Inter Press Service » Religion News and Views from the Global South Thu, 25 Aug 2016 15:43:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Counter Narrative to Terror and Violence is Already Among Us Tue, 16 Aug 2016 05:13:43 +0000 Azza Karam 0 Iran: Children at the Gallows Fri, 12 Aug 2016 15:11:46 +0000 Rose Delaney2 At least 160 youths under the age of 18 currently await execuion in Iran. Credit: IPS

At least 160 youths under the age of 18 currently await execuion in Iran. Credit: IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 12 2016 (IPS)

As Iran currently executes the highest number of juvenile offenders in the world, hundreds of Iranian minors helplessly watch their childhoods pass them by as they await their fatal ends behind bars.

Shockingly, rights groups have reported that Iran has executed at least 230 people since the beginning of 2016.

Whilst the majority of countries worldwide are fighting for the eradication of capital punishment against adults, Iran continues to sentence girls as young as 9 and boys aged 15 to death.

According to a recent report issued by Amnesty International, at least 160 young Iranians currently await execution.

Whilst Iran is a major perpetrator in this human rights violation against minors, a host of countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen uphold Iran’s belief that the death penalty is an acceptable form of punishment for “devious” minors.

The death penalty for minors in Iran is invoked by what are considered to be “Hodud crimes”. “Hodud” refers to offenses which have fixed definitions and punishments under Islamic law.

For example, those engaged in the practices of alcohol consumption, adultery, and same-sex fornication will, in most cases, face the grave consequence of death.

Iran’s brutal stance on the death penalty was brought to the fore this August as Human Rights Watch reported on the mass execution of 20 felons in Iran’s Rajai Shahr prison on August 2nd.

Whilst a score of “criminals” were put to death this month , Alireza Tajiki , managed to narrowly escape his final execution date of August 3rd.

Alireza, now 19, was sentenced to death at the tender age of 15, following a trial that did not meet international standards of justice by any means.

Thankfully, the young Iranian evaded execution due to the support of a lawyer. However, the postponement is only temporary.

Alireza, who has been convicted of rape and murder, is one of the hundreds of young Iranians to be sent to the gallows for what Iran considers to be “the most serious” of crimes.

Hassan Afshar, arrested at 17 and convicted of “forced male to male intercourse” did not share the same luck as Alireza.

On July 18, Amnesty International reported the hanging of Hassan by Iranian authorities. He had no access to a lawyer.

Drug-related crimes are also amongst the host of “atrocities” to be deemed punishable by death.

Janat Mir, a young Afghani residing in Iran was arrested for drug offenses after his friend’s house was raided by local police.

Similar to the vast majority of young people in his grave situation, he could not avail of legal protection or consular services.

He is said to have been 14 or 15-years-old when he was mercilessly executed in 2014.

Unfortunately, many convicted youths in Iran find themselves trapped in similarly hopeless situations to those described above.

The most alarming issue is that Iranian minors are, for the most part, blindly unaware of their rights to a fair trial.

Although a progressive path was paved when the Iran Supreme Court announced that youths sentenced to death could apply for a retrial, this reform did not leave the impact it should have.

While the official policy has been amended and undertaken, an underlying problem persists; the vast majority of incarcerated children are kept in the dark on their right to a retrial.

Even though a revised Islamic Penal Code was introduced in 2013 wherein children who “did not comprehend the nature of their crime” or who lacked “mental growth and maturity” during the criminal act could be given an alternative punishment to the death penalty, the code does not meet Iran’s international obligations.

No judge or courts, under any circumstances, should have the authority to sentence juvenile offenders to death.

In this way, Iran has consistently failed to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, by neither protecting nor informing minors of their rights and also refusing to put an end to the death penalty for minors.

Ironically, Iran often denies confining and subsequently executing young offenders.

In April 2014, the Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, stated: “In the Islamic Republic of Iran, we have no execution of people under the age of 18.”

In this sense, it remains evident that the Iranian judicial system demonstrates a blatant disregard of its human rights obligations to children.

James Lynch, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, emphasised his belief that “Iran’s bloodstained record of sending juvenile offenders to the gallows, routinely after grossly unfair trials, makes an absolute mockery of juvenile justice and shamelessly betrays the commitments Iran has made to children’s rights.”

In many ways, the amendment of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code is the fundamental key to achieving child development and juvenile justice in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Penal code must be altered in order to explicitly prohibit the use of the death penalty for all crimes committed by people under 18 years of age, increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility for girls to that for boys, which is currently set at 15, and ensure that no individual under 18 years of age is held culpable as an adult, in line with Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Now, it is time for the world to call for a reform of the Islamic Penal Code.

The justice, freedom, and fundamental human rights Iran’s children behind bars have been so mercilessly denied of must be put to an almighty halt.

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History and Society in the Shaping of Terrorism Today Wed, 10 Aug 2016 15:55:53 +0000 Ahrar Ahmad “The past is never dead. It's not even past”. - William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun]]>

“The past is never dead. It's not even past”. - William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

By Ahrar Ahmad
Aug 10 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Among the anxieties, fears and confusions generated by the grisly tragedy that occurred on July 1 at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, one refrain was fairly consistent – how could some young men, presumably from relatively affluent and educated families, not only become radicalised but also engage in the horrific, detached, surreal brutality through which they killed their victims. The sheer wickedness of some young men repeatedly, deliberately, cold-heartedly hacking, stabbing and decapitating people to death, left us traumatized. How COULD they? Their brutality became the story, and our response reflected the worldwide horror and disgust at the tactics used by terrorists of their particular ilk.

history_and_society_450But, cruelty is not new to human history. Biblical stories and ancient texts indicate a dark and sinister side that lurks just below the surface, and can be summoned quite easily. The books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy describe entire groups of people who had been brutalised, at times, exterminated (e.g., Canaanites, the Amalekites, the Midianites, the Benjamites, the Gibeonites, the Ephramites, and others), and refer to people being killed through smiting, stoning, burning, boiling, being trampled by horses and fed to the beasts, of little ones being “dashed against the stone”, and even cannibalism involving parents and their children.

Many stories in various other sources are not much kinder. Beheadings were not very uncommon, e.g., Arjun killing Jayadratha whose severed head is made to fall on his meditating father’s lap, Imam Husain’s head being hoisted on a lance and carried to Yazid’s court in Damascus, Saint John the Baptist’s head being presented on a platter to Herod. Moreover, human beings had been most creative and nasty in devising forms of torture to punish, intimidate and kill, and violence against people perceived as “others” had been endemic throughout history.

One can suggest that we are referring to old texts and events that have little bearing today. After all, it may be argued, have we not evolved morally, learned from our mistakes, become more enlightened, more sensitive, more “human”? Surely, multiple treaties, conventions and protocols, have been formulated to establish some universal principles and regulate our conduct even in war. Surely, the message of the common humanity of man (aided by travel, technology and trade) must have gradually prevailed over the calls for bigotry and brutishness.

But the 20th century did not offer much hope in that direction. It was by far the most violent in human history, and atrocities were many, severe and relentless. War deaths in the last century totaled over 187 million (including 15-18 m in WWI and 60-70m in WWII). Brutality emerged from being mere public spectacle and political statement to being clinical and bureaucratic. This was most clearly reflectedin the coldefficiency through which the “final solution” imposed on Jews was undertaken at Auschwitz, Birkenau, Dachau, Buchenwald, Sobibor, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen and other concentration camps. Stalinist purges and Mao’s policies decimated millions, and localised wars and internal conflicts after WWII killed hundreds of millions more (those with more than a hundred thousand casualties included Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India-Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda-Burundi, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Sudan, Somalia, Liberia, Congo-Zaire, Iraq-Iran, Nigeria-Biafra and many others), and continue today.

One may get the misleading impression from the short list above that violence was being committed in the poor, non-white, “third world” countries, while the industrial, capitalist, developed countries were more moral, refined, and peaceful. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, till 1945, more Europeans were probably killed by other Europeans than the rest of the world put together, and it was Western colonialism, racism and arrogance that was largely responsible for most of the deaths elsewhere. It was the French in Algeria, the British in South Asia, the Dutch and Germans in southern Africa, the Spanish and Portuguese in Central and Latin America, and everybody in the Middle East, that created most of the problems in those areas. They exploited the region’s resources, introduced new and lethal instruments of violence, divided the people, created artificial countries with arbitrary borders, and ruled ruthlessly in order to benefit themselves and advance their colonial ambitions.

The US was late to the game of acquiring external possessions (its first formal colony was the Philippines in 1898). But it quickly became an imperialist on steroids. It carved out countries at will (e.g., Panama); engaged in assassinations of foreign leaders (e.g., Lumumba, Allende); overthrew democratic governments and established puppet dictatorships (e.g., Iran, Indonesia, Guatemala, Chile); invaded countries on flimsy grounds(Nicaragua, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Grenada) and, at times, on lies (e.g., Iraq); imposed crippling sanctions according to its interests (e.g., Cuba); destabilised entire regions (e.g., Central America, but most egregiously, the Middle East today); and became the foremost salesman of armaments in the world.

It perfected sophisticated weapons of mass destruction and was the only country to use nuclear weapons in August 1945, immediately incinerating thousands, and affecting millions later. It used chemical weapons in Vietnam (the iconic picture of that war was the naked girl fleeing her burning village), and dropped almost 7 million tons of bombs on it (with some in Laos and Cambodia) which was twice the tonnage used in the European and Asian theaters in WWII. It has used CIA “dark sites”, rendered detainees without trial for months, tortured prisoners. It uses drone attacks in undeclared wars to kill people at a distance where civilian casualties are many and mostly uncounted.

Internally, it forcibly annexed about half the territory of Mexico in 1848, Native Americans were often massacred, dispossessed and ushered into reservations in violation of treaty obligations, and African-Americans were treated with unspeakable inhumanity. Even in the middle of the 20th century Black people had been lynched (often in festive, picnic environments), and Black kids accused of “crimes”, such as whistling at a white woman, had been beaten to death so badly that their own mothers could not recognise their faces (e.g., the 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955).

For America and the Western countries today to shake their heads, wag their fingers, and lecture the world on how terrible today’s “others” are, is an exercise in historical amnesia and self-righteous hypocrisy of rather spectacular proportions. This is all the more ironic because it is obvious that, in many ways, they have been complicit in creating the very Frankensteins they battle today.

The realities in our own country are similarly not entirely consistent with our professed self-image as a tolerant and tender-hearted people. We have engaged in communal frenzy; poured acid on women’s faces; fire-bombed passenger-carrying buses; assassinated leaders; tied a boy to a pole and mercilessly beaten him to death (with spectators milling around); made people disappear, perish in cross-fire, or die in police custody; murdered children by pumping air through their rectum; gouged out the eyes of a university student studying abroad because her husband suspected her of infidelity; killed student leaders because of factional in-fighting over turf and resources; attacked, sometimes burned, ashrams, baul akhras, and temples; wrongfully occupied properties owned by religious minorities and indigenous peoples; treated the poor with contempt and subjected them to persistent micro-aggressions; and took almost two months and two autopsies even to determine if a young woman had been raped by three criminals. Our outrage, in most cases, was only selective and fleeting, our system of justice not very reassuring, our callousness increasingly palpable.

