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.

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Mass Desensitization Toward Holy Crimes

Source: thecompassnews.org

Source: thecompassnews.org

One of the most remarkable commandments of religion is not to question the divinity. While it makes perfect sense to protect and safeguard the sanctity of the divine ideas, it is probably the greatest insult to the human mind.

One of the worst by products of the has been the selective mass desensitization toward holy crimes, for a nation that has a hyperactive moral compass. The reason for that is simple. Either it is to avoid trouble, or because the sacred entities shall not be questioned.

Time and again, we have seen atrocious incidents occur purely for religious reasons and no other, and as always the result is looking the other way. Not facing the problem. The problem of religious influences on law and the constitution.

It can only horrify you to imagine that someone would even come up with the idea of establishing a religious constitution.

People, for all their gullibility, have been deceived to believe that the Islamic system of society and law is much superior to any other. While human drafted constitutions most certainly have their flaws and limitations, they are designed to minimize conflict of interest among members and groups of societies by offering an equally acceptable social contract.

Source: The News

Source: The News

The absence of such solutions, aided by certain beliefs known for their violence, ensure the occurrences such as the murder of Sajjad and Shama, a Christian laborer couple in Kala Shah Kaku, Kasur, for allegedly desecrating the Koran. The angry mob (here we go again) burned them to death in a brick kiln.

How appropriate. Probably this is the punishment by fire that the faith warns about.

What makes the incident more tragic is that the woman was said to be pregnant. For someone cynical like me, the child probably was better off dying than becoming a member of such a hostile society. Blessing in disguise.

However, the parents were not so lucky, and went through probably the most horrifying trauma before suffering the most excruciating death. It’s remarkable such horrifying torture could occur in this day and age.

But at the same time, this event does offer a little hope to the marginalized minority religious groups in the country. There was at least some major reaction this time. 50 odd people were arrested. The Prime Minister condemned it, the Chief Minister visited the parents and the opposition parties condemned the incident too. Some progress.

Ironically, even the Emir of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami paid a sympathy visit to the grieving family. Some nerve.

Perhaps he has changed his stance about the Shariah law.

But still, the lynching doesn’t count as a tragedy in the eyes of most Muslim Pakistanis. Just an inconvenient piece of news that should not be paid attention to. For others, rough justice rightly done.

After all, Allah has taken the responsibility of safeguarding the Holy Book.

In any event, this incident is importance because it busts the myth offered by apologetic liberal Muslims that all blasphemy lynch mobs commit such acts due to “property disputes.”

Another remarkable murder was committed a day after the Ashura. A person charged with blasphemy, most probably a Shia religious narrator, was arrested in Gujrat. Before that person would even find the opportunity to explain himself, he was butchered, quite literally, by the ASI at the police station.

Now I don’t want to blame religious laws for this completely random occurrence, but would just like to point out one problem here for the proponents of theocratic law.

A lot of not-so-fundamentalist defenders of the blasphemy law claim that it helps prevent vigilante killing. Another apology for the religious extremism, while encouraging parallel narrative for glorifying heroes such as Ghazi Ilm Deen, who was coincidentally defended in the court by the father of the nation.

However, the claim that blasphemy law protects offenders from vigilante violence is clearly in jeopardy here. As a matter of fact, statistical evidence points quite to the contrary. More blasphemy killings have taken place ever since the law came into place than before.

Due to the newly found encouragement offered by the state, people have been encouraged to commit more blasphemy murders than before the introduction of its recent sub clauses. The blasphemy law is the legacy of the British, but Pakistanis have surely taken it to the next level.

From their colonial masters, they have successfully inherited the value of suppressing free speech and rewarding fundamentalist violence.

But the fact remains that religious violence has been deliberately ignored, in terms of considering it an atrocity, even evil, and for assessing whether it is something worthy of outrage and protest.

The simple fact is that while religious faith has completely killed the moral conscience of the most devoted, it has terrorized the majority of followers into silence. And the fear of the sacred has ensured mass desensitization toward the holy crimes. How could it be even possible, you would say.

