Civilization: The Biggest Casualty of ISIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: alarabiya.net

Source: alarabiya.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The clock is ticking.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Stain on the Peacemaker’s Legacy

Source: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images, Politico

Source: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Every one of us can recall the larger than life election campaign of President Obama in the 2008 Presidential elections. The campaign stirred so much hope for change, that it inspired the entire world. Apart from the fact that the first African American was about to be elected for President in American history, the world saw this refreshing liberal leader as a new beginning for world peace, progress, and prosperity.

To a great extent, he has delivered on many of his promises. To many others, he has been a terrible disappointment, which of course is going to be the case if you try reconciling his too-good-to-be-true campaign with the reality. He got rid of Osama Bin Laden in a heroic operation in Pakistan and eliminated several Islamist terrorist through targeted drone strikes. He had a major healthcare reform act passed, albeit highly partisan, and just recently designated new national reserve areas in three states.

But his role as an international peacemaker was sealed with the conferring of the Nobel Peace Prize on his election in 2009. He truly broke the ice with his historic decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, probably his greatest foreign policy legacy, and is trying his level best to conclude a civilized agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear program at the cost of Israel’s satisfaction. If we ignore his aggressive drone warfare throughout Middle East and Southwest Asia, he certainly looks like an American President who has actually been a force for peace for a change.

But I wonder if many historians would count the rise of ISIS, or ISIL as he calls it, among his lasting legacies as well.

Despite the fact that many of his supporters and the Democratic leaders would dismiss the very mention of this notion and quickly transfer the blame to the policies of his predecessor, the explanation is far from enough.

Obviously, you cannot expect a President in the last year of his Presidency, when he is busy building his legacy, to start a war. That’s something for the next President to worry about. But it is a fair question to ask if he has done enough.

In my humble opinion, the answer is certainly no.

There is no doubt that America is war weary, and they certainly do not want to have anything to do with a war that does not concern them directly. They are right. They should not have been in Iraq in the first place. The sacrifice of thousands of US and allied veterans for their service must not be forgotten and must be appreciated. But at the same time, it should be kept in mind that the problem of ISIS would not have surfaced without the vacuum of power created by Western intervention in the region.

The arming of the Syrian opposition to intensify the Syrian civil war probably contributed as much to this development than the 2003 invasion of Iraq, if not more, though the Shia-leaning central government of Iraq and lack of political understanding in this regard by the Bush administrations are also cited as factors. But what if President Obama would have refrained from fulfilling his campaign promise of withdrawing troops from Iraq? It only would have been the right thing to do in this context.

But what is the use in bickering over the past, as well as the cause? Because either way, it’s the Western intervention that caused the problem, whether due to the actions of a Democratic President or a Republican.

The point to concentrate on is if we want to do something about this problem today, as most Republican leaders are urging, and rightly so.

If you really want some insight into President Obama’s mind and how he has approached the ISIS crisis, hear or read his statement at the Department of Defense press conference on the issue.

His comment about the ISIS problem conceded that “ideologies are not defeated with guns, but better ideas.” It is hard to disagree with his statement, but President Obama must realize that ISIS is not just an ideology. The ideology we are confronting here is militant Islamism. ISIS is a very real political group which is gaining ground every day, and which can only be defeated with military power, not just better ideas.

Nobody wants to look like President Jimmy Carter, who struggled with the Iran hostage crisis in the very last days of his Presidential term. Therefore, ISIS is at just about the safe distance to accord neglect of any remedial action, something to be taken on by the “next generation” in this long battle. The hints toward that direction are not hard to find in the statement, apart from a complete lack of sense of urgency to tackle the issue.

Besides, actively taking on ISIS would be against the Obama doctrine of no boots on ground and relying heavily on drone warfare and other airstrikes. This makes perfectly good sense, but if only it had been good enough to deal with the severity of the threat of ISIS. It calls for forming a global coalition as rallied by President George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks, hopefully under the United Nations, and with a permanent troop deployment. If US troops can still be stationed in Korea, Germany, and Saudi Arabia, why not in Iraq where they are needed the most?

But in his urge to be the great global peacemaker, to be the great American President who didn’t go to war, and the great liberal statesman who made the world a better place, not worse, is he leaving us with probably the worst entity imaginable just to undo most if not all of that good work?

Yet the very fact that President Obama is a force for peace in the world is a big question mark itself.

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.