This essay is not meant to minimise either the horrors or the dangers that terrorists acting in the name of Islam currently represent. NONE of their heinous acts – the murder of innocents in San Bernardino, Orlando, Nice, Paris, Moscow, Mumbai, London, Madrid, Brussels, Frankfurt, the targeting of students at Garissa University in Kenya, tourists in Tunisia, a boy’s school in Peshawar, a Russian plane over Egypt, girls in northern Nigeria, Christians celebrating Easter in Lahore, cartoonists in Paris, film-makers in Amsterdam, bloggers in Bangladesh, a Sufi qawwal in Pakistan, a priest in Saint-Etienne, an archivist in Palmyra, enslaved Yazidi women in Iraq, and many more, can EVER be excused. Every single one is an ugly reminder of their bloody-mindedness, totalitarian sentiments, and cowardice.

These self-proclaimed jihadists are criminals thrice over – in defaming and perverting their faith, in seducing some vulnerable and impressionable youth to their vision of nihilist despair, and in inspiring, sometimes directing, terrible offenses against humanity. They must be condemned and neutralised.

However, it must also be pointed out that, from a scholar’s perspective, the fact that the vast majority of people victimised by them are other Muslims; that other people experiencing relatively similar pressures of inequity, instability, corruption and alienation are not necessarily reacting in the same manner; their willingness, at times their eagerness, to die for a cause that is neither well-articulated nor seemingly realistic; and their fierce impatience with free speech, their anti-historicism (which leads them to destroy vestiges of their own glorious past), and their pronounced misogyny, all complicate simplistic explanations of this complex and daunting phenomenon.

Recoiling at their “barbarism” is naïve at best. Human cruelty is nothing new, or novel, or alien, or atypical. It is part of the “human condition” and implicit in our texts, traditions, narratives and practices. Let us not distract ourselves with the revulsion at the macabre and the ghoulish, and allow it to confound the essential questions that we must ask today – why is this happening now, what is the appeal of these extremists, how best do we counter it? The rest is just theatre, an epiphenomenon, perhaps a freak-show. We must explore the underlying causes. We must accept responsibility.

Both the West, and we (including Bangladeshis, and the larger Muslim world), must realise that the awkward and perilous situation we face today came about because we have all contributed to creating the enabling conditions that made it possible and, perhaps in some ways, inevitable. Before we blame others we must subject ourselves to some self-interrogation that is open-minded, honest, and unflinching. It is entirely possible for us to climb out of this dismal situation. After all, the mischief mongers are few, their message is hateful and ignorant, and their frustrations, resentments and desperations have proximate causes that may be identified and addressed. But, the response has to be measured, informed and sensitive to civil liberties and human rights, and not be spasmodic, intellectually lazy, or driven by partisan agendas. That, ultimately, is both our challenge and our opportunity.

The writer is Professor Emeritus, Black Hills State University, USA and may be contacted at

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Need for a Factual Assessment Fri, 05 Aug 2016 21:21:06 +0000 Mohammad Badrul Ahsan By Mohammad Badrul Ahsan
Aug 5 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The Muslims make 14.2 percent of India’s 1.25 billion people. But, 25 percent of India’s 370,000 beggars are Muslims. The newly released data by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the London School of Economics, published in the journal Human Nature, also show that the Muslim population inside Indian jails is rising. For example, Maharashtra jails have 31.09 percent Muslim prisoners against a state average of 19.06 percent. Arthur Koestler famously writes that statistics don’t bleed, but it’s the detail which counts. What counts in this instance is that the plight of the second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia is nothing but dismal.

Illustration: thyblackman

Illustration: thyblackman

The data give us the numbers for education and government jobs, and the Indian Muslims lag behind in both areas. How that happened can be argued in many ways, but part of it surely is discrimination against this minority group, and part of it is the vicious circle in which they have got themselves trapped. Roughly 160 years after the end of the Mughal rule in India, the fate of marginalised Muslims reckon the dwindling legacy of their ruling ancestors.

The Khans in Bollywood and business tycoons like Azim Premji are exceptions that prove the rule. There are a few mafia dons in Mumbai, and a handful of politicians, who still signify the sporadic highpoints of the Muslim might. But the preponderant majority of the Muslims have their fate sealed in poverty and squalor. The glories of emperors and nawabs are mocked by the worries that clutter the downtrodden Muslims in India.

The researchers measured not just income and wealth but also occupation, education, and longevity, and found that upper-class families took 300 to 450 years before their scions fell back into the middle class. Throughout society, poor families, taken as a whole, took an equal amount of time. They worked for 10 to 15 generations to climb their way up into the middle class. Illiterate English village artisans in 1300 took seven generations to incorporate fully into the educated elite of 1500.

If 25 years make a generation, then the Muslim influence in India dissipated in over six generations. Times of India reported in 2010 that a sixth generation descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar was struggling to make ends meet in Hyderabad, still hoping that the Indian government would release properties of the erstwhile Mughals to their legal heirs. Not all the Muslims are royal descendants and many insolvent families many years ago must have moved up the social ladder.

But an overwhelming number of Muslims in India appears to have slipped below the poverty line. And they are punching above their weight for all the wrong reasons. In an interview with Deutsche Welle in 2011, a leading Muslim thinker of India, Asghar Ali Engineer, explained that the Muslim middle class shrank in India after 1947, and it was too small to assert itself and failed to produce effective leadership.

Engineer then elaborated that although a new Muslim middle class began to emerge in northern India from the 1980s onwards, it emerged largely from the Muslim “low” castes. Their quest for upward social mobility and assertion is often expressed in the form of a very conservative religiosity, such as building fancy mosques or patronising madrassas. He claimed that it only exacerbated the malaise of the Muslims rather than solving it. Almost all Muslim organisations in India are led by mullahs because the vast majority of Indian Muslims are disadvantaged – economically, educationally, socially and intellectually, he explained.

How does it compare with the minorities in Bangladesh in all of the above four categories? Not to incite bias or resentment, we should have a factual assessment of where we stand in minority relations compared to our “big-brother” neighbour. We have heard the minority leaders of this country complaining about their conditions.

For the sake of all, we need to have a social intelligence dashboard to clearly understand our relationships. That will tell us if we are doing enough to smoothen the spikes. When we hear about minorities being dispossessed from their lands, businesses and homes, it is more about power struggle than anything else. The strong has forever bullied the weak, who are physically, economically and politically disadvantaged.

The true test is whether all citizens have an equal opportunity to seek education, find jobs, buy property, and enjoy legal protection. That alone tells who’s advantaged in a society and who’s deprived. Statistics don’t bleed alright, but opinions based on them can cause, contain or check bloodshed.

The writer is Editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star. Email:

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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“Non-lethal” Pellet Guns Maim Hundreds in Kashmiri Protests Fri, 05 Aug 2016 13:55:16 +0000 Umar Shah X-ray of a pellet victim injured during the current protests in Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

X-ray of a pellet victim injured during the current protests in Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

By Umar Shah
SRINAGAR, Aug 5 2016 (IPS)

Hospitals in Kashmir’s summer capital are packed to capacity these days, their wards overflowing with pellet gun victims injured during violent clashes with government forces.

Sixteen-year-old Kaisar Ahmad Mir has been in hospital since July 9. As X-ray films dangle near his bed, Kaisar stares with haggard eyes at each passerby. Doctors had to amputate three fingers on his right hand after pellets were fired at him from close range during one of the demonstrations.“After the autopsy was done, there were 360 pellets found in [my brother's] body.” -- Shakeel Ahmad

“I felt some electric current when the pellets hit my right hand. Then the blood started oozing out, followed by intense pain,” Mir told IPS.

Deadly clashes between protestors and government forces engulfed this Himalayan region –  India’s only Muslim majority state – on July 8, a day when the army gunned down militant leader Burhan Wani during a three-hour gun battle in the remote south Kashmir region of the state.

The government quickly instituted a curfew across the Kashmir valley, severing internet and phone service. But people defied government restrictions and came out in hordes to protest in cities, towns and remote hamlets of the state. Since July 8, 52 protesters have been killed and more than 2,500 injured, around 600 of them due to pellets. Many of the victims are children.

Aaqib Mir, Kaisar Mir’s younger brother, told IPS that Kaisar was preparing for his class 10 exams this year.  “My brother is now crippled for life,” Aaqib said.

Eleven-year-old Umer Nazir received more than 12 pellets in his face that damaged his both eyes. He was shot during anti-government protests in the Indian state of Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

Eleven-year-old Umar Nazir received more than 12 pellets in his face that damaged his both eyes. He was shot during anti-government protests in the Indian state of Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

The pellets are loaded with lead and once fired they disperse widely and in huge numbers. Pellets penetrate the skin and soft tissues, with eyes especially vulnerable to severe, irreversible damage.

Pellets were introduced in Kashmir as a “non-lethal” alternative to bullets after security forces killed nearly 200 people during demonstrations against Indian rule from 2008 to 2010.The state government’s reasoning was that when fired from a distance, shotgun pellets disperse and inflict only minor injuries.

During this summer’s protests, pellets were extensively used against the protesters, injuring hundreds. According to figures issued by Kashmir’s SHMS hospital, out of 164 cases of severe pellet injuries, 106 surgeries were performed in which five people lost one eye completely.

Among those who lost their eyesight due to pellets is 11-year-old Umar Nazir. Umar received more than 12 pellets in his face that damaged both eyes. As he lost vision in his right eye, doctors attending him have told his family that Umar’s left eye is also deteriorating due to a severe injury to the optic nerve.

Human rights groups criticize the heavy-handed approach to dealing with the protest demonstrations, and contest the government’s claims that pellet guns are “non-lethal”.

Riyaz Ahmad Shah, 21, was killed on Aug. 2 after being hit by pellets.  An ATM security guard, Shah was returning home when, according to his family, state forces fired pellets at him from close range, killing him on the spot.

“After the autopsy was done, there were 360 pellets found in his body,” said Shakeel Ahmad, Riyaz Shah’s brother.

According to Al Jazeera, at least nine people have been killed in the region since pellet guns were introduced in 2010.

“Pellets are not being used against rioters in other parts of the country, but here in Kashmir they are being used quite openly without any remorse from the government,” said human rights activist Khurram Parvez, who is also a program coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.

To protest against the use of pellets, the coalition has created posters with text written in braille to make the world aware of the suffering in Kashmir. “When you don’t see eye to eye with the brutal occupation in Kashmir, this is how they make you see their point,” reads a campaign poster.

Sajad Ahmad, a doctor treating pellet victims in Kashmir, said he had never seen such a “brutal use of force upon people in the past.” He added that while pellets may not kill most victims, they can still be left disabled for life.

“We have done hundreds of surgeries since July 8 and there are children who were crippled and can no longer work or earn,” Ahmad said.

Since July 8, 2016, 52 protesters have been killed in Kashmir and more than 2,500 injured, around 600 of them due to pellets fired by security forces.  Many of the victims are children. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

Since July 8, 2016, 52 protesters have been killed in Kashmir and more than 2,500 injured, around 600 of them due to pellets fired by security forces. Many of the victims are children. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

On Aug. 5, Amnesty International issued a statement asking the Jammu and Kashmir government to stop using pellet guns.

“Pellet guns are inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate, and have no place in law enforcement,” Zahoor Wani, a senior campaigner with Amnesty International India, said in a statement issued in New Delhi.

“Amnesty International India calls on the Jammu and Kashmir government to immediately stop the use of pellet guns in policing protests. They cannot ensure well-targeted shots and risk causing serious injury, including to bystanders or other protesters not engaging in violence. These risks are almost impossible to control.”

Kashmir’s High Court has issued notices to the state government and the national government of India seeking a response over litigation demanding a ban on pellet guns used by security personnel to deal with protests in Kashmir.

The state government says it is working to find alternatives to the pellet guns to quell the violent protests.

“We disapprove of it… but we will have to persist with this necessary evil till we find a non-lethal alternative,” J&K government spokesperson Nayeem Akhtar said.

