Books and Documents

Islam and Politics

For the Palestinians, this strongly suggests that any third intifada would be even more disastrous than the second. Anyone calling for a third intifada without realizing this is a dangerous fool playing with fire, and anyone calling for it who does realize its actual consequences is a dangerous extremist. One of the most probable outcomes of any third intifada would be the ascendancy for the foreseeable future of Islamist organizations and the recasting of the Palestinian national movement as an Islamist cause, which would almost certainly spell the death of the dreams of Palestine and peace. I doubt that the Palestinian national cause could, as a practical political agenda, survive such a grotesque mutation. -- Hussein Ibish

... the Jamiat (ul-Ulema) is admitting that it does not want members of the community to enter the mainstream. Although the context is the women’s bill, the entire thrust of the various resolutions is aimed at encouraging separateness by rejecting issues which have a wide measure of national consensus....

Given the general backwardness of Muslims, directives of this nature can be hugely damaging. The only saving grace apparently is that few members of the community seem to listen to them, for their innate common sense dictates what is good and what is not. There is little doubt that Muslims have been ill-served by their leaders. While the Muslim League brought a political disaster on their heads in the subcontinent in 1947 by its divisiveness, organisations like the Jamiat, which is observing its 90th anniversary, and the Jamaat-e-Islami, which is 54 years old, are not exactly known as beacons of progressiveness. It is a pity that an enlightened Muslim leadership is nowhere in sight. -- Amulya Ganguli


Are Kashmiri leaders concerned only with the Valley or the whole state?

The lesson from Kashmir's recent history is that removal or reduction of outside authority in the state may lead to an authoritarian regime. This is a lesson also for those demanding autonomy or self-rule. If the jurisdiction of federal autonomous institutions like the Supreme Court, Comptroller and Auditor General and Election Commission is withdrawn from the state, without corresponding autonomous state institutions, it will lead to an authoritarian regime and remove checks on the Union government's interference in the state's affairs. Moreover, Kashmiri leaders have to decide whether they are concerned with the Valley or the whole state. To ensure the state's unity, a federal decentralised system is a necessity. -- Balraj Puri

Temple MSA refers to the fact that security will be necessary at the event as proof that Geert Wilders is dangerous. This is the perfect Orwellian mindset of supporters of the jihad. The threat to the Wilders event making security measures necessary comes from Muslim radicals who have already assassinated two prominent Dutch critics of Islamic terrorism - Pym Fortun and Theo Van Gogh (who not incidentally both happened to be gay). In point of fact Wilders has not been tried by any Dutch court, and was recently exonerated by a British court which declared the ban on his entry illegal. The Temple community should reject the call by the MSA to censor free speech on the Temple campus, and should recognize it for what it is - an assault on the right of all Americans to have a democracy that is inclusive, tolerant and respectful of the rights of others. -- David Horowitz


Arab authoritarian regimes are in the habit of repressing moderate Islamist movements without thinking of the consequences. We don't have real political parties in the Arab world. Most of our secular and liberal parties are in tatters and offer no real competition to the regimes. Therefore, the only alternative to moderate Islamists is the radicals and militants who are willing to turn to violence at a moment's notice. If Arab regimes want to exclude moderate Islamists from politics, then at least they should open the way for secular and liberal parties to assert themselves in political life. This is not happening, do you know why? Because the regimes want to use the Islamists as a bogeyman to scare the West. Interestingly enough, the West -- especially the US -- is not buying it. Since the Muslim Brotherhood's spectacular performance in the 2005 elections, the confrontation between the regime and the group has been on the rise. But over the past six months or so, the regime has done everything to drive the Brotherhood out of political life, accusing it of money laundering, terror, and links with Hizbullah. I wouldn't be surprised to see Brotherhood members accused of links with Al-Qaeda before long. -- Khalil El-Anani