 

Asking the Wrong Question

Source: usnews.com

Source: usnews.com

These days the candidates for the 2016 US Presidential Elections, especially Republicans, are being asked the perfectly wrong question. And I hope we don’t see it as often for the rest of the duration of the campaign.

Knowing what we know now, would you still attack Iraq?

Of course, America has just gotten out of two wearing wars and great sacrifices have been made. So no wonder the public mood is pretty anti-war. And in a perfect isolationist world, rightly so. But ISIS is a threat of the proportions of the Nazis, if not worse, so being an anti-war isolationist with ISIS is not even an option.

The media has been orgasming over Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush fumbling the question, as ISIS moved on to take the historic city of Palmyra in Syria and Ramadi in Iraq. The White House responded to the development by assuring they were not losing against ISIS. Actually, the administration had an even more creative explanation of their disaster of a military strategy.

It is remarkably ignorant comment of the US Secretary of Defense  Ash Carter to assume that recent ISIS gains in towns such as Ramadi was due to the “lack of will to fight” of Iraqis. Maybe that could be true for some of the radical Iraqi Sunnis, but what about the United States letting the Kurdish people down, who are very willing to fight and are still fighting singlehandedly?

The Iraqi military is inadequate, and is neither properly equipped, nor trained for fighting the monstrous force of ISIS, which is fighting with sophisticated Western weapons anyway. Even in Senator John McCain’s opinion, the US administration seem to have no strategy to fight ISIS. But then again, he’s just another pissed hawk.

Source: News Corp

Source: News Corp

And leave alone the question of aiding a militia on the ground trying to resist ISIS, something which is apparently against the principles of the White House, they did not even bother taking action to help the unarmed Yazidis. Since then, countless Yazidi women have been forced into sexual slavery.

Apparently, of all the people, Iranians seem to have some moral authority in this issue. Yes, finally I found one. They and their supported Shiite militias are the ones who seem to be resisting ISIS, albeit for their own interest, which is perfectly fine.

But it speaks volumes of the state of morality of the nations around the world, especially the EU, who usually would go to great lengths to threaten dictators like Gaddafi and Assad, but would be largely silent on this issue. The Sunni majority Arab states are completely ignoring this monster, which has already started knocking on their doors.

And to which heading is the moral compass of Pakistan pointing? Surely, we don’t want to stir another hive of bees. But what if the enemy is at the gates?

Where is the international coalition that got together to fight against terrorism? Is dethroning Assad worth destroying the entire Middle East?

So instead of asking the candidates hypothetical questions about what they would have done in terms of invading Iraq 10 years ago, (most of them supported Iraq War anyway, including Hillary Clinton) how about asking them what they have to offer to improve the situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria now. And I am sure this question will come up near the elections.

And if they simply have no solutions to offer, just like the current President, let the voters hear them.

Because it is no doubt that US foreign policy created this mess, whether Bush or Obama, it doesn’t matter.

America should clean the mess up, because apparently no one else will anyway.

A version of this post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Foreign Hand Excuse

Karachi-Bus-Attack-news_184842_l

What do we need to absolve the usual suspects within the country of their responsibility? Just let someone utter these words that our ears always long to hear:

Foreign hand was involved.

Let us not doubt the words from our foreign office, for we don’t have the access to the information to either take their word for it or deny it. However, what is certain is the instantaneous told-ya knee jerk reaction deviating attention from the real problem that such statements trigger.

Incidents such as the Karachi bus attack targeting the Ismaili community, and other similar religious terrorism that has been going on for years, have much deeper root causes than just the foreign hand.  We better not shy away from the problem of religious extremism at home.

It is no secret that religious terrorist organizations run amok in Pakistan, despite scores of them being banned by the federal government, and quite a few of them targeted by law enforcement. Considering the power of religion in the contemporary Pakistani society, any government would think twice before even planning to initiate an operation against such culprits.

However, I cannot help but applaud the incumbent Information Minister Pervez Rasheed for his courage to speak against religious seminaries. A statement that has apparently attracted fatwas against him.

Not even the serving government officials are safe from fatwas. This only goes to show the perpetually threatening force of religious extremism and terrorism in Pakistan. An undemocratic entity that enjoys legitimized status in the Pakistani society. Considering how true they are to their faith, you can hardly blame them.

Even if we suppose that factors such as foreign intervention were behind the Karachi bus attack, it is not the foreign intelligence agencies that declare Shia infidels. It is not the foreign agencies that would publicly condemn them to death in sermons. The sectarian hate movement against the Shia is very indigenous, and if someone would advocate its foreign influence, it would only inconveniently point fingers to certain allies in the Middle East. But let’s just call that a vague conspiracy theory.