Many people in Kashmir want an end to Indian rule and either full independence or a merger with Pakistan, which also claims the territory.

At least 50,000 have died in an insurgency that began in 1987. Over the years, anti-government rallies have occurred frequently, raising tensions between security forces and civilians, which have led to accusations of police heavy-handedness in trying to impose order.

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Pope Refuses to Equate Islam with Violence, Terrorism Thu, 04 Aug 2016 14:49:53 +0000 Editor Manila Times By Editor, The Manila Times, Philippines
Aug 4 2016 (Manila Times)

He spoke with much apparent deliberation when Pope Francis last Sunday, on his return trip from Poland, said to reporters, “I don’t think it is right to equate Islam with violence.”

He was absolutely right to say that Catholics could be just as deadly as Muslims. He had earlier refused to name Islam as the ideological culprit in the killing of an old priest, beloved of the people in a small town in northern France. The ISIS inspired Muslims raided a parish church while Mass was going on and slit the throat of the old parish priest. The gang took hostages.

“In almost every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists. We have them too in [Christianity],” he said.

“If I have to talk about Islamic violence I have to also talk about Christian violence. Every day in the newspapers I see violence in Italy, someone kills his girlfriend, another kills his mother-in-law, and these are baptized Catholics.”

The Holy Father said religion was not the driving force behind the violence.

“You can kill with the tongue as well as the knife,” he said, in an apparent reference to a rise in populist parties fuelling racism and xenophobia.

Respect for bodily integrity

Point 2297 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this: “Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”

It is unfortunate that because of the merciless attacks on innocent people by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), some politicians and government officials in Europe and the United States have begun to think that violence against Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims is an essential doctrine of the Islamic religion.

That mentality is wrong.

That mentality is like that of non-Christians who have come to think that corruption must be essential to the Christian Faith. For governments controlled by baptized Christians all over the whole world are riddled with corrupt officials.

Pope Francis counseled Europeans to look closer to home. He said “terrorism… grows where the God of money is put first” and “where there are no other options.”

“How many of our European young have we left empty of ideals, with no work, so they turn to drugs, to alcohol, and sign up with fundamentalist groups?” he asked.

Meanwhile, all mankind should not forget that conquering hordes of Christians at war with other Christian kingdoms who pillaged the “enemy” cities and committed atrocities against fellow Christians.

Peace and love for fellow man is the basic teaching of all religions, including Islam.

Point 2304 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
“Respect for and development of human life require peace. Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. Peace is ‘the tranquility of order.’ Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.”

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Democracy in Islam Tue, 02 Aug 2016 15:58:28 +0000 Niaz Murtaza By Dr. Niaz Murtaza
Aug 2 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Both Islamists and Islamophobes find Islam and democracy incongruent. Some cite a verse that deprecates majority views. To call Islam anti-democracy by citing a brief verse non-contextually is odd. Even in democracy, small ruling groups usually make decisions. Majority only decides who rules. The mode of this decision is the key contrast between democracy and other rules. We must view Islamic stands on such key democracy traits to gauge congruence.

The writer is a political economist and a senior fellow with UC Berkeley.

The writer is a political economist and a senior fellow with UC Berkeley.

Both Quran and hadith are silent on the first key trait of how rulers get chosen. But silence means Islam views this as a secular issue, best left to people’s wisdom. How the first, most devoted, Muslims chose rulers during the Madina era is instructive. Since no edicts were given to them, their views on this issue clearly represent not edicts for future, but only guidance, to be adapted contextually. In fact, there were variations even in this brief era.

The Prophet (PBUH) had two roles: Prophet and, after migration, Madina ruler. The basis for the first was divine edict. The second came from not edict, dynasty or force but a request by Madina’s people. The majority Muslim view is that Islam didn’t mandate his successor or even a mode of succession. Again, the decision was found best left to the people despite their huge faith in divine and prophetic wisdom. And the people chose the first caliph through consensus. The first caliph chose the second. The third caliph was chosen by consensus. Multiple candidates were vetted and questioned, a bit like now. Tumult led to his death.

Yet, rebels or generals didn’t seize power, so sacrosanct was people’s will. People still chose the fourth caliph. There were no monarchies nor did generals depose people-chosen caliphs by force. Thus, early Muslim practice was not anti-democracy but anti-autocracy. One rarely finds such democratic selection in the early history of other faiths.

Early Muslim practice was anti-autocracy.

The next key democracy trait is that rulers govern with egalitarianism, accountability and participation. There are many verses and hadiths extolling these values among rulers, which Madina rulers practised. Rulers sat on floors with people and consulted them. Judges and people could question their views. All this was rare in the pre-modern era. Clearly, modern and pre-modern era standards differ. Even in the West a mere 100-plus years ago, after modern democracy’s dawn, one finds exclusion of women, colonies and low castes; slavery and massacres of aliens. But Madina rule, like Greece, represents a good example of pre-modern democracy. So democracy is not a Western import but a core part of Muslim history.

The third issue is the source of law, it incongruently being fully secular in ideal democracy but partially divine in religions. Secularism supports laws enhancing people’s welfare and only bans acts which clearly harm people. Religions usually support the first goal but ban some things which secularism terms benign (pork, beef, etc.). Is Islam inherently incongruent with secularism here, unlike other faiths? Muslims exhibit multiple practices here.

In the minority view found in brief jihadi ‘caliphates’, all public life is harshly governed by their odd views on Islam. The second view exists in autocratic Saudi Arabia and hybrid Iran (around 10pc of the Muslim world together) where clerics dictate detailed Islamic laws based on Quran, hadith and the views of imams. A last minority view exists in states like Niger that are secular.

The majority view exists in mostly democratic states like Pakistan, Indonesia etc. where clerics have at most advice roles. A small number of edicts, only those seen as timeless Quranic ones (e.g., ban on liquor etc.), become law there through the religion-inspired voting of elected officials. But bans based on the religious views of legislators exist to a lesser extent elsewhere too, eg, Indian beef bans, abortion bans in Catholic states, gay bans in Chris¬tian Africa and a US Congress majority against gay union and abortion even today.

Around 30 states have Christianity and 22 Islam as state religions. So, the difference is relative. Overall, Islam seems more congruent on two democracy traits and less on only one.

The chasm between secularism and religion is mainly due to latter-day clerics. Religions earlier were the main source of gains for weaker groups like women. Thinking minds saw the gains as tactical first steps by religions given the limited change capacities of any society and advocated for more steps once those changes got entrenched. But unthinking clerics saw them as the last word forever and religious thought on social progress froze.

Thinking minds then had to make secular fronts to push for more change. Thus, today, secular practice is far ahead of religions on social issues despite the latter’s big head start. A revival is needed in religions, including Islam, under thinking minds to restore their role as leaders on social progress.

The writer is a political economist and a senior fellow with UC Berkeley.
Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Climate and Terrorism Tue, 02 Aug 2016 13:48:05 +0000 Roberto Savio By Roberto Savio
ROME, Aug 2 2016 (IPS)

The media are increasingly reporting events in a basic manner, and have by and large abandoned the process of deep analysis. Now is the moment to focus our attention on terrorism. This topic be will remain a pressing issue for quite some time. We now know that terrorism has many causes, which can be rooted in religion to feelings of social exclusion and from a desire for glory to the actions of a damaged psyche.

There is no way to fight against the unpredictable, and in mentally unstable minds emulation is an important factor. The danger is that we will probably fall into the ISIS trap, and this kaleidoscope of confusion could subsequently result in a war of religion, which will further radicalize European Muslims. In fact, until now, no act of terror has come from immigrants (except a mentally disturbed afghan). Yet, still, it is important to take into account that for every European killed, there are over 120 Arabs, who die because of ISIS.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Since the United Nations Conference on Climate Change concluded last December, climate topics have almost disappeared in media content, and in public debates. Everybody is mesmerized by the tide of refugees, and how they are changing the political landscape of Europe. The rise of nationalism; populism and xenophobia calls to mind the fatal decade of the thirties.

We cannot ignore the lasting impacts climate change and natural disasters leave on affected populations. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council,” every second a person is displaced by disasters. In 2015 alone, more than 19.2 million people fled disaster in 113 Countries. In fact, disasters displace three to ten times more people from conflict and war worldwide. The International Organization for Migration forecasts 200 million environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis. Many of them predicted to populate coastal areas. If the world temperature rises to 3.1 degrees, which is presently the final agreement of the Paris conference, the mean sea level would increase by 0.73 meters, with large areas made susceptible to flooding.

The New York Times carried a story on the demise of Lake Poopò, in Bolivia, which was 3.000 square kilometres, and provided livelihoods to over 10.000 villagers. Now only 636 remain, while the others havegone to seek labour in coal mines 200 miles away, or to the nearest city, La Paz. A millenarian culture has been lost. Lake Poopò is one of the several lakes worldwide that are disappearing, because of human causes, writes the NYT. California’s Mono Lake and the Salton Sea have dramatically shrunk because of water diversion. Rising temperatures jeopardize lakes in Canada and Mongolia.

Let us recall that in Paris all countries of the world agreed to fight climate change. However, to be able to carry as many countries as possible on board, the Preparatory Conference of Lima, December 2014, agreed to implement a target system. Every country is to decide its objectives and will be responsible for ensuring their individual implementation. Let us just stop to think what would happen if every citizen was granted full monetary responsibility and were left to decide how much taxes they should pay.

The result is that the sum of the national targets adopted at Paris indicates a rise in the world’s temperature by 3.4 centigrades. In fact, the original goal was to not exceed 2 degrees, and this is the basis for the final declaration. At the same time, scientists have been saying that if we go beyond 1.5 degrees, the planet will suffer immensely. They consider the target of 2 centigrades a political gimmick, and of course the present t level of agreement of 3.4 centigrades a threat to the survival of humanity.

At Paris, it was also agreed that controls on the implementation of the agreement would start only in 2020: therefore we cannot predict the outcomes of the agreement. From different reports, we are fully aware that nobody is in a rush to get this done. In spite of this, NASA, the respected American Space Agency has recently published a worrying report: for three consecutive years the world’s temperatures have been the hottest on record since 1880. This year, 2016, will be even hotter than 2015 and 2014. We are now at an increase of 1.3 centigrades over 1880. Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA ‘s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, declared: “I certainly, would not say that we have gotten to that higher Paris number and we are going to stay there, But I think it’s fair to say that we are dancing with that lower target”.

This brings the problem of climate refugee much closer to us than we realize. The additional problem being that in legal terms, the category of climate refugee does not exist. The Human Rights Convention protects only those who escape war and violence, not climate change. Yet, Europe and the The United States are entering in a serious political crisis, because of a lack of policy on the tide of refugee status. In the political agenda, there is not a word about climate refugees, which exceed the number of political refugees by far. It is widely agreed, that a long and severe drought in Syria made many escape from their villages to towns, and the deplorable conditions fuelled the protests against the government. The consequent repression, in many ways, triggered the civil war which has destroyed the A country, killed over 400.000 civilians, created an exodus of 4.7 million citizens, of whom over a million come to find refuge in Europe. An influx of displaced Syrians who are being used by populists like Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage to win elections. Donald Trump has a lead of 44 to 30 percent, according to a CNN The poll, over the issue of order and security, because of his strong talks about immigrants and refugees.

A UN Summit for refugees and migrants will be held in September in New York. This would be the ideal moment to shape a global policy surrounding refugees, also incorporating the category of climate refugees. We are now on the brink of the American Elections. Let us hope this moment in history will not pass us by as a missed opportunity to lessen the plight of climate refugees.

