New Age Islam Edit Bureau
12 August 2015
Taliban Flicker amid Disarray
By Mahir Ali
Gaza Ten Years Later: Israel Left But Never Disengaged
By Yossi Mekelberg
Is Russia The New Iran?
By Maxim Trudolyubov
Debating the Morality Of Hiroshima
By George Friedman
Muhammadiyah’s Commitment to Religious Moderation
By Abdul Mu’ti
Saudis Must Be Grateful To Expatriate Workers
By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
Turkey’s Trilogy Of Terror
By Mustafa Akyol
Taliban Flicker amid Disarray
By Mahir Ali
12 August 2015
Last Friday’s outbreak of terrorist violence in Kabul, which claimed dozen of lives, is believed to be linked to a power struggle among the Taliban in the wake of the previous week’s announcement that Mullah Omar has been dead for at least two years.
It was followed on Monday by a suicide bombing outside Kabul airport, suggesting there could be worse to come, with the Taliban apparently keen to demonstrate that they remain a potent force in Omar’s absence.
They were in no rush to pick a successor, though, until knowledge of his death became public, and it’s very likely a substantial segment of the force was itself unaware of being formally leaderless. Resentment over being kept in the dark may well have fed into what looks like a power struggle, with challenges emerging to Mullah Mansoor Akhtar’s ascendancy.
In practical terms, one immediate consequence was suspension of the Pakistan-brokered negotiations in Murree between the Afghan government and the Taliban. A settlement of any kind was an extremely long shot, but at least the two sides were talking; and Omar was said to have endorsed the process less than a month ago.
Now the talks are off for the time being, violence has returned with a vengeance, and Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has pointed the finger of blame toward Pakistan, claiming that is where the terrorists came from. That’s not an unusual charge, but this time it comes from someone who has made an effort to mend fences with Islamabad.
The creation of the Taliban and their conquest of Kabul 21 years or so ago were viewed with pride in Pakistan as a considerable military success, and at least a section of the khaki establishment had no intention of abandoning its Afghan assets despite the post-9/11 exigencies. Its possible role in formulating a strategy for the period that began with the departure of most western forces is inevitably unclear, but there are legitimate questions to be asked and it’s hardly illogical for suspicions to arise.
One obvious question is how key figures in Pakistan intelligence hierarchy could possibly have been unaware of Omar’s demise, even if he didn’t, as Afghan intelligence sources claim, die in a Karachi hospital. And if it was a calculated conspiracy of silence, were any other interested parties, such as the CIA, for instance, complicit in it?
Similar questions arose, of course, after Osama Bin Laden was hunted down in his home near the Kakul military academy outside Abbottabad more than four years ago, and they are yet to be convincingly answered. It appears, meanwhile, that even Al-Qaeda’s leadership was unaware of Omar’s fate, given that Ayman Al-Zawahiri re-pledged allegiance to him only last year.
But then again, who knows whether Zawahiri himself is alive? After all, not long after the Omar newsflash, it was reported that Jalaluddin Haqqani, the head of a particularly notorious Taliban faction, has also been dead for a year. His son Sirajuddin is purportedly one of Akhtar’s deputies. The Haqqanis are believed to have been particularly dear to the Pakistanis, but there are contradictory reports about where Akhtar stands in this respect.
The latter’s belligerent statements belie his reputation as a relatively moderate Talib, although that doesn’t mean very much in the context of violent extremism, just as the concept of “bad” and “good” Taliban strikes some of us as fairly absurd. But differences of opinion do matter, of course, and could make a significant difference in determining the future of Afghanistan.
Although even its modern roots go back a long way, the upsurge in Muslim extremism can be traced back to a series of unfortunate events in the late 1970s: Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s military coup in Pakistan, the communist takeover in Kabul (which was followed less than two years later by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), and the advent of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s regime in Tehran.
The well-funded Mujahideen rebellion in Afghanistan sowed the seeds for much of what has transpired thereafter, including the Taliban rule (and subsequent insurgency, which inevitably spilled over into Pakistan) in that country, and the role played across the Middle East (and beyond) by returnees from the Afghan “jihad.” The US played a primary role in propelling that jihad, and then was surprised, even hurt, by the blowback.
It stupidly waded back into the miasma and compounded its folly by invading Iraq, helping to create the conditions that facilitated the emergence of Daesh. Last Saturday marked the first anniversary of its anti-Daesh intervention, and there’s little to show for it thus far beyond a mounting death toll.