Divisions at the top opened space for masses

The Islamic Republic has a very complicated and unparalleled power structure. Power is in the hands of complex networks of clerical, executive, legal, military and paramilitary circles. Up to now all these forces, in spite of their factional differences and allegiances, obeyed the Supreme Guide. In fact, throughout the thirty last years, the most important role played by Khomeini and his successor Khamenei, as Supreme Guide, was that of an all-powerful arbiter between the various factions of the regime. On June 19 of this year all that came to an end, when Khamenei declared the unambiguous validity of the results of the presidential election and took the side of Ahmadi-Nejad. It is thus correct to identify the Supreme Guide as the principal loser in the present situation. The reformists are also losers. With every passing day, their support within the population continues to diminish. They have got themselves stuck in a trap by trying to save an Islamic order. But there are also winners: the people of Iran, the demonstrators, those who every day risk their lives against the regime and its military and paramilitary forces. -- Houshang Sepehr


The picture may look alarming, if figures are anything to go by. Countries with Muslim majorities make up 25 per cent of the world but are responsible for 50 per cent of the world's non-democracies, according to Abdel-Fattah. International human rights reports indicate that 70 per cent of the world's political prisoners are Muslims. A country like the US (which represents five per cent of the world's population) produces 20 per cent of world gross product, while China constitutes seven per cent of the world's economy. The Muslim contribution stands as low as 3.5 per cent of world gross product, all despite the fact that their number is the same like that of China, and four times larger than that of the United States. "With few exceptions, spending on education, research and development in the Islamic world is in the order of below the global average," Abdel-Fattah told Al-Ahram Weekly. Although some Muslim countries like Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, and to a lesser extent Senegal and Mali, have restored their civilisational direction through taking steady steps towards modern education, democratisation and economic development, the real challenge is in the Arab world, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, central Asia and Muslim minorities in other African and Asian countries. -- Moataz-Bellah Abdel-Fattah


A prominent London-based commentator, Alireza Nourizadeh, claims that a meeting of Iran's supreme national-security council (SNSC) discussed the possibility of arresting Moussavi and Karroubi themselves; but that it was decided to delay such action - perhaps until after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's scheduled address to the United Nations general assembly in New York on 23 September. The members of the SNSC include Iran's president; the speaker of the majlis (parliament); the head of the judiciary; the heads of the most powerful ministries (interior, intelligence and security); and two representatives of the supreme leader. A notable absentee from the meeting (according to Alireza Nourizadeh) was Hassan Rowhani, Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator and the council's secretary as well as one of Ayatollah Khamenei's representatives there. -- Nazenin Ansari


About the only thing that has been welcomed in the autonomy package is the renaming of the area as Gilgit-Baltistan, which better conveys that people with a distinct identity live in that region. Identity is key to the grievances of Gilgit-Baltistan people, estimated at 1.5 million since the last count in 1998. They do not consider themselves Kashmiri and have little in common with them. The majority are Shia, and a significant number are Ismaili. They belong to several non-Kashmiri ethnicities, and speak a host of languages, none of which are Kashmiri. Accepting Gilgit-Baltistan’s accession would have undermined Pakistan’s international case for Kashmir. In later years, Pakistan did not want to forego the votes from Gilgit-Baltistan in the event of a plebiscite on Kashmir. -- Nirupama Subramanian


By B Raman


Successive Governments in Islamabad have reduced Shias to a minority in their traditional homeland

After Gilgit Scouts refused to fire on Shia agitators, Islamabad ordered killings

Successive regimes have schemed and plotted the merger of Northern Areas

While it is important to recognise the political rights of people of Gilgit-Baltistan, the step taken by Pakistan has serious implications for the peace process in Jammu and Kashmir. The logic of the ongoing peace process has been a ‘notional unity’ of the state through the concept of irrelevance of borders. The autonomy of Gilgit-Baltistan may start a trend in the reverse direction and may just justify the division of the state. -- Rekha Chowdhary