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Countering Terrorism in Bangladesh Thu, 28 Jul 2016 10:49:12 +0000 Taj Hashmi By Taj Hashmi
Jul 28 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Politicians and law-enforcers in Bangladesh, from time to time, hype up both panic and complacency by publicizing the following: “terrorists everywhere” or “no terrorists anywhere”, in the country. The ambivalence is counterproductive to counterterrorism (CT) operation. The first and foremost requirement for effective CT is understanding of terrorism per se, that terrorists are not mindless robots programmed to kill innocent people just for the sake of killing. Terrorism is ideology-driven violence, different from violent crime and warfare. Most terrorists, globally, have been well-to-do engineers and technocrats, not poverty-stricken madrassa-educated people.

op_1_0__Terrorism is a deviation, something out of the ordinary; there’s no ordinariness about it like crime, epidemic, floods, or earthquake. It’s a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself. A society or nation creates it, as studies on terrorism have revealed, through various unwise socio-political, and economic decisions. Very similar to cholera or malaria, terrorism spreads through certain germs or bacteria; it just doesn’t drop from the heavens. It’s noteworthy, terrorist outfits representing minority communities often fizzle out – such as the IRA and LTTE – but those who are well-entrenched among the main stream of the population, remain formidable adversaries for years, if not decades.

The primary responsibility for the spread of terrorism in any country lies with the country itself; there is no room for blaming others. I give the example of the ten-year-old American boy, who seconds after the second plane had hit the Twin Towers on 9/11 screamed: “Why are they killing us? We must have done something wrong to some people somewhere”. What this little boy understood that terrorists don’t attack just for the sake of attacking, the American Administration refuses to admit that terrorist attacks are either retaliatory or preemptive by nature. Bangladeshis must also search as to why terrorism is present in their country. Any denial is costly, and counterproductive to effective CT operation.

CT experts in Bangladesh must understand the problem of terrorism has deeper roots than alienation of some rich kids. Is there any problem of mass alienation of people from society, politics, and state – which they consider corrupt, cruel, and lacking in legitimacy? The problem may be political, and “political” has a very broad definition. It’s all about human relations in power perspective; it’s about people’s aspirations, honour, dignity, livelihood, family, and freedom in local, national, and global perspectives. And what’s local is global, and global is local.

In the wake of the latest terror attacks at Gulshan and Sholakia, the question is, are Bangladeshi leaders and law-enforcers still going to be in the denial mode? The stance that there is no ISIS in Bangladesh and that terrorists here are all homegrown locals seems to have become irrelevant. In fact, they should rather worry more about the homegrown elements than the foreign ones, who are relatively easier to track down than the locals. They should understand terrorism is also globalised like the McDonald’s franchise; you don’t need American chefs to prepare their burgers in distant Bangladesh.

An effective CT doesn’t require more troops or policemen, it requires: a) the admission by politicians and police that terrorists do exist in Bangladesh; b) no bragging about actual or elusive success in CT operation; c) no blame game against each other; and d) good governance and fair distribution of prosperity and opportunities to all. Imperatively, mainstream religions or political parties never nurture terrorism. Cults or secret religious or political clans surreptitiously mobilize support for terrorism by systematic brainwashing of people through manipulation of facts and ideologies. The upshot is a tiny minority of angry, marginalised people start believing what’s apparently right is actually wrong, and vice versa.

According to the Home Minister, since only a handful of people are terrorists, the Government can overpower them in no time. The Police Chief is even more complacent: “Militancy has decreased in the country due to law enforcers’ efforts …. Some have been killed in ‘crossfire’ incidents”. Interestingly, only 19 terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers on 9/11, killed around 3,000 people, inflicting a loss of more than a trillion dollars to American economy; and al Qaeda spent less than $500,000 for the attacks. The punch line is 20 terrorists can kill 20,000.

Global CT operators have learnt that there are three different types of politically inspired violence: a) terrorism b) insurgency and c) insurgent-terrorism. The fine line between terrorism and insurgency often remains blurred. While al Qaeda is primarily terroristic, the ISIS champions global insurgencies against all governments across the world. Hence it’s the most dangerous destabilizing force in the world.

As terrorism is often part of broader insurgencies – the terrorist JMB in Bangladesh is a surrogate to the global insurgency called ISIS – CT operators must apply counterinsurgency (COIN) methods as well. David Galula, the guru of COIN operators in the world (although this French expert came from the losing side of the War in Algeria), believes CT-COIN is “eighty percent political, and twenty percent military”. CT-COIN operators in Bangladesh must apply the concerted civil, military, paramilitary, political, economic, and psychological forces to counter terrorism.

Then again, CT-COIN operators mustn’t follow security studies manuals, blindly. One military historian has pointed out, most CT-COIN operations have failed to achieve anything as the losing side has written “99 percent” of their manuals. Hence the desirability of innovation or creativity! Again civil-military cooperation is an essential pre-condition for the success of any CT-COIN operation, so goes General David Petraeus’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

The line between terrorists and insurgents is getting blurred, very fast. In countries where terrorists and insurgents come from the main stream of the populations, there’s no guarantee about the success of any CT-COIN operations in those places. There’s no alternative to addressing the socio-political, and economic issues to resolve the problem of terrorism-insurgency in those countries. We know terrorism isn’t a law-and-order problem, and as such there’s no quick fix or police and military solutions to the problem. However, this information is a bitter pill to swallow for most government agencies in Bangladesh, and elsewhere.

Another stumbling bloc to successful CT-COIN operation is some politicians’ and law-enforcers’ disrespect for human rights, human dignity, and privacy of suspects having links with terrorists and insurgents in general. They simply don’t understand extra-judicial killings of suspects and criminals – through the proverbial “encounter” or “cross-fire” – further aggravate the problem of terrorism-insurgency.

To conclude, Bangladesh should use the globally recognised CT-COIN Manual, for example the one developed by the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS), which is all about intrastate and interstate cooperation to contain and defeat terrorist-insurgencies in various countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Bangladesh. While the Comprehensive Security Response to Terrorism (CSRT) method stresses the importance of intrastate civil-military and inter-agency cooperation, including intelligence sharing, the Advanced Security Cooperation (ASC) suggests interstate cooperation among civil-military and intelligence agencies at the international level.

Again, both the CSRT and ASC methods stress the importance of good governance, democracy, and respect for human rights as antidotes to terrorism and insurgency. CT-COIN operators in Bangladesh should learn, there’s no substitute for good governance, which is transparent and accountable, and ensures democracy, the freedom of expression, human rights and dignity. In sum, there’s no police or military solution to the problem of terrorism and insurgency.

The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University in the US. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014).

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Honour & Deviance Thu, 28 Jul 2016 10:33:33 +0000 Nazish Brohi By Nazish Brohi
Jul 28 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

You either stay in your sanitised comfort zone, or you step out and get inured to contempt for women. Some events, though, still leave an imprint.

Nazish Brohi

Nazish Brohi

Like the time the local administration in Multan decided to regulate women acting in popular, frequently seedy, theatre plays. The district government’s monitoring committee issued guidelines on dance moves and demanded that all actresses named after women in Islamic history legally change their identities because they were an insult to their namesakes.

When these women went to register their protest, they were told to first to do wuzu (ablution) before meeting the committee because they were paleet (impure) and were about to appear before the pak (pure).

That was over a decade ago. The court case demanding Qandeel not use ‘Baloch’ as her name because of the disrepute she brought to the ethnicity shows continuity, though none of the thousands who use Baloch as a surname took issue with it. That a country that is an avid consumer of pornography would condemn risqué behaviour in others is not surprising. The gaze of judgement seldom turns inwards.

The honour code earlier was a governance code.

Some years ago, Afiya Zia and I co-authored a paper on honour killings for which playwright/ director Khalid Ahmed translated Shailendra’s song Kaanton se kheench ke anchal. Cavorting in a truck laden with hay, Waheeda Rehman flung out a clay pot, shattered social conventions and immortalised the song in the Indian movie Guide. But embedded in the jubilance was the price she was willing to pay. This is the decision many women across Pakistan have to make when they tear through social conventions. The jeenay ki tamanna and marney ka iraada is congruent: the desire to live (as they want) requires the will to die.

Placing women on a continuum of purity and impurity is a recurring trope across many cultures: the virgin and the harlot, the home and the street, the pedestal and the brothel. Both ends, however, exist exclusively for fulfilling male desires. Women deemed impure cannot gain respectability. The pure ones live their lives in fear of being pushed down to the other side. There are caveats though. Resort to religion can help make the disreputable respectable, and class privilege can protect against the label of the prostitute.

The honour code earlier was a governance code in the absence of state supervision. However, in its current incarnation, it frees men from responsibility because honour lies not within their own actions but elsewhere. Like in folk tales across the world, men’s life, soul or strength was outsourced: the magician’s life in a parrot in a faraway land; Ravanna’s life placed in a box and given to a hermit before he left for war; the giant whose heart was in an exotic egg.

Hence in the general perception honour killing is not aggression but reaction. The perpetrator is recast as the victim of a moral crime and the killing is an act of the restitution of honour. Some years ago, I spoke to Hukumdin during the trial hearing of his son, who had bludgeoned his sister to death. He said of his daughter, “She was like a suicide bomber. She pursued what she wanted without thinking of anyone else, and it killed her and destroyed everyone around her in the process.” When I questioned him about the nebulous ‘it’ that killed her, he answered “Khudi” (selfhood).

There is a change though. Two decades ago, parliament declared honour crimes a cultural prerogative. Now with the Pre¬vention of Anti-Women Practices law passed and additions made to the Pakistan Criminal Code that disable forgiveness for family members, the prime minister himself has pledged to pass a specific law on honour crimes.

Earlier, the state itself reserved the right to punish women for sexual transgressions under the Hudood Ordinance. Now not only can that no longer be invoked, the state has registered itself as a complainant in some recent cases of women being punished for sexual transgressions.

Previously, women have been killed inside the court premises while the judges looked on; now people have been sentenced with the maximum punishment for honour killings. In the past, people have looked to religion as justification for honour crimes whereas now most religious authorities condemn such murders. And earlier communities were unequivocal about their condemnation of women accused of bringing dishonour. But before burial, henna was applied on Qandeel, which in her home district of Dera Ghazi Khan is symbolic; it is meant for girls and women who die without having sinned, free from accusations of wrongdoing.

The earlier mode of collective, interdependent living made conformity to community standards necessary and public performances of honour desirable. That mode is finishing. Social structures are in a fight for survival of the status quo. In the long term, it won’t work. But in the interim, women’s lives will remain the battleground.

The writer is a researcher and consultant in the social sector.
Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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The Challenge Before Us Wed, 27 Jul 2016 15:20:26 +0000 Mahfuz Anam By Mahfuz Anam
Jul 27 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947 on the basis of religion. Bangladesh was born 31 years later, in 1971, on the basis of nationalism, democracy and secularism. Democracy we lost first, in the mid-seventies and then in the early eighties, and are yet to recover it fully. Secularism, which was on a gradual decline, now faces its most severe threat.

Bangladesh – the people, government, civil society, intelligentsia, media, etc. – is still reeling from the events of July 1 that saw the killing of 20 people; 17 foreigners and three Bangladeshis.

Bangladesh – the people, government, civil society, intelligentsia, media, etc. – is still reeling from the events of July 1 that saw the killing of 20 people; 17 foreigners and three Bangladeshis.

As a freedom fighter I remember, as I we sat glued to a one-band radio, on the evening of December 16 1971, along with others in a guerrilla camp, listening to the surrender ceremony of the Pakistani army to the joint command in Dhaka and shouting “Joy Bangla” (Victory to Bangla), I was certain that my new country would be a place of prosperity, freedom and religious harmony. Never again would a Muslim or a Hindu lose his or her life for religion.