There have been reports in recent months of small groups of Taliban drifting into Daesh, which has already displaced Al-Qaeda as the go-to one-stop-shop for fulfilling “jihadi” fantasies, and disarray among the former followers of Mullah Omar can only facilitate its inroads into Afghanistan and, sooner or later, Pakistan.
There is certainly no cause to mourn Omar’s demise, but nor is there any obvious reason to assume that his absence opens up pathways to peace.
There were no public sightings of Omar after he was seen riding off into the sunset on the back of a motorbike in the wake of the American attack in 2001. Where he ended up, and the extent to which he guided Taliban fortunes thereafter, remains uncertain. The Taliban say he remained in Afghanistan throughout, but that is unlikely, although it is also unclear whether he was part of the so-called Quetta Shura based in the capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan province.
The subsequent confusion among the Taliban is reflected in the resignation of Tayyab Agha, the head of the Taliban’s office in the Qatari capital, once reportedly a personal secretary to Mullah Omar and team leader in negotiations between the Taliban and Iran. He referred to the cover-up of Omar’s death as a “historical mistake,” indicating that he, too, wasn’t in the know.
The Taliban’s demise as a coherent force would be a welcome augury, but for the fact that Daesh, which sees the Taliban as wimps, is waiting in the wings.
Gaza Ten Years Later: Israel Left But Never Disengaged
By Yossi Mekelberg
12 August 2015
In the scorching hot days of August 2005, emotions ran high in the lead-up to ending Israeli settlers’ presence in the Gaza Strip. For the Israeli government and the military, it was an anxious time preparing for an operation, which divided the country and risked bloodshed between Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers.
For the settlers in Gaza, it was a last-ditch attempt to prevent their removal from their settlements, or at least stage some semblance of resistance, knowing well that game was up. Their removal from 21 settlements was imminent. Palestinians on the other hand were happy to see the back of the Israeli occupation and its worse symbol – the Jewish settlements.
At the beginning, many of them were hopeful for a new start of political freedom and economic prosperity, while others were more cautious of the power vacuum created by the unilateral nature of the Israeli withdrawal. Very few could imagine that a decade later Gaza would be in the political, economic and social predicament it is in now, enduring three rounds of bloody hostilities with Israel and living under never-ending siege.
On a spur of the moment, on the eve of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, I applied and was granted permission to join the legions of foreign journalists who covered this momentous event. Witnessing first-hand the so-called Israeli disengagement from Gaza, combined with hours upon hours of conversations with settlers, soldiers and fellow journalists, left me with little doubt that what could have been an important step towards peace with Palestinians would turn into another disastrous chapter in the relationship between the two people.
It was the result of an amalgamation of an Israeli government plagued by flawed strategic misperceptions and typical arrogance, Palestinian leadership which was weak and out-of-sorts, and an apathetic international community.
There is no one single explanation why it all went so horribly wrong for the Gaza Strip and its people in the years following the Israeli withdrawal. However, there is little doubt that the unilateral nature of Israel’s so-called disengagement had a detrimental impact. In his typical manner, the-then Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, pursued his barely thought-through policy without building adequate support at home, or partnership with the Palestinian leadership.
Needless to say, the original sin was building Israeli settlements in a tiny area of no more than 360 square kilometres among a naturally hostile population of more than a million and a half Palestinians; most of which were refugees as a consequence of wars with Israel. Attaching strategic importance to settling 8,000 settlers, or believing that they could somehow change the demographic balance in the Strip, verged on insanity from the very beginning. Eventually, it became a burden for the Israeli army and a constant source of friction with the local population.
Removing the settlers from Gaza should have probably been part and parcel of the 1993 Oslo accords, however, the unilateralism of 2005, especially following 5 years of a ferocious Second Intifada, sent all the wrong messages. First it made it obvious that Israel was keen to leave the Gaza Strip, and it further handed victory to the most extreme factions, who presented Israel’s withdrawal as fleeing from Palestinian militancy. Hamas leaders used this argument, regardless of its accuracy, to claim that it was out of fear for their actions, that Israel was forced to withdraw; an argument which resonated well with many Palestinians. Within a few months the Hamas was handed a victory in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Secondly, in the process that led to the withdrawal, Ariel Sharon and his government significantly weakened their most viable partners for peace among the Palestinians, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. It was a missed opportunity to negotiate the already planned withdrawal with PLO and PA negotiators and consequently empower them vis-à-vis their own people. Not to mention, this approach would have given them a stake in the process, hence committing them to comprehensive development of the place and stopping militancy originating from within Gaza against Israel. Instead, they left the Palestinian leadership looking utterly irrelevant. Both sides would pay a heavy price for this miserable error of judgement by the Israeli government.
