New Age Islam Edit Bureau
26 December 2015
Fighting Terrorism and Alienating People
By Murat Yetkin
Thoughts on Christmas and Muslims
By Mustafa Akyol
Moderates Tackle both Extremism and Islamophobia
By Erwida Maulia
Peace In Syria Within Our Grasp
By Mohammad Javad Zarif
Council of Europe Matters for Turkey
By Abdullah Bozkurt
Libyan deal on course, but who is on board?
By Abdallah Schleifer
ISIS Sets Its Sights on the East
By Vijeta Uniyal
World far from an effective fight against ISIL
By Nursel Dilek
Fighting Terrorism and Alienating People
By Murat Yetkin
Recent reports from Ankara indicated that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government has started to develop concerns regarding the sustainability of its security policy against the “ditches and barricades” campaign of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
According to the political backstage reporting by Nuray Babacan of daily Hürriyet, in two separate meetings in Ankara earlier this week a concern was raised over “losing public support” if the ongoing security operations in the dominantly Kurdish-populated eastern and southeastern towns continued for more than two or three months in the way they are carried out now, which could alienate local people, even those who currently support the government operations against the PKK. Those meetings were the cabinet meeting and the central executive board meeting of the AK Parti.
There are a number of reasons for this concern emerging in government circles following earlier warnings by opposition members of parliament, particularly the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP). There is also a strong opposition by the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) but the HDP’s opposition is against any government measures against the PKK’s self-declared autonomy attempt backed by arms, whereas the CHP acknowledges and supports the government’s right to fight against terrorism but urges the government to carry out the fight, for example, by avoiding civilian causalities. But there are civilian causalities; the number of young (under 18) and elderly people killed in the crossfire of the PKK and Turkey’s security forces over the last three months is nearing 50.
The government sent land forces and heavy weapons like tanks into town centers, which increased the risk of collateral damage. There are photos on wires showing large holes in house walls which could only be opened by heavy guns. The PKK on the other hand has extended its armed campaign to civil service buildings such as schools, public libraries and even hospitals, as was the case in southeastern Cizre. The government has already ceased education services in towns and neighborhoods under curfew, which affected some 20,000 primary and secondary school students. Shops are closed in those regions and some of them have been destroyed. A delegation of the CHP consisting of mostly female MPs who went to show empathy with the suffering of women in the Sur neighborhood of southeastern Diyarbakır had to give their press statements on Dec. 25 with the sound of gunshots in the background.
The situation is not sustainable for the PKK either, but the PKK has already been trying to agitate the discontent of people against the government. It is the government who has to win hearts and minds while trying to maintain security on the streets, fighting terrorism within the democratic order to avoid alienating people. The end of bloodshed might be the key to return to dialogue in search of a political settlement with Turkey’s Kurdish problem.
Thoughts on Christmas and Muslims
We have seen yet another Christmas. And some senseless reactions have, again, come from our Muslim world. Three Muslim-majority countries, Tajikistan, Somalia and Brunei, banned Christmas celebrations, declaring them “un-Islamic.” (As if one should ban everything that is “un-Islamic,” as if people should not have a freedom of choice.) And in several Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey, certain Islamic groups protested the celebrations of “Christmas and New Year,” which was for them somehow the same thing: Elements of a foreign culture that erodes and even replaces our own values.
Yet all of this was based on a lot of ignorance and confusion, not to even mention authoritarianism.
First of all, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are separate things. While the former is specifically Christian, the latter is secular and somewhat universal – at least if you do not have an objection to the Gregorian calendar that most of us use. So, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, or anybody else can well skip Christmas and celebrate New Year’s Eve as the beginning of a new round of our lives.
But what about Christmas? Isn’t it a tradition of a different religion that all Muslims should find totally alien and objectionable?
Well, not really. Christmas is the celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ. (We, of course, don’t know the real date, but Christians have established two traditions about it, in late December or early January, and there is no reason to oppose them, claiming to know better.) And the celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ must be respected by Muslims for a very simply reason: Jesus Christ, or Isa al-Masih, is a very holy figure for Muslims as well.
