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08 August 2014

A new challenge to Muslim world

The challenge to the Muslim world’s stability presented by the Islamic State, earlier known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), has become quite serious over the past few days.

Baghdadi’s organisation comprising the breakaway extremist faction of Al Qaeda has made significant gains in Iraq. Following its capture of minor oil fields and demolition of quite a few heritage monuments it has seized control of the large dam on the Tigris and the international media is now warning of the possibility of a catastrophic flood.

These fears may appear exaggerated but the conflict in Syria continues, an incident has been reported on the border of Lebanon and according to an agency report, Saudi Arabia is strengthening its defences along the border with Iraq. The Arab fratricide is obviously taking a heavier toll than expected earlier.

The people of Pakistan should be concerned that the slogan of caliphate has spread to India. NewAgeIslam, a well-known online forum for debate on Muslim affairs, has disclosed a charter of demands presented by a leading Muslim scholar, Maulana Salman Husain Nadvi, urging Saudi Arabia to establish a caliphate.

The people of Pakistan should be concerned that the slogan of caliphate has spread to India
Maulana Nadvi is reported to have pleaded for a world Islamic army and argued against branding the religious militants as terrorists. Instead, these “sincere Muslim youth fighting for a noble cause” should be united in a confederation of jihadi organisations for worldwide action under the guidance of the ulema.

Maulana Nadvi is quoted as saying: “As for the issue of Qadianis, particularly Safavids [meaning Iran?] and those who abuse the sahaba [meaning Shias], we should not be afraid of them and we do not need to go to the US or Israel to ward off threats from them. Just recruit the Ahle-Sunnah youth from the Indian subcontinent [does that include Pakistan?] and form a powerful Muslim army of the Islamic world. After that there will be no need of the so-called army of the sick youth of the Gulf states.

If you are sincere towards the true faith, true path, Sunnah and for the protection of the true path of Islam, then simply make an appeal, a call. Five lakh youth from the Indian subcontinent will be provided.”

Maulana Nadvi is also quoted as saying: “Military training among the Muslim youth should be stressed. Every effort should be made to save them from freedom and social evils.”

Pakistani religious circles should not be unfamiliar with Maulana Nadvi. His grandfather, Syed Suleman Nadvi, a close associate of Shibli Naumani, was at one stage adviser to the Pakistan government. It is not easy to believe that Maulana Nadvi is unaware of the contradiction between his call for an all-powerful khalifa and the Quranic dictum that Muslims decide their matters through mutual consultation, or that he does not realise the consequences of his posturing for the Muslim world, the Indian Muslims in particular.

The logic of Maulana Nadvi’s letter, if it has been correctly reported, leads to the politics of religious exclusivism that has already caused the Muslims of the subcontinent colossal harm. Regardless of their reading of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rise to power the best course for the Muslims of India, as indeed for Muslims anywhere else, is to adopt non-theocratic, inclusive political ideals.

Apart from the fear that Maulana Nadvi’s policy will exacerbate Shia-Sunni differences in India and elsewhere, the Indian Muslims’ relapse into communal politics, and revival of their suicidal tendency to look for succour beyond the national frontiers, will strengthen the rabid communalists in India’s majority community, especially among the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh hawks, and further undermine the state’s secular assumptions. Any such development is bound to strengthen conservative and anti-democratic elements in Pakistan.

The need to repel the arguments of the new advocates of caliphate cannot be gainsaid. Unfortunately, the question of caliphate, its justification or otherwise, has not been seriously debated in Pakistan. The Muslims living in the Pakistan territories in the 1920s took the Khilafat agitation (1919-1924) perhaps a little more seriously than their co-religionists elsewhere in the subcontinent. They fought for the Turkish caliphate with more passion than reason and cursed the British for not heeding their prayers for saving the caliph though his own community had had enough of him.

The subject was discussed by Allama Iqbal in the last of his 1930 lectures, published under the title The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, and he defended the decision of the Turkish Grand National Assembly that the functions of the caliph could be performed by democratically elected representatives of the people.

Iqbal quoted Ibn Khaldun to argue that there was no unanimity among Islamic authorities on the idea of a universal caliphate; two other views were that caliphate was “merely a matter of expediency” and that there was “no need of such an institution”.

