30 July 2015
26 July 2015
STATES and societies are struggling to find ways to deal with religion — or religious thought, to be precise. While most states see religion as a challenge, for the common man the attraction of religion is increasing. However, this attraction is not uniform as religion is also losing appeal in many parts of the world.
The question of religion is more critical for Muslim societies which account for about 24pc of the world population. In many Muslim countries, religion has taken over policy discourse and religiosity is increasing among the masses. Religion has also become an important question for Western countries, especially for those that have sizable Muslim populations.
There are two aspects of the religion of Islam that worry the West: the so-called militant Islam and political Islam. The power elites and the majority of the intelligentsia in Muslim countries have little concern in terms of the rise of religious power in their countries. The West, too, seems ready to compromise on the narratives of political Islam as long as it helps control or counter militant tendencies among Muslim communities living there. Many Western countries see no harm if a few hundred among the tiny Muslim minorities hold radical political views.
Western countries are confused about how to accommodate religion in their counterextremism strategies.
However, they see political Islam as a problem in Muslim countries, mainly on two accounts. First, they think, radical political tendencies can easily transform into militant tendencies in Muslim majority states. Second, the West does not feel comfortable in dealing with Islamists when they come into power. The latest example was the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.
The real concern of the West is violent religious extremism. These countries are confused about how to accommodate religion in their counterextremism strategies. ‘Less religion or more religion’ remains a critical question in the processes of policy formation in Western countries, which have so far failed to understand the dynamics of religious as well as extremist tendencies among Muslim immigrant communities.
The worry is that that these Western approaches, which have a completely different context, inspire power and social elites in Muslim countries and in many cases the latter blindly follow such approaches. The nature and challenge of violent extremism in Muslim countries are different from those facing the West.
For Muslim societies, the major challenge is the increasing influence of religion among the common people. This influence, or religiosity, may not necessarily lead individuals to violence or make them vulnerable to political Islam. Religion is mainly transforming Muslim societies, and a religious-socialisation process is shaping the behaviour of Muslim urban classes. Religiosity always connects a person with a broader religious discourse. Religiosity itself is a neutral phenomenon but within religious discourse, certain actors exploit the religious sentiments of the people for their individual or group interests. Managing these actors is a major challenge in Muslim societies. These religious actors could be radical or non-radical, but both could be the exploiters of religiosity.
In Pakistan, the power elites are scared of touching religious issues. Religious actors are largely considered part of the problem, but they should also be considered part of the solution. The power elites do not have connectivity with moderate religious scholars in society, and their views about religious communities and narratives are based on their interaction and working relationship with the leaderships of religious political parties. These parties do not necessarily represent moderate voices in religious discourse. A few such moderate voices might be found in religious political parties, but they do not have a major impact on party policies.
The religious elites are not responding to the challenges state and society are facing. As a result, radical narratives are strengthened, and constitutional, legal, and educational issues are becoming more and more complex. Pakistan and other Muslim countries cannot afford the subversion of their respective constitutions as the social imbalances and rise of violent and non-violent radicalism can completely transform the situation, which the radicals have shown they can achieve without paying a high price.
Many of the counterextremism programmes in the West also focus on the countries of origin of immigrant communities, with the assumption that fixing extremism in immigrants’ native lands will help prevent extremism in host societies. Western nations try to export their models to Muslim countries and think these will be effective in Muslim majority countries as well. The Western nations engage the religious scholars of immigrants’ native countries. It has been witnessed that those who have been engaged by the West were part of the religious elites. The engagement further empowers them, and they make religious discourse more complex.
For the West it is a community issue, but for Muslim countries it becomes a bigger challenge, as the religious elite wants to transform the whole system, the socio-cultural pattern, in a way which helps to make them stakeholders in power-sharing.
How can Muslim countries deal with religion and religious actors? Egypt is trying to manage political Islamists through making an alliance with the Salafis. Saudi Arabia and Iran are playing the most dangerous game: both countries are exploiting sectarian tendencies and trying to achieve their strategic objectives through proxies here and there. Interestingly, most of the Arab states feel more comfortable with the militants’ forces, as compared to the Islamists. It’s an easy choice for Muslim rulers, who want to maintain the status quo, as the militants demand only resources while the Islamists want regime change.