It is a 'New Package with old policy', which aims to maximise Pakistani gains at the expense of the local people. Aim of Pakistani policy makers has always been to subjugate people, deprive them of fundamental rights, strengthen undemocratic forces, and promote communalism, extremism and hatred to divide people and plunder resources of this area. Malika Baltistani, Chairperson Gilgit Baltistan National Alliance, in a letter to PM of Pakistan said: 'It is a mournful reality that you have further continued a tradition to prolong our slavery by only altering the titles of the portfolios of our future "masters" than transforming our constitutional, democratic and basic rights from darkness to enlightenment. -- Dr Shabir Choudhry


Islamabad has always run the show with the help of some local puppets; and it is believed that it will be the case of old wine in new bottles and not much will change. They simply want to change names of different office bearers and give them some additional rights.... The Cabinet of Gilgit-Baltistan will approve their budget, but it is not clear who will make the budget. Previously Islamabad appointed Chairman, and now his post has been upgraded with a title of Governor, which will be appointed by Islamabad. Similarly the Northern Areas Legislative Council will be upgraded to the status of Assembly; and existing NALAs Advisors will become Ministers. The post of the Chief Executive will be upgraded to the post of Chief Minister. Furthermore Gilgit and Baltistan will have Auditor General and Election Commissioner, but it is not clear who will appoint them and if they will be local people or they will be Pakistanis, as is the case with Lent Officers in Pakistani Administered Kashmir. -- Dr Shabir Choudhry


Political Islam would have had much more difficulty in moving out from the borders of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan without the continual, powerful, and resolute support of the United States. Saudi Arabian society had not even begun its move out of tradition when petroleum was discovered under its soil. The alliance between imperialism and the traditional ruling class, sealed immediately, was concluded between the two partners and gave a new lease on life to Wahabi political Islam. On their side, the British succeeded in breaking Indian unity by persuading the Muslim leaders to create their own state, trapped in political Islam at its very birth. It should be noted that the theory by which this curiosity was legitimated—attributed to Mawdudi—had been completely drawn up beforehand by the English Orientalists in His Majesty’s service.*

*The origin of the force of today’s political Islam in Iran does not show the same historical connection with imperialist manipulation, for reasons discussed in the next section.—Ed.

It is, thus, easy to understand the initiative taken by the United States to break the united front of Asian and African states set up at Bandung (1955) by creating an “Islamic Conference,” immediately promoted (from 1957) by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Political Islam penetrated into the region by this means. -- Samir Amin

Political Islam in Indonesia
Bernhard Platzdasch

A greater number of Indonesian Muslims seem now devoted to an Islamic lifestyle. More Indonesians than ever before now wear Islamic attire and observe basic Islamic rules such as praying and fasting.

While this can be understood as a move towards a more conservative understanding of Islam, these Muslims may not wish for a comprehensive enforcement of syariah.

In response to this floating mass of Islamically-oriented voters, even the mainstream pluralist parties have tried to accommodate Islamic interests. Today's centrist parties, such as the victorious Democrat Party, seem to believe that a pro-Islamic platform, combined with a focus on bread and butter issues will most likely cater to the Muslim majority electorate and thus lead to good election results. -- Bernhard Platzdasch

IRAN: Unravelling of a revolution
Sultan Shahin, Founder-Editor, New Age Islam

The very system of an unelected Supreme Leader ruling the country with the help of an elected president of his choice is being challenged.

It may take weeks or months or even years, but one thing is certain: the unravelling of Iran's Islamic revolution has begun: there will be no return to the status quo. Both the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stand diminished and their capacity to deal with the world as much as with their own people inexorably weakened. What began as a protest over suspected rigging of the elections that are supposed to have re-elected Ahmadinejad as president for another term has now metastasized into a challenge to the very system of an unelected Vilayet-i-Faqih (supreme jurist or leader) ruling the country with the help of a president elected by people from among the choices approved by the Supreme Leader himself. ....

Despite all these claims and counter-claims, however, it cannot be denied that a large percentage of Iranian population, including significant portions of the clerical establishment itself, is now fed up with the tyrannical ways of the Iranian mullahs. The educated youth and professionals are far ahead of the general society and thus have particular reasons to be disenchanted with their life under the revolutionary regime. They want much more freedom than is on offer even by the likes of Mousavi or Montazeri.

