The Intolerance of the Cult of “True Islam”

Source: Hindustan Times

Source: Hindustan Times

The unfortunate and devastating bombing at the Sehwan Sharif shrine sheds a new light at the. The devotees of the shrine and those with a Sufi leaning in their faith reinforced their love for the spiritual rituals practiced over there.

The Islamic State accepted the responsibility for the Sehwan Sharif suicide bombing and sent a clear message to all who have deviated from the true practice of the faith.

Perhaps only a day or two after the bombing, classical dancer Sheema Kermani went up to the shrine and performed the iconic dhamaal to send her message that life must go on at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine. Now, this was supposed to be a beautiful, powerful moment of spirituality and love that should have brought the entire humanity together.

By good numbers, the dhamaal, or the ecstatic spiritual dance, was seen as a moral abomination. Something they would never imagine their mothers or sisters to be doing as opposed to the obscene dancer who defied the terrorist, other than the notion that it was pure heresy. Something which would have made the true founders of Islam turn in their graves.

Obviously, many of the urban upper class Deobandi/Wahabi kids had seen dhamaal for the first time in their lives, so their shock is understandable. But it is the rest of the crowd, who actively campaigns to condemn dissenting religious groups is where the intolerance begins a little too much to tolerate.

While their assertions of what was and was not done by the Prophet and his companions may well be true, their effect in the contemporary society goes far beyond that. What the Cult of True Islam cannot stomach is the fact that somehow Pakistan happens to be very pluralistic in its religious makeup at the grassroots, even with its seemingly very homogeneous official faith. What the Cult of True Islam cannot come to terms with is the possibility that Islam may have evolved a little over the last fourteen centuries and hundreds of regions.

The Islam of Pakistanis happens to be far from one at least, unlike the monolithic form of monotheism you see practiced by the Saudi Arabian regime. We do kiss and touch stones over here, prostrate at grave sites in reverence, and wear charms and amulets. Not surprisingly, we have sects within sects within sects in Pakistan and it is not necessarily a bad thing, the shock at it certainly is. Not only that, we have a rich Sufi tradition that has oftentimes been a result of marriage with the wisdom from Hindu ascetics. Nobody should be afraid to say that.

So just like the region of the Indus that today falls under the modern Pakistan republic is ethnically and lingually diverse, it is no surprise that it is as diverse in its religious affiliations. The Cult of True Islam has been at it to dismantle every aspect of its culture and turn it into Arabia. Too bad we still don’t see as many date trees around our neighborhoods than we ought to.

While we can manufacture several conspiracy theories about how the Islamic State emerged, what we hesitate to face is the foundation of our fatwa culture. It is basically the Islam purists among us who we dismiss playfully that are responsible for the culture of declaring “kafir.” While I have never had personally anything against the label (I used to think it was a compliment), I gradually realized what it meant for others.

The acceptance of this intolerance has been as commonplace as the occurrence of the word kafir and Shia in one sentence. It was only a matter of time that the larger practice of paying homage to the great Sufi saints that this region is known for started falling under that category.

The expression of “True Islam” remains to be an enigmatic paradox which apparently is grappled only by those who claim to be its proponents in whatever context it is thrown at you. If it is in the context of secularism, you know all its good qualities were already embodied in it. If it is in the context of who is a truer Muslim, then you know you certainly cannot win. I only wish the proponents of the True Islam were as flexible as the concept itself is.

It is not a problem to hold, observe and practice a certain belief system. Actually, that is precisely what I am arguing for. But how about you stop imposing their superior faith of you on others who are observing their own tradition. Perhaps, it is not going to happen in an atmosphere where intolerance is encouraged and where art and culture are seen as obscenities.

The funny thing is that the same people would make tall claims of how their faith would perfectly allow existence for anyone with a different belief system.

We may feel appalled by the Islamic State and dismiss and condemn them as “Kharijites,” but what about the apologies for the very philosophy that they are acting on? Are they not found all over Pakistan? Or sitting in the next cubicle at your workplace?

Religious zeal and puritanism sound like nice ideas but they need to understand that the fabric of the society cannot remain intact without the necessary tolerance for the faith of each other.