Until the Pakistani state takes the responsibility for not acting against religious political parties and sectarian terrorists, it would never be able to overcome the problem of terrorism. Even if foreign powers are exploiting such anti-state weaknesses in Pakistan, it is such elements of the Pakistani society that are at the heart of this problem.

Another thing that is at the heart of this problem is the faith of the people guiding them toward such belligerent behavior. Simply attacking religion of freedom by issuing draconian decrees regulating the time of the call to prayer would not suffice. The government should never hesitate to tread upon the religious freedom whenever it is threatening the individual liberty and security of the people. This is where sectarian terrorist groups must be proactively crushed.

It is true that having a secular constitution is not a guarantee to prevent the flourishing of religious fundamentalist terrorism. The growing Islamist terrorism against rational Bangladeshi bloggers is a demonstration of this notion.

Nevertheless, the government must promote religious tolerance instead of puritanism, but if it is finding it hard to do so, it can at least crack down on extremism for establishing law and order. Egypt is doing so, albeit with an undemocratic show of force.

Until and unless we stop apologizing for religious political parties in the name of choice and democracy, we would keep on falling in their trap of totalitarianism. And will remain tangled in the obsession with homogeneity and purity, which were apparently or allegedly the basis of creation of Pakistan, which continue to extend and evolve.

It is time to nudge the law enforcement operation to a slightly different, uneasy direction.

This post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Security of Harmein Al-Sharifein Excuse

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

The parliament just voted down the possibility of sending out troops to assist Saudi Arabia to bomb the hell out of Yemen, and like always, pretty unanimously too. Well, almost. And to make things even more fun, a top UAE diplomat came out with a blatant and open threat about the consequences for the half-hearted vows and the lack of substance in its friendship with the Arab world. An interesting turn of events.

A lot of people see this as an issue which is pretty black and white in terms of its morality. In my view, things are not as straightforward as that. There is evil on both sides, especially if you refer to the Iran-Saudi conflict and take Yemen out of it altogether. The only moral problems are the violation of the sovereignty of Yemen, which apparently does not even matter anymore, and obviously the loss of innocent civilian lives. But I take that is the least of our problems at the moment as well.

However, my criticism has nothing to do with the morality of the action of sending the troops or not. Either way, this is going to be a diplomatic mess, with a question of which party you can afford to offend less. Personally, I feel you should not stir a hive of bees if your legs cannot carry you far enough to escape the swarm. But this is actually about the morality of why you would want to send the troops.

So you genuinely believe that Pakistani troops should be sent for the Saudi campaign, then stop lying to the Pakistani people. Now that is something on the morality of which pretty much everybody can agree, no matter on which side of the camp you find yourself. OK, maybe not.

But let’s try again. It’s not like the Iranians are taking over the Kaa’ba again. How about instead of offering the reason of the security of the sacred sites in Saudi Arabia, you try pitching the restoration of the deposed Yemeni regime as the objective. Now one way or another, this sounds like a far more legitimate reason for intervention, and coincidentally this is what the military intervention is really going to be all about anyway. Why is that so hard to explain? It’s about defeating the Houthi rebels, which are allegedly backed by some country which is apparently the only one upset by the Saudi bombing.

So whatever you want to do, please stop invoking the security of Harmein-al-Sharifein for crying out loud. The religious parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, JUD and the JUI(F) just held a conference dedicated to the Security of Harmein Al-Sharifein, or in other words, for endorsing the Saudi bombings in Yemen. This only goes to show how much religion is used by our politicians to blackmail the sensitivities of the masses.

Now ironically, these are the same political parties who protested against the Gaza bombings by Israel, but are not only silent over the killings in Yemen, the images of which starkly resemble the former, but even vocally support it. Because apparently Yemeni people are less important than the people of Gaza, or maybe because the killer is not an infidel this time around. And as it turns out, comparing the Yemen bombings with Gaza bombings is not much of a case of apples and oranges anyway. The only difference is that Israel was bombing Gaza for far more legitimate reasons and to respond to a more immediate threat.

Now speaking of Israel, don’t you think our state uses the security of Harmein Al-Sharifein excuse just like the American hawks use the security of Israel for warmongering in the Middle East? This may be a false equivalence, but the similarity is that politicians on both sides have succeeded to develop mass consensus on these issues to use military force and consider it an integral part of their national security.