The Futility of Unilateralism
Thirdly, witnessing the removal of Jewish settlers in Gaza, and also in four settlements in the West Bank first-hand, left me with little doubt that a society within a society had emerged in Israel. A growing number of settlers lost any respect for the rule of law on either side of the Green Line, unless it suited their own interests. Regrettably, settlers’ violent resistance against the soldiers and their abusive language and incitement, directed at anyone involved in the operation, faced way too forgiving and lenient of a response from the Israeli authorities.
Prime Minister Sharon never accepted the futility of unilateralism, and only his sudden illness most probably prevented further unilateral withdrawals from the occupied West Bank. In the time since the disengagement, it is obvious that although Israel physically withdrew from the Gaza Strip, it never managed to truly disengage.
Without a political settlement, it found itself compelled to control the people and the territory of Gaza through a protracted siege, as well as being involved in three major rounds of violence, which claimed the lives of many more Palestinians than in the 38 years of direct occupation. While no one should shed tears to see the back of the occupation, a major lesson of the 2005 withdrawal is that without engaging diplomatically partners from the Palestinian side, the so-called disengagement resulted in even worse hostilities along the years.
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.
Is Russia The New Iran?
By Maxim Trudolyubov
AUG. 11, 2015
Whenever Russians think about Iran, soul-searching ensues. Some look at the Iranian system favourably, and some despise it, but in the aftermath of the recent deal to limit Iranian nuclear production in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions and increased commercial contacts with the outside world, many Russians, worried by their country’s growing status as an international pariah, have begun to ask themselves: “Are we the new Iran?”
This may sound strange to foreign ears, but it is not really so far-fetched. Many Russians, both inside and outside the Kremlin, admire the Iranian way of dealing with a hostile world. They respect the country’s determination to develop its own nuclear power, regardless of widespread global opposition. And Tehran’s toughness in the face of crippling economic sanctions struck a chord with President Vladimir Putin and his supporters, who have succeeded in presenting Western sanctions over Moscow’s misdeeds in Crimea and Ukraine as a sinister attack upon their sacred motherland.
Many Russians feel much as Iranians felt when their country was hit with sanctions years ago: defiant and eager to prove that no sanctions can affect them. Mr. Putin and his acolytes never tire of declaring that Russia will stand up to the West and prosper on its own.
And yet Russia played an important role in negotiating the American-led agreement with Iran. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, was a key voice among representatives of the six-nation coalition, never letting the U.S.-Russia conflict over the Ukrainian crisis and other issues get in the way of talks with Iranian officials.
Perhaps President Obama was taking this into consideration when he acknowledged Moscow’s contribution to the Iranian accord. Referring to Washington’s tensions with Moscow, Obama said in an interview after the agreement was reached in Vienna that “Putin and the Russian government compartmentalized on this in a way that surprised me.” He added: “We would have not achieved this agreement had it not been for Russia’s willingness to stick with us.”
But now that Iran is opening up, Russia simply won’t be competitive enough with the West to deliver the kinds of consumer goods and technology that a post-sanctions country would want. In reality, the nuclear deal will increase Russia’s political isolation and hurt its economy — already reeling from the steep drop in oil prices, a plunging ruble and the effects of Western sanctions. Investors, wary of the Kremlin’s cavalier approach to contracts, prefer to seek opportunities elsewhere. And many of the country’s most talented people, troubled by its dictatorial approach to government, are seeking their future abroad.
Meanwhile, high-profile delegations from Germany, France, Italy and other European countries that include dozens of corporate representatives have begun visiting Iran. “Even in the past couple of weeks we have approved more than $2 billion in projects in Iran by European companies,” Reuters quoted the country’s deputy economy minister, Mohammad Khazaei, as saying last month.
Iranian officials are hoping for renewed access to consumer goods and are planning a massive revamp of the country’s antiquated infrastructure. Hard-liners may want the bomb, but the leaders who have prevailed want their citizens to have new clothes and gadgets, automobiles and airplanes. Tehran already has announced that it plans to buy as many as 90 aircraft a year from Boeing and Airbus as soon as the sanctions are lifted. If Obama’s gamble to reopen the country pays off, Iranian and Western interests can merge.
Russia can certainly compete with the West in the energy sector as well as the arms trade (although the United Nations embargo on weapons sales to Iran won’t be fully lifted for five years). But it still faces a difficult paradox. While the Iranian business climate waxes, the Russian climate will wane. The lifting of sanctions in one nation will further complicate economic conditions in the other. Some international companies, including the same car and equipment manufacturers that are now interested in Iran, are leaving Russia, and even more may follow. Western investors worried by what might await them in Russia are lining up to compete for more lucrative deals in Iran.
