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25 March 2015

Surprise! Another Christian Terrorist

A Muslim American man carrying a duffel bag that holds six homemade explosives, a machete, and poison spray travels to a major U.S. airport. The man enters the airport, approaches the TSA security checkpoint, and then sprays two TSA officers with the poison. He then grabs his machete and chases another TSA officer with it.

This Muslim man is then shot and killed by the police. After the incident, a search of the attacker’s car by the police reveals it contained acetylene and oxygen tanks, two substances that, when mixed together, will yield a powerful explosive.

If this scenario occurred, there’s zero doubt that this would be called a terrorist attack. Zero. It would make headlines across the country and world, and we would see wall-to-wall cable news coverage for days. And, of course, certain right-wing media outlets, many conservative politicians, and Bill Maher would use this event as another excuse to stoke the flames of hate toward Muslims.

Well, last Friday night, this exact event took place at the New Orleans airport—that is, except for one factual difference: The attacker was not Muslim. Consequently, you might be reading about this brazen assault for the first time here, although this incident did receive a smattering of media coverage over the weekend.

The man who commited this attack was Richard White, a 63-year-old former Army serviceman who has long been retired and living on Social Security and disability checks. He was reportedly a devout Jehovah’s Witness.

Given the facts that a man armed with explosives and weapons traveled to an airport and only attacked federal officers, you would think that the word “terrorism” would at least come up as a possibility, right?  But it’s not even mentioned.

Instead, law enforcement was quick to chalk this incident up to the attacker’s alleged “mental health issues.” That was pretty amazing police work considering this conclusion came within hours of the attack. There was no mention by police that they had even explored whether White had issues with the federal government stemming from his military service, if there was any evidence he held anti-government views, etc.

Perhaps Mr. White truly was mentally ill. Interviews with his neighbors, however, don’t even give us a hint that he had mental problems. Rather they described White as a “meek” and “kind” man who a few had spoken to just days before the incident and everything seemed fine. You would think these neighbors would at least note that White had a history of mental illness if it was so apparent.

Now I’m not saying definitively that I believe Mr. White was a terrorist. My point is twofold. One is that if White had been a Muslim, the investigation into his motivation by the media and maybe even the police would have essentially been over once his faith had been ascertained. If a Muslim does anything wrong, it’s assumed to be terrorism. (Apparently we Muslims can’t be mentally ill.)

In contrast, when a non-Muslim engages in a violent attack, even on federal government employees, law enforcement and the media immediately look to the person’s mental history, not possible terrorist motivations.

No wonder so many parrot the line, “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” When the press uses the word terrorism only in connection with the actions of Muslims, the average person would assume that’s the case. However, as I have written about before, in recent years overwhelmingly the terrorist attacks in United States and Europe have been committed by non-Muslims.

If White had been a Muslim, the investigation into his motivation would have essentially been over once his faith had been ascertained.
My second point is that this could have in fact been act of terrorism. White clearly targeted only the TSA officers. He didn’t assault others in the airport, such as the passengers waiting on line at the security checkpoint. And for those unfamiliar, there has been a great deal of animus directed at the TSA by some conservatives and libertarians. Simply Google the words “stop the TSA” and you will see pages of articles denouncing the TSA as an organization hell bent on depriving Americans of our liberty.

For example, Alex Jones’ Infowars website is filled with anti-TSA articles claiming that the TSA’s goal is not to prevent terrorism but to “harass” travelers and get into “our pants.” Glen Beck warned in the past that the TSA was potentially becoming President Obama’s “private army” with the goal being to take away our liberties.

And in 2012, Senator Rand Paul lashed out against the TSA for what he viewed as the agency’s improper treatment of him. In fact after the incident, Paul penned an op-ed denouncing the TSA, writing that “it is infuriating that this agency feels entitled to revoke our civil liberties while doing little to keep us safe.”

Even more alarmingly, the attacks on the TSA have not been limited to words. In October 2012, Paul Ciancia traveled to LAX, where he took out a rifle from his bag and shot two TSA officers, killing one. Ciancia had written anti-government tracts in the past and was—to little media fanfare—actually charged months later with an act of terrorism.

Given this climate, how can the police not even mention that they investigated the possibility of terrorism and ruled it out? Part of me actually believes that there are some in the media and law enforcement who prefer to use the term terrorism only when it applies to a Muslim.

Why? Because it’s easy to do. Muslims are viewed by many as the “other,” not as fellow Americans. But discussing domestic terrorism carried out by fellow Americans is at best, uncomfortable, and at worst, undermines the narrative that some in our country have a vested interest in advancing.

I’m not sure what will change this mindset, but if we want to truly keep Americans safe, law enforcement and the media need to understand that terrorism is not just a Muslim thing.

Surprise! Another Christian Terrorist
by The Daily Beast,

Afghanistan: No end for Obama’s endgame

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's visit to the US has sparked a new debate on the future of Afghanistan which for centuries played a special role, remaining unconquered by superpowers repulsing offensives with old British rifles and Kalashnikov’s.