The “Son of Mary,” as he is sometimes called in the Qur’an, indeed has a very special place in the Islamic faith. A very long chapter of Muslim scripture, the “Sura (Chapter) of Mary,” is devoted to the praise of his mother and the virgin birth she gave. In this chapter and also others, the preaching and miracles of Jesus are told in detail. In the sura named “Saff,” Muslims are told to take his apostles as examples to follow. Jesus is even referred to in the Qur’an as “the Word of God,” a term which has a curious resemblance to the introduction of the Fourth Gospel of the New Testament.
To be sure, the Qur’an rejects that Jesus is God, or “Son of God,” and denounces the Doctrine of the Trinity. But this does not change the fact any festival that honors Jesus must be respected by us, Muslims.
That is why Christmas does not deserve to be opposed, demonized and banned by Muslims, even from a purely theological perspective – let alone perspective of tolerance, co-existence and pluralism. The birthday of Prophet Muhammad is widely celebrated in the Muslim world as “Milad an-Nabi.” In Turkey, it is called the “Mevlid Kandili.” Why not welcome the birthday of another prophet, a most revered one in the Qur’an?
I know some Muslims will say, “But with all those fancy themes of Santa Claus, colorful trees and nice presents, we are subject to cultural imperialism. The attractive cultural icons of a foreign civilization is taking us over. This is a matter of culture, not theology.”
Well, in return, I would ask them: Why don’t we have our attractive cultural icons? Why don’t we have our version of Santa Claus that makes kids happy? And, while we actually do, why have we not been able to introduce them enough to our children, let alone the children of the world?
Moderates Tackle both Extremism and Islamophobia
By Erwida Maulia
December 24, 2015
JAKARTA The rise of Islamophobia in the West is making Indonesia's religious moderates and "comprehensive" approach to fighting extremism more relevant than ever.
In late November, two weeks after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, Indonesia's largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama, launched a video campaign aimed at countering extremist ideology. International media hailed the video as a call for tolerance that could eventually help undermine the Islamic State, the militant group behind the attacks.
Indonesia is home to the world's largest Muslim population, and NU, with an estimated 40 million members, is the largest Muslim group in the world.
"Today a group of people think as though they were the most righteous. They claim to act on behalf of the religion and wreak havoc," said Muhammad Muslih, an executive of GP Ansor, the youth wing of NU, during the film's launch in Yogyakarta province.
The 90-minute film, titled "Rahmat Islam Nusantara" (The Divine Grace of East Indies Islam), urges Muslims not to take too rigid a view of Islamic scripture and to put more focus on the human side of Islam. The film encourages them to follow in the footsteps of the wali songo, the nine earliest propagators of Islam on the island of Java who are said to have spread the religion through peaceful means, allowing assimilation with the local culture.
Organizations like NU and Muhammadiyah -- Indonesia's second-largest Muslim group, with an estimated 20 million followers -- have been working together with the Indonesian government to promote tolerance and curb extremism among Indonesian Muslims, who represent 85% of the country's total population of 250 million.
The majority of Indonesian Muslims self-identify as moderates, practicing a local brand of Islam that is generally less restrictive and more inclusive than its Middle Eastern counterparts.
While several hard-line groups do exist in the country, most are nonviolent and they form only a tiny fraction of Indonesia's population.
Followers of IS are apparently even smaller in number. In November, Indonesian police said 384 Indonesian nationals are confirmed as having joined the extremist group in Syria, while 46 others have returned to the archipelago after visiting Syria and are now being closely monitored by security officers.
The actual numbers may be higher, but police say that so far they are not worried about the possibility of "IS graduates" launching attacks in the country, citing their "low capacity" to do so. Several Indonesians arrested by the local authorities upon coming back from Syria earlier in 2015 said they abandoned IS after it failed to pay them as much as promised.
STRIKING A BALANCE Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, speaking to the Nikkei Asian Review in mid-December, said partnerships with local Muslim groups are an important part of Indonesia's "comprehensive" counterterrorism strategy that balances the use of hard power with "religiously and culturally sensitive approaches."
"Security measures should not [mean] blindly attacking. Counterterrorism doesn't always have to mean direct armed confrontations. Promoting tolerance and pluralism is equally important -- this is what differentiates Indonesia from other nations," Marsudi said when asked whether Indonesia would join some other countries in the military strikes against IS militants in Syria.
"We're lucky because we have Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah who, together with the government, continue to voice the importance of tolerance, pluralism, moderateness," she added.