Mr. Putin supported the Iranian accord because he realized that disrupting negotiations that both Iran and the West wanted to succeed would have only deepened Russian isolation. Perhaps he also has realized that he’s been alone on the world stage all too often. Russia’s aggression against its neighbors, its military games of chicken with NATO, and his own often-comic chest-thumping, are setting him up to take Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s place in the world.
Mr. Putin probably realized that he had to support the Iran deal in order to stay in the game. That is why he recently pushed a plan for a “united front” to fight Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria. Though this is unlikely to materialize, given that the front would include forces loyal to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, it’s real purpose was to present our president as an important and engaged global leader.
Far more important to we Russians, however, is how and on what terms our country stays in the game. Today it seems as though we are proudly and foolishly marching into the position hastily being vacated by Iran.
Maxim Trudolyubov is the opinion page editor of the business newspaper Vedomosti and the author of a forthcoming book on power and property in Russia.
Debating the Morality of Hiroshima
By George Friedman
Each year at this time — the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima — the world pauses. The pause is less to mourn the dead than to debate a moral question: whether the bombing was justified and, by extension, whether the United States unnecessarily slaughtered tens of thousands of people on Aug. 6, 1945. The debate rarely focuses on a careful analysis of war and morality and is more frequently framed by existing views of the United States. The debate is rarely about Hiroshima or about World War II. It is a debate about the moral character of the United States. This is not an illegitimate subject, and Hiroshima might be a useful point with which to begin the debate. But that isn't possible until after we consider the origins of Hiroshima, which can be found in the evolution of modern warfare.
Innovations in Industrial Warfare
Warfare became industrial for a simple reason. The introduction of firearms brought to the battlefield a weapon with tremendous strength and an overwhelming weakness. The strength was the ability to kill or disable an enemy at distances far beyond the range of previous weapons. The weakness was that without extraordinary training and talent on the part of the soldier, firearms are quite inaccurate. For a soldier under the pressure of combat, loading and effectively aiming his weapon — particularly with muzzle-loaded firearms — was not an easy task.
To compensate for the inaccuracy of firearms, larger forces could all fire at the same time. Simultaneous firing increased the probability of inflicting casualties on the enemy, and simultaneity, choreographed as it was in multiple lines of troops — with some firing, some waiting and some reloading — maintained near-continuous fire. The solution on the other side was more soldiers pouring more fire on their enemy. Thus, the inaccuracy of a deadly weapon required ever-larger armies.
It also required increasing innovations in weaponry. Firearms evolved from muzzleloaders to breechloaders, then those able to hold clips of multiple rounds and finally the machine gun, which compensated for its own inaccuracy per shot by saturating the horizon with bullets. It was said that in World War I it required 10,000 bullets to kill one soldier. I have no idea where this calculation came from, but it was true in essence. Given the inaccuracy of most riflemen, masses of them were needed. The machine gun made riflemen far more effective.
The approach to warfare that made it less efficient is at the heart of the real issue leading to Hiroshima. Armies surged in size and had to be equipped. Rifles and machine guns were not the work of master smiths but had to be mass-produced in factories, as did a wide range of products needed to support multimillion-man armies. These factories were the key enablers of war. Killing one solder eliminated one rifle, but destroying a factory eliminated the combat power of large numbers of soldiers. Therefore, destroying factories mass-producing the means of war was the most efficient counter to the massed armies made necessary by inaccurate weapons. These factories typically were in cities. In order to function, they had to have efficient transportation links with other factories manufacturing precursor parts, and thus tended to be located near other factories, transportation hubs, and their workers and the systems that employees needed to live and work — houses, grocery stores, schools and so on.
Master military strategist Carl von Clausewitz argued that the key to war was to attack the center of gravity of the enemy's capacity to wage war. By World War I, the center of gravity was no longer the army but the factories and the workers who produced the engines of war. The distinction between soldier and civilian, critical to all modern notions of military morality, dissolved. The ability to wage war disappeared when the factories did. But given the location of factories, by necessity in cities, any attack on these factories would kill not only workers but also their children, and the milkman's children. This was, by definition, total war — the only war that could be waged in the industrial age.