With America the last superpower to launch its own “Afghan project” more than 13 years ago under President George W. Bush, all eyes are focused on his successor, President Obama. The core question is whether Americans should entirely leave the country after last year's pullout of the main contingent of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force or stay, and if so, in what numbers and with what mission yet to be accomplished.

Weeks before President Ghani's visit which began Sunday, the Obama administration unveiled its new big Afghan surprise. First, it was Defense Secretary Ashton Carter who hinted that Washington might slow the pace of withdrawal for the remaining 10,600 American troops.The statement made by the Pentagon chief during a visit to Kabul was shortly followed by a leak from an administration official that President Obama is planning to abandon his initial plans to cut the number of US forces in Afghanistan to 5,500 by the end of this year and wants to keep more troops in the country, including into the 2016 fighting season. It is expected that the details of the new security deal will be sealed during Ghani’s visit, which will be watched with keen interest all over the world.

While President Bush launched the military intervention in Afghanistan to disrupt the al-Qaeda network and destroy the Taliban regime, Obama has built his presidency on the promise of scaling down and then suspending military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. So, is Obama backtracking on his initial decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, and if so, why? Finally, is the time even right for the Americans to pull out?

In a thought-provoking article, “Leave Afghanistan To The Afghans: Obama Administration Should Speed Military Withdrawal”, in the Forbes magazine independent expert and contributor Doug Bandow argues that the very idea of slowing down the withdrawal contradicts basic American interests and will only result in more meaningless human and material losses.

“America has been at war in Afghanistan for more than 13 years, as long as the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and Korean War combined. U.S. troop levels peaked at 140,000 in 2010. More than 2200 Americans died in a conflict reflecting little more than purposeless inertia,” writes Doug Bandow, adding that in recent years, Washington and its allies were building a large government bureaucracy and security force in Kabul “on a potential foundation of sand.”

So why can't the Americans withdraw once and for all, leaving the fate of Afghanistan in the hands of its people? Well, the idea to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans sounds naïve, to say the least. The American operation in Afghanistan has led to quite a paradoxical result: while the initial idea was to build a democratic and prosperous Afghanistan which would presumably enjoy full political sovereignty, today as never before the fate of Afghanistan lies more in the hands of external forces – regional powers and superpowers - than in the hands of the Afghans themselves. Whether one likes it or not, it will remain a state with very limited sovereignty and potential for independent actions.

Let us have a closer look at this point. The first external force which would increasingly shape up the security environment and political situation in Afghanistan after the presumed US withdrawal would be neighboring Pakistan. It is an open secret that large swatches of Pakistan’s territory are not controlled by the government in Islamabad, but rather by various groups of Islamic militants.Pakistan is joined to Afghanistan by the Pashtun tribal belt where the law of Pakistan has no sway.

It is obvious that if the Americans complete their withdrawal, it will embolden Islamic militants in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, giving new steam to radical Islamic movements not only in these two countries, but also in the rest of Central Asia and even China, with the potential to create a major threat for the nearby former Soviet republics.

The other crucial factor which will hardly allow the Americans to risk leaving Afghanistan to the Afghans is the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq with its idea of global Islamic revolution. With the emergence of ISIS, the Middle East has turned into a testing ground for a destabilization model that will be exported to other regions. The Syrian or Iraqi “model of destabilization” can be effectively applied in Afghanistan, with external forces playing a key role.

This is not exactly a remote scenario, as independent sources point out that ISIS ranks in Syria already contain jihadists from Afghanistan. What we can thus see will be a connecting of the Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, and Afghan dots into a single arch of instability ranging from the Middle East to Central and South Asia.

And this is not the whole list of all the grave security risks related to Afghanistan. If the Taliban is allowed to overthrow the President Ghani regime, it can then attempt to destabilize the government in Islamabad, which is still a key American security partner in the region despite all the odds. So, the “Somalia-ization” of the region, which now looks like a product of someone’s wild imagination, can soon become a reality.

All in all, it looks like there is no speedy end for President Obama’s endgame in Afghanistan. Launching his global campaign on this sun-soaked muddy terrain, President Bush thought he was acting as a responsible global leader. Subsequently, global responsibility requires President Obama to stay there for more time. The price of the operation in Afghanistan for the US has already exceeded $673 billion, but if they allow Afghanistan to turn into another springboard for global jihad, then there will obviously be an even larger cost that can't be measured in dollars and cents.

Afghanistan: No end for Obama’s endgame - by Sergey Strokan,

18 March 2015

Which superpower will win the battle of hypocrisy? by Robert Fisk

'Strange, isn’t it, how every time we have a “crisis” in the Middle East, the Russians step in to take advantage of it? Or so it looks. No sooner have we identified Isis/the Islamic Caliphate/Daesh as the most apocalyptic, end-of-the-world antagonist since Hitler/Napoleon/Nero/Genghis Khan, than old Mother Russia stretches out her bear’s claws and tickles a former Soviet Republic, namely Ukraine.