On the night of July 1, as most inhabitants of Dhaka stayed up all night watching the hostage tragedy on television unfold and hoping that the end would not be as tragic and gruesome as we were beginning to fear, I could hardly imagine that it was the same country to whose birth I, with millions of others, had contributed.

Bangladesh – the people, government, civil society, intelligentsia, media, etc. – is still reeling from the events of July 1 that saw the killing of 20 people; 17 foreigners and three Bangladeshis. Two police personnel also died while trying to fight the terrorists in the first rescue attempt. It was not only the act of cold blooded murder but also its bestial nature and the age of the perpetrators-between 20 and 28 years- that has raised many questions as to where the country has come in terms of values and beliefs in its post- independence period.

As a people, we firmly believed that our culture and history, especially the syncretic Islam that we practice here, and our religiosity that blended our diversity and devotion to produce a living culture of tolerance and openness, was enough to protect us from the extremism that seems to afflict so many other countries where Islam is the dominant religion.

We proved to be so thoroughly and tragically wrong.

Our government made the cardinal mistake of being in denial from the start, thinking that any admission, either of the seriousness of the initial killing of bloggers, atheists and LGBT activists, or of any outside link will provide an excuse for the international community to term us as terrorist or a terror prone country with all its paraphernalia of negative ‘advisories’ and other possible restrictions and actions.

This led to the initial downplaying of the gruesome murders of writers, publishers and ‘free thinkers’ as “isolated incidents “and not taking timely steps to galvanize serious and effective preventive measures that could have prepared us better to handle the situation that we unfortunately faced on July 1.

The ever vigilant Bengali intellectuals, known for their anti-colonial and anti-imperialistic struggles and for being the first to raise their voice against all forms of oppression and for their uncompromising stance against extremism and for secularism, appear to have failed to fully grasp what was happening around them. Instead of making a robust call for waking up to the fundamentalist threat they made the fatal error of allowing themselves to be sucked into partisan politics and rather than being the voice of freedom and democracy that they traditionally were, they became a tool of the two dominant political parties who, for their own narrow ends, flirted with the fundamentalist forces whenever it suited them.

Civil society, especially the grassroots based non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which were spread throughout different corners of the country, appear also to have failed to grasp the spread of extremism. For, ordinarily they should have been among the first to sense what was happening on the ground in the remote areas. Here again, the government, in its deep suspicion of the role of the NGOs and mainly considering them to be peddling a donor-driven agenda, probably ignored whatever warning they might have given, if at all.

Media must also accept its share of the blame for not going deep enough with investigative reports to challenge the government’s narrative that these were “isolated” incidents, and that everything was under control with the leadership repeating for years the policy of “zero tolerance” of extremism; all the while it grew under the very feet of the administration. A few who tried to project a different story were branded as trying to damage the image of the country and for working for interests inimical to that of the country.

The challenge now before all of us is to determine how deep and wide the spread of extremist ideologies is, how entrenched is the threat and, more importantly, how we can effectively fight it.

The first question to face is where is all this extremism coming from? So far the culprit was thought to be poverty, ignorance and the Madrassa based education. The rural religious schools were generally considered to be the breeding ground of fundamentalist ideals and activists. However, the killings at Holey Artisan Bakery showed that only one of the five kids that carried out the massacre came from a Madrassa. As we discover the identity of others it is becoming increasingly clear that most of these kids come from middle and upper middle class, have studied at expensive English medium schools and private universities, few had even studied abroad. They were the usual boisterous kids, donning T-shirts and jeans, frequenting hangouts like youngsters of that age do everywhere in the world. So what had gone wrong with these kids and at what point in their lives?

There is no denying the fact that the overall impact of religion in general has significantly risen in the country. It is more a part of our lives than ever before. More men and women are seen in religious clothing and men sporting beards. Friday prayers are far more widely participated in than ever before. Religion, no doubt, is in the air.

People of Bangladesh are traditionally religious. However, our religiosity must be clearly distinguished from extremism some signs of which we see today. It is also true that there has been an overall corrosion of secular principles in Bangladesh. It is a fact that when bloggers, atheists, so-called ‘free thinkers’ and LGBT activists were being murdered one after another there was a murmur that since they criticised religion and some professed not to believe in any they, somehow, deserved to be ‘punished’.

So where do we go from here?

We are still to gauge the full impact of terrorism on our lives. But the ‘normal’ is no longer so. Personal lives are restrained, social lives significantly narrowed and public gatherings are few and far between. Shopping malls and restaurants are almost empty and roadside shopping is down. Factories are running and our major export, the readymade garment sector, is still holding in terms of order. However, many buyers are refusing to come to Bangladesh. Many countries and foreign businesses are considering declaring Bangladesh as a non-family post, with some having already done so. Some big international conferences – many business related ones – are being shifted away from Dhaka.

The good news is that our government appears to have moved away from the denial mode and by the large-scale anti-militancy operation that we are seeing it appears we have taken the threat seriously. However, so far the moves have been by the police and other law enforcers. Those familiar with religion based extremist movements say that these are not mere law and order problems that can be solved simply by use of force. The challenge here is to “win the hearts and minds” for which there must be motivational campaigns alongside the use of force. The campaign at Dhaka University launched last Monday, is a step in the right direction but needs to be replicated all over the country.

Bangladesh has a long history of resilience and of beating the odds. From a country of disasters we are now a country of doers and achievers, almost always proving our skeptics wrong. It is my deeply held belief that in fighting back extremism we can prove to be equally successful. The balance between religion and culture ingrained in our tradition, the hospitality inherent in our society, our unique blend of Islamic heritage and Bengali heritage, our fundamental nature of tolerance, our tradition of openness and acceptance of the ‘other’, our rich heritage of political struggle have prepared us well to resist a fundamentalist and extremist thrust.

It is what makes us unique as Bangladeshis that will, in the end, help us win in this battle against extremism.

The writer is Editor and Publisher, The Daily Star, Bangladesh. This is part of a series of columns by editors from the Asian News Network (ANN) and published in member newspapers across the region.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Terrorist Madness Wed, 27 Jul 2016 14:57:40 +0000 Mahir Ali By Mahir Ali
Jul 27 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

As I sat down to write this yesterday morning, there was breaking news of a mass killing at a residential facility for the disabled not far from Tokyo. The perpetrator was apparently a 26-year-old former employee of the care home who subsequently handed himself over to the police after murdering 19 people and injuring dozens of others.

Mahir Ali

Mahir Ali

Somewhat inevitably, a small number of comments on news media sites raised the possibility of Islamist motivation. While this appears to be an absurdly misguided assumption, it’s not hard to trace the genesis of this thought pattern.

It was even easier to jump to this conclusion in the wake of last week’s killing spree by a teenager in Munich. After all, David Ali Sonboly was a German of Iranian heritage. That sufficed, for all too many people, to assume that he was driven by religious fanaticism.

Europe’s far-right is effectively the other side of the IS coin.

According to the evidence that has surfaced so far, however, it appears that Sonboly was obsessed with mass shootings, especially at schools, and timed his assault to coincide with the anniversary of the Norwegian massacre five years earlier by Anders Breivik, who also went out of his way to target young people.

Breivik was ideologically driven, but not by Islamism. There is plenty of evidence, meanwhile, that Sonboly, who committed suicide after murdering nine people, was psychologically unstable.

Yet the likelihood that his psychopathic tendencies did not originate in a particularly sordid interpretation of his ancestral faith does not necessarily set him too far apart from those who assume that the tenets of their faith oblige them to more or less randomly slaughter those whom they perceive to be unbelievers.

Among some shades of opinion, the tendency to investigate the psychological make-up of a killer is a variety of denialism, a studied refusal to condemn religion as the guiding force behind mass murder. This attitude in turn feeds into perpetuating the notion that all Muslims are potential terrorists.

It should not be particularly surprising that the latter assumption ideally suits the purposes of the militant Islamic State group. The fact that Germany has lately allowed in hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim refugees militates mightily against the notion of a West implacably hostile to Islam. If even a couple of refugees can be persuaded to perpetrate acts of indiscriminate violence, the hostility towards them can reasonably be expected to spread well beyond extremist outfits such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The axe attack on a train in Würzberg by a teenage Afghan refugee (some news outlets claimed he was actually a Pakistani) on July 18 and, in the wake of Sonboly’s outrage, a pair of attacks by Syrian refugees — one of them killed a woman with a machete and injured five other people, while the other detonated a suicide vest near a music festival and, thankfully, succeeded in killing only himself — appeared, insofar as they may have been guided by IS operatives, to be directed towards propelling AfD’s agenda.

Much the same could be said about the singularly appalling attack in Nice on Bastille Day by Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a French resident from Tunisia, who ploughed his massive truck through crowds celebrating the national holiday, leaving more than 80 people — a third of them Muslims — dead and injuring many more.

Unlike last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris, which tended to unite the French more in sorrow than in anger, the Nice outrage, amid a state of emergency, has more directly prompted an upsurge in antagonism towards the government of François Hollande, who responded crassly to the massacre by decreeing a more concerted military assault on IS redoubts in Iraq and Syria.

Should Marine Le Pen win the next French presidential election, a substantial proportion of the blame could be ladled on to IS, but Hollande won’t get away unscathed.

Europe’s far-right forces are effectively the other side of the IS coin. They may have divergent motivations, but the essential idea is to perpetuate the belief that there is little or no space for Muslims in Europe. The neo-Nazis are determined that there should be no place for Muslims in Europe. IS is bent upon ensuring that Europe is no place for Muslims, unless it is subsumed into the fantasy of a caliphate — whose territorial reach in Iraq and Syria is slowly diminishing.

There are also reasonable grounds, meanwhile, for questioning the dichotomy between extremism and psychological dysfunction. The latter can, obviously, operate independently of the former, and the vast majority of people who diverge from what is assumed to be the norm in that sphere are obviously harmless, in the same way as are most Muslims. But can murderous fanaticism be distinguished from a psychotic disorder?

Such a conclusion may complicate the task of dedicated anti-terrorists, but it’s not one they can afford to ignore. Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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The Americans Should Have Their Own Chilcot Fri, 22 Jul 2016 15:59:48 +0000 Mohammad Badrul Ahsan By Mohammad Badrul Ahsan
Jul 22 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Ever since the Chilcot Inquiry vilified former Prime Minister Tony Blair on July 6 for taking the United Kingdom to war in Iraq, the world is waiting for the other shoe to drop. If Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, the report assessed he had done it at the behest of his American ally George W. Bush. That gives sufficient ground for the Americans to have their own Chilcot. Blair had bought the distribution rights on this of the Atlantic for the biggest lot of hogwash Bush sold to the entire world.

op_1_Bush and Blair remind one of America’s most notorious criminal couple, Bonnie and Clyde. In the movie made on their life in 1967, Bonnie Parker tells Clyde Barrow after he rebuffs her romantic advances, “Your advertising is just dandy… folks would never guess you don’t have a thing to sell.” We don’t know if the former British premier ever had the pride of an embarrassed Bonnie to tell his friend Bush before, during or after the Iraq invasion that he didn’t have a thing to sell when he lied about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.

The world knows that George Bush lied. It knows he fabricated that story to invade Iraq for more reasons than overthrowing its ruler. And, it doesn’t seem to be an honest mistake or an error in judgment because Bush has never apologised, accepted responsibility or shown remorse for his decisions. Meanwhile, the global chain reaction he set off has already killed thousands of men, women and children, and continues to convulse the world.

UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond said after the Chilcot report was released that the US blunder in Iraq led to the rise of IS. He criticised the US decision to dismantle the Iraqi army, when 400,000 unemployed soldiers, many of them Saddam loyalists, were let loose to graze on the fields of anger and vengeance.