At the outset of World War I, there was no way to destroy war-critical factories or populations from a distance. But as with most things, a problem found a solution close at hand. Aircraft made their appearance on the European battlefield during World War I — first as observation planes, then as fighters tasked with shooting down observation planes, and then as bombers tasked with destroying targets identified by reconnaissance aircraft.
Targeting the Industrial Plant
Geopolitically, it was clear that World War I had not solved the fundamental problem of Europe and that another war was inevitable. Among those who believed this were the theorists of air power. Chief among these was Giulio Douhet, an Italian who thought through the reality of war at the time and concluded that the chief solution would be the destruction of the enemy's war-making capacity. Douhet believed this would best be achieved by aircraft attacking cities en masse and destroying them. Joined in this view by the American Gen. Billy Mitchell and Britain's Hugh Trenchard, Douhet argued that the key to warfare was to use large numbers of massed bombers to annihilate cities. This would achieve two things: It would destroy the enemy's industrial plant and trigger a revolt by the public against the government. Because both sides would have massed bombers, the key to war was to launch attacks greater than the enemy's potential response by both having a larger air force and destroying the enemy's ability to prodce more aircraft.
The inter-war air strategists were in part shaped by the carnage they saw in protracted trench warfare. Douhet believed that the role of air power was almost purely offensive, requiring rapid and destructive attacks against first the opposing forces' aircraft and then against civilian industrial and commercial centres. Trenchard, like Douhet, saw air power as a strategic and valuable force. Where Trenchard differed from his Italian contemporary was in considering ground forces still important and suggesting joint ground and air operations against enemy airfields. Early American air theorists, including Mitchell and the Army Air Corps Tactical School, viewed the role of strategic bombing as targeted against the war-making capacity of the enemy, rather than against the enemy morale, as Douhet and some European counterparts considered. Mitchell saw attacks on industry, communications and transportation as the real objectives of strategic air power and saw the armies in the field as false objectives.
Douhet implicitly recognized the weakness of aircraft, which was the same as the weakness of rifles: They were extremely imprecise. In 1940, when the British began launching attacks on Germany, the imprecision of the bomber was so great that German intelligence could not figure out what they were trying to bomb. Only massing bombers and destroying cities would work.
The Germans used this dual strategy in the Battle of Britain. They failed both because of lack of sufficient weapons and an air force not designed for strategic bombardment (which is what attacks on cities were called) but for tactical support for ground warfare. The British adopted night-time area bombardment, making no secret that their goal was the destruction of cities to suppress production and generate political opposition.
The United States took a different approach: precision daylight bombardment. The Army Air Corps Tactical School sought to make bombing more efficient by finding and identifying bottlenecks in the opponent's supply chain. Targeting the bottleneck would reduce the total number of bombers, men and bombs needed to achieve the same ultimate goal as large city bombing. The Americans felt that they could solve the problem of inaccuracy and total attacks on cities through technology. They developed the Norden bombsight, which was supposed to enable the dropping of iron bombs with precision. The bombsights were delivered to the planes by armed guard, and the bombardier was ordered to destroy the bombsight at all costs if shot down. Regardless of this technology, U.S. bombing was not much more accurate than the deliberate randomness of the British.
By the time the air war focused on Japan, there were no illusions that there was precision in bombing. Curtis LeMay, who commanded U.S. air forces in the Pacific, adopted the British strategy of night-time attacks with incendiary bombs. On the night of March 9, 1945, 279 B-29s conducted an incendiary bombing attack on Tokyo that destroyed more than 40 square kilometres (15 square miles) of the city and killed an estimated 100,000 people.
The Tokyo bombing followed Douhet's logic. So did the creation of the atomic bomb. Douhet's point that destroying cities was the key to winning wars drove Allied strategy against Germany and in Japan. The atomic bomb was a radically new weapon technologically, but in terms of military doctrine it was simply a logical step forward in the destruction of cities. The effects of radiation were poorly understood at the time, but even with acute radiation deaths included the death toll was less than 166,000 in Hiroshima. The development of the atomic bomb was one of the greatest scientific undertakings of all time, but it was not needed to destroy cities. That was already being done. The atomic bomb simply was a way to accomplish the goal using only one plane and several billion dollars.
The Japanese themselves were not certain what happened in Hiroshima. Many of Japan's leaders dismissed U.S. claims of a new type of bomb, thinking that this was simply a continuation of the conventional destructions of cities. It was one of the reasons that no decision on surrender was made. The Japanese were prepared to live with extraordinary casualties. The firebombing of Tokyo did not lead to talk of surrender. And the argument was that since Hiroshima was not a special case, it did not warrant surrender. Recent research into archives shows that the Japanese were not planning on surrender. True, Japan had put out diplomatic feelers, but it is often forgotten that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in the midst of negotiations. It is in this context that feelers have to be considered.
