Pitfalls of the Two Party System

Source: directionsmedia.net

Source: directionsmedia.net

The American media is never short of opinions expressing shock at the several fringe political movements appearing in the country from time to time.

Over the years, we have seen the emergence of progressive Green Party enthusiasts backing a Ralph Nader presidency in the wake of progressive discontent from the Clinton years, arguably costing the Democrats the 2000 election. We have witnessed the Occupy Wall Street movement standing up to the role of financial corporations in the recession of the 2000s, and ending with the disappointment of more corporate bailouts from the liberal Democrat leadership. And we have seen the rise of the much demonized libertarian-leaning Tea Party movement standing up against the rising taxation and regulatory policies of the progressive Democrats and President Obama. This group has been voicing its dissatisfaction and frustration over a Republican Congress failing to reflect their demands, despite a massive mid-term victory in 2014.

The latest “fringe” wave of the populist anti-immigration sentiment rising ironically with the Presidential campaign of billionaire businessman Donald Trump is yet again shocking the world. Something which absolutely must have no place in the discourse of American politics, which should remain absolutely confined to the Democratic and Republican party.

There is really nothing new about the anti-immigration sentiment. We have seen political parties in Europe winning on the anti-immigration, anti-Euro platform, and some could argue that the recent remarkable voting performance of the UKIP and the ultimate victory of the Conservative Party is one such instance in the very liberal United Kingdom.

Regardless of the morality of this political view, reasonable questions should be asked why it cannot find its due place in the American representative politics. Especially considering the fact that what is painted the anti-immigration stance of the Donald Trump campaign is actually not against immigration, but only for taking strict action against illegal immigration. This is not just a right wing phenomenon, as we have seen such sentiment in the campaign of progressive Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, who considers open borders a “right wing proposal,” probably referring to the libertarian movement. But there really should be no mentions of any such proposed policy, with the only accepted versions being the official positions of the Democratic and Republican parties.

Any candidate that deviates from the establishment positions is an extremist and must not get the party nomination. Regardless of the fact how many among the general public support those positions. Marijuana legalization, on which the positions of the Libertarian and Green party are pretty clear, is one issue which has garnered overwhelming support from the American public lately. However, on the federal level, both establishment parties oppose the legalization, and are funding the controversial and unpopular war on drugs.

Even for the fans of obstructive government mechanism in the Presidential system of the United States like me, the two party system seems too exclusive for comfort. I am a strong proponent of separating the executive branch from the legislative, as opposed to the blurring lines in the Parliamentary system. However, you cannot help but marvel at the inadequacies of the two party system. Granted that America has a proud two-party political structure, that is apparently as simple as it is complex, but is it truly reflective of the ideological diversity of the country?

The two party system sounds like the sort of absolutist scenario that offers almost unlimited powers to the executive in the Parliamentary system. Either you are for an issue or against it, with no ifs and buts in between. Which does not even make any sense, because on most issues, both parties agree where it matters, and in the recent years, there really has not been any regulation with the exception of the Affordable Healthcare Act that significantly altered the state of affairs in a partisan manner.

Undoubtedly, both Democratic and Republican parties have room for a variety of ideas and positions on various issues. However, the candidates that eventually win nominations for the executive branch often have centrist and moderate views, and opinions which could be referred to be aligned with the establishment positions. This could also be said to be reflective of the moderate and centrist political approach of the people of the United States, but does this notion hold true on every issue?

Of course, there are more than two political parties in the United States, but what if they had the representation in the federal legislature as well? In any case, there really is no reason why a multiparty system should not work in a Presidential system in the United States. It might change the clear role of majority for one party and minority for another. I think it just does not work because the electoral system and media do not offer any margin for it, discouraging independent voters to even consider the option due to the lack of electability. But what if it becomes a possibility one day?

Maybe it would shock the US media less about certain fringe political positions, or unconventional Presidential candidates.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Civilization: The Biggest Casualty of ISIS

Source: Marc DeVille -Gamma Rapho -GettyImages / NBC News

Source: Marc DeVille -Gamma Rapho -GettyImages / NBC News

Conservative Muslims often lament about the unspeakable destruction and atrocities wrecked by the barbarian hordes of the Mongol warrior Helugu Khan on the Islamic Caliphate. The siege of Baghdad by Helugu led to the destruction of the Grand Library of the city, which arguably kept the most important and valuable knowledge at the time. Apart from slaughtering hundreds of thousands, he went on to invade Syria and cause great cultural damage.