At the same time, Marsudi said, Indonesia has dealt with several terrorism incidents since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., and the country has emerged as a "center of excellence" for regional law enforcement efforts to combat terrorism.
The Jakarta Center for Law Enforcement Cooperation, which deals with transnational crimes including terrorism, has trained 18,000 law enforcement officers from other countries in Southeast Asia since opening in 2004, according to the minister.
The latest result of such efforts came over the weekend of Dec. 19. As of Dec. 21, the police said they have arrested nine people with explosive materials and "jihad manuals" in their possession. About half of the suspects are reported to be supporters or sympathizers of IS, while the remainder are linked to terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qaida.
SAME COIN Local Muslim scholar Fajar Riza Ul Haq, however, described the complex challenges Indonesia faces in promoting its tolerant brand of Islam.
First, he said, the Western world tends to see Islam as a homogeneous entity typified by the strict, conservative Middle East.
Second, some Muslims, faced with the rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and the U.S., do feel mistreated and cornered, and they often fail to see the West as being composed of different actors with different attitudes toward Muslims -- some hostile and others sympathetic.
"Islamophobia arises from these two factors -- how the West treats Islam, and how Muslims treat non-Muslims," said Ul Haq, who is also executive director of the Maarif Institute for Culture and Humanity, a Jakarta-based Islamic think tank.
"NU and Muhammadiyah of Indonesia are trying to address these two sides of the coin," he said.
Muhammadiyah, of which Ul Haq is a member, has been actively involved in international interfaith forums, he added, citing the World Peace Forum it has organized five times since 2006 as an example.
Expanding such outreach efforts, though, requires the government's support, something Ul Haq said is still lacking.
One of the most pressing tasks, he said, is to deal with conservative groups in the country whose anti-Western sentiments are starting to gain traction on social media. Members of some of these groups have been posting messages online claiming that Western media reports on atrocities committed by IS militants in Iraq and Syria are just anti-Islam propaganda. Such messages have been receiving "likes" and comments of agreement.
"I have seen that slowly, post-Paris attacks, some Muslims begin to think that ISIS seems to be only one who can fight the West," Ul Haq said, referring to the IS group by its commonly used acronym.
"At a time when Muslims feel cornered and marginalized, some begin to see ISIS as some kind of a hero. This is dangerous," he added.
Peace In Syria Within Our Grasp
By Mohammad Javad Zarif
December 25, 2015
The International Syria Support Group has provided a unique forum for important discussions among a number of significant players, and there is genuine potential to turn the existing political will to help forge peace into tangible action towards this noble end. Focus must turn to the political process, and the imperative of a unified front against extremist violence. Yet progress continues to be hindered by preconditions, which have prolonged the violence and bloodshed for four years.
Indeed, what is most ironic and distressing about these preconditions is that they do not represent the wishes of the Syrian people; rather, they reflect the agendas of outside actors, none of whom have the right to impose their will on an independent nation. The Syrian people do not need guardians. The age of mandates and protectorates is long gone. It is utterly absurd that those who have denied their own population the most rudimentary tenets of democracy, such as a constitution and elections, are now self-declared champions of democracy in Syria. Their democracy, however, is not to give Syrians a voice, but instead to thwart the political process by stonewalling a ceasefire, while pushing for self-proclaimed al-Qaida affiliates to have a prominent place at the negotiating table.
What happened in New York that fateful September morning 14 years ago, and the response, is directly linked to the tragedies in Paris, Beirut and San Bernardino during the past few weeks. Despite its immense cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and more than $400tn, the so-called “war on terror” has failed to achieve its purported objective. The perverted ideology behind groups such as al-Qaida not only lives, but thrives. It has spawned ever more vile manifestations of raw hatred and open thirst for blood. Hooded villains are now ravaging the cradle of civilisation.
Terrorists should never have been allowed to set the agenda, or dictate the response. These villains are the offspring of indiscriminate retribution, failure to unite in confronting the roots of terrorism, and continued impunity extended to those so-called allies who perceive extremism as an asset or leverage. We must all recognise that security cannot be achieved at the expense of the insecurity of others. Unless there is a serious change in the course of action, violent extremism will haunt us all, including the hands that feed it. Make no mistake: for the past four years, Syria has been ground zero in nothing short of a paramount fight for our future. I say “our” – repeating the theme of a recent message by Ayatollah Khamenei, who calledthe menace of perverted extremism “our common worry” – because the world’s fate is common. No one is immune from the consequences of the outcome of existential battle that we need to fight.