If you think religion is nonsense, you are sadly mistaken.

It is the most powerful political tool, as primitive as it is.

Bohr Masjid: No Protests for This Mosque

The Damaged Bohr Masjid façade

Not too far from where I live, Bohr Masjid, or the Banyan Tree Mosque, located in Churr Chowk, Peshawar Road, Rawalpindi has undergone some drastic changes. The façade of the mosque is almost completely destroyed by the orders of the local government, operating in the constituencies NA-54 (Rawalpindi V) in the National Legislature and PP-10 in the Punjab government legislature, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board.

While in my opinion, this step by the local government for the sake of road expansion was completely unnecessary, apart from the general needlessness of the entire project of the so-called renovation of Churr Chowk Rawalpindi, where the inauguration stone of Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif had already been erected in March 2012 (If you happen to go around Churr Chowk these days, there is probably no other structure standing in its vicinity), what happened to the mosque only added insult to injury.

This project seems nothing else but the customary election year ritual of the reigning political parties of Pakistan, in this particular case PML-N, with their incumbent MPs Malik Ibrar Ahmed for NA-54 and his brother Malik Iftikhar Ahmed for PP-10, to gain sympathy of the voters by demonstrating that “developmental projects” are underway. I would have gone on to post the image of the ridiculously large and “vulgar” political hoarding thanking the mentioned MPs and Mr. Shahbaz Sharif and Mr. Nawaz Sharif for “fulfilling their promise of making Churr Chowk look like the Sahara Desert”, but I really don’t want to make this post sound like something political and targeting any one party, because I am sure that perhaps another party would be at it anyway.

However, it does concern politics anyway because the politics is ruining my neighborhood and my city. While a book can be written on how this project is being executed, the reason why I have chosen Bohr Masjid as its worst manifestation is because apparently mosques and religion are pretty important to the people of Rawalpindi, Punjab and Pakistan. I asked quite a few people about it, but they apparently considered the subject rather too unpleasant to be discussed much and it was something they were clearly willing to ignore.

Given the religious aspect of the damage to the mosque, the people of my city are apparently too peaceful or too lazy or too naïve to make fuss about it. However, to me, that mosque was a part of the city and a part of its culture and sights and sounds. It was heartbreaking to wake up one morning and see its façade gone just like that and what is worse, it is literally in ruins now, and it offers the view of a damaged structure in a bomb-battered warzone. A few images could offer a better idea of what has happened to the mosque.

The Debris of the Destroyed Bohr Masjid façade

Source: Another View of the Destroyed Mosque façade

What I can’t figure out is this. Why are there no protests over this? Had a Christian or some other non-Muslim even spitted betel towards the mosque, the person would have already left the world for committing the crime. Alright that is a little exaggeration, but hey, we have seen colonies of Christians reduced to ashes for supposedly desecrating the Holy Koran in this country. The only reason why there are no protests I guess is because the mosque has been destroyed by an elected Muslim government, who have apparently done great service to Islam and humanity by doing this, as they are carrying out a road expansion that everyone would have done without.

The Banyan Tree with Bohr Masjid

What concerns me more than the destruction of the mosque is the fact that the old banyan trees that are synonymous with the mosque and are an important landmark of the area would go down soon as well. Already a number of irreplaceable trees have been lost for the sake of this mindless “development” project and I am not sure how many more will follow. Peshawar Road, at least its Westridge part, is one of the relatively pleasant parts of the city connecting the G. T. Road and apparently the government wants to turn it like the rest of the urban parts of Pakistan as well.

Barren, dusty, dirty, treeless and an eyesore.

The Destroyed Bohr Masjid façade

I took these photos on August 2, 2012 and even visited the place today, on August 11. The mosque is still in the state that can be seen in the images and I expect it to remain that way for quite a while. No one knows how long will this gigantic “development project” will take to complete but I wonder if anyone would do anything to rebuild this poor man’s mosque. Surprisingly enough, it is the only building in the vicinity that has been graced by the authorities for its destruction.