One example could illustrate this. Iran's state-run body for youth affairs said recently that rising numbers of Iranians are spurning marriage and having sex illegally outside wedlock. (See interesting details of an official survey below)

So it's not just democracy that Iran's youth are fighting for. They want drastic changes in societal mores. Similarly, with the growth in unemployment and general worsening of economic conditions, despite the oil wealth, a lot of people in the working class are disillusioned. With limited trading opportunities because of bad relations with the West and sanctions on account of the continuing fracas over the nuclear issue, the bazaris (business community) too are angry and disappointed, desperately wanting a change.

Allow me to quote the British novelist Martin Amis, writing about Persia in the Guardian: “Iran is one of the most venerable civilisations on earth: it makes China look like an adolescent, and America look like a stripling”. Iranians, aware of that history, are a proud people. They do not take kindly to being played around with, nor to seeing their country turned into a laughing stock. They do not like the memory of an election campaign that now seems like pure theatre, the expression of the sadistic whim of some puppeteer. So the line I take away from the important Friday sermon of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the two-time former President who believes that the Islamic Republic’s future lies in compromise rather than endless confrontation, is this one: “We shouldn’t let our enemies laugh at us because we’ve imprisoned our own people”. There’s been tragedy aplenty since June 12 — dozens of killings, thousands of arrests, countless beatings of the innocent — and I hope I belittle none of it when I say there’s also been something laughable. -- Roger Cohen

Photo:  Hojjatoleslam Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

 Washington-based Fund for Peace, an Independent Research Organization has conducted a worldwide survey to index the failing states wherein Pakistan has been placed at 10th position in the International Community. Our country has been categorized as insecure, unstable and breeding ground for terrorism and spreading extremism that will affect everyone. ... The question that causes a stir is: are we a failed state in the real sense of the word? Good enough, the surveys / findings may prove us so, but is the ground situation really bad enough for us to be bracketed with tiny African states like Chad and Guinea? -- Ijaz-ul-Haq, former Minister for Religious Affairs of Pakistan.

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of Iranian citizens pour into the streets in order to protest against their government! What a wonderful sight! Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz that he envies the Iranians.
And indeed, anyone who tries these days to get Israelis in any numbers into the streets could die of envy. It is very difficult to get even hundreds of people to protest against the evil deeds or policies of our government -- and not because everybody supports it. At the height of the war against Gaza, half a year ago, it was not easy to mobilize ten thousand protesters. Only once a year does the peace camp succeed in bringing a hundred thousand people to the square -- and then only to commemorate the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The atmosphere in Israel is a mixture of indifference, fatigue and a "loss of the belief in the ability to change reality", as a Supreme Court justice put it this week. A very dramatic change is needed in order to get masses of people to demonstrate for peace.
FOR MIR-HOSSEIN MOUSAVI hundreds of thousands have demonstrated, and hundreds of thousands have demonstrated for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That says something about the people and about the regime.Can anyone imagine a hundred thousand people gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest against the official election results? The police would open fire before a thousand had assembled there.
Would even a thousand people be allowed to demonstrate in Amman against His Majesty? The very idea is absurd. -- Uri Avnery

The discontent among young Iranians has been growing steadily for years now. Even before the advent of Mr. Ahmadinejad, Iran suffered from one of the world’s most sizeable brain drains. -- Azadeh Moaveni

Iran’s stolen election and what comes next

The social and political tumult in Iran following the disputed presidential election is intensifying. This post-election crisis makes it even more necessary to be clear about what happened around the vote -- Farhang Jahanpour.

The high drama of the last few days has shown Iran's democracy in a fresh light. The scale of the public anger and refusal to accept what was believed to be a doctored result appears to have surprised the authorities. But so far at least, the demonstrations have been aimed at persuading those in final authority rather than challenging their hold on power. Comparisons have been made between the current show of public disaffection and the massive manifestations that paved the way for the return on Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. But on present reckoning, such comparisons are far-fetched. What has been seen is a demand for the system to work in a fair manner, not a demand for its replacement.