While the Isis boys consolidated in Raqqa and Mosul, the Russians took over Crimea. Weapons poured in to help the Kurds in Kobani while the Ukrainians pleaded for more guns. Moscow’s “experts” now regularly appear on Russian television – many have an odd habit of flapping their hands in front of the screen – to tell us that “our” war is in fighting Islamist “fascism” in Syria and Iraq (and, I suppose, Afghanistan), not in supporting the “fascists” of Ukraine.

Flash back now to the forgotten war in Chechnya – forgotten by us, that is. We were indulgent when Boris Yeltsin fought the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s, firstly because we wanted “democracy” to break out in the wreckage of the Soviet Union – even at the cost of the destruction of Grozny – but also because the Russians had accepted the West’s liberation of Kuwait with scarcely a whisper of concern about Iraqi-Russian relations. We owed the Russkies one for this.
And when Vladimir Putin was concluding Russia’s second war in Chechnya in 2002, we were far too preoccupied with our new adventure in Afghanistan and our forthcoming “liberation” of Baghdad to worry about the poor old Chechens again. There was Western condemnation aplenty during the two conflicts, which lasted from the early 1990s to 2002 – the aftermath much longer – including threats of sanctions and international isolation. Foreshadowing Barack Obama’s fatuous “red line” in the Syrian war 10 years later, George W Bush even talked of how Russia had “stepped over the bounds”.

The Russians didn’t care. Indeed, the civilian casualties of the two Chechen wars, which mounted to perhaps 125,000 dead, elicited far less passion than the West demonstrated when fatalities of the Syrian civil war reached 125,000 last year, a statistic – and all such figures must be regarded with the deepest scepticism – which included several thousand armed rebels as well as civilians.

World News in Pictures

In both Chechnya and Syria, of course, the “enemy” mutated. The brave freedom fighters of Grozny turned into the black-clad Islamist killers of Beslan and the Moscow children’s theatre. Then the friendly Free Syrian Army lads and lassies fighting to the death against the Assad regime turned into the monsters of Isis – or were cruelly put to death by the same Isis when they didn’t join in the holy struggle for a caliphate. In this sense, both national struggles transmogrified into something we could condemn – and thus cancelled each other out.

Ruffle the pages of our history books a little further, however, and we find another far more momentous self-negation in 1956. For no sooner had the British and French connived with the Israelis to go to war over Suez – and drive Nasser out of power – than the Soviets sent their tanks into the streets of Budapest to suppress the Hungarian Revolution. The disregard for international law demonstrated by both the Soviet forces and the Anglo-French armies flattened out each other’s outrageous conduct. And although the Soviet tank bombardment of Budapest was long in the planning and thus unlikely to have been timed to coincide with the Suez invasion, it was difficult to condemn the Russians for taking advantage of our European aggression in Egypt.

Operation Musketeer (the UK version of the Suez invasion) morally cancelled out the subsequent Soviet Operation Whirlwind in Hungary (intriguingly, the same name Saddam used for his assault on Iran in 1980). It was all very well for The Daily Telegraph to use the headline “Free World’s Shock and Horror” of the Russian onslaught on Budapest or for The Guardian to trumpet the “Inspired Resistance to Soviet Brutality”, but the Europeans had been committing a few war crimes of their own in Egypt, not least the French paratroopers who massacred civilians with the same panache they were displaying in Algeria.

Only the freedom of Western reporters to roam the streets of Budapest during the uprising and the extraordinary censorship imposed by the Anglo-French authorities on their own journalists in Egypt allowed the Europeans to win the propaganda war at home.

But internationally – and especially in the Arab world – the cruelty of the Russians was matched by the brutal hypocrisy of the British and French. On 4 November 1956, the Soviets reached the centre of Budapest. A few hours later, British paratroopers were preparing to land at Port Said. Checkmate.

And who are the winners of this decades-long burlesque? Well, the Arabs for one. Field Marshal President Sisi of Egypt feted Putin in Cairo, but is happy to host UK businessmen to assist his pharaonic projects for a new Egyptian administrative capital (total cost around $45bn) and a “new” Suez Canal. And President Bashar al-Assad can count on Putin’s support in his war against the rebels of Syria while benefiting from US air strikes on his Isis enemies.

And there’s Israel. Its alliance with the US is as strong as ever despite Bibi Netanyahu’s tomfoolery on Capitol Hill. Israel is offering to mediate between Russia and Ukraine – an interesting proposal, since Israel has plenty of experience of occupying other people’s land. And remember, Putin once praised the political career of Soviet-born Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman – who believes that disloyal Arab-Israelis should have their heads axed off – as “brilliant”.

At least the dictators and racists of the Middle East understand the hypocrisy of the superpowers.