Just a question for understanding the religious mind. If there is no outrage on the deliberate destruction of a mosque, a holy place, just for the trivial purpose of road expansion, why would you be raging on the destruction of a mosque claimed by another religion to be the birthplace of one of their human-gods? A much more important purpose. Maybe Muslims can destroy mosques themselves, but no one else can.

There is no connection of the two really as the attack of Hindu extremists was a violent and violating act in its own right, but why have different standards on the treatment of a mosque? Why not react to this deliberate destruction of a mosque, protesting against a Muslim government? No riots please, just concern on the loss of a cultural and historic building.

I find the apathy rather fascinating.

The Example of Shahbaz Bhatti

Source: Asianews.it

There are not a lot of countries which have to endure unpleasant occurrences such as the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, since which a year has passed on March 2 this year, but even rare are examples set with such crude nudity and such evident clarity that religious extremism can really plague a society like a cancerous tumor. Pakistan is one country that proudly boasts fundamentalism as a part of its dysfunctional constitution and law.

Like always, you cannot be absolutely sure about who did it but the evidence and the messages left at the spot clearly point towards the Pakistani Taliban, a separatist faction which wants to enforce its brand of militant Shariah in the country, which many argue is what the Shariah is, but that’s another subject. It is thought that Bhatti was assassinated for his criticism on the Blasphemy Law. Ever since he has been silenced, so have been most of the voices in the country who were outspoken about it.

In any case, this pretty much puts to rest any false assertions about the Islamic constitution and law, or at least an Islamic Republic, protecting minorities. Even if that is true in theory, it certainly is not in practice. This is usually what I tell Muslim Pakistanis, like many other people who support a Secular constitution and law, that no matter how much you are confident about the provisions in the Islamic law, or Shariah, to protect the minorities, that is not how non-Muslims see that law and that is precisely the reason why there should be an “agreed upon” and uncontroversial constitution and the law, which should not be disputed by any party. As a matter of fact, most of the non-Muslims will immediately raise objections as soon as they hear about the Shariah or the Islamic Law.

People may or may not agree with it, but Bhatti’s assassination has been an alarming point raising question marks about the kind of protection the law and constitution of the country offer to its citizens. I am not talking about communities and minorities here because it sort of disturbs me calling for the rights of this community and that community. Every citizen has their rights and we don’t really have to refer to people as minorities, as if they are not completely a part of the society.

The bottom line is that Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination has been a wake up call for the Pakistani state and especially the Pakistani people that only a secular constitution, which is not loaded with communal bias, is the foundation to the solution of the problems of the country regarding civil rights.

To remind you of the neverending need for protest and the great struggle for civil rights in Pakistan in the face of pointless religious extremism, leaving you with the best sign spotted in a Shahbaz Bhatti assassination protest.

Hope she gets heard some day.

One of the best signs ever seen in a Shahbaz Bhatti assassination protest rally. Source: Abid Nawaz/Express Tribune

A Brave Beginning At Least…

November 25, 2010 was a historic day in the history of legislation in Pakistan. One of the more sensible MPs finally took the initiative of proposing amendments in the Blasphemy Laws of the country. It was none other than Sherry Rehman who took the brave initiative after contributing a brilliant article to the Express Tribune.

I congratulate Sherry Rehman for breaking the ice and touching this “taboo subject”. She surely deserves a pat on the back and this is what PPP should be doing. The Governor of the Punjab, Salmaan Taseer also deserves applause for his efforts after Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, was  sentenced to death for blasphemy by a local civil magistrate. I am only disappointed that there is silence from other political parties like MQM, ANP and PML-Q, and also PML-N. I even expect some sense from the JUI-F and the JI.

