By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
26 August 2015
The Ugly Face Of The Bangkok Explosion
By Barrister Harun Ur Rashid
Turkey’s ISIS Problem
By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
The Exodus to Europe
By Mahir Ali
Egypt: Making Art Public
By Sarah Mousa
The ugly face of the Bangkok explosion
By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
August 26, 2015
No country is now immune to domestic or internationally-linked terrorism. Terrorism broadly falls into various categories, such as ideological or class-struggle or cross-border terrorism.
The Bangkok explosion on August 17 shocked everyone because of its intensity and extensive damage. At least 20 people died and many were injured in the attack on the Erawan shrine. In a separate attack on August 18, an explosive device was thrown at a pier in Bangkok. No one was hurt, but the authorities have not ruled out a link between the incidents.
A massive hunt is underway for a man wearing a yellow T-shirt and black glasses, who was seen in security footage leaving a backpack on a bench at a Hindu shrine where a blast killed 22 people and wounded at least 120. Meanwhile, two foreign tourists were reportedly cleared by the police.
Immigration posts have been alerted to look for the slightly built suspect, who the police said may have been wearing a wig. They are also looking at interviewing motorcycle taxi drivers who brought the man to the shrine and later drove him back. They were working on the theory that he was not acting alone.
Observers say that the explosion is unlikely to be motivated by domestic politics; the scale of the damage is too great and too messy. If someone wanted to fulfill a domestic agenda, such carnage would be unnecessary. Thailand has seen incidents in the past where someone would throw a grenade, which injured a few people, to get their political message across, but that is where it generally ended.
The Erawan shrine is a popular tourist attraction, and if one really wanted to cause maximum impact, this would be the obvious target. Thai culture is Buddhist and values religious tolerance. There is no aggressive Buddhist front in the country as found in Myanmar or Sri Lanka. Such a religious location is not the kind of target any Thai rebel would choose, which suggests to analysts that those behind the attack may not be Thai.
Police released a sketch and video of their main suspect, who has been described as foreign and is believed to have been working as part of a network. The reward for the wanted man now stands at 3 million baht ($84,000). The shrine was reopened to the public on August 19.
In his weekly address to the nation, Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha said he would "expedite all investigations to bring perpetrators to justice". He has said the incident was the “worst attack on Thailand” ever. The attack aimed to "discredit the government and create a climate of fear to deter tourists," said the Thai police chief, Somyot Poompanmoung.
There have been many speculations on the origin of the bomb explosion. One unconfirmed report says that it could be an act of revenge for the deportation of Uighur Muslims from Thailand to China. Police sources said Uighur militants in Xinjiang province may be responsible for the blast, according to reports in the Bangkok Post and other Thai media.
Thailand sparked international condemnation in July when the country deported 109 Uighurs, a move human rights groups said violated international conventions. The deported Uighurs had arrived in Thailand in 2014, claiming to be Turkish and asking to be sent to Turkey.
Other Uighurs forcibly returned to China have faced arrest and criminal prosecution which the Chinese government said was justified in their fight against separatism, religious extremism and terrorism. China has portrayed Uighur separatists as auxiliaries of al-Qaeda but has produced little evidence to support the claim, Human Rights Watch said.
Uighur groups also protested as some men, who had been separated from their wives and children, were found in detention cells in Thailand or were earlier sent to Turkey. Thai officials have also cited intelligence from the country's Special Branch that there would be an attack on Chinese tourists in Thailand after August 11.Matthew Wheeler, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, said the bombing was a "new type of attack for Bangkok" that doesn't bear the marks of typical violence in the past decade from political instability or separatists.
"Police are not ruling out anything, including politics and the conflict of ethnic Uighurs who, before this, Thailand sent back to China," he said. Thai security forces have increased security nationwide, fearing further attacks.
Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.
Turkey’s ISIS problem
By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
25 August 2015
For years, Turkey has tried its hardest to ignore the situation south of its border in Syria and Iraq. In this time it has kept its borders with ISIS more or less open, not just to people - many of them recruits coming from the West - but also to goods and resources, enabling ISIS to smuggle and sell the oil they can still produce from the fields they captured in the Levant. These two factors have contributed greatly to ISIS’ past success.
But of course, with friends like ISIS, who needs enemies. ISIS is after all a militarily expansionist millenarian death cult whose endgame is the subjugation of all other nations on earth and the establishment of a global Caliphate. So it was only going to be a matter of time until the conflict between ISIS and the Kurds would spill over into Turkey itself and something like the Suruc terror attack would happen.