Allama Iqbal described Ibn Khaldun’s argument in favour of changes in the concept of caliphate as the first dim view of international Islam that was taking shape in the 20th century. The lecture was marred by some contradictions Iqbal did not notice but it did offer a memorable warning to Muslim scholars “that a false reverence for past history and its artificial resurrection constitute no remedy for a people’s decay”.

The point that needs to be grasped is that the upholders of liberal Islam, for which the subcontinent’s scholars used to enjoy a clear distinction, in both Pakistan and India, must equip themselves now to meet the challenge to peace, democratic development, gender justice and love of heritage the storm in Iraq and Syria is posing.

For all one knows, Baghdadi may have supporters in Pakistan too. This country is in no position to bear the cost, in lives and material resources, of an intra-religious conflict that is being extracted from the Arab family.
By I.A. Rehman

06 August 2014

Gaza blockade must end by Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson

‘There is no humane or legal justification for how the Israeli Defence Force is conducting this war, pulverising with bombs, missiles and artillery large parts of Gaza, including thousands of homes, schools and hospitals.’ Photograph: UPI /Landov / Barcroft Media
Israelis and Palestinians are still burying loved ones killed during Gaza’s third war in six years. Since 8 July, more than 1,800 Palestinian and 65 Israeli lives have been sacrificed. Many in the world are heart-broken in the powerless certainty that and despite the latest ceasefire, it seems that more willcould die yet; that more are being killed every hour.This tragedy results from the deliberate obstruction of a promising move towards peace, when a reconciliation agreement among the Palestinian factions was announced in April.

This was a major concession by Hamas, opening Gaza to joint control under a consensus government that did not include any Hamas members. The new government also pledged to adopt the three basic principles demanded by members of the International Quartet (UN, US, Europe, Russia): non-violence, recognition of Israel, and adherence to past agreements. Tragically, Israel rejected this opportunity for peace and has until now succeeded in preventing the new government’s deployment in Gaza.

Two factors are necessary to make the unity effort possible: at least a partial lifting of the seven-year sanctions and blockade that isolate the 1.8 million people in Gaza; and an opportunity for public sector workers on the Hamas payroll to be paid. These requirements for a human standard of life continue to be denied. Instead, Qatar’s offer to provide funds for the payment of employees was blocked by Israel and access to and from Gaza has been further tightened by Egypt and Israel.

There is no humane or legal justification for how the Israeli Defence Force is conducting this war, pulverising with bombs, missiles and artillery large parts of Gaza, including thousands of homes, schools and hospitals, displacing families and killing Palestinian non-combatants. Much of Gaza has lost its access to water and electricity completely. This is a humanitarian catastrophe.

There is never an excuse for deliberate attacks on civilians in conflict. These are war crimes. This is true for both sides. Hamas’s indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians is equally unacceptable. However, two Israeli civilians and a foreign worker were killed by Palestinian fire as opposed to an overwhelming majority of civilians among the Palestinians killed more than 400 of whom were children. The legal need for international judicial proceedings should be taken seriously, to investigate and end these violations of international law.

The UN Security Council should vote a resolution recognising the inhumane conditions in Gaza and mandate an end to the siege. The resolution could also acknowledge the need for international monitors who can report on movements to and from Gaza, as well as ceasefire violations. It should then enshrine strict measures to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. Members of the Elders, a group of independent leaders working together for peace and human rights, hope that these will continue and reach fruition.

At the Palestinians’ request, the Swiss government is considering whether to convene an international conference of the Geneva Conventions’ signatory states. This could pressure Israel and Hamas into observing their duty to protect civilian populations under international law. We sincerely hope all states – especially those in the west, with the greatest power – attend and live up to their obligations to uphold the Fourth Geneva Convention governing the treatment of occupied territory.

Unity Between Fatah and Hamas is stronger than for many years. As Elders, we believe this is one of the most encouraging developments of recent years and welcome it warmly. This presents an opportunity for the Palestinian Authority to reassume control over Gaza – an essential first step towards Israel and Egypt’s lifting of the blockade.

The Palestinian Authority cannot manage that task on its own. It will need the prompt return of the EU Border Assistance Mission to cover not just Rafah but all Gaza crossings. Egypt and Israel would, in turn, cooperate with international monitors backed by a UN Security Council mandate to protect civilian populations.

