Sufi Bards to the Rescue
By Farrukh Dhondy
Mar 21, 2015
· “Bring Back The Once That Was
· Though Time Is Unforgiving
· Life Should Be Love Because
· What Else Is The Point Of
From Maa Kaa Dude
Now another atrocity in North Africa, this time in Tunis where gunmen held foreign tourists hostage in the Bardo Museum in the centre of the city and killed 27 of them. The gunmen — two of whom were killed in the encounter with the police who surrounded the building — were believed to be from an Islamist group allied to the Libyan branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
When I first heard of the assault on the museum I jumped to the conclusion that the Islamist vandals were doing what the Taliban had done to the Bamiyan Buddhas or what the Iraqi Caliphate has done to the artefacts of the Persian, Assyrian and Roman history of Mesopotamia. The conclusion to which I leapt was plausible but wrong.
One of the gunmen, it emerges, was trained in terror across the border in a Libyan Islamist outfit with affiliation to the ISIS. Libyan commentators speculate that these two and their cell — nine of whom have been arrested — may have been acting in revenge for the death of a leading Libyan ISIS militant. A Libyan Member of Parliament has told the world press that the gunmen intended to attack the Parliament building which is adjacent to the Bardo Museum. Parliament was in the process of debating legislation to contain and curb terrorism. The gunmen encountered the police security cordon around the Parliament building and turned their attention to the tourists who were emerging from a coach outside the museum. They opened fire on the group who fled into the building where they were then held hostage.
A third theory maintains that the Islamists want to destroy the nascent democracy of Tunisia, which was till this attack the lone blossom of the Arab Spring. The Tunisian government, democratically elected, is only a month old. The terrorists may have planned an attack on tourists to damage one of Tunisia’s prosperous industries. Of the 27 people killed in their assault, 12 were from a cruise ship visiting the city. Crippling tourism, the terrorist may have calculated, would hurt the economy and consequently the government.
Perhaps the word “atrocity” is, after the beheadings and crucifixions which the ISIS present the world on the Internet with every day, after the murder of cartoonists and journalists in Paris, after the attacks on churches in Pakistan, the sacking of towns and mass killings by Boko Haram in Nigeria and a hundred other claims to the description, losing its meaning.
There may not be another word for “atrocity”, but this category of terror is destined to continue. I am aware that there are other forces in the world, even in India, perpetrating atrocities. The attacks on churches or on Christians in any part of the world deserve the name. The atrocities I have listed above, those perpetrated by the ISIS and their supporters, point to a growing problem that will have to be tackled by international states.
When Al Qaeda attacked and demolished the Twin Towers in New York their motivation and strategy were unclear. Bringing down two buildings in the commercial capital of America and murdering a few thousand people seemed to be a gesture rather than a strategy towards a goal. It was a gesture to pronounce that America was the enemy of Al Qaeda. There was no need for mass murder to make such a pronouncement. The world could have been told through an Internet announcement that Al Qaeda didn’t approve of America.
Now the ISIS or the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate has made its motive for terror very clear. Their objectives have been stated in several ways. They want to wage wars to convert the world to their brand of Islam and impose their code of Sharia law on the nations of the earth. Conquering and holding towns and territory in Syria and Iraq is their immediate business, but attacking and killing international tourists in Tunisian museums or kidnapping hundreds of Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria and enslaving thousands of Yazidis is also part of the plan.
After every atrocity, the leaders of Western nations condemning the murder or mayhem find it necessary to say that the outrage, the murder or the random killings, have nothing to do with Islam. This is not because Barack Obama, David Cameron, Angela Merkel or Francois Hollande are meticulous scholars of Islamic theology. They are politicians and, quite rightly, make statements that they calculate will protect the considerable minority Muslim communities of the European nations and of America from attack or derision by the natives. What they assure their populations of may not be true. The military dictator of Egypt, General Fattah al Sisi is however firmly on their side.
He addressed the Al Azhar University’s scholars and mullahs and exhorted them to condemn the ISIS as heretics to Islam. Al Azhar’s theologians haven’t complied in any notable fashion. Gen. Sisi’s plea should transcend the vaunted authority of Al Azhar and go out to every believing Muslim in the world. Can they in conscience interpret their religion as condoning or condemning the acts that the non-Islamist world characterises as “atrocities”?
There is, of course, no central authority in established Islam. The Shia Iranians would regard the Ayatollahs, and particularly Khameini, as the Catholics regard the Pope. The Caliphate seems to issue its own diktats through the Internet, though there is no indication that these emanate from Mr Al Baghdadi, the Caliph himself.
The deafening silence, which I personally regret comes from two sources. The first is a limited but necessary voice: that of the majority of immigrant Muslims who live and work and adapt to Europe. The second, much more universally significant, is the voice and opinion, for want of a better word, of Sufi Islam. Sufis don’t have a pope or ayatollahs, but they have poets. Speak!