Relenting to American pressure
Since that attack in July, the Turkish government has finally relented to American pressure, and is now allowing the U.S. to use its bases to strike against the militants. Indeed, Turkey has itself tried to mount a show of strength against “terrorism,” though so far its numerous air strikes and attacks have focused almost exclusively on separatist Kurdish interests (who so far had been the U.S.’s most reliable allies in the region). Cue the declaration of war by ISIS against Turkey. A newly released video is calling upon Turks to rise up against the ‘Satan’ President Erdogan and to overthrow the secular state, with all the drama typical of ISIS propaganda efforts.
Should Turkey be afraid? So far, there is very little to suggest that it should. This call is not likely to have much traction with Turks at all. Given the fluid situation on the border for so many years, you’d expect that many Turks would have joined ISIS if they had been inclined to do so, and also you’d expect ISIS to have strong connections and operatives networks in Turkey. Neither seems to be the case.
I was in Turkey just a few weeks ago and spoke with some officials from the Foreign Ministry. According to them, only 1,300 or so Turks have joined ISIS since its inception - that’s fewer than the UK’s ISIS recruits for example. And furthermore, the majority of those were not new jihadist recruits. Rather, they were veterans of previous jihadist conflicts in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia. There have been a handful of individuals that have been demonstrably radicalized by ISIS, by their ideology and their military successes, but that number has been vanishingly small compared to any other Sunni countries in the region and indeed countries with Sunni minorities in Europe.
Somehow or other, the ISIS ideology seems to have very little traction in Turkey. This has two consequences that we should consider. The first one is that this so-called declaration of war will probably benefit Turkey in the long-run, if it responds appropriately. Secure the borders properly and block ISIS’s recruitment and trade operations through Turkey, and you severely weaken them. That contains ISIS in the north. The Kurds, Iran and Shi’a Iraqi militias are already doing a good job at containing ISIS in the North-East, East and South-East, and Jordan is making progress checking ISIS ambitions in the South. Meanwhile, to the West there is the Assad forces and the Sea. So provided that Turkey finally closes the borders and Jordan can continue to resist both militarily and ideologically the ISIS threat, ISIS will finally be completely encircled and will soon start to suffocate. And Turkey can do so with minimal fear of internal unrest.
The second consequence might be even more momentous. Once Turkey starts to take its responsibilities seriously in fighting against Islamist extremism, it can start teaching some very valuable lessons to its neighbours about how it has been so resilient against the ideological seductions of ISIS. Some of Turkey’s success will be down to things which cannot be replicated in other countries. Others, such as its wonderful blend of apolitical Sunni Islam, the flourishing of multiple inclusivist Sufi traditions of Islam in the country, and its bedrock of political secularism which happily tolerates many Christian and Jewish communities, is something that can and very much should be exported to other countries in the region.
ISIS’ declaration of war is not in any real sense a problem for Turkey. No more that ISIS has been a problem for Turkey already. Rather it is an opportunity for Turkey to acknowledge that this problem exists, and to raise to the occasion and show the regional leadership to which it aspires. This is the moment when Turkey can earn the regional status it wants to claim for itself, and it should not let paranoid delusions about the PKK get in the way.
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College and Lecturer in International Security at the University of Chicago. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim
The exodus to Europe
By Mahir Ali
26 August 2015
Germany's far-right parties are planning a show of force this coming weekend in a small town called Goslar. They are irked by the fact that the town’s mayor, Oliver Junk — a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats elected in 2011 for an eight-year term by more than 90 percent of the vote — has declared he is keen on accommodating a lot more immigrants. Goslar is losing up to 2,000 residents a year, and Junk says: “We have plenty of housing, and rather than see it decay we could give new homes to immigrants, helping them, and so give our town a future.”
Goslar’s predicament isn’t unique, or even rare, across Europe. The continuing exodus from country towns to the city is only part of the phenomenon. The continent’s birthrate has long been in decline, presaging economic concerns, not least on account of the growing imbalance between taxpayers and pensioners. Refugees fresh off the boat are obviously not taxpayers, but it’s hardly unrealistic to weigh their potential in this respect, once they have settled down and obtained jobs.
Employment is another crucial issue, of course, particularly in countries where austerity is the default position imposed by the European Union (EU). And perhaps it isn’t entirely a coincidence that the primary landing ports for refugees are mainly the more economically depressed southern European nations such as Italy, Greece and Spain.
They are inevitably the first ports of call because of geographical reasons, but it is hardly any surprise that the refugees who end up there are disinclined to stay: Many of them head toward Germany or Sweden. Others pick Britain, invariably via Calais, as their destination. This may be related to having relatives over there, but perhaps more often than not it’s because they have a working knowledge of English, or at least are more familiar with it than with any other European language.