The initial goal should be the full restoration of free movement of people and goods to and from Gaza through Israel, Egypt and the sea. And the US and EU should recognise that Hamas is not just a military force but also a political one.

It cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise. Only by recognising its legitimacy as a political actor – one that represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people – can the west begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons. Ever since the internationally monitored 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power in Palestine, the west’s approach has manifestly contributed to the opposite result. Ultimately, however, lasting peace depends on the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel.

Leaders in Israel, Palestine and the world’s major powers should believe that these policy changes are within their reach and would move Israelis and Palestinians closer to a day when the skies over the Holy Land can forever fall silent.
Gaza blockade must end
by Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson,

• Jimmy Carter is a former US president. Mary Robinson is a former president of Ireland. Both are members of The Elders, a group of independent leaders working together for peace and human rights

03 August 2014

Israel: winning yet losing

THERE is justified global outrage at the slaughter and maiming of innocent children, women and men in Israel’s latest ruthless military campaign in Gaza. As a Muslim, it is difficult not to feel ashamed at the indifference of most Arab and Islamic governments to the suffering of the beleaguered Gazans.

This fourth Israeli incursion into Gaza in 10 years has once again demonstrated Israel’s considerable military prowess. Hamas’ asymmetric resistance is heroic but militarily puny. Israel’s sense of impunity has been enhanced by the preoccupation of its Arab neighbours with preserving themselves from Islamist movements within their own polities. Any concessions Hamas secures will be on humanitarian grounds and at a high cost.

Yet, Israel’s military success is unlikely to yield sustainable security. There are four broad trends which portend more difficult times for the Jewish state.

Israel’s military success is unlikely to yield sustainable security.

First, Israeli extremism. Over the past decade, Jewish religious parties and the 250,000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank have emerged ascendant in Israeli politics. They believe the occupied territories are part of historical Israel — Judea and Samaria — and cannot be returned to the Palestinians. Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu, when compared to the likes of Foreign Minister Lieberman, is considered a ‘dove’!

No Israeli leader is bold enough to advocate the removal of the West Bank settlements. On the contrary, and despite US pressure, Netanyahu has allowed additional settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinian towns, villages and communities there are like apartheid South Africa’s ‘Bantustans’ — separated by increasingly large Jewish settlements connected to each other and ‘mainland’ Israel by a network of roads closed to the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Gaza remains blockaded by Israel (and Egypt).

As a consequence, there are diminishing prospects for the two-state solution that all have agreed is the only basis for a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Since Israel will not oblige the settlers to leave the West Bank, not accept East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, nor agree to the return of Palestinian refugees expelled in past conflicts, a viable and geographically contiguous Palestinian state appears impossible to achieve. Israeli occupation is thus likely to continue indefinitely.

Second, demography. Israel will have to rule over a Palestinian population which is growing rapidly; while Jewish immigration to Israel has petered out after the post Cold War inflow of Russian and East European Jews. Controlling a growing, hostile and increasingly radicalised Palestinian population will become, literally, a bloody business.

There is a body of opinion emerging among the Palestinians which holds that a two-state solution is no longer viable and thus Palestinians should focus instead on securing equal ‘democratic’ rights within the (Israeli) state. Reportedly, even the Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas’ son, subscribes to this view. Were this view to gain wide support among the Palestinians, it would revive the original debate at the time of Israel’s creation — whether it should be an exclusively Jewish state or one in which Palestinians and Jews live together with equal rights.

Given that Palestinians would be in the majority in a unitary state, Israeli leaders would be hard put to respond to such demands if they cannot offer the two-state option.

Third, Palestinian and Arab radicalisation. The plight of the Palestinian people is often, and rightly, cited as the core cause for the initial rise of religious radicalism in the Arab and Muslim world. Over the past 70 years, Israel has faced ever more ideologically ‘difficult’ adversaries: initially its neighbouring Arab states; then the PLO and Fatah, now Hamas.

Israel’s declared aim is to destroy Hamas, militarily and politically. The present regime in Cairo shares this objective because of Hamas’ affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. If Hamas is discredited in the current or subsequent confrontations, influence over the Palestinians is unlikely to revert to Fatah; it is more likely to move to even more ‘radical’ groups, similar to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham or Al Qaeda.