Read more:
Syria revolution four years on: Don't bet against Assad
'The difference between America and Israel? There isn't one'
Being coy doesn’t change the reality of modern Pakistan
Which superpower will win the battle of hypocrisy?
by Robert Fisk,

09 March 2015

The War Within Islam

Members of the self-named Islamic State

Efforts to foster Sunni–Shia unity: In a special interview broadcast on Al Jazeera on February 14, 2007, former Iranian president and chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council of Iran, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and highly influential Sunni scholar Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, "stressed the impermissibility of the fighting between the Sunnis and the Shi’is" and the need to "be aware of the conspiracies of the forces of hegemony and Zionism which aim to weaken [Islam] and tear it apart in Iraq." Even on this occasion there were differences, with Rafsanjani openly asking "more than once who started" the inter-Muslim killing in Iraq, and Al-Qaradawi denying claims by Rafsanjani that he knew where "those arriving to Iraq to blow Shi’i shrines up are coming from: [Wikipedia]

International jihad, in part created and supervised by the U.S. to undermine the Soviet Union, has exacerbated divisions that are fuelling bloodshed.
The bloodiest conflicts on planet Earth today are no longer imperialist wars waged for raw materials, territory, and markets. Instead, religious wars – mostly between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims – are ravaging half a dozen countries across the world. The new militancy derives sustenance from religious extremism, which in turn derives from a massive return to the faith. A 2012 Pew Global Report discovered that many Sunni majority states (Egypt-53%|, Tunisia-41%, Jordan-43% etc.) have large fractions of their population who refuse to accept Shias as real Muslims.

In this sectarian war, Pakistan has become one of the most vicious battlegrounds. Its Shia minority, estimated at 20-30% of the population, has seen thousands killed in recent years. This year has been no less tragic than earlier ones: Shikarpur on Jan 30, Peshawar on Feb 13, Rawalpindi on Feb 18; in less than three weeks, suicide bombers successfully targeted three Shia mosques packed with worshippers. Hazara Shias are fleeing Balochistan, some making futile attempts to reach Australia’s distant shores. Barricades surround segregated Shia urban neighbourhoods. But even high security often fails: a suicide bomber made it through to residential Abbas Town in Karachi with a carload of explosives, leaving dozens of broken apartments with flesh and body parts hanging from balconies. Outside of Syria and Iraq, Pakistan is now the world’s deadliest country for Shias.

Unsurprisingly, Pakistan’s Shias see themselves as victims of religious persecution. Some speak dramatically of a Shia genocide. This is surely an exaggeration since the scale is only a thousand or so per year. But the irony should not be lost: Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, was a Gujrati Shia Muslim. He mobilized millions stating that Muslims and Hindus could never coexist but Muslims, irrespective of sect, could. This eventually turned out to be wrong, but in my childhood things were largely peaceful. Intermarriages were fairly common until the 1980’s, and orthodox Shias had joined orthodox Sunnis into enthusiastically supporting Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s 1974 decision to declare Ahmadis, a small persecuted community, as non-Muslim.

Now, in a curious flip of history, a 2012 Pew Global Survey shows that 41% of Pakistanis believe that Shias are non-Muslim. A popular explanation of this change blames the Islamization process started by military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980’s. His policies distinguished between different sects and indeed did promote discord. However the massive ongoing fratricide across the Middle East suggests that religious tensions would have anyway boiled over; the phenomenon is now globalized. Shias, being only 12-14 percent of all Muslims, have largely been on the receiving end. But Shia Iran has scarcely been kind to the “heretical” Bahais or Iran’s Sunnis.

At the core of today’s conflicts is the relatively recent insistence, equally by Shias and Sunnis, is that religion must fuse with political power. Sizeable fractions of both sects demand a system that has temporal authority based upon the Qu’ran, and where religion is not confined to an individual’s contemplation of God. However, apart from the Qu’ran, Shia and Sunni agree to nothing else.

What caused dormant differences to explode into war? I think that Islam’s new era owes to three catastrophic events. First, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 converted secular Iran into Islamic Iran and ignited a craving among the orthodox, both Shia and Sunni, for a religious state. Second, international jihad was created and supervised by the United States to counter the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan but eventually ran amok. Third, the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 destroyed Saddam Hussein but, in seeking to assure their legitimacy and control, the invaders found it expeditious to recognize and then unleash the sectarian monster.

Today, the world’s Shias find inspiration from Ayatollah Khomenei’s political philosophy. On the other hand, Sunni ideals of the caliphate derive from the militant preaching of Egypt’s Syed Qutb and Pakistan’s Syed Abul Ala Maudoodi. Both Sunni and Shia insist that true justice is possible only when religious law replaces secular law and religious practices are enforced in society. Both see the secular West as their mortal enemy. But thereafter the agreement grinds to a halt. There are irreconcilably different versions of early Islamic history, different choices of exemplars, and different religious rituals.

Had the Qur’an prescribed a kind of political system, Shia and Sunni would have argued their cases with that as the reference. But on matters of state and politics, the Holy Book is silent. In fact, as various scholars have pointed out, the Arabic language had no word for “state”. That which came closest was dawlah. But the word acquired its current meaning only after the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia which led to the emergence of geographically defined nation-states in Europe.

