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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State Killers for Hire?

Source: YouTube video capture

Extrajudicial killings by state entities have become a norm in Pakistan. When the supposed exceptions of the excessive force by the state will be given free passes, those will eventually become the practice.

Indeed, on the other side of the picture, the same state offers complete impunity to violent rioters when it suits its political agenda to undermine civilian politicians. But unfortunately, the draconian iron hand of the state law enforcement goes far behind this.

This weekend, a family was allegedly shot dead, including a father and a mother and their teenage daughter, in front of the younger children that accompanied them, by the Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab Police on their way to Burewala from Lahore on the motorway near Sahiwal to attend a wedding. The shooting has been termed as collateral damage by the Law Minister of Punjab in an alleged operation carried out to capture a suspected terrorist with links with the Islamic State. Even if this is true, the sanity of such an operation can be questioned, even though pretty much all the official narratives have been negated by evidence surfacing on the social media and the account of the children and eye witnesses.

This is an extraordinary occurrence in Punjab of its kind but the rest of Pakistan might not agree with it. Initially, many estimated that it could be the result of familial or tribal animosity. This may still very well be the case but the involvement of the state law enforcement changes the equation.

Does this mean that a sitting political chief in Punjab was involved in settling a personal score through state machinery? It also raises some serious question mark about the administration of the incumbent PTI who has been criticizing other parties who have remained in power to abuse police for their vested interest. The only problem is that it has probably never been used in a darker manner before.

The deceased family – Source: pakobserver,net

This situation is even more disconcerting than the Model Town massacre of the at the compound of the protesting Pakistan Awami Tehreek, which was a public affair in comparison. Regardless, even that was the use of, albeit in the name of restoring law and order over.

Either way, the factor that always gets buried in the politics of these extrajudicial killings is the lives that are ruined. Many were recalling the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi and rogue cop Rao Anwar getting a free pass. And while you don’t get to see that impact with the murder of just another young man in some remote corner of the country which includes Karachi ironically, the cruelty of the Sahiwal killing was well publicized on the local and social media. Perhaps also because of the sheer brutality of this heartless act too, which involved the shooting of parents in front of the eyes of their little children and leaving them behind.

None of us can remotely claim to understand, let alone feel, the grief of the surviving children. Google the pictures and videos of the surviving children to know what condition they were left in. But don’t, on the second thought. Even I could not stomach taking a peek at the video. It’s simply unbearable.

But this is what you get for not asking enough questions of the state authorities. And rest assured, there are still way too many people telling the outraging dissenters to hush up. Especially because this concerns the image of Pakistan.

 

The Deflated Balloon of a Strong Trump Presidency

Source: Independent

After President Obama’s weak reaction to the Russian interference in the Syrian civil war, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the world started wondering about an American leadership on the backfoot. The more hawkish of commentators even saw this as the beginning of the end of the American Empire or at least a President unwilling to further it.

President Obama had his own vision of a multilateral world, which was dovish to the extent that he ended up letting Russia dictate the direction of the Syrian civil war. He was a Wilsonian, albeit one skeptical about American moral superiority, who lacked the will to enforce his vision. A philosopher President who was even skeptical about his own convictions at times. President Obama also failed to follow his own red line for the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad for carrying out chemical attacks on his own people by opting to deflect the decision to a vote in Congress. It was no wonder that many hawkish elements, many of them Republicans, were looking forward to a Republican Presidency.

However, everything changed with Donald Trump becoming the Republican frontrunner. Clearly, the American voter had a different mood this time around and was not taking anything from leaders making promises of globalization. With all the populist and anti-globalist rhetoric in the air, there was still one lasting factor traditional Republican view that Trump strongly promoted. The destruction of the Islamic State and deposing Bashar Al-Assad as the leader of the regime in power in Syria.

Trump came across as a strongman to many. Someone who would take tougher stances and establish America’s dominance over the world. However, President Trump’s completely spineless attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and especially dealing the ceasefire in Southern Syria destroys the myth of a strong Trump Presidency. Now, we have an American Empire coming to terms with a precarious position in Syria.

The latest is that the Russia has signed an airbase deal with Syria, solidifying the presence of its troops for at least half a century to come. Instead of moving ahead with confronting the Islamic State, getting rid of Assad and confronting Russia, he reached a ceasefire deal for Southwest Syria with Russia. This development only points toward further military disengagement in the region. He does not seem to have any intention to confront the shrinking American influence either, as he too will apparently kneel before the Russian and Chinese aggression. He is more interested in creating an isolationist America than one leading from the front during the terms of Bush 41 and 43. Just because it will get you the votes in today’s political atmosphere.

It should be a great embarrassment to the Republicans for standing with Trump for his atrocious policies. While they are doing it for purely political reasons, they are going to lose the moral high ground that they are used to taking in front of the public. Politicians like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who remain more concerned about the situation in the Middle East, should be particularly alarmed with the manner of the President they are standing by.

To many, the decline of America started with the election of a pompous narcissistic billionaire like Trump. It actually started with President Obama, elected on an anti-Iraq war mandate, withdrawing the United States from the global theater. To withdraw the role of actively policing the world for American values. While polar opposites ideologically and in terms of personality, both were symptomatic and also representative of the extreme polarization and a direction of international disengagement in American politics.

Supposedly someone with a liberal background, Donald Trump is going all out to pander to the hard-right conservative Republican base that has brought him to power. While those issues are going to cause much unrest domestically, his international stances, such as exiting the Paris Environment Treaty, are only going to undo the American moral leadership around the world.

Donald Trump and the politicians of his kind are taking the people of the United States back to the era of isolation and disengagement. They are taking America to the pre-Wilsonian era, which brought about great ideas such as the League of Nations and the United Nations to reality. Unlike the Republican tradition, they will not be the stalwarts of American moral leadership around the world. They are withdrawing America from the leadership of the world and leaving it in the hands of darker powers.

I know it’s still early days for the Trump Presidency, and given his unpredictable nature, anything is possible in the near future. However, the way he has handled the Syrian civil war so far takes out all the air that inflated the image of his leadership.

The post was published in The Nation blogs.

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.