It is only ironic that the political institution that represented civilization then, and suffered at the hands of cultural terrorism, is now at war with civilization itself. Critics may not even consider the Islamic State as a valid Caliphate, and surely you can hardly establish equivalence between the cultured Abbasids and the morally crude ISIS. Yet, this is what the forces claiming to establish a true Islamic State have become. It would not be incorrect to say that surviving centuries of hardship and chaos, the manifold cultural heritage of Mesopotamia and Syria had remained pretty much intact.

Until the modern Syrian civil war, a destructive and unproductive campaign backed by the most civilized nations of the modern age.

From destruction of Nimrod to the fall of Palmyra, Islamic State has been deliberately waging war against the cultural heritage of the land.

The most recent painful occurrence has been the brutal murder of Khaled Al-Asaad, Syrian archeologist and the Head of Antiquities for the ancient ruins of Palmyra, who had served for over 40 years. It is reported that he refused to guide the ISIS warriors to a hidden treasure, on which they beheaded him. A local archeology pioneer leading discovery of several precious artifacts, Khaled Al-Asaad insisted on staying in Palmyra, despite ISIS entering the city, and was blamed to be a supporter of the Assad regime on capture.

It is simply a sad state of affairs that the ISIS has become a largely acceptable face of the Sunni resistance in Iraq and Syria to the central pro-Shia regimes. It is disappointing what the ground forces have come down to in the region, and how their strategy is making it hard to counter them with every passing day.

When you secure sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra, it becomes almost impossible for a liberating force to retake it without damaging the irreplaceable structures. We witnessed that when the Syrian opposition took over the ancient district of Aleppo, which was largely destroyed by shelling from Assad’s forces. Recently, ISIS has even threatened to blow up the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. While the very idea sounds insane due to the sheer size of the Pyramids, it offers some insight into the minds of the Islamic State. It shows you what they are thinking about the ancient heritage of the region.

Source: alarabiya.net

Source: alarabiya.net

The objective of ISIS is clear. To wipe out the ancient history of the Middle East to bring it in accordance with their faith. They do not want to see images carved on walls in the form of bas relief and mosaic art and will have them removed. They do not want to see the images of false gods anywhere on the land that falls under their domain. In the manner of the Taliban destroying the Bamiyan Buddha statues, they would rather blow up these irreplaceable and precious artifacts and buildings.

This is why the entire ISIS campaign has been such a massive loss for civilization and humanity in general. Most of the damage that they are doing, which only compounds the misery of the human tragedy of their atrocities.

We probably cannot help undo the damage done by ISIS, because we were too busy standing by and witnessing the destruction of civilization, and were content by simply reporting the disaster. But this aspect of the war that ISIS is waging on humanity is a race against the clock as well. We only have so much time to prevent them from doing further damage.

Heroes such as Khaled Al-Assad have fallen protecting the ancient heritage of Syria, and of human civilization, but is anyone else willing to offer the sacrifice?

I still recall the horrifying images of the looting at the National Museum when Baghdad fell to the United States troops in 2003. People were running around with artifacts, almost on the watch of the guards from the US Marines, who preferred safeguarding the oil ministry building instead. Already warned about the significance of the museum, it would hardly be an exaggeration to blame the US administration and military commanders of the time for the loss.

The same apathetic indifference of the leaders and the largest military force of the civilized world, deflecting the obvious solutions with direction-less intellectual political analysis, is staggering to those who mourn the loss of a civilization at the hands of Islamic State.

Now that the National Museum of Baghdad has been opened again with some recovered artifacts, the risk from the threat of ISIS has never been greater. UNESCO had actually called for an emergency meeting to discuss how to protect it, and the United Nations called for stopping ISIS from taking Palmyra. But who is listening anyway?

While the world stands by silently and watches one of the most barbaric militant groups in history blast the greatest artifacts of human civilization to dust, you can only wonder about the possible solution.

Unless there is a sizeable allied ground force in Iraq and Syria, which can effectively counter the influence and advance of ISIS, we will never be able to save the heritage of mankind from complete annihilation. But would they be careful enough to leave the delicate heritage sites untouched?