In fact, it’s not clear till today what has been accomplished by trashing a country to topple its dictator. It has been more than nine years since Saddam was hanged on an Eid day, but Iraq is bloodier, ever more violent and ever more confused. Pakistan is paranoid, Afghanistan is antsy, Syria is seething, Yemen is yelping, Turkey is terrorised, and European cities are reeling under terrorist attacks. Even a previously quiet country like Bangladesh has to look over its shoulder. IS has also turned its wrath on Indonesia, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

An American Chilcot inquiry should look into what goat George Bush had in this fight. Did he want to seek vengeance for the plot Saddam once had allegedly hatched to assassinate his father? Did he have a crusade mission to invade a vulnerable country and throw a monkey wrench into the Muslim world? Did he go after Iraq’s oil? What did he actually want?

That Bush didn’t go for the WMDs is clear already because he knew he couldn’t find what wasn’t there. He also didn’t go there to fight terrorism because Saddam hasn’t been linked to terror groups, which carried out the 9/11 attacks. He also didn’t go to liberate Iraq, which is squirming under the oppressive burden of foreign invasion.

The United States needs a Chilcot-like investigation to answer these questions. It may take seven years or so, but better late than never. The Americans don’t need to carry the burden of one man’s guilt on their conscience. They, like the British people, have the right to know why their former leader had lied to take their country to a wasteful war.

It will be nice if the American inquiry summons Tony Blair as a witness. The investigators should have him sit together with George Bush at the same table and observe how they defend each other. Then both men should be provided with calculators to work out this simple math. Problem: Saddam was executed for the murder of 148 Iraqi Shi’ites. Solution: How many times should a devious duo be hanged for their misguided or mischievous policies that have killed nearly a million in Iraq, thousands in Syria and many more in other countries as collateral damage?

If the United States sincerely wishes to help other countries in their fight against terrorism, it must go back to the original sin and exonerate itself. It must explain to a disgusted world how an architect of anarchy could trigger turmoil worldwide and then enjoy the perks of a retired president without having so much as a rap on the knuckles!

Injecting air bubbles into the bloodstream can lead to brain damage or even death. An American inquiry needs to investigate how George Bush’s “hot air” has created a similar medical condition across the world. Those left brain-damaged are ruthlessly killing, while others are helplessly dying in vain. Shame!

The writer is Editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Convicting Children Thu, 21 Jul 2016 17:28:49 +0000 Zainab Malik By Zainab Z. Malik
Jul 21 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Like 73pc of Pakistan’s population, Ansar Iqbal’s birth had never been registered. And like most juvenile defendants in Pakistan, he was erroneously charged and tried as a 23-year-old adult because the police thought that’s how old he looked.

The writer is a human rights lawyer working with the Justice Project Pakistan.

The writer is a human rights lawyer working with the Justice Project Pakistan.

During Ansar’s trial, his lawyer produced government-issued birth records demonstrating his juvenility. The courts however, chose instead to rely upon the police’s appraisal of his physical appearance. In 2015, he was issued a birth certificate by the National Database and Registration Authority that unequivocally confirmed his plea of juvenility. Despite this, the Supreme Court of Pakistan refused to consider the new evidence placed before it. “It was raised out of time” and so, Ansar’s review petition was rejected.

An arbitrary visual assessment had sent Ansar Iqbal on death row for 23 years, and ultimately to the gallows in September last year. He was 38 years old.

A flawed juvenile justice system is rigged against those it seeks to protect.

Sentencing juveniles to death is prohibited under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000 and under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This has not counted for much since the six-year moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in December 2014. Pakistan has knowingly executed at least six juvenile offenders in the face of credible evidence supporting their minority. In June 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in its concluding observations on Pakistan’s fifth periodic report noted that it is “seriously alarmed at the reports of execution of several individuals for offences committed while under the age of 18 years”. A study by the Justice Project Pakistan and Reprieve discovered that as many as 10pc of Pakistan’s 8,000 strong death row were juveniles at the time the alleged crime took place.

That’s 800 children convicted as adults.

Almost 46pc of Pakistan’s population has no form of official registration. At the time of arrest, it is virtually impossible to prove their age. Police, in the absence of documentary proof, arbitrarily record an age that is above 18 years to avoid applying protective procedural safeguards for juveniles during detention. Pakistan has consistently failed in its obligation to effectively investigate juvenility claims.

If a plea of juvenility is raised at the trial, the courts place the burden entirely upon the defendant. Not only is this difficult to dispel, given the dismal birth registration rates, it is also a violation of international law principles. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has recognised the need for a medical or social investigation in the absence of proof of age. And even if there is conflicting or inconclusive evidence “the child shall have the right to the rule of the benefit of the doubt”.

Where government documents are presented by defendants, courts often dismiss these as unreliable. No further investigation into the prisoner’s social history to determine his age is conducted. If there is a disparity in the available evidence, the burden of doubt is almost never granted to the juvenile.

The Juvenile Justice System Ordinance provides limited guidance on how to determine age. It only states that if a question of juvenility arises during a criminal proceeding, the court must “record a finding such inquiry which shall include a medical report for determination of the age of the child”. This clearly does not contain sufficient detail to ensure that determinations of age are conducted in accordance with international standards.

The lack of clear and comprehensive age determination protocols has led to radically different interpretations by the courts. In the cases of ‘Amanullah vs the state’ and ‘Majid Khan vs the state’, the high courts held that a birth certificate should always be preferred over medical examination. However, in ‘Ghulam Rasool vs the state’ and ‘Majid Khan vs the state’ medical tests are given clear precedence.

Similarly, in ‘Zafar Hussain vs Ayyaz Ahmed’, the Lahore High Court held that the onus to prove juvenility lies upon the defendant and no benefit of doubt should be given to him whereas in ‘Saddam vs state’, the Sindh High Court stated that the provisions of the JJSO should be construed liberally and all benefit of doubt regarding age should go to the accused.

It is imperative that the government of Pakistan develop age determination mechanisms for juvenile offenders in order to fulfil its international human rights obligations and address the manifold human rights violations inherent under its criminal justice system. The National Commission on Human Rights and the newly appointed child rights commissioners serve as the ideal institutions to develop and ensure implementation of age determination mechanisms at each stage of the arrest, trial and appeal.

It has been almost one year since Ansar was executed. How many others will we lose before we reform our juvenile justice institutions so that they can fulfil the objectives they were designed to serve?

The writer is a human rights lawyer working with the Justice Project Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Is Kemalism on Its Way out in Turkey? Thu, 21 Jul 2016 16:48:48 +0000 Taj Hashmi By Taj Hashmi
Jul 21 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The enigmatic coup-attempt in Turkey on the night of July 15 and 16 signals something ominous about the future of Turkey, NATO, and the entire region. There’s more to read into the event than what appears on the surface. We don’t know much about the nature of the coup, but it has definitely tarnished the “Turkish Model” of success, which its Arab neighbours envied, and European ones admired for the co-existence of liberal Islam, secularism, and democracy. The “abortive coup” seems to have further consolidated Erdogan’s power, at least for the time being. Seemingly, Erdogan and his followers are marching together toward “illiberal democracy”, if not toward the utopia of Islamist totalitarianism.

A man lies in front of a Turkish army tank at Ataturk airport in Istanbul. PHOTO: AP

A man lies in front of a Turkish army tank at Ataturk airport in Istanbul. PHOTO: AP

Kemalism turned Turkey too secular too soon to sustain for generations. Thus, the resurgence of political Islam in Turkey indicates the country is preparing itself for a departure from Kemalism. One’s not sure as to how this seesaw is going to affect Turkish society and politics in the future. I think the following are Turkey’s nemeses, which we need to understand as to what might happen to the country now: Kemalism; the Kurdish problem; Turkey’s neighbours; and Turkey’s relationship with America.

Turkey is very unique from its European and Muslim neighbours. Being straddled on two continents, this Muslim-majority country is officially secular in the strictest sense. It’s not just another postcolonial country in the Muslim World, it’s rather a former colonial power, the centre of the mighty Ottoman Empire, which once ruled parts of Eastern Europe, West Asia, and North Africa for several centuries up to the end of World War I. Turkey’s Ottoman legacy of ruthless subjugation of European nations – including forcible conversions of Christians into Muslims, and the infamous Armenian Genocide – is still a factor behind its exclusion from the EU by European nations.

Turkey isn’t a nation state. Fifteen million of its 80 million people are ethnically and linguistically non-Turkish Kurdish Muslims, in the process of being fully integrated into the main stream of population. Turkey has a checkered history of military rule and democracy; and many Turks aren’t sure if they are primarily Asian, Muslim, or European.

Now, to look at the enigmatic “abortive coup”, one may agree with an analyst that: “Erdogan is using this failed coup to get rid of the last vestiges of secular Turkey.” Some people question the coup and whether it was staged to further consolidate his power, and to turn Turkey into an Islamist autocracy. The amateurish and excessive brutal behaviour of the soldiers on the street, who didn’t even close down all electronic media outlets, including cell phones, and TV stations, raises questions among people whether it was really a coup-attempt, or a false flag operation!

Interestingly, while Erdogan blames his former ally and present adversary, Hanafi Sufi Master Fethullah Gulen – self-exiled in the US – for the “coup-attempt”, Gulen points fingers at the President for staging the whole thing for further consolidation of power. To Erdogan, Gulen is corrupt and a terrorist, although there’s no Turkish court decision to charge Gulen with any terrorist activity. The day after 9/11 attacks, he wrote an article in the Washington Post and stated: “A Muslim cannot be a terrorist, nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim.” Contrary to Erdogan’s allegations, Gulen believes in interfaith dialogue, multi-party democracy, and asserts: “Studying physics, mathematics, and chemistry is worshipping God”.

The end of the Ottoman Empire in 1922 and the Kemalist Revolution of 1923 transformed Turkey into a modern, ultra-secular country, where the military and urban classes became the main custodians of secular democracy. With the end of the Cold War and the acceleration of the globalisation process, and the IT Revolution in early1990s, Muslims across the world became more Islamised than before. Henceforth, Turkish Muslims started questioning the utility of Kemalist “Godless” secularism. Erdogan became one of the bold advocates of political Islam. He is not only an Islamist but also an admirer of “authoritarian democracy” – a euphemism for dictatorship, a la “Mahathirism” in Malaysia.

As Erdogan’s support for Islamist rebels in Syria has contributed to the instability in Turkey and, so is his tacit support for the ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Turkey is accused of having bought cheap oil from the ISIS controlled Iraqi oilfields, and it didn’t stop foreign nationals at its border from entering ISIS-occupied territories in Syria to join the terror outfit, till the recent past. Why so? One assumes to topple the pro-Iranian Assad regime, and to stop secular nationalist Syrian Kurds from gaining any foothold in Syria.

The Kurds are in Turkey by default since 1919. The League of Nations arbitrarily divided Kurdistan into four parts, giving each to Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. Up to 2009, Kurds in Turkey couldn’t publicly speak their language or sing any Kurdish song. Turkey didn’t even recognise them as Kurds, but as “Mountain Turks”. After the US-led Iraq invasion of 2003, Iraqi Kurdistan has become an autonomous entity. The Turkish government is very uncomfortable with this development.

Erdogan tried his best to make Turkey a EU member. The EU has been unwilling to accept Turkey as a member so far. European and North American NATO members have had no problem in having Turkey as a member of this military alliance. However, as The New York Times has pointed out [“The Countercoup in Turkey”, July 18, 2016]: Erdogan’s use of Islamist language and harsh retaliatory measures against his secular opponents might “compromise Turkey’s democracy and its ability to be a stabilising influence in NATO and the region”.