Crucially, the Qur’an is silent on how a state’s ruler is to be chosen and what might be legitimate grounds for his removal. It does not specify the limits of the ruler’s power or that of the shura’s (consultative body). Also unmentioned is the manner in which the shura, which could potentially appoint or remove a ruler, is to be chosen. Would there be an executive, judiciary, or government ministries and what should their functions be? Islam’s other source of definitive authority, Prophet Mohammed, did not outline the process for selecting future leaders of the faithful. Whether he actually specified his immediate successor remains deeply contentious and, in fact, lies at the base of centuries-long theological differences between Shia and Sunni. Nevertheless, from time to time, the idea of an Islamic state has been resurrected.

So what is to be done? With the rise of the Da’ish (the Islamic State group) and massive failures in Iraq and Libya, the West must somehow deal with the consequences of its former policies of subjugation, conquest, and extraction of resources. America’s ally, Saudi Arabia, fuels Sunni fundamentalism with petrodollars, and should be firmly dealt with. But it is Muslims, still saddled with ancient animosities and pre-modern ideas, who will have to chart out a new course. At present, the trends are not encouraging.

In Muslim countries around the world, religious faith continues to take a firmer grip over the lives of ordinary citizens. Therefore the question of what constitutes the truest form of faith becomes ever more important. Hence, sympathy for victims of mass killings, or individual assassinations, is limited. This, in turn, gives license to the killers who are implicitly encouraged by television media. Operating on laissez faire, with almost no state control, it panders to the high viewership ratings earned by ranting preachers. This is the flame which sets the abundant dead wood on fire.

There is only one way to end these mad killings. Muslim societies must realize that categorizing fellow citizens according to their religious belief is naught but a prescription for catastrophe. That realization had once existed in many Muslim societies and was articulated by countless Sufis, mystics, and bards.

Iran’s famous poet, Shams of Tabriz (1185-1248) had perhaps put it better than anyone else:

I am not a Muslim
None may call me Christian or Jew
I am not of the East, nor the West
I am neither of earth nor water
I am not of India or China
I am not of the kingdom of Iraq
I am not of this world nor the next,
not of heaven, nor of purgatory.
My place is the placeless,
My trace is the traceless.
It is not the body nor is it the soul,
for I belong to the soul of my love.
If I should win a moment with You,
I will put both worlds under my feet
and dance forever in joy.
O Shams of Tabriz, I am so drunk in the world
that except for revelry and intoxication
I have no tale to tell.

By: Pervez Hoodbhoy. He teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.

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08 March 2015

Lords of the land by Ali Arqam

Maulana Attaur Rehman has been leading prayers at Faroogi Mosque in Kharadar, Karachi`s old city area, for more than 20 years. He is the principal of Jamia Ahya ul Uloom, a madressah built in Sector 9/A, Baldia Town. He is considered a devout religious leader.

Except that the land where the Jamia Ahya ul Uloom has been constructed was not meant for the seminary to begin with. Located in the centre of a formal settlement, the plot was allotted for a mosque named Yaseen Masjid. It never remained restricted to the mosque; today, the plot houses several buildings which have no legal sanction.

The official land-use map, designed for every formal settlement in Karachi, reserves land for a mosque, a public dispensary, two STplots, a playground and a high school.

In reality, there is no dispensary, but a mosque with a madressah, two residential blocks on the ST plot (one for boys and the other for girls), while the playground is marked as an Eidgab. The land allocated for a high school now has houses built on it, after property was allegedly sold out by local workers of a political party.

`When the ST plots (16 and 18) were acquired by the madressah, people initially raised some objections. But then they negotiated the matter with some people there, and it was allowed. The place allocated for the school was sold out later,` narrates a resident of the area, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A few blocks away, another madressah, named Jamia Mahadul Jameel, located in Sector 17/A was expanded from Masjid Hadi-i-Alam to the adjacent plot allocated for park by crecting a boundary around it.

Both these examples are from formal settlements in Karachi, which still have a modicum of government administration. But in informal settlements around the city, land-grabbing mafias have occupied land through nominally legal, quasi-legal and illegal means. One of those methods is by the construction of illegal mosques and madressahs; away from the public gaze, land across Karachi has been grabbed by madressahs of various sects.

Of the community, for the community, by the community Mosques have always been described as community organisations, designed and built to involve the neighbourhood in the management of its affairs. Many madressahs in Karachi arrived as mosques too, run and administered by mosque committees.

Locals of a neighbourhood would constitute the committee, with the purpose of getting the mosque registered as a trust with the Auqaf Department. Prayer leaders, or peshimams, as well as muezzins were simple employees of the mosque with no role in the administration; both were paid salaries by the mosque committee for their jobs.