Whether it is just the US troops, or ideally a UN international peacekeeping coalition led by it, we need to make a decision fast.

The clock is ticking.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The War Against Islamist Terrorism is Alive

Source: asiadespatch.org

Source: asiadespatch.org

Just when we started to forget the problem even existed, after a great period of silence from our passionate religious zealots, we finally saw an attack on a major government official.

Following threats to his life, Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzaada, along with several others, was killed in a suicide bomb in his native Attock village. The interior minister was a vocal critic of sectarian terrorism and had taken up the responsibility to take action against illegal seminaries, clerics guilty of free speech, and abuse of the “loudspeaker” for religious purposes. He was also undoubtedly a national hero.

This is a grim reminder that the enemy we are confronting is right here among us, instead of taking refuge across a distant border. It is also an absolute shame that we have the need to say these things over and over again, especially due to the fact that many people are simply not ready to accept that. Especially when you would find people who would even find an excuse for sectarian militancy and terrorism, such as the absence of enough religious laws.

The recent sad passing of Gen. Hameed Gul, only reminds people of his role during the regime of President Zia-ul-Haq, a man widely held responsible for the spread of Islamic militancy in the region to this degree. The problem is still very much alive after three decades. But is the problem really worsening?

We often complain about the lack of firmness from the law enforcement authorities, especially the political governments in order to combat Islamist extremism and sectarian terrorism.

With the likes of Shuja Khanzada, Salmaan Taseer, Mian Iftikhar, and Pervez Rasheed in our government bodies, and with the ongoing military operation against Islamist terrorists, there is always hope for improvement.

PML-N government has been consistently under fire for allegations of harboring sectarian extremists, especially those known to target the Shia community. It is commendable that the federal and provincial government tried to redeem itself of the allegations, whether mere partisan attacks or not, by taking steps to counter Islamist militancy and appointing the likes of Shuja Khanzada to take on such elements. The civil government and military desperately need to come together to keep up such measures.

Despite the forceful Zarb-e-Azab military operation, attacks such as the one on Khanzada are reflective of the fact that the enemy does not just reside in the tribal areas, or on the Afghan border. The enemy is not just the rebellious Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The Islamist parties with pervasive presence all over Pakistan, fighting for unchecked and unregulated madrassahs are the part of the problem. It is their defense of their dangerous ideology is what we need to fight at the same time.

It is not just one rebel group that we need to take out, but the adherents of the dangerous ideology of Islamism. It is time to start curbing this so-called religious freedom which is constantly at work to jeopardize the lives and liberty of the citizens of this country.

What we need right now is developing a national consensus to counter the underestimated and largely ignored risk of Islamist militancy, which cannot be separated from the madrassahs, whether we like to face it or not. Unless we do so, we cannot do justice to the sacrifices made by brave leaders such as Shuja Khanzada, Salman Taseer and Mian Iftikhar.

Our religious and nationalist conservatives can’t stop talking about the foreign hand behind the terrorism in the country. But watching the footage of the collapsed house of Shuja Khanzada, I could not help but wonder for a minute why someone in their right mind would do something like that. Blowing yourself up is not easy, if you come to think of it for a minute. Money simply does not explain it.

The answer is clear. It is the death cult of Islamism which is brainwashing young and old to act this way, all in hope for redemption in the afterlife. It is ironic that the fear of death drives these lunatics to death itself. But while the foot soldiers of Islamism keep on getting wasted, it sadly only fuels the fervor of many more potential recruits looking to rid themselves of the worldly body of filth and to embrace an afterlife of pleasures.

Islamist terrorism is still strong, make no mistake about it. It will remain to be, unless this dangerous and cancerous ideology is not countered, because they are simply not giving up. It is just not an option for them, and frankly countering it should not be one for us. We need to recognize that it is the greatest threat to freedom and the civilized way of life in Pakistan, and around the world.

It is time we stop underestimating this threat.

It is time we support the government and the military to fight it, for the war against Islamist terrorism is still alive.

The suicide attack on Shuja Khanzada is a reminder that Islamist terrorists follow up on their threats.

