The New Face of the Islamic State

Source: Amag/CNN

After the disintegration of the physical Islamic State from Iraq and Syria, the organization has found refuge in Islamist pockets around the world. The ruthless Easter bombings, killing at least 359 and injuring scores more, shocked the entire world for the sheer damage it did to a peaceful community. This was a coordinated series of at least 8 bombings hitting both churches and a couple of luxury hotels. Right away, the thoughts of the remnants of the LTTE groups came to many a people’s minds but many were deliberately trying to avoid even suspecting a Muslim group.

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Many usual critics of Islamist groups, including Tarek Fatah, were suspecting the Islamic State or an affiliated local group right from the start. No other entity would have the motivation to pick Easter and target churches and hotels in such an organized and cold-blooded manner. It indeed turned out that the Islamic State finally took the responsibility for the heinous attacks which was carried out by perhaps the strangest of their allies.

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Source: Sebastian Church/CBCP News

All the suicide bombers were found to be Sri Lankan nationals and suspected to be a part of the local Islamist group National Tawheed Jamaat. This .group featured a number of well to do Sri Lankan Muslims who bought into the agenda of Islamism, which aspires to a pan-Islamic world implementing God’s will on the earth. They believed they were doing their bit in Sri Lanka after pledging their allegiance to the Islamic State and its caliph Abubakar Al-Baghdadi. Shockingly enough for many, one of the suicide bombers was Fatima Iqbal, a wife of a Sri Lankan millionaire, also involved in the attacks. Something which proves that poverty has nothing to do with what motivates these Islamist terrorists, a part of whose agenda is to attain paradise through “murderous martyrdom.”

This is what the challenge of the Islamic State has become now. While the horrors of the physical Caliphate have been pretty much addressed, something which had become a major global crisis around 2015-16, the activities of the group have now turned it into the second Al-Quaida. And other than their non-Muslim victims worldwide, the real cost of this crisis will be paid by the local Muslim community.

In the end, the onus will again fall on the peaceful and well-meaning Muslims all around the world. Because sadly, this virus is incubating among their brotherhood and has begun to eat not only the people outside but within it. Following the shocking Easter bombings in Colombo, the Muslim minority in the country is already feeling tightened scrutiny. But none of it should come as a surprise.

Just like the overwhelming response of solidarity from New Zealand following the Christchurch Mosque massacre, the Muslim community needs to reach out to the world too. Not just in their words, but with their actions, they must reject the cancer of the Islamic State and their allies propagating violent political Islam. Though what are you going to do when they actually do point out the problem as early as 2014 and those too eager to not hurt the community’s sentiment completely ignore these warnings. The signs for the Sri Lankan Easter bombing were coming for a very long time. But they need to keep vigilant.

There is no easy way of dealing with them.

Calling for Sharia in the Capital

Source: tanzeem.org/Twitter: @syousuf71

To most people in Pakistan, there would be nothing out of the place about demanding Sharia in a country which was made in the name of faith. While a lot of people don’t even agree with the statement that Pakistan was established on the basis of faith but on the basis of the protection of the rights of a community, the distinction does not even matter considering the established narrative in Pakistan.

Throughout the Muslim majority world, you would find Islamist groups blackmailing the local population for enforcing Sharia, the Islamic law that eliminates a likelihood of establishing a fair secular social order and is widely known for persecuting women and minority groups. Granted, you might call for Sharia while also asking for the abolition of any secular order in a country alleged to be created in the name of religion but not in a democracy. Because those calls are by very definition

For the entire past week and even on the day when I write this post, the citizens can see signs from the self-proclaimed revolutionary Islamist group Tanzeem-i-Islami or Islamic Organization with inflammatory messages condemning secularism and democracy and calling for the Caliphate and enforcing theocratic Sharia.

Source: Original

There are following posts in Urdu language, which hope to incite an already tired and frustrated population to rise up against the democratic order, which barely exists in a country with a ruling bureaucratic oligarchy. Messages would barely translate to:

“Secularism will only lead to slavery and humiliation while only the Sharia can deliver.”

“Denying the ideological (theocratic) state is tantamount to ideological apostasy.”

Here it is important to remind that apostasy or “irtidad” is an offense in traditional Islam that apostates, or those converting out of Islam, should be put to death. Many Western liberal Muslims will deny such a rule even exists but it is the majority consensus in the Sunni or orthodox sect of the religion and you often hear antithetical critics quote it during debates. Now, equating the denial of the theocratic basis of the creation of Pakistan to a charged word like apostasy is clearly a threat.