There are those who are confident that the Japanese would have surrendered without the bombing of Hiroshima. But they did not surrender because of the Tokyo bombing. Submarine warfare — not just bombing — had crippled Japan's industry, but this had been the case for many months. And the example of Okinawa, with its kamikaze attacks and civilian resistance to the death, was sobering. You and I may know what was coming, but President Harry S. Truman did not have the luxury.
There are two defences from a military perspective, then, of the American bombing. One is that no one at the time could be certain of what the Japanese were going to do because a reading of the record shows that even after Hiroshima, even the Japanese didn't know what they were going to do. Second, a doctrine and reality of war was unfolding — a process that began hundreds of years earlier. But those who would challenge these defences are compelled to explain how they would have dealt with monstrous regimes like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
The focus on Hiroshima is morally justifiable only in the context of condemning several centuries of military development. It can be condemned, but I don't know what difference it makes. The logic of the musket played itself out ineluctably to Hiroshima. But the core reality that played out was this: Over time, the distinction between military and civilian became untenable. War fighting began in the factory and ended with the soldier at the front. The soldier was a capillary. The arteries of war were in the city.
There is a tendency in our time to demand that someone do something about evil. There is a willful denial of the truth that anything that is done requires actions that are evil. The moral lesson of Hiroshima is twofold. The first is that military doctrine, like other things, is ruthlessly logical. The second is that in confronting Germany and Japan, moral purity was impossible, save for the end being pursued, which was destroying the prior evil. President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood the logic of strategy and the logic of morality, in my opinion. For him, choices were shaped by military doctrine and the nature of the evil he faced. Truman had even less choice.
Hiroshima was an act that flowed logically from history, and we cannot in retrospect claim to know what the Japanese would or would not have done. However, I think that had I been there, knowing what was known then — or even what is known now — I would have been trapped in a logic that ultimately justified itself: Japan surrendered, and Asia was saved from a great evil.
Muhammadiyah’s Commitment to Religious Moderation
By Abdul Mu’ti
August 12 2015
The just concluded 47th congress of Muhammadiyah in Makassar raised four important issues concerning the promotion of religious moderation and peaceful coexistence in Indonesia. Muhammadiyah has openly declared its endorsement of Pancasila as the state ideology.
According to Muhammadiyah, a state based on Pancasila is an ideal model for Indonesia. Furthermore, Muhammadiyah has stated that Indonesia as home to all Indonesians is a product of dar al-‘ahd (national consensus) and Dar Al-Syahadah (land of dedication). Muhammadiyah addresses religious issues as a responsibility and commitment to maintaining the plurality and betterment of the nation.
The first issue discussed in the congress was the presence of Takfiri groups. These groups believe that there is one single true Islam, which is their Islam. They discredit others as being totally wrong and enemies of Islam. They allow the use of violence as a means to defend and spread Islam.
These groups remain small in number, but annoying. Data shows how these extremist groups have been involved in various acts of violence in many cities.
Takfiri is not a new reality of Islam. Historically, Takfiri could be referred to as the Khawarij (rebels). Nevertheless, there is no theological or political linkage between Takfiri groups and the Khawarij. Contemporary Takfiri is a product of the modern world and its complexities. Its movement spreads through the Internet, social media, books and Islamic organizations — which is unsurprising, since a certain proportion of Takfiri proponents are Muslim middle class; working as professionals with a high degree of education and good economy.
The second issue is building Sunni-Shia dialogue. Shiite communities have existed since the early development of Islam in Indonesia. Some historians argue that Islam in Indonesia was brought here by Gujarati (Indian) and Persian (Iranian) merchants. Thus the obvious influence of Sufism and Shiite traditions formed a unique character of Indonesian Islam.
The pronunciation of Arabic-derived words in Indonesian has more of a Persian than Arab influence. The Shiite influence is also apparent in the pilgrimage to the tombs of the wali (saints).
Although the tradition was taught by Prophet Muhammad and Indonesian Muslims are predominantly Sunni-Syafii, the ritual shares similarities with Shiite traditions.
The accommodation of Shiite traditions by Sunni adherents has played a pivotal role in maintaining peaceful coexistence and religious harmony in Indonesia. Therefore, it is intriguing that the anti-Shia movement is on the rise and Shiite communities have endured theological, social, political and physical violence.