And yes, even the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan appears to promise that freedom that these purists want to see disappear.

So how about we keep the contract going that the locals of this region have had with each other for thousands of years?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Antisemitism Behind the Defense Minister’s Faux Pas

Source: Daily Pakistan

Source: Daily Pakistan

Some people need no reason to hate the Jewish people. For some, it’s almost an instinctive reaction, to others, it is a religious obligation, and for even more people, because Israel.

However, our honorable Defense Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who became the laughing stock of the world when he reacted to a fake news about Israel offered us a unique insight into how he thinks. And believe me, it is pretty anti-Semitic.

First of all, let me commend our Defense Minister’s support for the Syrian people expressed in the same twitter feed. Now, I am not sure if he tweets himself or has a communications professional doing it for him, but it is certainly the work of someone very emotional.

And why the hell not? After all, it is an emotional medium. But not sure if one fit for the communication of a public official, especially one serving in the role of a national statesman whose voice is heard around the world. Especially when they don’t bother to fact check.

Well, the honorable Minister reminded the Israelis that “Pakistan, too, is a nuclear state” when the Israeli Defense Minister supposedly threatened Pakistan with a nuclear attack for sending troops to Syria to fight ISIS. All based on a fake news story. And what is worse, he did not even bother to respond to the clarification from the Israeli Defense Ministry.

I don’t want to see such stories about a Pakistani Minister, for who I have great respect, in the New York Times.

Am I the only one who sees a problem with a high ranking official of such an important country entertaining a conspiracy theory?

Citizens can only hope that some day, Pakistan would give up its anti-Semitic foreign policy. And now we have some evidence that it is fueled by anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. I wonder what is going on in the mind of other government, bureaucratic, and military officials.

The Pakistani Defense Minister believed this obviously fake news, that anybody with a little common sense could have figured out, because he is taking this lie for granted that Israel and similar powers are behind the Islamic State. It is as embarrassing as having a 9/11 truther as a foreign minister.

By that logic, he thinks that the Israeli Defense Minister is supposed to be upset at Pakistan acting against the Islamic State, when in reality anyone would welcome it.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

The conspiracy theory is the favorite of anti-Semites. Israel created ISIS. Though, often in the next breath, they would wish an Islamic State terrorist attack on Israel. Just like Israel created so many other evils in the world. You know, like countless scientific innovations. Though I take such inventions to be the common progress of humanity and not belonging to any one country.

Israel might possibly be having some schadenfreude at the expense of its immediate rival, but by no means is the Israeli government or the people supportive of the plight of the innocent people in Syria. Only days ago, Tel Aviv saw one of the more prominent protests in the region against the atrocities committed in Aleppo. Israeli hospitals have admitted several injured Syrian refugees.

Now let me remind you, the Satanic Jews that Pakistanis love to hate so much were not out on the streets because they wanted to see the children of Muslims bleed. But because they are good hearted, decent people who feel for the carnage underway in Aleppo by the ruthless forces of President Assad and by the Russians to some degree.

The only such protests in Pakistan were perhaps held by the Jamaat-e-Islami, thanks to Aleppo being off-limits to the outrage of our progressive liberals. That’s the only common ground that I have ever found with the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Also, Israel is by no means safe from the Islamic State. And if you think it is, then you are suffering from a special kind of delusion. For people who like to cite the lack of threats as evidence of the Islamic State being a product of Israel, they have already threatened Israel several times. And God forbid, they would follow up on their threats if and when they are able to and we must fear that day. As we are in fear and mourning now for the beautiful people of Iraq and Syria.

If a few terrorists from West Bank can devastate Israel with arson crimes, surely the Islamic State can do great damage if it infiltrates even the West Bank settlements. So, you can bet Israel is vigilantly aware of this security threat. And no, Israel is not safe. Despite the allegations that “Jews rule the world.”

Israel has also taken limited action against Islamic State assets when inevitable, but not in as larger scale as they would have. They should have perhaps, as a responsible nation. But then again, the tiny state can hardly defend itself against home-made rockets in Gaza, you cannot expect them to invite a new, much larger, more ferocious enemy to its gates without the much-needed support of more powerful allies.