Less religion, more religion
by Muhammad Amir Rana, dawn.com
Religion cause wars?
22 July 2015
The images of an Egyptian gunboat exploding off the coast of Sinai last week were a warning to our Western politicians. Yes, we support Egypt. We love Egypt. We continue to send our tourists to Egypt. Because we support President Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – despite the fact that his government has locked up more than 40,000 mostly political prisoners, more than 20,000 of them supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, hundreds of whom have been sentenced to death. The Egyptian regime continues to pretend that its Brotherhood enemies are the same as Isis. And Isis – in its dangerous new role as the Islamist power in Sinai – has killed hundreds of Egyptian troops, more than 60 of them two weeks ago, after which a military spokesman in Cairo announced that Sinai was “100 per cent under control”. However, after last week’s virtual destruction of the naval vessel, we might ask: who does control the peninsula?
Yet, while the biggest battle is fought in Sinai since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, we psychologically smother this conflict with our fears about Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. So relieved are we in the West that a secular general has replaced the first democratically elected president of Egypt that we now support Sisi’s leadership as benevolently as we once supported that of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Americans have resumed arms supplies to Egypt – and why not when Sisi’s men are fighting the apocalyptic Isis?
To Egyptians, though, it all looks a bit different. They are being treated to Sisi’s almost Saddam-like mega-mind. This includes his grotesque ambitions for a new super-capital to replace poor old Cairo, to be completed in a maximum of seven years, not far from the new two-lane Suez canal which must be finished – and those who know Egypt will literally gasp here – in a maximum of 12 months. The “new” Cairo is going to be 700sqkm in size and will cost £30bn. The unveiling of this preposterous project a few weeks ago was accompanied by none other than our own Tony Blair, who used to be a British prime minister but is now (among other burdensome chores) advising the Egyptian president through a UAE-backed consultancy.
This “spendthrift dream of modernity”, as the American writer Maria Golia puts it, betrays an indifference to Egyptians’ real interests. Over 60 per cent of Cairo – the real Cairo that exists today – was built in the past few decades and is spread across miles of tree-bald rotting concrete estates of poverty and heat. Its thousands of newly developed villa-suburbs high above the city are largely empty; no one can afford to purchase them. Could there be a better environment for Isis?
So let’s take a brief look at Sisi’s real Egypt. Rather than rejuvenate the weary, fetid city that Cairo became under the British and then King Farouk and then Nasser and then Sadat and then Mubarak, Sisi wants to start all over again. There is already a New Cairo outside the original Cairo – it was constructed as an expansion of the city under Sadat and Mubarak – so Sisi’s megalopolis will be new New Cairo, a second attempt to alleviate social failure.
The President need not worry too much about industrial disputes in his fantasy city. The Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court has made strikes illegal on the grounds (Brotherhood-like) that practising the right to strike – albeit legalised under Article 13 of the Egyptian constitution – “violates Islamic sharia”. The court has already “retired” three civil servants and imposed penalties on 14 others for striking in the governorate of Monufia, arguing that withdrawing labour “goes against Islamic teachings and the purposes of Islamic sharia”. Under Islamic law, the court announced with almost Isis-style formality, “obeying orders by seniors at work is a duty”. This was a very weird ruling. The teachings of the Prophet forbid alcohol consumption (mercifully, for millions of Muslims, cigarettes had not been invented in the seventh century), but trade unions would have been incomprehensible in any ancient caliphate.
Not that the Egyptian government has much to worry about from its officially sanctioned unions. Gebali al-Maraghy, chairman of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, declared in an interview with Al-Musry Al-Youm newspaper that “our task is to carry out all the demands made by the President … increasing production and fighting terrorism”. Former deputy prime minister Ziad Bahaa Eddin found the court’s ruling absurd. “Didn’t we demonstrate against the constitution drafted by the Muslim Brotherhood because it attempted to mix religion with the state?” he asked True. Indeed, we in the West are now encouraging a very familiar “new” state in Egypt: paternalistic, dictatorial, haunted by “foreign” enemies – it’s only a matter of time before the Egyptian government declares Isis an arm of Mossad – in which an ocean of poverty is regarded as the very reason why ever more draconian laws must be used against free speech. The people want bread, we are told, not freedom; security rather than “terrorism”.