Again, there is nothing wrong with that either. But invoking this sacred reason for justifying military action for worldly political ambitions of another country certainly sounds like a bit of a moral problem.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

The Mystery of Openly Operating Banned Religious (Terrorist) Organizations in Pakistan

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

What does the banning of a religious organization really mean?

What is the point of announcing their addition to the list of condemned organizations when there are hardly any curbs on their activities?

It is easy to criticize the Government of Pakistan in this regard, but hardly anyone accounts for the complex problems they have to deal with.

Even if we say that these problems are of their own making, it does not eliminate the need to consider the difficulty of the task at the hands of the government.

They simply just cannot take these banned organizations away from the public.

Or maybe they can.

But this goes to show the sheer force of the religious political groups prevalent, and growing, in Pakistan. A force that is so enormous that even the government of Pakistan and the military are afraid of it. Nobody wants a religious uprising to deal with.

This is what happens when you declare a war against an ideological enemy without convincing the people of your country against it.

It would be understandable to see the anger of the members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa if their political activities were to become illegal.

Furthermore, the likes of ASWJ would also be seen protesting on the roads if such a decree pertaining to their organization would come into effect.

Of course, we cannot even imagine the day when political parties such as the JI, JUI, ST and MWM are prevented from running in the elections.

But apart from that, it is hard to oppose organizations that you consider heroic.

This is why when it comes to narrative about the local Jihadist organizations, charity must begin at home.

But has there been any active effort to confront such narrative, which is only affirmed on occasions such as the Kashmir Solidarity Day? An otherwise seemingly harmless holiday observed to show moral support for the oppressed Kashmiri people, mixed with vows to liberate them from their oppressors.

Again, from a nationalistic viewpoint, attacking India for any such purposes sounds pretty fair. However, the sad part is that this narrative provides a lot of fodder for these banned militant outfits to feed on.

So probably the state should think twice before giving the narrative around this holiday its blessing. Surely, the holiday can be observed without any belligerent calls to Jihad.

But the general impression remains that a good number of masses in Pakistan views Islamist militant organizations positively and accept their active role in politics.

Merely playing to the galleries would not be sufficient for the federal and provincial governments. Simply adding these militant outfits to the list of “banned organizations” to create an impression on Western powers would not work.

An ideological awakening and education of the masses are required to ensure a gradual social change.

Or at least for the government to be able to enforce the bans that it proposes.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Excommunication for Condemnation

Source: EPA/rferl.org

Source: EPA/rferl.org

We have a serious problem at our hands.

We are in the middle of a war. We can see that we have an enemy, even though we are not willing to fully confront them.

How can the Taliban be our enemies?

We have always known them to fight for the righteous cause and how can they be evil if all they want is to enforce the will of God?

Such questions perplex the entire nation.

We are even not willing to call our enemy our enemy, because everything we know, everything we understood about the world, tells us it’s not true.

We simply cannot accept the fact that we can be at war with an entity that is not our enemy.

It can’t be their fault. Must be someone else behind all this mess.

How can our enemy be of the same faith as ours?

So in order to escape this confusion, we have two parallel explanations.

  1. Our enemy cannot be Muslims, because Muslims are not capable of acts as heinous as the Peshawar massacre, so they must be funded by the RAW, MOSSAD and the CIA
  2. Our enemy is cruel, so we need to excommunicate them from our religion.

 Why do we have to excommunicate someone to condemn them as our enemies?

Where does this insane idea that we can only be at war with non-Muslims come from? Well, even if you believe that, apparently our faithful enemy, which is far more self-righteous than we are, does not believe in it.

Oh, wait, I forgot. The faithful army of the enemy also believes that we are infidels.

So no matter what we do, no matter how much we suck up to them, we are going to be infidels in their eyes.

Our lifestyle is going to be the lifestyle of an infidel.

Unless we succumb to their Shariah, give up our way of life, and give up every freedom that we enjoy, it is not going to make us people of the faith in their eyes.

What we think about it is pointless.

And pretending that they could not believe in whatever in the world is the true faith does not matter too.

They don’t give a damn about our excommunication. But apparently, the faith of our enemy matters to us a lot.

We make our national decisions, declarations of war and truce, on the basis of whether our enemy belongs to our faith or not.

And that they must be excommunicated before any action against them is taken.

We come to realize that the people killing our children and the loved ones should be declared our enemies because they actually don’t follow true Islam.

We might claim that we, in Pakistan, are not a medieval culture. But apparently, our behavior tells us otherwise.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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