Where are President Obama’s forces, someone who would go down as the most complacent President to Islamist terrorism in history? Where are the French and German forces? I say President-elect Donald Trump is right to criticize the lack of responsibility of Western Europe for their part in NATO. Where is the Arab coalition against the Islamic State?

Shame on the world. Not just Israel, but the entire civilized world. Shame on all of us.

But most of all, shame on our honorable Defense Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif.

The Pakistani idiot of the year 2016, in my books.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

No Hope for the Citizens of Quetta This Independence Day

Source: AFP/Dawn

Source: AFP/Dawn

Nothing makes the idea of security from terrorist attacks more ironic than probably one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in terms of damage since 9/11 in Pakistan. The terrorists struck mercilessly in Quetta, the troubled capital of the troubled province of Baluchistan. Where the state’s strategic assets take precedence over the lives of the people, like the rest of the country, but where the distinction is more pronounced than anywhere else.

The August 8 suicide bombing on the Quetta hospital targeting and wiping out almost an entire generation of lawyers should have shaken the conscience of the nation to the core. It should be considered an attack on our way of life. In a country under constant threat of dark forces constantly trying to implement Sharia which would bring Mullah Fazlullah-like courts operational, the attack is really significant. It irreversibly harmed the secular, legal system that is very unpopular among a rapidly radicalizing local population.

As usual, the attack was all about harming Pakistan’s strategic and economic plan and the CPEC Project. The Taliban and the Islamic State accepted responsibility, but the obvious culprits to the state remain to be RAW operatives. To other demented minds in the opposition, the blame fell almost exclusively on the Prime Minister. As if he enjoys enough influence over the various complex forces to cause terrorist attacks at will. Regardless of the fact, no one seems to be mourning enough about the fact that the top legal minds of a city are no more. Imagine had this happened in Lahore or Islamabad.

This brings us to the realization of priorities when it comes to national security. Imagine the security measures that our military goes through in order to protect the most sensitive and valuable of our military installations. But what good are these military installations if not for the protection of the intellectuals of the country. Even if that does not mean anything for some people, what good is a military if not for the protection of a country’s judicial system?

No matter what happens, our people would not face up the real threat that Islamist terrorism poses. We do not realize that the threat is to the very existence of human civilization as we know it, and Islamist extremists are not going to rest unless it is destroyed and transformed into a form they consider fit. It is an anti-intellectual cult of death and misery that needs to be fought. But that is only possible if we recognize it as a real threat.

In this mental struggle of countering the problem of organized and brutal terrorism, the people of Quetta must be feeling completely helpless. There is no doubt that you cannot possibly guard or police every single square inch of a country, and doing so could itself spark outrage from the citizens. Our security forces often face harsher than necessary criticism for it. However, no one can argue that tragedies such as the August 8 bombing are a failure of those in charge of intelligence.

We may declare people pointing toward this fact as traitors, but it is not going to solve the problem of terrorism. After an experience of fighting terrorism over the decade, we must also come to terms with the fact that there is only one factor that motivates suicide bombings in this region. Shying away from these facts only makes matter worse. The murder of Quetta lawyers is not going to derail the CPEC project a single bit at this stage, but it shows that we are devoting too much security to protect infrastructure and not enough for the most valuable of our citizens.

As the rest of the nation celebrate the Independence Day, there is no hope for the hundreds of families affected from the tragedy and thousands more who have suffered losses. They know nothing is going to change in terms of the protection of their legal institutions. There is no hope of realizing that we are not really independent unless our judiciary is safe and free.

There is no hope except for the same old resilience that has helped us endure tragedy after tragedy since the waves of terrorism since the 2003 Afghanistan War.

Happy Independence Day.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

The Liberal Apathy for the Middle East

Source: renegadetribune.com

During the height of the Iraq War, we were wondering where all the anti-war liberals had gone. We should have been careful what we wished for.

After the Iraq War, most people of both the liberal and libertarian preoccupation have concluded that war and US foreign policy interference are plain and simply an evil idea. They could never have been more wrong.