The situation is still working itself out and any conclusions about where it could lead would be premature. The international reaction has been restrained, for on all sides people are waiting to see what eventually happens. The fact that the result has not been annulled gives an advantage to the incumbent President but it is to be seen how far he must bend to accommodate the determined opposition to his rule. -- Salman Haidar, India's former Foreign Secretary


President Asif Ali Zardari must remove all the stops in repealing the dictatorial aspects of the 17th Amendment (the Amendment allows the President of Pakistan to stay on as the Chief of Army Staff); and implement the Charter of Democracy immediately. Only this will block the way for future Army interventions: is it too much to say that the political forces must come together at the earliest to deflate the hot-air balloons even now being floated by some of the tight buddies of the establishment who are advocating an early return to Army rule because of the most outlandish conspiracies that only they can see? -- Kamran Shafi, Dawn, Karachi


The original grievances of the people that formed the MQM were never, ever, really addressed. One needn't have endorsed the original agenda of the MQM to see how linearly consistent it was Muhajir identity in urban Sindh. Simply put, the MQM wanted an end to the affirmative action (or positive discrimination) quota system in Sindh province and it wanted the repatriation of the almost 300,000 Pakistanis stranded in Bangladesh, back to Pakistan.

Instead of challenging the established political Holy Cow of Sindh's quotas, or beginning a process of reconciliation with itself, by absorbing the stranded Pakistanis of Bihar into Pakistan, the military supported Musharraf to do simply what any dictator would do. He bought his way out of the problem by providing the massive infrastructure grants to the MQM-dominated Karachi district government (but only after the people of Karachi got smart and elected an MQM administration at the local level). -- Mosharraf Zaidi

Secularism wins in Indian elections
Sultan Shahin, Founder-Editor, New Age Islam

Why Muslims returned to Congress?

The most heartening news is the decimation of all exclusivist trends among Muslims. Muslims have sealed the fate of almost dozen-odd Muslim outfits in this election. Not one of them has been able to even make a mark. Muslims have given thumbs down to the politics of exclusion, negativism and denial of our own shortcomings. Many of them were created just before the elections and tried to incite Muslim sentiments over what they claimed was "targeted harassment of the minority in the name of terrorism", thus seeking to deny the fact that some of our youth are indeed turning to terrorism under the influence of so-called Islamist terrorist outfits and their ideology of radical Jihadism in the name of Islam. The growing influence of Wahhabis in the community is helping the process. But instead of addressing these issues and making amends, some Muslims, notably some so-called ulema, sought to simply blame the government and try their hand at exclusivist politics. It is gratifying that the community has not heeded them and has instead returned to inclusive politics and has largely voted along with other communities for the greater good of the country, keeping the nation’s best interest in mind.

Indian Muslims have clearly returned to the Congress fold. But how have Sonia/Rahul/Priyanka/Manmohan wrought this magic? asks Sultan Shahin, Founder-Editor, New Age Islam

Political actors have proved more successful in bringing about the engagement of the secessionists with the political system, witness the PDP’s successes in recruiting the Jamaat-e-Islami vote in southern Kashmir during last year’s Assembly elections or the relentless pressures which compelled Sajjad Lone to contest in Baramulla. Like their fathers before them, Jammu and Kashmir politicians are being compelled to learn that lions and goats must co-exist.

New Delhi must support the transformational effect of democracy by engaging Jammu and Kashmir’s elected politicians on the issues of identity and agency for which the secessionists have so far been allowed to be the sole spokespersons. During his first term in office, Prime Minister Singh initiated the Round Table Dialogue process, which involved a wide section of opinion in Jammu and Kashmir. Among other things, the dialogue led to the setting up of a working group chaired by the retired Supreme Court judge, Saghir Ahmed, to discuss the shape of Jammu and Kashmir’s future. Justice Ahmed’s group must now be pushed to complete its work — and its findings used as the foundation for an inclusive dialogue in which both pro-India and secessionist political groupings are invited to participate. -- Praveen Swami


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