English, after all, is the much ballyhooed lingua franca of the Internet age. Sure, 18th and 19th-century colonialism means the anglosphere stretches far beyond the shores of the UK — but the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are very far away if you are embarking from Libyan shores, and in some cases even less welcoming. Australia, for instance, has effectively “turned off the refugee tap,” as it likes to see it, by mounting a military operation whereby boats headed its way are turned — or towed — back to wherever they came from (usually a transit point such as Indonesia), and Australians know little about it apart from the occasional leak, because of a news blackout.
Yes, Australia still calls itself a democracy. And whenever news does crop up of atrocities on Manus Island or Nauru, the Pacific outposts where refugees once bound for Australia are incarcerated, under the watchful gaze of taxpayer-funded private guards, the government invariably opts for plausible deniability.
Australian Premier Tony Abbott is sufficiently proud of “stopping the boats” to have shared his blinkered “vision” with European leaders and some of them are believed to have expressed interest in it.
Chances are that, had boats been heading toward British shores, David Cameron would have found an excuse to replicate Abbott’s deplorable stance.
His implication that they are vermin is shared by at least a few other European leaders. Hungary’s crypto-fascist government is planning to put up walls, while Slovakia has declared it will accept Syrian Christians but not Muslims.
A substantial proportion of the refugees risking their lives to reach Europe are indeed from Syria. Others flow from Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, Eritrea and Libya, and various other nations. Most of them are fleeing existential threats, albeit not exclusively from military violence. “Economic migrants” tend to be singled out for condemnation, as if their quest for survival is somehow illegitimate. In some cases, Europe (and its allies) can be held directly or indirectly responsible for the fate of those knocking at its door, as a result either of recent military interventions or its colonial legacy. In others it cannot — but that does not necessarily reduce its responsibility as a relatively well-off repository of wealth in the world where it is extremely unevenly distributed.
It’s common for such views to be countered with the argument that facilitating an influx would be undemocratic, as so many Europeans oppose it. But that in large party involves glossing over the compassionate views of so many others, from fishermen in Sicily and the Greek islands to political figures such as Oliver Junk and the presumptive leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.
It is presumed that Germany’s relative willingness to accommodate distressed segments of humanity is based in part on its determination to prove it has exorcised its Nazi legacy — which was largely responsible, seven decades ago, for the last comparable flow of refugees in Europe. It’s hard to tell the extent to which this may be true. Compensating for a fascist past is certainly no bad thing. But when a driver conveying a busload of foreigners feels obliged to announce, “I want to say welcome. Welcome to Germany, welcome to my country,” as Sven Latteyer did earlier this month in Erlangen, one would like to think he was prompted by nothing more than fellow feeling for displaced human beings. The contempt for people-smugglers or human traffickers is perfectly justified. They are, after all, exploiting desperately vulnerable human beings. They are also, however, supplying a service, no matter how atrocious, for which there is a persisting demand. The EU has contemplated — but not yet undertaken — military action against irregular marine transport services from the Libyan coast. Chances are it wouldn’t be terribly fruitful, even if unconscionable “collateral damage” were to be avoided. But might not flights from Tripoli, at least for those who are anyhow bound to be taken in, make it that much harder for the traders in human misery to ply the Mediterranean route
Completely open borders may be a bridge too far, but Europe can afford to lower its barriers, potentially benefiting itself in the process and reinforcing its endangered reputation as a humanitarian haven.
Egypt: Making art public
By Sarah Mousa
25 Aug 2015
Many of Egypt's revolutionary activists claim that the 2011 uprisings were not simply about former President Hosni Mubarak.
They were about placing power and resources in all spheres in the hands of the public. In the cultural sphere, art is a contested domain.
In Egypt, official institutions - government and private, domestic and foreign - play an acute role in the arts by virtue of their positions as the funders, promoters, critics, and censors of art.
These institutions have the ability to select, feature, explain, and thus, determine the legitimacy, value and utility of art.
What constitutes real art, real artists, and valid analyses of that art is up to these institutions - giving them extensive power.
Appreciation of the public
Many street artists in Egypt contest the role of these institutions in determining the legitimacy of art and seek to hand that power to the public.
Even prior to the 2011 uprisings, artists opposing the state's domination of art created and presented their works on busy urban streets, rather than in art galleries.
While many galleries are public - and are available at a low or no cost - they are socially viewed as a luxury and are frequented by limited social demographics.