They continue to dodge the Islamic State issue, purely out of the concern that the right wing does not consider all Muslims evil. Well, the right wing calling all Muslims evil is far better than all Muslims dead. Pretty much everyone admits that Muslim people themselves are the greatest victims of the radical, fanatically monotheistic Islamic State.

They may or may not be losing ground, but they are still very much a presence. What is worse, they have proliferated global centers, particularly in Western Europe. One after another, we are hearing news of attacks from terrorists in France and Germany.

Call it a sudden coincidence that Western European Muslims are becoming mentally disturbed all of a sudden, or are carrying out carefully planned attacks openly declaring allegiance to the Islamic State. It’s trouble for the Western civilization either way. It is also a great threat to liberal idealism and to the cause of accommodating the troubled Syrian migrants and refugees.

What more is it going to take to change the stubborn liberal mind that continues to look the other way as the Islamic State continues with its rampage? They are not doing the global Muslim communities any favors by refraining from recognizing the threat out of concerns of offending their sensibilities.

All the arguments against a ground offensive against the Islamic State are absurd. The Obama administration can go ahead to facilitate regime change in Libya, but would rather leave the Islamic State alone. They very rightfully draw a red line on Assad’s chemical attacks on his citizens, even only in word, but ignore the atrocities committed by the Islamic State on the local population.

It’s amazing how the left, liberal, and isolationist parties in the West are comfortable with the thought of the Islamic State roaming free in the region. The apathy and irresponsibility of leaving the matter alone because it’s only the people of the Middle East who are bleeding are absolutely unacceptable, shameful, and immoral.

While so far both the Presidential candidates have addressed the issue of Islamic radical terrorism, the debates in the months ahead would further expose their position. Most Americans do not approve the way President Obama has handled the foreign policy in the Middle East, yet there is a sense that the overall sentiment in the country is anti-war.

Between the chants of “No more war” in the DNC to the cries of “No Islam” in the RNC, the American leadership needs to find the right balance to move against the Islamic State. Whoever is elected the next President would have to deal with the massive vacuum left in the Middle East that President Barack Obama is not even bothered to address.

Anyone underestimating, especially not recognizing, this threat is not fit to lead the most powerful nation in the world, in my opinion. What is even more important is that such a person is not fit to lead the world at this point in history.

And sadly, there is no other nation in the world to lead the fight against the threat of the Islamic State. You would expect the European Union to take the necessary action, but they appear to be in disarray themselves. The United Kingdom is still recovering from the shock that Tony Blair lied about the Iraq War.

Israel and Arab countries have not offered a hint. Pakistan and India are shying from contributing to the resolution of the problem as well. The others are not bothered because they have not heard anything from the United Nations Security Council.

Because apparently it’s never our problem.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Why the Enemies of Islamic State Outside America Should Root for a Republican President in 2016

Source: Daily The Nation

Source: Daily The Nation

Do you believe that the votes of American citizens matter in shaping the future of the world?

Do you also happen to believe that the United States has been following a disastrous foreign policy over the years, creating more chaos than good?

If yes, then chances are that you must blame the 2003 invasion of Iraq for destabilizing the Middle East.

I do too, and that is why I think people sharing these beliefs, and those who want to destroy the Islamic State should root for a Republican President in 2016.

We don’t just need a hawk in the White House, call the candidate a neo-conservative, if you like, but one who is interested in completely eliminating ISIL and one who believes in establishing a permanent ground force in Iraq. I very much wish Hillary Clinton would be that candidate, but the sort of focus and commitment that you can expect from candidates on the Republican side.

I also believe that it has been the foreign policy of President Obama which has led to the current chaos that Iraq and Syria are in. Ever since the rise of ISIL, we have seen President Obama rejecting and belittling the threat has only made matters worse, and only recently he has taken stricter military action.

President Obama relies mostly on air power and drone warfare for his war strategy. Just as his presidency was a reaction to the war overdose during the term of George W. Bush, he probably is allergic to the idea of deploying ground troops as an occupying force.