Muhammadiyah points out that one aspect contributing to the increase is protracted sectarian political tension between Sunni and Shiite factions in the Middle East, especially that of Yemen and Syria. Another aspect is the publication of a book by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and Fatwas by local Ulema councils, which consider Shia heretical. On the other hand, Shiite groups in Indonesia are also deemed provocative because of their negative attitude toward Sunni doctrines and prominent leaders. Dialogue is therefore important to reduce tension and prevent violence.
Besides the two intra-Muslim issues, Muhammadiyah also takes into account the development of religious extremism, which challenges Indonesia’s generally peaceful religious life. Seeds of religious intolerance grow from Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism, etc.
The roots and expression of extremism vary beyond the theological but mainly come from insecurities, be they economic, political, cultural, psychological or religious.
Extremist groups believe that they come under threat. The expression of extremism in the forms of fundamentalism, terrorism, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and the like is a way to conserve identities. This is the reason that extremist groups are very conservative. Extremism is a world view to struggle against persistent attacks by secularism and liberalism on religious teachings, values and morality. Deprived, marginalized and excluded groups tend to be more extreme religiously and culturally.
The fourth issue related to religious moderation is the protection of minority groups. The terms majority and minority are problematic because of their very nature.
First of all, they have a definition problem. The terms majority and minority are relative depending on when and where. A religion that is the majority in one particular place could be a minority in another place. Islam is a majority religion in Java but a minority in Bali, East Nusa Tenggara and Papua. The Christian community is a minority in Jakarta yet the majority in Papua. Hindu Bali means Bali is home to indigenous Hindus, distinctive from the rest of Hinduism.
The second is a theological problem. Religion is a very private-basic human right. People follow their spiritual inclination toward a religion.
Quantifying religion contradicts human rights. Being used in a procedural power oriented democracy system, the terms majority and minority have potentially been misused by the majority to suppress, neglect and annihilate the minority’s rights and existence. Regarding religion, the terms majority and minority no longer seem appropriate.
Within the next five years or so, Muhammadiyah has to work hard to promote religious moderation. The organization has work to do to manage internal plurality. With modern-Salafi ideology, loose theological Muhammadiyah members could become militant supporters of both Takfiri and extremist groups.
Such a potential might be real because of the fact that grassroots Muhammadiyah preachers and religious teaching circles are currently mostly managed by the so-called puritan groups.
Intellectually, Muhammadiyah faces an internal intellectual gap between the elite of the organization and the lower level in district, sub district and community layers. Muhammadiyah needs to pursue immediate strategic policy and actions to strengthen moderation and a moderate culture.
There is no doubt of Muhammadiyah’s commitment and contribution to peace, religious tolerance and pluralism at the national and international arena.
The challenges of Muhammadiyah to build religious moderation, however, come more from within its domestic religious affairs than external circumstances.
The writer is secretary-general of Muhammadiyah and lecturer at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta. The views expressed are his own.
Saudis Must Be Grateful To Expatriate Workers
By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
August 11, 2015
The development witnessed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during the past 40 years is unparalleled anywhere in the world. No doubt this can be attributed to a number of factors. The first of them is the bounty of oil which burst out of the Kingdom's soil and for which the world was in dire need. Then there is the wise leadership which exploited the oil wealth to develop the country.
The third factor is the foreign manpower which came from various parts of the world to contribute to our country's construction and progress. These expatriates consisted of doctors, engineers, technicians, labourers and others. Without them, the country would never has reached its present level of advancement.
I am surprised and baffled by some writers and journalists who from time to time launch campaigns against expatriates. They criticize and attack them for the remittances they make to their respective countries.
Expatriate workers have sweated and suffered in order to be able to send some money back home to assist their families and to secure the future of their children, Furthermore, there is no way for them to invest their savings in the Kingdom.
I do not know how those who criticize expatriates think and what they expect from those who have left their family and home behind to bear the pains of homesickness and the difficulties of living in a country which is not their own. Expatriate workers offer their labor, education and expertise in exchange for some money that may help them live decently and provide for their families.
Do those who criticize expatriates believe that our country would have developed and progressed without them? Is it not a sign of gallantry and nobility to be grateful and to appreciate those who have contributed to the development of the Kingdom?
There are a number of people, including medical doctors, engineers, technicians and workers, who came to this country and spent the prime time of their life in it. They worked for the development of the Kingdom until they reached the age of retirement. Some expatriates have spent 20, 30 or 40 years in the Kingdom working hard to achieve its development.
These people should not be treated the same as those who have spent two or three years here and then left. Many expatriates came to our country when they were young and stayed among us until the age of retirement. They are now about to leave either because they are no longer able to work or their jobs have been Saudised or for other reasons.