There are many more messages like this which you can find throughout the length of some of the most modern sectors in Islamabad. The Tanzeem,  founded by the late Dr. Israr Ahmed and led by Hafiz Aakif Saeed, calls it the “Strengthening Pakistan Campaign” and cites Jinnah’s irrational quotes about the religious law as the basis for their faith in a theocratic version of the Ideology of Pakistan. And clearly, they are no fans of democracy as their very message displayed as the cover image for this blog reads that the idea of the rule of people is counter to the monotheistic beliefs of the sole right of worship of Allah or God.

If you go through their statements, they essentially present the Ideology of Pakistan as an article of faith, as if disagreeing with it, as the likes of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad did, would qualify you for apostasy. This is the promotion of an extremely dangerous idea in a nation which has already been blinded beyond control in terms of their approval of violence for blasphemy.

In a democracy, extremist entities such as anti-democratic theocrats and Islamists can exist and possibly practice their politics. Another instance is the Neo-Nazis in the Western democracies. However, when their ideas are so clearly undemocratic that they lead toward the harm of the people and the democratic system of law that threatens the very fundamental rights and liberties that offer them the chance to thrive, it is going beyond that acceptable line.

But never do you ever see such extremist groups becoming active electorally and come even close to representing the people in the legislature to affect the law and the constitution, unless that nation wants to give an opening for it to become Nazi Germany or Islamic Revolutionary Iran.

Some progressive and conservative liberals actually advocate actively pushing back these groups because they are a threat to democracy and fundamental rights in whatever capacity they exist. However, it is important to respect the principle on sheer emotion. Nevertheless, it is time to think about seriously banning such an organization when they start threatening democracy by taking their hate speech to the mainstream and by threatening to take electoral seats away from democrats just because they enjoy the sympathy of theocrats in the public.

Tanzeem-e-Islami is doing its job. I don’t wish them all the best but I do respect that they are taking their message across peacefully, even though a very violent and brutal message. However. what I am astounded at is the Government of Pakistan, the ever-present bane of our existence. A Government that openly asks for people to report social media posts for blasphemy, but would take zero action against an organization that is openly talking about enforcing theocracy and eliminating democratic freedoms, the very freedom it is exercising to take away their freedoms paradoxically.

In such a scenario, you can’t help but think that indeed Pakistan was formed for establishing a theocracy and is ruled by people who want such a policy to be enforced, even including the elected democrats.

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.

Why Support Zaid Hamid Against Saudi Arabia

Source: Zaid Hamid facebook page

Source: Zaid Hamid facebook page

A big test of the values that you believe in lies in defending the rights of someone you don’t agree with.

Zaid Hamid is a commentator with radical views which entwine conspiracy theories with religious traditions, which repulse many liberals, centrists, and conservatives alike. He was recently arrested and sentenced to eight years and a thousand lashes. There is no doubt that every supporter of the Caliphate such as Hamid should be criticized, but that does not take away their right to free speech, even if they are demanding something that would kill the freedom to exercise it.

But in this case, the real opponent is Saudi authoritarianism and the consistent abuse of Pakistani citizens at the hands of their abusive state that is supposedly a part of the “Muslim brethren.” Not only have Saudi Arabians barbarically beheaded dozens of Pakistanis for minor alleged offenses, such as drug trafficking, but this time has arrested a citizen for making an inconvenient speech.

Of course, you cannot really expect to criticize Saudi Arabia on their soil and get away with it. Most of us have not heard what the content of his speech was, and it is easy to assume that it would somewhat comprise of hate speech, or at least call for rebellion. Nevertheless, the harsh punishment would sound strange to many in Pakistan, or would it?

But why go out of our way to defend someone whose views the world is better off without?

Because free speech is a value greater than any partisan differences, and also because it is time to show critics and defenders of authoritarianism that free speech is a far superior ideology than theocracy and fascism.

This is why the arrest of Zaid Hamid in Saudi Arabia is a tremendous opportunity to show the traditional opponents of free speech why they are speaking against their own fundamental rights, and why free speech is such an important value to defend.

While you cannot really expect most Muslim conservatives and Pakistani nationalists to even understand, let alone appreciate and value the idea of free speech, but it is important to show them that this value applies to everyone, no matter what their ideological or philosophical position is.

This is why it is of utmost importance that the proponents of free speech, whether liberal or otherwise, should drop their cynicism for a while and support Zaid Hamid in his hour of trouble. It is also important to be concerned for his personal safety, especially because he is a Pakistani citizen, and to call out Saudi Arabia for its brutal authoritarianism and barbaric, medieval penal code.

Months ago I wrote about Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who is still in the custody of the Saudi authorities for speaking his mind about freedom and democracy. Many more Pakistani friends spoke in support of Badawi. Therefore, it is only appropriate that we should speak about this case with the same passion. This should remind everyone that people for free speech are the ones consistent in their positions.