`The well-known madressah of Jamia Uloom Islamia, New Town, commonly known asJamia Binori Town, used to be a mosque,` narrated a lawyer who requesting anonymity. `The founder of the madressah, Maulana Yousuf Binori, was just an employee of the mosque committee, but he went on to build a madressah too. He then claimed the madressah`s ownership.

This claim gave birth to a decade-long legal dispute between the mosque committee and the madressah administration.

`There was no dispute over the madressah; the mosque committee was insisting that the authority to appoint the peshimam rests with them and cannot be exercised by the madressah. This principle is practiced even today, says Qari Fazal Shah, a leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), who was part of the arbitration committee to resolve the dispute.Matters came to a head when local representatives of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) got dragged into the dispute.

`Some people associated with the MQM became involved with the dispute between the mosque committee and the madressah. But all issues between the MQM and the madressah were settled after our delegation met Farooq Sattar, who then stopped his party workers from interfering in a religious dispute,` recalls Shah.

While Jamia Binori Town officials have no qualms about admitting that much of their funding is received from local and foreign donors, the seminary also earns revenue byrenting out the many shops constructed along its outer boundary wall. This dynamic allows the mosque and seminary to build clout and business relationships in the area.

Not that all money is unaccounted for: Jamia Binori Town officials explain that all monetary exchange is overseen and checked by a trustees board.

The fissure between the mosque committee and the madressah administration grew to such an extent that there was talk of moving the seminary away from the Jamia Binori Town premises. Such a plan was even deemed workable; when madressahs built alongside mosques in formally developed settlements run out of room for horizontal or vertical expansion, clerics would acquire land at the outskirts of the city to build madressah campuses there.

The burgeoning of madressahs at the outskirts of the city meant that trained and taught peshimams were readily available for hire to lead prayers elsewhere in the city. It is for this reason that most prayer leaders in posh localities of the city and in many cantonment areas belong to the Deobandi sect, have their own madressahs, teach there, or have been deputed by those madressabs.

`These peshimams are efficient in making contacts and connections with businessmen living in these posh localities. They trace guiltridden individuals among the devotees, and coax them to donate hundreds of thousands of rupees for madressahs and mosques,` argues journalist Taha Siddiqui.

Mufti Zarwali Khan, principal of Jamia Ahsan ul Uloom, Gulshan-i-lqbal Town, once proudly boasted in one of his dars (lecture) that a businessman, on his advice, had built a large mosque in the scarcely-populated locality of Maripur, Kemari Town by spending mil-lions of rupees. To get the mosque filled with devotees, he crected a madressah there as well.

The mosque, therefore, left the purview of the community. Slowly but surely, the peshimam`s power and influence grew. When disputes now rise between a committee of residents and the prayer leader, the imam often dominates through much manoeuvring and arm-twisting.

`In one such case, a dispute rose between the peshimam and the committee of a mosque in Sultanabad,` narrates a lawyer currently in litigation on this issue. `The imam managed to constitute a parallel committee of cherrypicked devotees and had it registered throughbackdating.

He refused to give details of the mosque and the parties involved.

Exit community, enter land-grabber During the days when the Muttahida Majlisi-Amal (MMA) had representation in the Sindh Assembly, elements from JUl-F allegedly managed to establish connections with notorious land-grabbers in Baldia, Kemari and Gadap Town. These grassroots relationships allowed them to multiply the number of madressahs in these areas, and acquire more land for the already established ones.

`These clerics invested in the booming property business on behalf` of` others in a f`ew cases, and were also able to acquire lands for personal use, as well as to build mosques and madressahs on it,` recalls a local broker from Baldia Town, speaking on condition of anonymity.

When clerics build mosques and madressahs on lands acquired through personal conneetions, they exercise unbridled power to the extent that locals living around these mosques with madressahs of`ten complain of` alienationfrom the affairs of their mosque.

`When I bought a plot here, it took me three years to turn it into a place for living. But a mosque and madressah were already built here,` narrates a resident of Muhammad Khan Colony, a locality bordering Ittehad Town.

`We cannot object or question the imam for any activities carried out, as he singlehandedly raises funds required for the construction and expansion of the mosque and madressah from his contacts in the business and traders communities,` says another resident.

`Our only role is to attend one or two prayers a day,` explains a labourer living in the area.

`We go to pray when we are off from jobs, and sometimes contribute a paltry amount in donations at Jumma or Eid prayers.

Not that these sums are enough for the mosque. As a member of a nearby mosque committee argued: `Donations from those attending Friday prayers are hardly enough to pay the mosque`s electricity bills, so we have to rely on other sources to meet our expenses.

In situations where attempts to illegally acquire land in the name of a mosque or madressah were thwarted, some seminaries responded with creating an `other` saying that those who thwart their plans must be some version of an `anti-Islam` voice.

In SITE Town, for example, an officer with administrative authority once obstructed Jamia Binoria Al Alamia`s attempts to grab a plot. Commercial plots worth millions were allegedly being acquired by various forces at the time, with the madressah also notorious in the area as being among the offenders and beneficiaries.

