simplistic. Like his scientific discoveries, Tesla, like all human beings, was too complex for simple answers.


On Twitter: @FaisalAlYafai

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Enjoys trying new holiday destinations with his wife and family

Walks for an hour every morning

Completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Loyola College, Chennai, India

2019 is a milestone because he completes 50 years in business



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UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).


July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

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Director: Moe Alatawi

Starring: Ra’ed Alshammari, Adwa Fahd, Muhand Alsaleh

Rating: 3/5


6.30pm Meydan Classic Trial US$100,000 (Turf) 1,400m

7.05pm Handicap $135,000 (T) 1,400m

7.40pm UAE 2000 Guineas Group Three $250,000 (Dirt) 1,600m

8.15pm Dubai Sprint Listed Handicap $175,000 (T) 1,200m

8.50pm Al Maktoum Challenge Round-2 Group Two $450,000 (D) 1,900m

9.25pm Handicap $135,000 (T) 1,800m

10pm Handicap $135,000 (T) 1,400m


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6.30pm Well Of Wisdom

7.05pm Summrghand

7.40pm Laser Show

8.15pm Angel Alexander

8.50pm Benbatl

9.25pm Art Du Val

10pm: Beyond Reason

Day 2, Dubai Test: At a glance

Moment of the day Pakistan’s effort in the field had hints of shambles about it. The wheels were officially off when Wahab Riaz lost his run up and aborted the delivery four times in a row. He re-measured his run, jogged in for two practice goes. Then, when he was finally ready to go, he bailed out again. It was a total cringefest.

Stat of the day – 139.5 Yasir Shah has bowled 139.5 overs in three innings so far in this Test series. Judged by his returns, the workload has not withered him. He has 14 wickets so far, and became history’s first spinner to take five-wickets in an innings in five consecutive Tests. Not bad for someone whose fitness was in question before the series.

The verdict Stranger things have happened, but it is going to take something extraordinary for Pakistan to keep their undefeated record in Test series in the UAE in tact from this position. At least Shan Masood and Sami Aslam have made a positive start to the salvage effort.

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Investors: Family offices