From the outset of the Syrian crisis, Iran’s position has rested on three pillars: respect for the wishes and free will of the Syrian nation to decide its own destiny and to manage its own affairs; opposition to foreign interference geared to impose the wishes of outside actors on an independent people; and rejection of terrorism as a tool to achieve political objectives.
Based on these pillars, Iran has always insisted that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. Only ballots – not bullets – can ultimately usher in a new era in Syria. To this end, Iran has consistently advocated an immediate ceasefire and an end to the bloodshed; dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition groups who reject terrorism; a concerted and genuine international effort to uproot extremist violence; and a global campaign to address the humanitarian catastrophe now, and to rebuild Syria once the flames of war subside.
The International Syria Support Group should encourage, facilitate and enable Syrians to change the course of their future, and by extension, change the course of our collective future. To do so, all must join hands to put into effect an immediate end to the bloodshed and vigorously focus on promoting an inclusive intra-Syrian political process, bringing together all Syrians with a vested interest in a brighter tomorrow. We must close ranks in the fight against extremist violence and terror, while not allowing rage to come in the way of collective reflection and wisdom for a rational and joint response. The writer is the foreign minister of Iran.
Council of Europe Matters for Turkey
By Abdullah Bozkurt
December 25, 2015
Lady Justice, when it comes to the prosecution of journalists in Turkey, is no longer blindfolded.
Rather, her eyes are wide open in the relentless pursuit of critics and opponents to placate Islamist rulers who have seized the judiciary, suspended the rule of law and done away with due process and fair trial protections.
Alarmed by the rapid descent of a member state into the abyss of lawlessness, Council of Europe (CoE) Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland has intervened to stall the backslide and hopefully help reverse the process. His representatives were in Ankara last week as part of the informal working group that was established to address freedom of expression woes in Turkey. They met with officials from the Ministry of Justice and other government agencies to discuss a roadmap for putting Turkey back on track.
The diagnosis was right: The application of counterterrorism legislation and provisions within the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) affecting freedom of expression, issues relating to the implementation of defamation laws and criminal sanctions, especially Articles 125 and 299 of the TCK, and the deprivation of liberty affecting journalists, including cases registered on the Council of Europe website, have all resulted in press freedom violations. The working group will meet again in February to assess the developments on the action plan that were agreed on to solve the lingering problems in press freedom matters.
It appears Jagland, having built personal ties with Turkey's authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the early years of his position at the CoE, has given up on this relationship in improving the record of worsened rights in Turkey. He is now slowly turning up the heat on Ankara with the hope that playing hardball may do the trick in nudging Turkey in the right direction. His office helped organize a major media freedom conference in Strasbourg in October, with Turkey being one of the main themes.
In addition to several Turkish officials, the president of the Constitutional Court of Turkey, Zühtü Arslan, was among the high-profile participants. It was during this conference that the Turkish judge decided to release former Today's Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş from prison after five days of incarceration at a heavy security prison over Twitter posts that were critical of President Erdoğan. Coincidence or not, the release of Keneş pending trial bolstered the view that the CoE does matter when it comes to reinforcing the fundamental rights in a member country.
Jagland should also be credited for establishing the digital platform called the Council of Europe Platform for the Safety of Journalists, which promotes protection and security for journalism. The dedicated website publishes alerts about threats against journalists, including detentions, with the hope it will help prevent rights violations. The website has been up and running for a year now and has proved to be a useful tool in highlighting cases of media freedom issues in its 47 member states, while naming and shaming the worst violators. It is not surprising that Turkey quickly climbed to the top.
The partner organizations the CoE works with in compiling the alerts are Reporters Without Borders, the International Federation of Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists, the Association of European Journalists, Article 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Index on Censorship.
The Turkish government felt compelled to respond to alerts posted on this website about ongoing cases, often in a manner of “laconic response” in the case of the jailed editors of the Cumhuriyet daily, as described by Stefano Montanari, the head of communications for the CoE's commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks. This also helped expose just how ludicrous the charges leveled against journalists in Turkey are.