While the officer must have believed the law sided with him, graffiti appeared overnight on walls across the area, claiming the officer was an `Ahmadi` and demanding his removal from the position. Fearing persecution, the officer `apologised` for his mistake. A ceremony was then held in his honour some jokingly called it a `conversion ceremony` to validate the officer`s Muslim credentials. In hisspeech, one of the teachers of Jamia Binoria disclosed that the family roots of the officer could be traced back to one of the rightly guided caliphs.

Battle because of the mosque Mosques located in commercial and business localities have a great advantage: traders and businessmen readily contribute to the income of the mosques and its peshimam.

Rent received from shops constructed along their boundary walls and other space leased out makes the mosque financially stable, and thereby, makes it easier to turn the mosque into a madressah.

Taking control of such lucrative mosques is crucial and often becomes a battle for power between competitors, played out on the streets of Karachi and killing many in its wake. The violent conflict between the Sunni Tehrik and the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) is a prime example.

It is alleged that the founder of Sunni Tehrik, Allama Saleem Qadri, a Sunni Barelvi hardliner, was assassinated by militants of the banned sectarian outfit, Sipah Sahaba Pakistan(SSP), now renamed as the ASWJ, after a clash erupted over the control of a mosque situated in Bahadurabad.

Sunni Tehrik spokesman Faheem Sheikh denies this, but argued that the Sunni Tehrik was founded to reclaim and recover dozens of mosques in Karachi that had been established by members of the Barelvi sect but `captured` by Deobandi organisations. In many instances, Deobandis invaded these mosques by using militants from banned outfits.

`Allama Saleem Qadri was against sectarian jihadi organisations involved in acts of terrorism and violence against other sects. He was punished for speaking against them,` says Sheikh. `A few years later, the first-tier leadership of Sunni Tehrik and other Barelvi clerics were killed in a suicide attack by these militants during an event at Nishtar Park on the day of Eid Miladun Nabi.

Noor Masjid in Jubilee Market and Qadeemi Masjid in Jamia Cloth Market are among the other lucrative mosques located close to trade centres, which have witnessed violent encounters between these groups.

Jamia Binoria Al Alamia in SITE Town is another example of a madressah established at the centre of commercial activities. The madressah was first established as a campus of the well-known Jamia Binori Town, Jamshed Road but it later became a separate institution, owned and administered by Mufti Muhammad Naeem.

Owing to the confusion of similar names, many people mistook it as the original madressah of Binori Town and referred to Mufti Naecm as its principal. Being a beneficiary of this confusion, the madressah contributed to this misunderstanding. It kept receiving funding from other countries that was meant for Jamia Binori Town.

Lords of the land by Ali Arqam

The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Karachi. He can be reached at You can also interact with him on 1ïvitter @aliarqam


Choice to fight IS or Shi'a domination by Iran?

THE prime minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia has sparked a mini-firestorm of speculation about the ‘real’ motives for the trip. Yet Nawaz Sharif is just one of many regional and international leaders invited to Riyadh over the past few days.

The Turkish and Egyptian presidents were recently in the kingdom, while John Kerry also made a quick dash to Riyadh. It seems two main issues were commonly discussed during these visits: Iran and the self-styled Islamic State. There has been talk of forming a ‘Sunni bloc’ as Tehran has started to exercise greater influence across the region and a possible nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 emerges on the horizon, which would pave the way for the Islamic Republic’s re-entry into the global financial system. Indeed in both Syria and Iraq, Iran is helping these governments push back against IS. This puts the Arab sheikhdoms in a tough spot: should they still try and contain Iran, or should they focus on defeating IS?

IS, on the other hand, is projecting itself as a champion of the ‘Sunni’ cause, putting up a fight against an expansionist, Shia Iran. Here, the difficulty of the Gulf sheikhdoms becomes apparent: if they take a position against IS they’ll be on the same side as Iran. If they support the Islamic State — overtly or covertly — it will effectively be suicidal. For while IS may come in handy to encircle Iran, it is quite clear the self-styled caliphate seeks to dismantle the current political architecture of the Middle East and remake the region, and indeed the entire Muslim world, in its image. That is why it is important for Sunni-majority states, especially the Gulf sheikhdoms, to firmly oppose IS, and despite their doctrinal and ideological differences with Iran, bury the hatchet and work with Tehran against IS. Moreover, if the Sunni states remain ambiguous about their anti-IS policy, Islamists the world over will gravitate towards the extremist group as it continues to play up its anti-Iran and anti-Shia credentials.