While I completely agree with the opinion in the legal circles that the President is talking about using his right of pardon prematurely, since the case can move on to the higher courts, and with the decision of the LHC of directing the President to abstain from using the right until the hearing of the petition against it, I was really disappointed to learn that some lawyers maintained that the law did not permit the President to pardon the person who had allegedly committed a blasphemy because it did not pertain to the crimes against the State, and pertained to a crime against Allah and His Prophet. If that is our law, we need to change it.

But the real divide is this.  The secular school of thought maintains that the blasphemy laws should be repealed because it is not an offense in the first place, at least not worthy of a death sentence, if any at all. The right wing, in this case, the religious political parties representing Islam, think that the blasphemy law is more like an article of faith and that any amendments are unacceptable. Though mentioning this was totally unnecessary, but anyway.

While both the groups keep on loathing each other and have no patience to listen to and appreciate each other’s viewpoint, we will not be able to move a single inch towards making any progress in this regard. As a matter of principle, I oppose any blasphemy laws, but since it concerns the feelings of such a large majority of population, I would at least go for softening the “punishment” instead of letting the brutal death penalty stand, which is why I think this bill is important.

We should actually be starting a debate about abolishing the death penalty altogether, or minimize its implementation in the courts. We should at least make the judges think twice, or thrice, before inking such a verdict, especially when it is a blasphemy that you can never prove in the court of law unless it is published in some way, apart from the account of witnesses.

You can simply make the religious groups understand why death in general, and in the case of Asia Bibi in particular, should not be enforced by telling them what Prophet Muhammad would have done in this regard. Rauf Klasra wrote a very good piece on that in Urdu, which you could read to get a very good idea about that viewpoint. We must upkeep the basic human rights in any case and supersede any other laws which lead to their violation.

Courtesy: Reuters

While I cannot help but think about the poor and innocent children of Asia Bibi who are anxiously waiting for their mother to return to them, I can never imagine, as far my understanding of Islam and the life of the Holy Prophet is concerned, that the Prophet would have meant any harm to the woman in the first place. It was contrary to his values, since he even pardoned Hind, the wife of Abu Sufian, a Meccan Lord, who had murdered his uncle Hamza in the most brutal manner.

Had Prophet Muhammad been a man who approved of murder, violence and killings, then he would have done otherwise, and there are countless other examples, such as the Amnesty on the Conquest of Mecca. And yes, I think that despite those Islamic laws of stoning to death on adultery, the conditions of the enforcement of which are actually so strict, that it is near impossible that anyone could be condemned to death for that offense, let alone approving of it.

Unfortunately, the religious groups are not able to understand this simple fact due to the overzealous nature of their politics. Supporting death for committing blasphemy is clearly a political matter instead of a religious one, and I have reasons to believe that the leaders and scholars who understand Islam know it themselves. Whether they want to go for the change or not is another matter.

But don’t forget, they are not the only ones to be blamed for this. The supposedly sensible politicians and the elements in the civil, judicial and military bureaucracy have also played their due role in the creation and approval of these laws. They did not consider the possibility that these laws could possibly be misused, as they are misused most of the time.

Not only the “minorities” or the non-Muslims in Pakistan are at risk due to the abuse of the law, but even Muslims themselves are not safe from it. You could accuse anyone of committing a blasphemy that you hold a grudge against and the crowds would rage and come roaring to get that person. The people need to develop some patience, and both the secular and religious groups need to come together to discuss the issue to reach a sensible solution.

I know that even if we get the text book right, vigilante violence is a problem that will remain very much there as far as the accusations of blasphemy are concerned, but it is important to get the textbook right. That is why I advocate a Secular Constitution for Pakistan. However, as far as making the general public realize is concerned, only Humanitarian Education is a solution, which is unfortunately, not a priority at all in the plans of the Government of Pakistan.

The secular circles of the country should be happy that someone at least made a start towards bringing an amendment to the law, something which people were even afraid to talk about earlier. I am anxiously waiting to see how the MPs vote on this, especially the members of the PPP, the MQM and the ANP, you know, the supposed secular political parties in Pakistan.

 

Maybe someday this could possibly lead to the abrogation of these laws.