In view of Erdogan’s position vis-à-vis the democratic and secular values of the EU and the West, it’s strange that till the other day Turkey was insisting its main strategic relationships remained with the NATO and the EU, and that it had “zero-problem” with European neighbours. But now it seems like Erdogan and his party may be laying the ground for the creation of a Muslim bloc. Both the EU and US seem to have emerged as the biggest nemeses for Turkey.

To conclude, one is least likely to be enamoured by Erdogan’s authoritarian Islamism; his attitude towards the Kurds; mass arrests of journalists, opposition supporters, and alleged coup makers; his promotion of Islamist rebels in Syria; and last but not least, his alleged links with the ISIS at least in the earlier stages. However, one can’t solely blame Turkey or Erdogan for the drift in Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies, which are deviations from Kemalist principles of secular democracy. Western obduracy, racism, and Islamophobia are also responsible for the messy situation in Turkey. This doesn’t bode well for regional and global security in the long run.

Turkey, its European and Asian neighbours, and America must find out a durable solution to the problems dogging Turkey and the entire Middle East and North Africa, and their mutual relationship with each other.

The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University in the US. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014). Email:

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Has the World Gone Mad? Wed, 20 Jul 2016 18:09:28 +0000 Nadine Shaanta By Nadine Shaanta Murshid
Jul 20 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Has the world gone mad? No. Violence is a part of our history, as mankind – we’ve known it all our lives. But, never before have we been exposed to violence in the manner that we are now, because of cable news coverage and social media. Before this age of rapid transfer of information, it took us much longer to learn about acts of violence in far away lands.



[One example is Cambodia – its people experienced genocide while the world had no clue. It wasn’t until much later that people started to learn about what was happening, about Pol Pot’s Red Army of children, the plan to start from “zero.” There is genocide going on today as well – but we are clued in much earlier than used to be the case (for example, the Rohingyas in Myanmar), because they make headlines and because “civilians” report from the ground.]

So, while we are experiencing huge exposure to violence, there is little understanding of the reasons for the production of violence.

To understand the violent world in which we live today, it is important to understand that with neoliberal policies came rapid globalisation (that fostered international trade, privatisation of national institutions, deregulation, and competition) and that includes, as we can see, globalisation of terror and acts of terror. An excellent example is ISIS. Their “franchise system” that allows group membership to anyone willing to commit an act of terror in any part of the world – which ISIS can then claim responsibility for – has been a successful model because of social media and networking capabilities that are enhanced via the internet, the mascot, if you will, of the globalised world.

The UN had declared in 2011 that internet-access is also a human right (for reasons such as freedom of expression). And countries have responded well – but, for many under-developed and developing nations of the world, the internet has been an easier “upgrading” of infrastructure in the absence of real ones: roads, railways, institutions. This nod from the UN has allowed neoliberal policymakers, hand in hand with the Facebooks and the Googles of the world, to aggressively push last mile internet connectivity for deeper reach to the “Bottom of the Pyramid” to garner more consumers. So, we have a situation in which we have populations that do not have decent healthcare facilities or schools, but have internet-enabled smartphones.

In some ways, this can be seen as “development” (indeed, some pluses include mobile banking services for the poor that fosters financial inclusion). But, this also highlights the old concept of uneven and combined development that doesn’t keep par with economic growth, that in turn makes way for a class-based structure, in which many are left behind, disenfranchised.

It is, thus, fairly easy and profitable to recruit foot soldiers in a system that has produced enough disenfranchised individuals, primarily youth, looking for meaning. Indeed, meaning-making for young people has become a challenge in a system where even universities are in the business of producing skilled labour for the neoliberal regimes of the world, which isolates them as they strive to take personal responsibility for structural problems that they did not create; fighting in a system that’s rigged against them.

So, if neoliberalism and its neoliberal education systems have created isolation among youth across social and cultural barriers, youth who find “brotherhood” in a “cause” that they can get behind, it has also created inequality and injustice. Together, isolation, disenfranchisement, inequality, and injustice form a potent pill that breaks people. So much so that they have nothing left to lose. Such spaces can easily become hotbeds for terrorist recruitment, given the high supply of broken people to cash-in on. That some private universities in countries like Bangladesh have become such hotbeds is not a coincidence.

We must realise that the violence that we see around us is not about the moral compasses of those who commit such acts. Nor is it about parenting. It’s about the system that has let them down.

Unless we fix the system that creates disenfranchisement and inequality, we will continue to see violence erupt in all corners of the world. And because of the way media works, we will hear the most nitty-gritty details of it all. And those acts of violence will be “co-opted” by groups like ISIS who will claim responsibility for them – and that will feed more hate – and in this case Islamophobia, and that will create more hate towards the West, and the cycle will continue.

We need to create a class-neutral world for its citizens. We need to really undo this Empire that enables certain groups to have all privileges, while marginalising all other peoples.

There are declared and undeclared wars going on around the world that are being televised and hash-tagged for consumption. Some people make money and gain power in war economies.

Surely, we know who they are?

The writer is Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work, University at Buffalo.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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The Importance of Soft Power Tue, 19 Jul 2016 15:02:07 +0000 Syed Mansur Hashim By Syed Mansur Hashim
Jul 19 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The world is at war with extremists. Developed and developing nations, whether it is France, the United States, Russia or China, the Middle East or countries in the sub-continent, we are all battling one form of Muslim militancy or another. And while alliances are being forged on a regional or trans-continental basis to fight outfits like the Boko Haram, Al Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS), and battles are being fought out on land in Iraq Syria, Libya or Yemen, on the streets of Paris or in Dhaka, every nation that has faced the onslaught of extremists who are connected to a global network of jihadists that is increasingly sophisticated, the realisation that they are now battling for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the populace is emerging.

soft_power_The extremists’ distortion of religion and their success in disseminating information has policymakers the world over going back to the drawing board and reassessing the threat – not just in military terms, but also incorporating a new strategy that makes use of media activity, to new school curricula, to effectively counter jihadist propaganda. It is the realisation that this is an ideological battle and the war must be fought on two fronts, both militarily and undermining extremist ideology that will put a dent in their recruitment efforts.

Taking the actual message of Islam to the schooling system is one approach being tried out in some countries. It is now obvious that if young Muslims are to be stopped being turned by jihadists, something has to be done about teachings and preaching in mosques, seminaries and educational institutions. The use of religious text that prove that arguments put forth by extremists that mass killings are condoned by the Qur’an is false, that Islamists are toying with young impressionable minds – is essentially at the forefront of this new effort. Unless hard-line teachings can be countered, the “war on terror” will be a losing battle.

Adam Garfinkle of the Foreign Policy Research Institute put all this into context: “we face not an esoteric intellectual but a full-fledged sociological problem in the greater Middle East…The larger and deeper social context, which feeds off collective emotion rather than the tracts of Sayiid Qutb or the tape-recorded rants of Osama bin-Laden, explains why newly vogue US counter-messaging efforts are a waste of time and money. Those efforts are bound to fail because those messages are…disembodied from the social networks in which ideas are embedded and give life. The notion that a bunch of people on the fifth floor of the State Department are one fine day going to discover the perfect set of words placed in perfect order and translated perfectly into Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pashto and so on – and that set before fanatics these words are going to suddenly change their entire point of view – is a rationalist fantasy.”

One approach that has worked to counter gang violence in developed countries is now being tailor made to go counterterrorism in developing countries. Tailor-made in the sense that experts take into account local conditions, but the success of such approaches largely depend on the willingness of local stakeholders that include the respective governments to cooperate to change their corrupt and abusive behaviour. The idea that criminal gangs and terrorist outfits possess similarities in outlooks based on socioeconomic conditions is giving criminologists ideas to come up with programmes that may be implemented in various countries to counter the philosophies espoused by militants. Some basic elements are the same. The feeling of hopelessness in the face of police brutality, the need to belong to a club or a congregation of people who face similar identity crisis, the overwhelming hatred for the ‘establishment’, the need to feel powerful, proactive and invincible, etc. The counter-messaging efforts that are emerging differ from region to region.

For any effort to succeed, the respective governments must be open to ideas. The United States State Department has tried to find common ground with Bangladesh police to introduce ‘community policing’ that would help devise a strategy based on police-civilian partnerships. That initiative never went anywhere because local conditions and culture were not factored in. A country where the larger populace is in fact alienated from the police due to a myriad of reasons, and also corruption amongst certain elements of the citizenry provided the grounds for failure. No solution can be imposed from the outside. What works in El Salvador will probably not work in Bangladesh and vice versa.

What will work of course is bringing on board the religious leadership of the country who control the mosques and religious schools and the Islamic scholars to work with authorities. This will only work if the vast majority of the religious opinion leaders are convinced that it is time to forge a partnership with the State to counter a force that threatens their way of life too and not just that of the State’s. The State for its part has to step back from wholesale suppression of any dissent which is giving rise to much of the anger that is being utilised by jihadists to reach their own end goals. At the end of the day, we have to realise that ideas must be fought with ideas. No amount of policing and counterterrorism will root out militancy. Only when the State takes into confidence the people can there be any meaningful resistance to the spread of ideals (no matter how distorted) amongst the youth – illiterate or otherwise.

The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Ideology and Terrorism Mon, 18 Jul 2016 14:41:13 +0000 Umair Javed By Umair Javed
Jul 18 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

What causes a person to drive a truck through local citizens and tourists celebrating a national holiday? What compels someone to open fire on unsuspecting patrons at a nightclub?

humairy_Closer to home in Pakistan, we’ve grappled with far too many of these questions on far too regular a basis. How can you kill children? How can you kill oppressed minorities? How can you kill innocent worshippers?

Finding root causes for militancy or terrorism is a difficult task. Part of this is because very few individuals actually resort to violence, and partly because researchers don’t have access to a large enough number of militants. In the few cases where some are caught, they’re kept locked away and subjected to the secretive grind of the anti-terrorism judicial system. As a result, we are often left with sparsely detailed life stories and lots of hypotheses — some moderately tested, some plausible, and others still mere conjecture.

Within existing contemporary research, two particular analytical strands stand out most clearly. The first is what is commonly called the materialist or structuralist perspective. This is best represented in the view that militant activity represents reaction or rebellion of particular groups against perceived marginalisation and oppression. The French social scientist, Giles Kepel, sees economic, social, and spatial ghettoisation of immigrant populations and anti-Muslim racism as a prime cultivator of resentment and, consequently, militancy.

The role of ideology adds further complexity to the alleged relationship between religion and terrorism.

Another prime example is explaining Middle Eastern insurgencies as a product of state oppression of particular communities. Similarly in Pakistan, militancy in the northwest is frequently seen as a result of long-standing deprivations, American foreign policy interventions, and the oppressive, colonial-era governing arrangements installed in the tribal areas.

The other major camp is best represented through the views of another French scholar, Olivier Roy. He argues that individual-specific factors are key to understanding particular types of violent activity. The starting point is that those resorting to violence are often a very small number of individuals from a larger group’s population. Therefore, psychosocial traits, personal experiences, and individual value frameworks are more crucial given that ‘mass revolt’ isn’t taking place. Roy labels this the ‘Islamisation of radicalism’, and sees its encapsulation in the often criminal and unstable backgrounds of individuals like the Orlando bar shooter, Omar Mateen.

Structuralist and individual-centric explanations are not mutually exclusive. In fact, given the general indeterminacy around terrorism research, it is impossible to confidently assert one set of analysis over the other. At most, we can say they are mutually constitutive in so far as communal experience of deprivation and racism combine with individual psychological traits.