These expatriates must be honoured and we must express our appreciation for the services they have provided to our country. We want them to return home with positive feelings about this country and its people.
We want them to be real ambassadors for us instead of leaving our country frustrated and exasperated because their efforts were not appreciated.
I am writing this article after having attended a function organized by the league of the graduates of Aligarh Islamic University of India to bid farewell to two graduates who have spent about 39 years in the Kingdom.
I attended the farewell party because I am myself a graduate of this university which was established by the social reformer, political thinker, legal expert, writer and biographer Syed Ahmed Khan about 137 years ago. There are about 3,000 graduates of this university currently working in the Kingdom. They include medical doctors, engineers, accountants and others.
At the function, I sat near a medical consultant in a rare specialty. I understood from him that he has worked in the Kingdom for more than 25 years and is planning to retire and return home to work in social and charity fields.
He said he would always have soft feelings toward this country and its people and would love to come back to the Kingdom as a visitor or an Umrah pilgrim. He wished that this could be made possible for him.
As a Saudi citizen who worked in the Saudi diplomatic corps for more than 40 years and who spent more than half of these years abroad in various countries, I know very well the importance of gaining the friendship of people who have worked long years in the Kingdom. They will transport to their countries the feelings of love and the good impressions that they have about our country.
I would like to propose to Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior, that expatriates who have spent long years in the Kingdom be granted special medals or merit certificates that will give them the right to visit the Kingdom at any time and to obtain free-of-charge visit visas from Saudi embassies or consulates.
By so doing, we can make expatriates real friends of the Kingdom.
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs.
Turkey’s Trilogy of Terror
By Mustafa Akyol
These days we wake up in Turkey almost every day to news about some new act of political violence. Police officers get shot, soldiers get killed. Most of these happen in the ever-tense southeast, but major cities in the west can be hit as well. Just the other day, a police station in Istanbul was hit by a car bomb. In the very same morning, the United States Consulate General in Istanbul was targeted by two female gunmen, who were captured injured before being able to kill anyone.
Why this sudden burst violence? What has happened to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s claim to have brought “peace” to Turkey after decades of unrest? Who is responsible for the re-escalation of political violence?
Since Turkey is a heaven of conspiracy theories, both the government and its adversaries have their conspiratorial answers to these questions. According to the government (which includes President Tayyip Erdogan and his giant propaganda machine), all this violence is a carefully crafted plot against their glorious “New Turkey.” Some “hidden hand” is orchestrating various terrorists groups, and even the legitimate opposition and critical media, to put the AKP and its world-saving projects in trouble.
The government’s adversaries find this conspiracy theory ridiculous. But they, too, see a “hidden hand” in what is happening. But this time, the conspirator is the government itself --- or, more precisely, President Erdogan and his colossal palace. They believe that Turkey was drawn into a vicious cycle of violence soon after the general elections on June 7 precisely because of the results of these elections. The AKP lost the parliament majority it took as granted and is now pumping up the violence merely to increase its votes at a time when the country seems to be destined to go to the ballots again soon.
Both of these conspiracy theories have major flaws, which become apparent when you ask the right questions. If there is a Western “hidden hand,” for example, why is it targeting Turkey at a time when Turkey moved closer to the West regarding the latter’s main problem, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)? Or, if there is a government conspiracy to create and instrumentalize violence for political gain, why is the PKK helping this immensely?
In my view, there is in fact no “hidden hand” around, but a chaos created by the interaction of independent actors, who all have their own specific zeals and ambitions. Three of these actors deserve to be called “terrorist,” and they are: the jihadist ISIL, the ethno-nationalist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). The first one sees Turkey as an “apostate regime;” the second one sees it as a “colonial invader;” the third one sees it as a “bourgeois tyranny.” The Turkish government controls none of these groups and actually has a hard time understanding how they see the world.
The most significant actor in this trilogy, so far, has been the PKK. It wants, ultimately, a PKK-dominated autonomous Turkish Kurdistan. (Not any Turkish Kurdistan but a PKK-dominated one.)
Its comrades in Syria, under the banner of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), might be doing a good job against ISIL and that is fine. But the PKK’s violent attacks in Turkey cannot be tolerated, let alone glorified.
As for the government, and especially “the palace,” there is no conspiracy, but admittedly some instrumentalization of PKK terrorism for a political purpose: the demonization of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). But the best way to counter this tide is not to whine about it, but to make the PKK stop its attacks and declare cease fire again.