The West Asia’s latest unrest has revived once again a tired debate about the power of social media. Recent headlines gush about the arrival of the “Facebook Revolution” or “Twitter Diplomacy”. Critics like Evgeny Morozov respond by noting that the influence of new media has been exaggerated by a press enthralled with “techno-utopianism”. Social media enables fast coordination, critics say, not the narrative or resolve necessary to sustain a movement; flashmobs do not a political organisation make.
But to state the obvious — that Facebook cannot replace good old-fashioned activism — is not to say much about what Facebook actually does in a place like Egypt. What does it do? -- Andrew K. Woods
On Sunday 30 January Rashid Al-Ghannouchi, the 69 year old leader of the Tunisian Islamic movement, returned home after a long exile in London. The international media has interpreted Al-Ghannouchi's return as the most potent symbol yet of the dramatic changes that have taken place in Tunisia in recent weeks.
Al-Ghannouchi is widely regarded to represent the most liberal and progressive strand in Arab Islamist politics. Born in 1941 in Qabis province (southern Tunisia) he received higher education in Cairo, Damascus and the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1981 Al-Ghannouchi founded the Al-Ittijah al-Islami (Islamic Tendency) which was renamed Hizb al-Nahda (aka Hizb Ennahda) or the Renaissance Party in 1989.
Al-Ghannouchi has been at the forefront to resistance against authoritarian regimes in Tunisia from the early 1980s. His return to Tunisia looks set to bring about important changes not only in his native country but North Africa more broadly and perhaps even further afield. Coupled with wider developments in the region (notably the unrest in Egypt) it may mark the point at which Islamists are gradually allowed to fully participate in the politics and governance of North African states.
Mahan Abedin conducted this interview in London on Thursday 27 January 2011.
Photo: Mahan Abedin with Rashid Al-Ghannoushi during the interview conducted in London on 27 january 2011.
A newspaper published from Delhi has gone to the extent of accusing Maulana Vastanvi of buying off six members of the Majlis-e-Shoura to win the election. According to the newspaper, out of 14 members present that day, eight voted in his favour while six went against him. This means that originally only two members voted in his favour. This is a very serious allegation which should be strongly refuted by the Majlis-e-Shoura. But it is surprising as well as painful that neither Maulana Vastanvi nor the members of the Shoura have said anything repudiating the charge. The same members are going to meet on the 23rd of February to decide his fate. Some people think that it is not appropriate to point fingers at the Majlis-e-Shoura as they are sacrosanct. But they should be reminded that even Hadhrat Umar (R.A.) was held accountable and had given explanation in public. Therefore, the Majlis-e-Shoura’s silence on the allegations only strengthens suspicions. How can those who themselves are in the dock be the judge? -- Sohail Arshad, NewAgeIslam.com
And one of the problems has been created by the regime itself; it has systematically got rid of anyone with charisma, thrown them out of the country, politically emasculating any real opposition by imprisoning many of them. The Americans and the EU are telling the regime to listen to the people – but who are these people, who are their leaders? This is not an Islamic uprising – though it could become one – but, save for the usual talk of Muslim Brotherhood participation in the demonstrations, it is just one mass of Egyptians stifled by decades of failure and humiliation.
But all the Americans seem able to offer Mubarak is a suggestion of reforms – something Egyptians have heard many times before. It's not the first time that violence has come to Egypt's streets, of course. In 1977, there were mass food riots – I was in Cairo at the time and there were many angry, starving people – but the Sadat government managed to control the people by lowering food prices and by imprisonment and torture. There have been police mutinies before – one ruthlessly suppressed by Mubarak himself. But this is something new. -- Robert Fisk
It’s time to think about the nature of the next Arab-Israeli war. The release by the Arab satellite network al-Jazeera of 16,000 leaked Palestinian documents covering the past 10 years of peace negotiations has driven a stake through the heart of the already moribund “peace process”, and we hear constant warnings that when the hope of a peace settlement is finally extinguished, the next step is a return to war...