There is, however, one factor that appears central to all schools of thought that are studying acts of militancy and the larger spectre of religious radicalisation: the role of particular beliefs and ideology.

Ideology allows human beings to make sense of the world around them. It arms them with values, moral frameworks, and the ability to understand and add meanings in relations.

The history of the 20th century tells us that marginalised populations don’t just mobilise spontaneously. Back then, it was left-wing ideology that played a central role in first creating a sense of community (as workers or peasants) and then imbuing that community with a sense of political purpose.

In other cases, workers simply didn’t rise up, or rose up in defence of arrangements that were thought to be against their interests (such as fascism).

History tells us ideology can interact with individual-level factors in different ways and can produce varied results. In the past two decades, particular interpretations of religious texts have given birth to ideologies that provide a sense of meaning to individuals and glorify acts of violence as logical actions. In many cases, these ideologies are consumed without being acted upon in any major way. Sometimes they manifest themselves through vocal support and propagation. In a few cases, they compel individuals to undertake acts of violence on their own or to build or join organisations that would allow them to do so.

The role of ideology adds further complexity to the alleged relationship between religion and terrorism. Many in the Muslim community are quick to distance Islam from ideological variants that preach violence. The most common refrain now heard is that terrorism has no religion.

This reaction is somewhat understandable as most believers would not want themselves or their belief system to be associated with heinous acts.

Religion, however, is as much a social phenomenon as it is a divine one. It is practised by human beings and is very much a part of all their moral failings and successes. Given its widespread nature, and the legitimacy endowed to it by human society, religion is a central component of many constructed ideologies, both peaceful and violent. When someone buys into the ideology of jihadism, his or her sense of self, community, and the world at large is derived from an extreme interpretation of religion and its associated practices.

Well-intentioned prescriptions from existing research suggest focusing on marginalised communities and removing the source of deprivation and marginalisation. Some also talk about the need to provide individual-level support to ensure disaffected individuals don’t resort to violence. Beyond these, the fight against militancy cannot ignore the role of ideology, and the part played by violent interpretations of religion.

When this last factor is considered, the role of religious communities becomes paramount. One important contribution that communities can make is to locate and isolate ideologues preaching hatred and violence. Another would be to ensure adequate efforts are exerted to institutionalise non-violent and pro-social interpretations and norms.

Whatever efforts are made, it is increasingly clear that a variety of interventions are required. Only by addressing structural, individual-level, and ideological roots of terrorism do states stand any chance of eradicating this menace.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

Twitter: @umairjav
Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Entrenched Inequalities Fri, 15 Jul 2016 16:19:17 +0000 Faisal Bari By Faisal Bari
Jul 15 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Do a girl born in a poor household in rural Balochistan and a boy born in a rich household in Karachi have the same or even a similar set of opportunities in life? Are their chances of acquiring an education similar? Do they have access to comparable healthcare services and facilities? Do they have equal opportunities for access to physical infrastructure and the freedom of movement and association?

Faisal Bari

Faisal Bari

The girl from the poor household in rural Balochistan has a significant probability of not surviving infancy. If she does, it is unlikely she will go to school. The chances of her making it to matriculation are almost negligible. She will be malnourished as a child and anaemic as an adult (the oft-heard refrain that at the very least nobody goes to sleep hungry in Pakistan is a blatant lie and a powerful means of self-deception). If she survives and makes it to adulthood, it is unlikely that marriage will change her economic/social status by much. Childbearing-related health risks and exposure to environmental hazards will make it likely that she will have a less than average lifespan.

Distribution of opportunities is highly unequal in Pakistan, and the differences are of many dimensions: income, wealth, gender, caste, ethnicity, sect, religion, rural/urban and provincial. But, more importantly, these inequalities are very deeply entrenched in our social, political and economic fabric. Our institutions, organisations and ways of doing things are structured to perpetuate this inequality and deepen it across generations. A poor child is likely to remain poor in his/her lifetime and his/her children are likely to remain poor too.

Our society and institutions are structured to perpetuate inequality across generations.

Socio-economic inequalities, and their entrenched and self-perpetuating nature, are the biggest challenge we face in shaping a future for Pakistan. It is easy to find challenges that Pakistan faces: there are plenty of good candidates. The fundamental one is inequality and what perpetuates it. But, and here is the perplexing part, despite its fundamental nature, it is one issue that is not even on the agenda for discussion or on the reform agenda.

People have been concerned about terrorism and extremism. Right or wrong, the government, with most stakeholders in agreement, came up with Operation Zarb-i-Azb and the National Action Plan to deal with it. We have been concerned about stabilisation and, right or wrong, we have been shoving stabilisation policies, under the guidance of the IMF, down everyone’s throat. We have become concerned about growth and, right or wrong, we have responded with investments in energy, infrastructure and now through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.

But where is the response to the highly unequal access to opportunities in the country? Where is the outrage against this blatant neglect of the rights and needs of the majority? The politicians are not interested in the issue. There is no debate on the issue in legislatures, there are no policy options on the table, and there is not even an articulated demand or ideological approach by any political party on this larger question.

There does not seem to be any articulated demand from the public for addressing this issue either. Elections are not lost or won on the issue of addressing equality of opportunity: the provision of quality education/skills training, basic health, access to good social/physical infrastructure, and employment and growth opportunities.

Though we often talk of both the free, highly vocal and developed mass media in the country and the free and independent judiciary, they have not been instrumental in raising fundamental issues of rights and opportunities. The media produces more heat than light through the debates that incessantly go on. The judiciary has not taken up any of the fundamental issues — be it the right to education, healthcare or employment or questions of access to resources through land reform — at all. Cases filed on these matters with the higher courts have been languishing for years.

Is it not a fact that the hold the upper classes have on society is very strong, not only in terms of managing access to resources but even over the power to start and sustain debate? The upper classes, the top five to seven per cent, the main beneficiaries of the current system, do not have an interest in starting a debate on rights and equality of opportunities: they stand to lose the most. But, in addition, it seems that the people who rise to middle-class level (the professionals), the subsidiary beneficiaries of the current system, also see their benefit in perpetuating the system rather than in challenging it. They are co-opted.

But if we feel we can address terrorism, extremism, ethnic strife, sustainable development, high growth, and income and employment generation without addressing the issue of opportunities for all, we live in la-la land. If we believe we do not have the resources to provide a basic level of services to all, we are wrong again. Kerala, an Indian state that boasts developed society level statistics on education, health and well-being, provided basic health and education services to all when it was a relatively poor state.

Many people also feel that there is a trade-off in growth and expenditure on basic services. They are wrong. Human development theories have shown that. Empirical evidence is also there. Kerala was not the fastest-growing state in India when it extended basic services to all, and many critics thought this extension would limit Kerala’s growth prospects even further. Today, Kerala stands at the top of the list of Indian states in growth and income terms.

If a poor girl from rural Balochistan does not get almost the same opportunities as a boy from the middle or upper class from Karachi, our dreams for a better Pakistan will remain just that: dreams. And, in reality, we will continue to live the nightmare that we currently face.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at Lums, Lahore.
Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Focus on the Supply Side of Terrorism Fri, 15 Jul 2016 16:02:48 +0000 Shah Husain Imam By Shah Husain Imam
Jul 15 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Clearly, this is a tipping point in our understanding of and approach to ideological terrorism so far as Bangladesh is concerned. Since we have been visited by a series of ‘firsts’ in so-called jihadi manifestations, perhaps a review is in order.

supply_side_of_terrorism_It is for the first time that young men from well-off families educated in secular institutions staged a bloodbath. They formed a ‘suicide squad’, so far unheard-of in Bangladesh, to carry out their killing mission. A global contagion effect is taking hold.

Bangladesh, however, is not a lone figure on the supply side. A story from Kerala has it that men and women mostly from affluent and highly educated families confided in their friends about an intent to abandon their wealth and go somewhere to lead “a true Islamic way of life”.

“Of the 21 missing youths from Kerala, with at least some suspected to have left in a bid to join Islamic State, The Indian Express spoke to the families of 10 from the Padanna and Trikkaripur region to piece together a story of rapid radicalisation and a common thread — most were followers of the ultra-conservative Salafi movement.”

Sometime ago, even Muslim youths in England including teenage girls left their families travelling to Turkey on way to Iraq and some ISIS strongholds in Syria. The British authorities obviously cried foul but with a major difference that they would approach the returnees from such misadventure debriefing and engaging them in de-radicalisation programmes.

Latest reports suggest that the viscera samples of the five deceased participants in the Gulshan killing spree is being preserved. This is for testing whether they had used Captagon, a terrorist drug, before the act. For five young men to have executed 20 individuals in such a brutal fashion has raised a suspicion about the influence of some kind of drug before carrying out the operation Reportedly, FBI and an organisation in Gujarat have asked for visceral samples to carry out forensic test along that line.

Captagon is an ‘ideal’ drug to facilitate inhuman acts. “During the Paris attacks on November 13, those who managed to flee the scene have since provided descriptions of the terrorists that could point to the use of Captagon: with empty stares, pallid, expressionless faces, the attackers are said to have looked like the ‘walking dead’.”

A huge gap in the mechanical surveillance structure has come to light. A Prothom Alo report titled ‘Police in the dark about planners’ reveals a deficiency in the CCTV camera coverage. They have closed circuit camera footage along Road # 79 showing the militants entering the Holey Artisan Bakery Restaurant, but they have little by way of the route taken to enter Gulshan or if any vehicle was used by them. So, the police don’t have a clear picture of their movement leading up to their barging into the restaurant.

Also importantly, the police and Rab have detected a serious precautionary flaw at the Holey Artisan Bakery itself. It is found that the restaurant’s CCTV cameras did not contain any recording device – they only showed the arrival and departure of customers. Without any sequential footage, investigators say that they are left to depend entirely on versions by 13 rescued persons including eyewitness accounts of Artisan employees.

All this is an eye opener to an imperative necessity for getting the basics right. The slack in the maintenance of CCTV cameras with many routinely going out of order and the inability to analyse the fragmentary images when the chips are down are patently unacceptable. Properly trained personnel should be put in charge and held accountable for each of the CCTV camera installations. It is common knowledge that many private business houses, commercial centres, real estate apartments, transport terminals, banks, hotels have CCTV cameras but a new level of coverage and operational efficiency is called for should the lurking terror threats be staved off.

When terror strikes, the priorities are clear cut: Thoroughly professional investigation into how it happened including relaying orders, training, arming, target fixing and colluding arrangements, if any, behind the act. The rest about financing, mentoring, networking is a grey area not privy to foot soldiers or even the sleeping cells of terrorist organisations. There, credible and focused intelligence exchanges are vital between countries having a common stake.

The overarching concern at this point is to prevent recurrence of a terror attack of the Holey Artisan Bakery type or the attempted one like in Sholakia. A fallout is seen through the postponement of some international conferences and events as hints of change of travel plans by buyers and tourists and a short-term fall in investment appear in the horizon.

We have been through rough patches before which proved transient as we would bounce back every time. This too will be a passing phase in ensuring which we must play our own part.

At any rate, we should view it as a new challenge that we share with the rest of the world requiring a new response to be had.

It is true that many a terrorist attack may have been prevented due to good police and Rab work. What is equally true is an ample room for improvement in their intelligence gathering, collation and analytical activities. Multiplicity of intelligence agencies could hinder coordination between them, even make them work at cross-purposes. The right balance will have to be struck in accordance with best practice methods.

Lest you have forgotten, here is a punchy quote from Theodore Roosevelt: ‘Nine-tenths of wisdom is being wise in time.’ – (Speech 14 June 1917)

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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