It is time that we follow up on ours.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Convenient Positions on Death Penalty

Source: newindianexpress.com

Source: newindianexpress.com

The recent execution of convicted Indian criminal or terrorist Yakub Memon for involvement in Mumbai bombings in 1993 has ignited a bit of a debate in India about the death penalty. It is healthy to see that at least people are debating this issue in the mainstream, which itself is reflective of how democracy is at a much healthier state in India, as compared to a society such as Pakistan. However, what is alarming is that apparently most of the Indians are as keen on hangings as Pakistanis and Iranians.

But even more troubling than the vicious righteous mobs thirsting for blood as justice is the convenient positions some politicians are taking about death penalty when it suits their agenda.  Of course, it’s not Shahshi Tharoor that I am talking about, whose views on the issue I absolutely endorse and support. The very opposition to his comments is reflective of how far they need to go in terms of fighting social conservatism in India, which has worsened ever since the BJP took power.

What I am really talking about Muslim religious conservatives and Islamist leaders complaining about the death penalty. While this could apply equally to Hindu right wing social conservatives, such inconsistency is more evident among their Muslim counterparts, especially because they otherwise support the most barbaric of punishments for insignificant offenses such as adultery.

The AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi refreshingly criticized the execution of Yakub Memon, saying that capital punishment is not the answer to terrorism. It sounds pretty nice until he brings up the Babri Mosque incident and talks about how there were no hangings for the “original sin.” He probably makes a valid remark about any lack of convictions for the Mumbai riots, but it is not because he actually opposed the death penalty as a matter of principle. He was just upset because he just didn’t want Memon hanged, one of his own tribe. Obviously his stance saw retaliation by your typical idiotic BJP nationalists, the rival tribe, and one of the ministers asked the critics of death penalty to “go to Pakistan.”

This has not happened for the first time. If you recall, Bangladesh has sentenced quite a few Jamaat-e-Islami leaders to death for treason. And then the Egyptians sentenced many Muslim Brotherhood members to death, including the deposed Prime Minister Mohammed Morsi. Considering the connection between the parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan passionately protested against the harsh and cruel death sentences.

Now I totally support the right of the Jamaat-e-Islami to protest, of course as long as they behave themselves, and I agree with them on the issue, but it is interesting how they would themselves call for similar penalties, or worse Shariah sanctioned punishment, for similar and other offenses. All the Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt and Bangladesh were tried and sentenced for anti-state activities and treason, which can be argued not to be crimes, but sadly they are considered to be. These entities themselves would support death for rebellion against religion, and would support putting apostates and blasphemers to death.

This is why supporting the abolition of capital punishment is so important.

Now secular liberals and libertarians who oppose authoritarianism and capital punishment would oppose the rulings made in Egypt and Bangladesh consistent with their ideology. They would agree with Jamaat-e-Islami on these issues, but not necessarily for the same reasons. The only converging reason could be that the charge is not worthy of such a penalty in the first place.

But the important point here is that Islamists and social conservative Muslims need to examine their political positions pertaining to the death penalty. Because their convenient positions on the issue would qualify for something they despise and often accuse their opponents of. Hypocrisy. Now, while pretty much every political entity is guilty of cherry picking and double standards in one way or another, minimizing such positions is good for their own public image. They need to embrace comprehensive rejection of death penalty.

One of the most fundamental things to understand about opposing capital punishment on the basis of morality is that you don’t want the state to commit the crime it is convicting someone for, in addition to the idea why the state should not be resorting to such extreme measures in the first place. You don’t have to turn criminals and murderers to punish them. Digging further into the debate, liberals present the argument that there is no evidence to suggest that death penalty serves as an effective deterrent to crime.

Perhaps the only solid and worthwhile, though inhuman and heartless, argument that I have heard from conservatives against the death penalty is why they should be paying to keep the convicts alive. Though then someone can argue why keep prisoners alive at all. Why not burn everyone at stake at even the most minor of offenses, just because we should not bear the burden of convicted citizens. Alright don’t burn at stake, just shoot them, or the lethal injection would do.

Many of the liberals who have evolved their position on death penalty must have started from supporting capital punishment. Similarly, many liberals change their minds and end up supporting the capital punishment as they grow old as well.

What the critics of the opponents of death penalty need to understand is that the state does not set a good example when it resorts to the very actions that it is condemning its citizens for. Furthermore, putting someone to death does not necessarily help achieve the abstract state of “justice.” It does, however, fulfill the thirst for vengeance.

The post was originally published in the Nation blogs.