At this point in history, the world needs the moral leadership of the United States to get rid of this horrific state of affairs in the Middle East. A lot of US citizens assert why the United States should be a part of a regional sectarian conflict. They are right. The United States does not have to be the sole participant of dealing with ISIL, but it must lead the world to that goal. However, that requires a leader that could rally the world around the cause as George W. Bush did during his term.

The world is prepared to take on ISIL, even including Saudi Arabia and Iran, despite their clash of interest in terms of the balance of power in Iraq and Syria. The problem is that the lives of the people of the Middle East cannot be left at the mercy of terrible authoritarian regional powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, who both have a record of backing terrorist or militant groups for their own political advantage.

Now that Iraq and Syria have reached this state, long term NATO forces must occupy these states in order to ensure the stability required by the citizens migrating to other parts of the world. This is why Western forces have been stationed in high risk regions such as South Korea. The need for such forces is far greater in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan than anywhere else. Such relative stability has been brought in Afghanistan and Iraq was relatively stable as well when George W. Bush left office.

I only wish the Democratic Party had brought more ideas about fighting ISIL in this race. Both the candidates have expressed commitment to fight ISIL, but the issue is given very low priority in the Democratic forum of ideas and is barely even discussed. Sadly, Hillary Clinton’s election would simply mean the continuation of the foreign policy of President Obama for at least 4 more years. If Bernie Sanders win, who knows what the US foreign policy would be. The stakes are too high for any such choices.

Quite frankly, if it were not the issue of foreign policy and ISIL, I would hardly see any reason for someone outside the US to have their interests attached with a candidate. Particularly at a time when a more aggressive US intervention in the Middle East is the need of the hour and one that involves ground occupation. I am sure that the people and leaders of the rest of the world, including Europe and the Middle East, would be watching the 2016 race with similar concerns.

There used to be a time when the Democratic Presidents used to initiate military action abroad, from FDR and Harry Truman to JFK and LBJ. Not that I miss the Democrats being the internationalist hawks, which they still are, but the approach of the political parties have changed since then. Especially since the war overdose of Bush 43 Presidency and President Obama’s allergy to troops on the ground as a reaction.

While most people would like President Obama’s approach, the world cannot afford it. At least, the Middle East cannot afford it any longer. A President with more assertive military leadership and one who seriously believes in destroying ISIL is needed to bring the Middle East back to order.

I know how some people are worried about the immoral and dangerous prospects of a conservative Republican President, but the only immoral and dangerous force that I see in the world is the Islamic State. And the closer the next President is to George W. Bush in approach, the better are the odds of eliminating it.

Let’s get rid of the Islamic State first. Then we can return to our lovefest with the Democratic candidates.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Yazidi Sex Slave Survivor Nadia Murad Taha Speaks Out Against Islamic State

Source: freedomfund.org

Source: freedomfund.org

If you ever wanted a glimpse into the horror that ISIL has forced millions of people in Iraq and Syria to live through, then listen to the nine-minute speech of this young girl at the United Nations Security Council.

If this does not shock any humanitarian soul, or convince someone that the Islamic State should be destroyed once and for all, I don’t know what will.

Her name is Nadia Murad Basee Taha. Her family was massacred and she was sold and abused by the barbarians at the helm of the sex slave trade that the Islamic State was so eager to to take up. It was almost the reason that they have been eyeing to target the Yazidis for. The trauma and torture that this young girl and thousands more like her went through are simply unimaginable. And the fact that she is brave enough to be here, campaigning against ISIL sends shivers down your spine. This is the sort of courage you can hardly imagine.

It’s unconscionable how the world is tolerating the unacceptable entity of the Islamic State. This is just another reminder that the world needs to move against the Islamic State fast.

While I really don’t like what it’s doing to the world, I actually respect the political positions of consistent liberal pacifists, libertarian and conservative isolationists and nationalists. Sure, they can ask the question why their respective countries, especially the United States, should bother about what is happening to the Yazidi, Kurds and other Iraqi and Syrian people. They have every right to ask that question.

But turning the other way is the easiest thing in the world to do. There is a reason why civilized nations of the world find it important to intervene in a humanitarian crisis because somebody needs to stand up for the helpless. Survivors like her speak volumes why Iraqi and Syrian refugees must be accepted to peaceful regions in as many numbers as possible. Imagine losing this life to war and conflict.