It is not hard to see for anyone, whether the proponents of democracy or the Caliphate, that Zaid Hamid committed no crime and does not deserve such punishment.

It is evident that speech is not a crime. And that is why this is the best opportunity to demonstrate this fact to the people opposed to the propagation of free speech, who dismiss it as a Western idea.

This is precisely why blasphemy is not a crime and should not be considered a crime by any entity. People in the Caliphate camp should remember that.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Jinnah, Secular Pakistan & False Heroes

Source: Express Tribune

Source: Express Tribune

Often September 11 is a day when you could find people having a debate about secularism in Pakistan here and there. It is also the 9/11 anniversary, but let’s keep the conversation to secularism.

The death anniversary of founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah is considered a moment for this debate, primarily due to a speech he delivered on August 11, 1947.

However, the proponents of Islamic Republic who claim he was not secular do have a point. Ah, Islamic Republic, what an oxymoron.

The day every single secular bone in Mr. Jinnah was dead when he decided to join the cause of the Muslim League.

Call it the bigotry of Hindu leaders or the failure of Indian National Congress to suck up to the unreasonable demands of separate electorate, but that act should sum it up for anyone, if not the disastrous partition of 1947.

Needless deaths. Needless riots. Needless stupidity which has now become synonymous to the Indian people.

The supposedly secular Jinnah, who reportedly got furious over someone calling him the King of Pakistan, was perfectly alright with the dangerous slogan “Pakistan ka matlab kya, La ilaha il Allah” or “What is the meaning of Pakistan? No god but Allah.”

But a lot of people even claim that such slogan was a later invention, and there is no wonder not many would believe them.

And what of the forsaken millions of oppressed Muslim left to suffer at the hands of “Hindu imperialists”, who certainly would be seeing this as an opportunity for revenge for over five centuries of Muslim rule?

At another instance, you find him saying that the state of Pakistan would be an Islamic State modeled after the City State of Medina established by Prophet Muhammad himself. He has also referred to Islam as democracy. I know a lot of people would defend this statement, but this calls for a serious reality check.

In other words, Jinnah was one of the liberal Muslims who deemed the sort of state as the Medina to be a perfectly safe constitution for the non-Muslim community. The sort of liberal Muslims who are under the delusion that Islam provides safety to the non-Muslim communities through its message of universal peace.

Now Pakistani secularists, most of them with the center-left PPP and ANP have a dilemma. How to pitch secularism to an Islamic fundamentalist crowd, raised on admiring the merits of the Caliphate.

Perhaps in the world of cults and personality worshipers, what is missing in Pakistan for the failure of the secular movement is the lack of real heroes. Secular circles are usually seen hailing Jinnah and Bhutto as their leaders and heroes, while they should be the ones in the forefront to criticize them.

Source: ppp.org.pk

Source: ppp.org.pk

Why not openly endorse Jawaharlal Nehru as a secular leader rather than Jinnah, and why not discard an Islamic Socialist like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who signed the Second Amendment?

I know a lot of folks recognize atheist freedom fighter Bhagat Singh as a hero. I am all for choosing Benazir Bhutto as a relatively better secular and surely a liberal leader and I am glad that we have leaders such as Sherry Rehman and Bushra Gohar among us.

Though what is needed is a consensus on secularism. The left should not and must not have a monopoly over this issue. A secular right is badly needed in the sub continent.

But stick with the August 11, 1947 speech by all means to haunt Islamists. I actually respect the man’s acknowledgement of keeping religion separate from the state. However, his actions are hardly coherent with his words.

In any case, rest assured that Jinnah was no secular hero. Primarily, because of his politics under Muslim League as Muslims are not a nation or an ethnic group. It is a religious group and obtaining a state for it would mean giving up the secular cause and taking up a religious one.

As a matter of fact, the Indian Jamaat-e-Islami of the time would have offered some relative sanity if you were a Jinnah follower.

If only we would have the courage to admit that with such an artificially created religious demographic, Pakistan was wired to be an Islamic state from the very beginning. Little else would be expected from a political party thriving on the politics of discrimination and separate electorates.

While my opinion has changed about Muhammad Ali Jinnah over time, my view pertaining to secularism and logical political choices remains the same.

You don’t have to follow someone’s example to do the right thing. Jinnah was a politician, and therefore, his contradictions only make sense.

Just use your brain as secularism is the most reasonable, uncontroversial, universally acceptable and common sense social contract.

In the words of an acquaintance, former civil servant K. M. Cheema, the case for secularism must stand by itself.