And where does Pakistan fit into this equation? It is indeed a difficult challenge for Islamabad to balance its ties with Riyadh and Tehran. But within this difficulty may be an opportunity. Firstly, Pakistan should not become a party in the Arab-Iran tussle. Iran is a neighbour and should not be estranged while decades of ties with Saudi Arabia must also not be severed. If anything, Pakistan is ideally placed to act as a bridge between the two — should it play its cards right. Coming back to IS, the Iranian action against the group must not be viewed through a sectarian lens, especially when Saudi Arabia and other countries have declared it a terrorist organisation. Ideally, collective action against IS is the best option; for this Iran and Saudi Arabia will need to set aside their differences and focus on the common enemy.
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The faith factor by Muhammad Amir Rana

DOES religion play any role in your professional growth? This was a question put before successful women professionals and leaders from different fields at an international conference. It was a tricky question. One hardly assesses the role of religion in one’s professional life. The Muslim women leaders wearing hijab were no exception.

The answer was ‘no’. It came from a leading woman professional associated with Islamic banking. Religion had not created any hurdle in their paths or these women had not bothered much about it. It can be interpreted either way. But many acknowledged the value of religion in building morality and character. Others considered society, state and culture as the determining factors in the development of their moral behaviour.

Usually, we overlook the role played by religion in our daily lives. But it remains in our surroundings, shapes certain types of behaviour, and influences the socio-cultural and politico-economic patterns of society. Most of these women had struggled to break cultural and familial taboos to develop independent identities. Many had bitter feelings about how their families tended to use religion-based arguments to stop them from pursuing their ambitions.

Apart from the gender perspective, it has been observed that the influence of religion is increasing in Asian and African Muslim societies and their diasporas in the West. Religion is part of almost every discourse, including on policymaking and socialisation. Power elites are confused about how to deal with rapidly growing religious influences in their societies. Different states are trying to deal with the challenge by adopting reconciliatory and/or confrontational approaches.

In Pakistan, the power elite are scared to touch religious issues. Religiously inspired actors are fully exploiting this weakness.

In a wider perspective, weak or absent political institutions provide spaces to resistance forces. And in most parts of the Muslim world, these resistance forces are religious in orientation. This fact was largely ignored by the US and its Nato allies when they launched military and political interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria. The interventionists had alternative plans for these countries, but the resistance forces foiled most of them. Religious forces exploited the crises, which traditional secular and political elites had failed to resolve.

In Pakistan, the power elite are scared to touch religious issues.
Interestingly, now the interventionists think that they should factor religious sensitivities into their geopolitical adventures. The damage that has already been done by their interventions is huge. These have not only destroyed the socio-cultural fabric of societies where they have intervened, it has also accentuated the sectarian fault lines. Sectarian tensions provide an excuse to interventionists in their exit strategies as they blame local factors for sectarian divides.

At the same time, the ruling elites in these Muslim countries and their regional allies further provoke sectarian tendencies in their narrow strategic and political frameworks. This is a globalised world, and other Muslim societies cannot avoid the impact of such developments in the Arab world. These developments are triggering sectarian tensions in many Muslim countries, which were under rural-to-urban transition.

Religion helps in maintaining social cohesion, mainly in the lower and middle classes, during social and urbanisation transformations. Especially in societies where political and social institutions fail to provide connectivity in such transformations, religious institutions take over the process. At that time, sectarian influences damage the processes of social cohesion, and religion becomes more a dividing force than a uniting one.

Terrorist groups are also benefiting from these sectarian tensions. They are increasingly devising their strategies on a sectarian basis. The same is happening in the case of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, which is gradually becoming a sectarian terrorist group.

The problem is complex and spread over international politics to local-level societal developments. The situation provokes a question: is religion ‘manageable’?

This question makes the situation more complicated and vague because it provides different, paradoxical alternatives. The stakeholders try to present solutions which suit their interests. Answers vary from counter-narratives, mainstreaming to creating safe spaces. The concept of safe spaces is about creating an environment for dialogue between the hardliners and moderates.

No one can deny the power of narratives, but who will challenge the existing troublesome ones, which also have roots in religious traditions? Decoding and developing narratives also require serious intellectual pursuit to challenge the faith-based connotations of these narratives.

There is a counter-argument which completely rejects the concept of managing religion. Proponents of this narrative believe in the extrication of religion from political and extremist influences. For that purpose, they advocate managing the religious actors rather than faith itself.

This creates space for direct intervention by the state, but in Pakistan’s case, the state is reluctant to deal with religiously-inspired actors. The reason is that state institutions do not know who the real religiously-motivated actors are in the country. Their narratives are based on their interaction and relationship with the leadership of religion-based political parties. These parties may not necessarily represent moderate voices in the religious discourse. A few such voices might be found in religion-based political parties, but they do not have a major impact on party policies.

On the other side, a segment of the religious elite has emerged in Pakistan which is apologetic about the actions of religious extremists and tries to justify them through externalising the problem and shifting the burden on other institutions. The so-called religious elite cannot respond to these challenges.

Managing religion or religious actors are both hard tasks. These challenges become even more complex when we see that a conducive environment for such initiatives is not available either on the international or the domestic level. The establishments and social and religious elites prioritise their interests rather than work for solutions. ‘No religion in our professional lives’ will not remain an option unless the challenge is faced by both state and society.

The faith factor
by Muhammad Amir Rana,
The writer is a security analyst.