Doing so requires moral leadership and a sense of responsibility. I am proud of the fact that the United States delegation introduced her to the United Nations and it is probably the US leadership that would be required to eliminate the Islamic State. The people oppressed by the Islamic State need to be liberated.

If only fighting ISIL were more central to the political discourse around the world than it currently is.

 

Saudi-Iran Conflict: Just the Sort of Diversion the Islamic State Needed

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Despite an almost unanimous agreement about the evil that the Islamic State embodies, the world is still having a hard time forming a military alliance to take substantial action against the group. From lamenting the consequences of unrelated past foreign military intervention to equating ISIL with other Arab states, there is no shortage of absurd political opinions making excuses for inaction.

At a time like this, it was probably not surprising that the usual suspects of the region were busy making matters even worse in the Middle East. Through some very deliberate measures, Saudi Arabia and Iran have chosen to strain their already tense diplomatic relations seriously.

Things started getting worse when Saudis executed dissenting Shia scholar Nimr Al-Nimr, sparking violent anti-Saudi protests in Tehran during which protestors set the Saudi embassy on fire. As a reaction, Saudi Arabia, followed by UAE and Bahrain, expelled Iranian missions to their respective countries. The region started worrying about a new conflict and Islamic State found just the sort of relief they needed.

Of course, whenever relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran suffer, you can expect increased pressure on Pakistan, both from the Saudi government and from the people at home. While the careful approach the Government of Pakistan has taken in this regard is the way to go, it must be warned to move a step forward in terms of its commitment to fight ISIL. In an ideal world, a military operation against ISIL with Pakistan’s participation should have been underway.

The Gulf states have been facing much criticism for their inaction against ISIL, which have been regularly resisted by Shia militia in Iraq. As a matter of fact, people have been speculating Saudi hand behind ISIL since the extremist group share the brand of Sunni Islam practiced in the kingdom. Now that they have made a military alliance, it is being condemned by some for being meant for exclusively targeting Iran and its sponsored militant groups.

While protesting the Saudi-led anti-terrorism alliance makes little sense, this is the expected consequence of choosing to join a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Probably for spiritual reasons, the local Sunni and Shia population have linked their religious fervor with the terrible political entities of Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively. This is why commentators with this concern have been calling for Pakistan to join a US-led alliance to fight the Islamic State.

So far we have seen a lot of talk about the anti-terrorist alliance but little action. Only substantial military action by the Saudi led alliance would put the conspiracy theories to rest. The lack of action is yet another reason for Pakistan to wonder if it is in the right camp. But then again, fighting ISIL proactively is hardly a priority for nations around the world, and Pakistan seems to be no exception.

This is where the United States and other Western powers would have to lead and work with Saudi Arabia and Iran to focus on eradicating the Islamic State. Unless a comprehensive global alliance is formed for the purpose under the leadership of the United States, it would be difficult to organize the much required military efforts.

We are at a point in history when extraordinary measures are required for the elimination of the evil Islamic State. Global and regional powers, which are otherwise adversaries, need to come together to get rid of this common threat to human civilization, but the local Muslim population is busy squabbling about the power struggle of Iran and Saudi Arabia instead.

This will severely hurt any possible military campaigns that had any chance to be initiated by Muslim majority countries in the Middle and adjoining regions because everyone would need to take a side in this conflict. I appreciate the passion of everyone who wants their countries to remain neutral in the Saudi-Iran conflict, but that would not be the case for long if the situation escalates further.

The recent episode only proves the irresponsibility and recklessness of Iran and Saudi Arabia as regional powers and goes to show that they should be the last countries leading other Muslim majority nations. While it is a good idea expressing solidarity with them and offering military aid for necessary defense and peacekeeping, it would be a disastrous mistake to follow their lead in shaping foreign policy.

This is why it is important for global powers to avoid the distraction of Saudi-Iran conflict and refocus their attention on the threat of ISIL by rallying a global alliance. Pakistan must also play its part as a responsible nation and must distinguish itself with significant participation.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.