It would certainly not be like the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, in which regular armies fought stand-up battles with lots of heavy weapons. Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the countries that fought those wars on behalf of the Arabs, have long since abandoned the goal of matching Israeli military power. They don’t even buy the right kind of weapons, in the right amounts, to stand a chance against Israel on the battlefield. -- Gwynne Dyer
Since our heroes comprise murderers, plunderers, looters, conspirators and traitors, what else can we expect from those who are indoctrinated to emulate them? In a state where such individuals are glorified and a society where such personalities are applauded, there is not one but countless Mumtaz Qadris’ epitomizing all characteristics of a murderer, a conspirator and a traitor. How unfortunate that we could not portray intellectuals, writers and poets, scientists and inventors, painters and artists, philanthropists and social workers, missionaries of peace and ambassadors of goodwill as our heroes. -- Waseem Altaf
Photo: Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan
In the wake of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's resignation and his flight to Saudi Arabia, the overwhelming emotion is one of hope for a better, democratic future for Tunisia. "A 24-year era of repression has come to an end," says Ahmed Brahim, whose opposition party holds three seats in parliament. "That's what we always hoped for, but we never believed it might really be possible."
This is a feeling he most likely shares with most Tunisians. For the first time since President Ben Ali took over from his sick predecessor Habib Bourguiba in 1987, people are free to state their opinions and form political organisations as they see fit. "The time of oppression is over," says a visibly delighted Brahim. "Now we have to look to the future. -- Alfred Hackensberger
Photo: A figure of hate for many Tunisians while life for ordinary citizens became increasingly difficult, 53-year-old Leila Ben Ali, second wife of the former president, and her family reportedly amassed a fortune.
It is the first time in history that an Arab ruler has been chased out of power by street demonstrations, and that too without any organisation by a political party. The sheer disgust at the corrupt and repressive regime brought out thousands of men and women to face the army and police.Is it the first Facebook or Twitter revolution Was Ben Ali the first victim of the WikiLeaks revelations Or was it a victory for the hacker-activists or hacktivists as they are known
The protests were preceded by a cyber war fought between the government censors and Tunisian and foreign hacktivists. As the government had total control of the media, the ingenious opponents fought back with proxy servers, virtual private networks and encryption. Images of violent suppression uploaded via thousands of YouTube clips,often relayed on Al Jazeera, were watched by angry citizens who coordinated protests with tens of thousands of Twitter messages an hour. The power of the internet was recognised by the emerging new power when a 33-year-old dissident blogger, Slim Amamou, was selected as the minister of youth and sports in the new interim government. Only days earlier, Amamou was handcuffed to a chair in the ministry of interior, subjected to psychological torture for a week. -- Nayan Chanda
Those who snigger at India’s secularism should perhaps take a step back from the fence that separates us from Pakistan. Only then will they realise how fortunate we actually are. All the forces of primeval passion, let loose by the Partition, were baying for a Hindu state mirroring that of Pakistan; blood for blood, and so on. Pakistan has not made matters easier either. Every time it gets too hot and crowded in their kitchen, they open the window and throw junk in our backyard. There have been more times than we would like to remember when we have given in to ethnic passions. That we did not go all the way is because secular values are still with us, courtesy, the founders of our Constitution. If we want to believe like our forefathers did, if we want to tremble at the sound of thunder, if we want to be helpless in the face of avoidable diseases, we should go back to religious passions. If, on the other hand, we want to enjoy the comforts of today, the sciences of today, then we better get secular. There is much more to secularism than mere religious tolerance, religious equidistance, or even religious goodwill. Without secularism there is no development, and that is the hard truth. The choice is clear. We can either think like our grandparents and go ethnic, or think of our grandchildren, as Keynes did, and become secular. There is no other option! -- Dipankar Gupta
On the other hand, the supervisor of Mother Academy, Deoband and advocate Arshad Ali Khan has made some statements suggesting that Maulana Vastanvi’s appointment was done at the behest of Ahmad Patel. It means that the decision was influenced by the Congress and the central government. He said, “One allegation against the Majlis-e-Shura is that now it is dominated by politicians and the rich and academicians and scholars have taken a back seat. Maulana Badruddin Ajmal and Maulana Vastanvi have been accused of using money power.” Mr Khan further said that the Majlis-e-Shura ignored the views of the Elders of the community like Maulana Mahmood Hussain Madani, Maulana Rabey Husni Nadvi, Janab Maulana Md Talha, Maulana Syed Arshad Madani, Maulan Usman Mansoorpuri and elected the Vice-Chancellor. Significantly, Maulana Vastanvi is pro-Madrasa Board which the Centre wants to persuade madrasas in India to adopt. Darul Uloom Deoband had opposed the proposed Central Madrasa Board. -- New Age Islam Edit Desk