Egypt is, in fact, following the path of so many other countries that are being torn apart by Isis. For, if you torture your people enough, Isis will germinate in their wounds.
Thus Sinai is now as much under the “control” of Isis as it is of Egypt. The Cairo bomb that assassinated President Sisi’s chief prosecutor proves that Isis operations have crossed the Suez Canal. And even the Egyptian navy can be attacked.
Was there ever a more potent symbol of our choice? Between the devil and the deep blue sea.
What a choice for Egypt – a megalomaniac president or the madness of Isis
by Robert Fisk, independent.co.uk
16 July 2015
Middle East expert to ‘Post’: Deal will mean more regional wars which will lead to more radicalism, more sectarianism, and more terrorism; another says Iran has become a sort of regional superpower.
For many Arab countries, averting the mortal dangers posed by ISIS and a nuclear Iran has become more important than backing the Palestinian cause.
What is generally referred to as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has, in effect, been over the years, a three-dimensional conflict involving, in addition to the Palestinians, also the Arab world and the Muslim world. Hostility to Israel has been the one unifying factor in the Arab and Muslim world, which overcame disagreements on other matters between the constituent members. Since the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, the Palestinian issue has served as the linchpin around which hostility to Israel has been built and unity maintained.
Israel’s existence was endangered three times — in 1948, 1967, and 1973 — by the combined attacks of Arab armies, which enjoyed the support of the entire Muslim world. Although the Israel Defense Forces brilliant victory in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 has served as a deterrent against further attempts by Arab armies to attack Israel, the continued hostility of the Arab and Muslim world toward Israel has been demonstrated by their support for terrorist activities against Israel and their backing of anti-Israeli motions at international forums like the United Nations.
But there is a change in the wind as far as the Arab world is concerned. For some Arab rulers greater enemies than Israel have appeared in recent years. Iran, reaching out for nuclear weapons, Al-Qaida, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL), Hamas, and assorted Arab terrorist groups, are aiming for the jugular of the ruling classes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt. They are a mortal danger to them, the kind of danger that Israel never constituted. Averting this danger is far more important to them than backing the Palestinian cause. From this new perspective, in the eyes of these Arab rulers Israel is beginning to look not like an enemy, but rather like a potential ally.
An Iranian nuclear bomb scares the wits out of them. They see little future for themselves in a Middle East dominated by an Iran with nuclear weapons in its arsenal. Most threatened is the Saudi ruling class who are likely to be the first in line to be toppled as Iranian influence grows. They surely must have quietly applauded Benjamin Netanyahu as he appeared in front of both Houses of the U.S. Congress in March to make the case against a nuclear armed Iran. The Israeli opposition may have criticized him, but the Saudis were surely on his side.
In the meantime, armed Islamic State terrorist gangs are knocking on Jordan’s door in the north. It is not hard to guess whose head is going to be severed first if they succeed in reaching Amman. Is it any wonder that King Abdullah II looks to Jerusalem for help if worse comes to worst. Although he repeats almost daily his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, he knows full well that it would only be a matter of time until such a state would be taken over by Islamic State terrorists, or Hamas, and he would find enemies knocking at his door in the West as well. The establishment of such a Palestinian state on his western border is something he is not likely to welcome.
In Egypt, beset by Islamic terrorists in Sinai and in the streets of Cairo, ruler Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi has declared all out war against them. At this time that seems to take precedence over all else, including his support for the Palestinian cause. Israel’s agreement to allow Egyptian army units to enter into eastern Sinai, a deviation of the provisions of the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979, is a clear indication of the commonality of interests between Egypt, the largest Arab country, and Israel.
The Arab anti-Israel front which existed for over 60 years is in the process of disintegrating. The rulers of major Arab countries are finding shared interests with the State of Israel. Support for the establishment of a Palestinian state may continue to exist in Washington, Brussels, and at the UN, and among the Israeli opposition, but it is losing support in much of the Arab world. Israel has enemies in the Middle East but it is also gaining friends in the Middle East. These friends may prefer to meet their Israeli counterparts in back alleys, but you can be sure that these meetings are taking place with increasing frequency.