Even if attended by various social groups, viewers are not acknowledged as truly understanding or appreciating the art, unless they are capable of speaking about it in certain terms.
Thus, there is not only a hierarchy of legitimate art, but of legitimate viewers as well.
By presenting their work in a more accessible space, street artists sought validity through the public's appreciation rather than through formal institutions and their narrow audiences.
In terms of substance, art that is selected by official institutions and art created by oppositional artists significantly diverge in Egypt.
While modernist art trends have subsided in many parts of the world and given way to post-modern or contemporary genres, they remain heavily promoted in Egypt by domestic and foreign art institutions.
This modernist art, which claims to adhere to the impossible ideal of separating itself from its context, tradition, or any utilitarian purpose is prioritised, and ironically, made into a valuable commodity in the mainstream Egyptian art scene.
To these institutionalised artistic bodies, the ideal modernist art piece is abstract, universal, and purposefully veers away from the narrative approaches often found in traditional Egyptian folk art.
Arguably, these modern institutions want to take Egyptian art away from its contemporary politically and socially utilitarian approach.
Enter street art
The effect of this global modern art movement's influx into Egypt has been selective marginalisation of works with critical political or social meaning - meanings that are relevant to the realities of given localities within Egypt.
This impedes the potential for art to educate, inspire, or call the public to action - a goal that is aligned with any government body seeking to maintain the status quo.
Ammar Abo Bakr is one opposition artist who seeks to root his work in popular tradition and make it broadly accessible. He has painted several street murals with the objective of exposing the public to art.
Conceptually, Abo Bakr claims inspiration for his murals from the popular rural tradition in Egypt of painting on walls to mark occasions, such as villagers' return from the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
He painted his first public mural in the summer of 2013 on a concrete wall on Qasr al-Nil street in downtown Cairo.
The piece featured images from Egypt's Pharaonic, Coptic, and Arab-Islamic heritages in celebration of Egypt's historical and cultural diversity. The mural was in opposition to art institutions that either completely overlook or narrowly select from the country's artistic repository.
The location and content of the piece were notably unconcerned with the dramatic political struggle taking place at the time. It wasn't overtly political in nature, but rather, it centred on taking the power away from artistic institutions and bestowing it upon the Egyptian public.
Abo Bakr's most recent street mural, finished in May, is also in downtown Cairo on a concrete fence bordering a car park area.
The purpose of this piece is similar to his other piece: to share art with the people.
However, this piece exists in a more security-focused downtown Cairo, where any unofficial activities or gatherings are strictly limited.
Securitisation of Cairo
In recent months, downtown Cairo, a major site of the 2011 uprisings, has witnessed major shifts in pavement and street traffic.
Tightly enforced bans have eliminated the presence of street vendors and pavement cafes, where many activists previously met.
These bans seem to be tied to security issues and the prevention of any sort of social gathering that may lead to mobilisation for political ends.
To avoid security threats, Abo Bakr shifted tactics: rather than painting his piece directly on the walls, he printed the mural in large strips that could be quickly adhered to the walls to avoid the attention that the time-consuming process of painting would draw.
The piece itself is not overtly political. It is a collaborative one between Abo Bakr and a surrealist artist featuring black and white drawings of a man in traditional Egyptian clothing and a woman adorned by hair mimicking the sea and wide-spanning wings.
The images are placed within a backdrop of coloured squares and winged creatures.
Rather than engaging vendors who wanted their kiosks painted for passers-by frequently interested in watching the process, Abo Bakr avoided contact while working so as to not draw attention or incriminate others.
Still, he was caught in the act and is currently facing charges for vandalising public space.
Abo Bakr's two street murals discussed here are avidly post-modern.
They are realist rather than abstract and borrow from traditional art practices.
They are utilitarian: They seek to maintain and develop upon local art forms, engage the public in the process of creating art, and reject the institutional and classist advancement of abstract, purposeless art forms.
They are tied intrinsically to their setting. A true appreciation of Abo Bakr's work does not require access to a particular set of art terms in the way that modern art does, but rather, an understanding of local context.
For many independent street artists in Egypt, the battle, which predates Mubarak, continues.
This battle opposes a pattern of institutional practices aimed at marginalising politically or socially utilitarian work and promoting art solely as a universal and timeless form of individual self-expression, rather than a communal element of its particular context.
By doing so, these institutions marginalise local art forms, empty art of political and social purpose, and tinge art with classist barriers.
Sarah Mousa graduated from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 2010 and was a 2010-2011 Fulbright Scholar in Egypt. She is currently a graduate student at the Center of Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University.