Today, ISIS is not only at the gates of Baghdad but also on Israel’s border with Syria. It has gained adherents in Jordan and Lebanon. Egypt’s suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood may result in the rise of more militant ISIS-like groups operating in the Sinai. At some stage, such extremist groups could turn from pursuing their largely sectarian wars in Syria and Iraq to promoting the ‘sacred’ cause of the Arab and Islamic world: the ‘liberation’ of Palestine.

In sum, Israel may have to deal with a growing and increasingly militant Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank which receives active cross-border support from militant groups located in every one of its Arab neighbours. As evident in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, it will not be easy for Israel to put down such an ideologically motivated and battle-hardened insurgency.

Fourth, eroding Western support. Israel has been justifiably condemned for its disproportionate response to the largely ineffective rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza. The images of dead and wounded Palestinian children have stirred revulsion even among Israel’s staunchest Western supporters. A US poll indicates sharply reduced support for Israel among younger Americans.

If the Israeli occupation of the West Bank continues, if Gaza-like operations become endemic, if future conflicts with th e more militant Palestinian groups become even more brutal, Israel is likely to see the hitherto unconditional Western support erode dramatically. Israel could face international isolation and penalties from which it has been protected so far.

Israel’s leaders should look into the future. Do they want to consign their people, the Palestinians and the region to never-ending violence and war?

There is a narrow window of opportunity to reverse their disastrous course and agree to the concessions required to achieve a two-state solution. Fatah will obviously accept such a solution. Despite its formal refusal to recognise Israel, Hamas displayed pragmatism in the past and would accept a fair settlement too.
Israel: winning yet losing
by Munir Akram,
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

31 July 2014

Nigeria fights back against Boko Haram's radical Islam through the power of learning

In classrooms facing a sandy courtyard in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, Maska Road Islamic School teaches a creed that condemns the violent ideology of groups such as Boko Haram. But not everyone has got its message.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known as the “underwear bomber”, spent his youth in the school and ended up trying unsuccessfully to blow up a US airliner on Christmas Day 2009 with explosives hidden in his underwear.

The school is steadfast in preaching tolerance to its pupils, and the Nigerian government is about to adopt this message in a new strategy for containing Boko Haram, which has killed thousands in a five-year campaign for an Islamic state.

“We teach them that what they are doing is a total misunderstanding of the Islamic religion, that Prophet Mohamed was compassionate, he even lived together with the non-Muslims in Medina,” said the headteacher Sulaiman Saiki. “We teach them tolerance.”

Abdulmutallab was radicalised in an al-Qa’ida camp in Yemen, but his case shows that even youths given a relatively liberal Muslim education can be seduced by radical Islam. This is something the new government programme is aiming to combat.

Koranic schools such as Maska Road will be a pillar of the strategy being launched in September to counter Boko Haram’s ideology. The aim is to win over the “hearts and minds” of young Nigerians.

They will also challenge Boko Haram’s claim that secular teaching is “un-Islamic” – Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful” in Hausa, the dominant language in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north. Maska Road teaches only Koranic verses and other tenets of Muslim faith, and encourages its 300 students to take classes such as science and literature outside its walls.
Boko Haram is suspected of being behind bombings that killed 82 people in the city last week (Getty)

“We want them to get a Western education and combine it with... religious learning,” Mr Saiki says. Fatah Abdul, who studies at Maska Road, scoffs at the idea of violence in the name of Islam.

“Our religion doesn’t entertain killing. Boko Haram is absolutely different from what our religion advocates,” she said. “And it’s not true what they say that we need an Islamic state. The leadership doesn’t have to be Islamic.”

Mr Saiki was a neighbour of Abdulmutallab. He says Abdulmutallab did not learn to hate the West there but “was deceived afterwards”.

Abdulmutallab, a loner from a well-to-do northern family, showed how easily youths can be radicalised. Add poverty into the mix, as in Nigeria’s troubled north-eastern Borno state, and it is not hard to see how Boko Haram finds recruits.