Photo: Maulana Vastanvi presenting the controversial picture
Every 23 July for the past 58 years Egypt, my country of birth, has celebrated its "July revolution" that overthrew King Farouk and ended the monarchy and British occupation once and for all. It was no revolution: it was a coup staged by young army officers.
And so it has been with a series of "revolutions" around the Arab world in which a succession of military men went on to lead us in civilian clothes – some kept the olive drabs on – and rob generations of the real meaning of revolution. For years I looked at the Iranians with envy – not at the outcome of their 1979 revolution, but because it was a popular uprising, not a euphemism for a coup.
So you'll understand why, along with millions of other Arabs, I'll forever cherish 14 January 2011 – the day Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, his 23-year rule toppled by 29 days of a popular uprising. A real revolution for a change. --Mona Eltehawy
Salmaan Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard on January 4 in Islamabad and he was only 66. God in the Holy Quran says that “no people can hasten their term, nor can they delay it” (23.43). So Salmaan’s time had come just like it will for all of us. But Salmaan died like a courageous man, with his boots on. I am sure this is the way he would have wanted to go taking a principled stand for something he believed in. He did not die crawling.
The pity is that his death may cow down the remaining few sane voices in the country. One could perceive this while watching the programmes on various television channels following his murder. There is hardly an anchorperson bold enough to outrightly defend what Salmaan stood for and the politicians are a foregone conclusion anyway. Every politician becomes a martyr in Pakistan but nobody is willing to call Salmaan one. Is it because they do not believe in what he stood for, or are they scared of the repercussions?The worst part is that the lower class folks I came across on Tuesday unanimously supported his death, ranging from the cooks to the chowkidars. They all said that he stood for blasphemy and deserved to die. This is a sad and dangerous trend.
The question is, who is going to change this mind-set and how? One cannot expect any sort of action from the present rulers because they lack the will, the vision and the intellect to do any such thing. The military has the might but it also has its limitations as such extremists are present in its midst as well and an intervention of any sort would be denounced and the political forces may suddenly unite against it. This leaves us with the media and the intellectuals. -- Anees Jilani
FOR THE first time in the 20- year- long period of insurgency in Kashmir, a votary of the secessionist movement has made a brutally frank confession about the killing of some prominent men of his own ilk. Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat, a leader of the Hurriyat Conference’s moderate faction, categorically said on Sunday that the security forces had played no role in the killings of separatist leaders Mirwaiz Maulvi Muhammad Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone as well as Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front ( JKLF) ideologue Prof. Abdul Ahad Wani. -- Naseer Ganai
Sometimes it takes time. The admission by Professor Abdul Gani Bhat, a key member of the original Hurriyat, that the gunmen who had assassinated top leaders such as Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq, People’s Conference and Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front ( JKLF) ideologue Abdul Ahad Wani, had been killed “ by our own people” and not the Indian security forces is part of the painful process through which Kashmiri separatist leaders are coming to terms with the turbulent history of their own movement. -- Manoj Joshi
Recounting a long list of anti-Muslim brutalities (but conveniently ignoring similar outrages committed by Muslims on others), Maulana Ahmed exhorts his listeners to unite and take revenge. ‘O Muslims!,’ he shrilly appeals, ‘get up and take in hand your arrows, pick up your Kalashnikovs, train yourselves in explosives and bombs, organise yourselves into armies, prepare nuclear attacks and destroy every part of the body of the enemy.’ His speech is peppered with fervent calls for what he terms as ‘jihad’ against both America and India, these being projected as inveterate foes of Islam and of all Muslims. He prays for America to ‘be destroyed’, and ecstatically celebrates the recent devastating terrorist assault on Mumbai by a self-styled Islamist group that left vast numbers of people dead, unapologetically hailing the dastardly act as a ‘big slap on the cheek of the Hindus’. Not stopping at this, he calls for continuous terrorist violence against India, including, he advises, unleashing ‘bloodbath to [sic.] Indian and American diplomats in Kabul and Kandahar’. Only then, he argues, can Pakistan’s rulers ‘relieve the pressure’ on them and being peace to their country.