Boko Haram is suspected of being behind suicide bombings that killed 82 people in Kaduna last week, including one against a Muslim cleric about to lead a public prayer.

Kaduna, the capital of the north in colonial times, is richer than anywhere in the north-eastern region where Boko Haram is based. But it shares many of its problems – such as high youth unemployment, attested by the many children begging and hawking phone credit on its rubbish-filled streets.

President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has been pilloried for its apparent powerlessness to crush the rebels or protect civilians, including more than 200 school girls kidnapped in April and who remain in captivity. But he has also faced censure for neglecting the insurgency’s underlying causes.

So when Mr Jonathan’s national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, announced a new “soft approach to terrorism” in March, many instantly dismissed it as lacking in substance. But officials say Imams in mosques and traditional elders will be co-opted to preach tolerance, while measures will be taken to ensure Koranic schools teach “correct” interpretations of sacred texts.

The drive will also include educational programmes, especially increased sports and music in northern schools, plus reform programmes for convicted Boko Haram detainees.

“A lot them don’t have much Islamic knowledge, so they tend to believe what the mullahs say,” Fatima Akilu, director of behavioural analysis in the office of Mr Dasuki, said.

“We want to teach what the Koran actually says in a language they understand.” A parallel economic programme will address the chronic poverty seen as a major driver of the insurgency.

It may be too late to bring back hundreds of youths already fighting for Boko Haram, but the idea is to prevent more from joining. Northern Nigeria has much lower levels of education than the south, a legacy of British colonialism, which protected the caliphates of the north from the activity of Christian missionaries who set up many schools in the south. “The aspects of education Boko Haram don’t like are the ones that allow you to think,” Ms Akilu said. “Keep people in the dark and you can control them with a singular narrative.”

Undoing this partly involves showing how “Western” ideas, such as mathematics and some physics and astronomy, are rooted in mediaeval Islamic thought, which was making strides while Christians in Europe were busy burning witches.

At the Sultan Bello Mosque in Kaduna’s busy market area, the local Imam Ahmed Gumi takes an unusual step to illustrate his openness to the non-Islamic world: he invites journalists in to see, film and photograph his sermon.

He introduces the team to his congregation of about 350 packed into a main hall, and after a chorus of “welcome” he offers a live interview about his views on Boko Haram in front of the faithful. “It’s not right to call what those boys are doing Islamic,” he later said. “They hide behind Islam.”

Mr Gumi, one of northern Nigeria’s most popular clerics, sees the idea of an Islamic state dear to extremists as a throwback. “They want to bring back the golden age of Islamic triumph in this modern time,” he says. “For a state to survive you need a strong civilisation, education, money, lawyers, doctors. You don’t create a civilisation with AK-47s in the bush.”

He knows his outspoken views carry a risk he will be targeted by Boko Haram. His mosque, a towering structure spread between four sand-coloured turrets with turquoise-green domes, is guarded by scores of unarmed volunteers checking cars and bags. Boko Haram fighters have killed dozens of clerics. One of the targets of the Kaduna bombs was a Sheikh, Dahiru Bauchi, an Imam whose mystical Sufism is a far cry from the austere  al-Qa’ida-style type of Islam. Bauchi survived.

Taking issue with Boko Haram’s ideology will work only if the government can draw disaffected youths away from guns. The government’s economic programme aims to do this, starting with 2 billion naira (£7.3m), but with a further 60 billion that can be made available for projects.

They include mobile medical trucks, cash for the orphans and widows of Boko Haram’s victims, and a programme employing 150,000 youths to fix roads and rebuild police stations. Parts of Nigeria that are completely besieged by the insurgents are off-limits, but there are other vulnerable areas where the programme can be rolled out.

Down a dirt track with crater-like potholes on the outskirts of Kaduna, lies the Focus 1,2,3 International School. Twelve classrooms packed with desks take 25 children each. Secular education is between 7.30am and midday. After lunch, Islamic schooling is between 1pm and 5.30pm.

Muhammad Saleh, who runs the school, believes strongly in science, although he has doubts about evolutionary theory – as do many conservative Christians in the West.

Even so, his school teaches it. “I teach them evolution myself, and the parents never complain,” he says. “It’s education. Once children have an education they can decide for themselves what to think.”

By Tim Cocks,

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