The ‘enemy’, as Maulana Ahmed constructs the notion, could be any and every non-Muslim, particularly Americans, Jews and Hindus or Indians. It is as if every non-Muslim is, by definition, irredeemably opposed to Islam and is necessarily engaged in a grand global conspiracy to wipe Islam from off the face of the earth. It is as if non-Muslims have no other preoccupation at all. All non-Muslims are thus tarred with the same brush, and no exceptions whatsoever are made. It is almost as if Maulana Ahmed desperately wants all non-Muslims to be fired by anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic vitriol, for that is his way to whip up the sentiments of his Muslim followers and fire their zeal and faith. It is as if further stoking such hatred is crucial to his ability to maintain a following and to claim to authoritatively speak for Islam and its adherents. ‘The hatred among the people against the kafirs has reached a new height,’ the Maulana exults. For the Maulana, fomenting hatred of non-Muslims is his chosen way of realising what has for centuries remained the elusive dream of Muslim unity. That this hatred, which he so passionately celebrates, inevitably further stokes the fires of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice, already so widespread among non-Muslims, appears of no concern to him at all. In fact, he seems to positively relish the frightening Huntingtonian thesis of the ‘Clash of Civilisations’.
Deobandi and Ahl-e Hadith outfits today enjoy tremendous clout in Pakistan, and they have been at the forefront of Islamist militancy that now threatens to drown the country in the throes of what promises to be an interminable civil war. As the speeches of these two Pakistani clerics, one a Deobandi and the other from the Ahl-e Hadith, so starkly indicate, inveterate hatred for India and the Hindus, indeed for non-Muslims in general, is integral to the ways in which vast numbers of Pakistani Muslim clerics understand religion, community, nationalism and the world. Such hatred is inevitably further fuelled by acts of brutality directed against Muslims by non-Muslims, including by the United States, India (particularly in Kashmir) and by militantly anti-Muslim Hindu chauvinist groups. Muslim and non-Muslim right-wing radicalism and militancy thus enjoy a mutually symbiotic relationship, opposing each other while, ironically, unable to live apart, needing each other even simply to define themselves. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com
The New York Times’ columnists Gail Collins and David Brooks talk about Christmas and where do you stand on the all-encompassing, retail-sales-enhancing holiday season?
Gail Collins: David, I know you’re a big fan of community-building activities. How do you come down on Christmas? I don’t mean the religious feast but the all-encompassing, retail-sales-enhancing holiday season. In which Americans of all stripes celebrate the winter solstice with family gatherings, exchanges of gifts and cards and the singing of really terrible seasonal songs.
Actually, the songs are the one part that I think cannot be pulled off without religiosity. That Mariah Carey thing, which is apparently the most popular holiday song in the nation, is worse than “A Holly Jolly Christmas”. -- Gail Collins and David Brooks