These records will also be instrumental in adjudicating so many of the cases that will eventually be brought to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The Turkish judiciary, under heavy pressure from Islamist rulers who threaten and blackmail judges and prosecutors with abrupt dismissal, reassignments, purges and arrests, appears to have ceased playing its role as the effective remedy in resolving media freedom cases to the satisfaction of the articles enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the case law of the ECtHR.
The Council of Europe should not give up on Turkey as a lost cause, considering that its press freedom woes have gone from bad to worse in recent years. The focus and attention on Turkey by the CoE might have at least helped curtail the pace and intensity of the crackdown on media outlets and journalists, if not stopped them altogether. Turkish responses to media alert cases on the platform indicate the government in Ankara is paying attention to the CoE.
The fact that Jagland's representatives still have avenues left to engage with Turkish officials on these issues is another positive indication in that regard. The loyalist and partisan judges and prosecutors in Turkey who do the bidding for government officials at the expense of rights and freedoms seem to be terrified about the specter of being identified as a violator of the ECHR. For example, acting on a criminal complaint by lawyers of President Erdoğan, Bakırköy Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor İdris Kurt indicted Hürriyet Editor-in-Chief Sedar Ergin and former Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı for allegedly defaming the president. He asked for a sentence of up to five years and four months. In his indictment, Kurt asked the court to disregard Article 10 of the ECHR while ruling on the charges.
Perhaps the next step for Secretary-General Jagland may be to launch an official inquiry into Turkey's implementation of the ECHR, an agreement that is being treated as part of the Turkish Constitution in domestic law. That will signal that the CoE means business when it comes to sending a message to Turkey over the government's serious crackdown on human rights to muzzle critical voices and stifle the right to dissent. The parliamentary assembly of the CoE may press on Turkey using mechanisms such as the post-monitoring dialogue process and report-drafting mechanisms. The Strasbourg court may take up pilot cases without waiting for domestic remedies to get exhausted to put an end to the violations and stop them in its tracks before it is too late.
In a country where even human rights defenders, like lawyers, as well as prosecutors and judges who uphold the ECHR articles in their decisions to drop cases against journalists, are put behind bars on politically motivated charges, the time has come to send an unambiguous message to the leadership in Turkey that there will be a price to pay for rights violations. I believe Gianni Buquicchio, who was re-elected as head of the CoE's Venice Commission during a plenary session last week in Venice, deserves special credit in this regard as he has been highlighting the plight of judges and prosecutors in Turkey for some time now. Congratulations are in order for his re-election victory.
Perhaps the last but not least thankful note ought to go to Muiznieks, the CoE commissioner for human rights who has been vocal in addressing freedom of expression problems in Turkey. He certainly did not shy away from putting rights violations on the record when such an action was warranted. Aided by his capable staff, Muiznieks rushed to the aid of journalists in Turkey in these difficult times.
Let's hope that the combined efforts by Jagland, Buquicchio, Muiznieks and other leading personalities in the CoE and their invaluable staff at the secretariat will bring better prospects for journalists in Turkey in the year 2016.
Libyan deal on course, but who is on board?
Friday, 25 December 2015
Last week, representatives of the internationally-recognized Libyan government in Tobruk, and the General National Congress (GNC) - the Islamist-dominated rival authority in Tripoli - signed a U.N.-brokered agreement to form a unity government, which was quickly endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. It is the fruit of nearly a year of sporadic negotiations - a process whose flaws are reflected in the document.
The mediation focused on rival parties and movements, and ignored the tribes that remain central to whatever is still stable in day-to-day life, and are as much a factor as the political movements in the ongoing strife that has characterized Libya since the fall of Moammar Gaddafi.
Thus the Muslim Brotherhood and even more radical Islamist groups that dominate the GNC could only have seized Tripoli and established a rival government after losing elections because they had the support of Misrata tribal militias traditionally opposed to those in Zintan, which supported the legitimate government and subsequently undertook much of the fighting on its behalf, in particular in Tripoli.
The speakers of the rival parliaments announced their opposition to the deal as soon as it was announced. Both men are considered hardliners within their respective camps. GNC President Nouri Abu Sahmain has links to the most extremist elements among the Islamist alliances concentrated in Tripoli.
Agila Saleh, head of the legitimate parliament - the House of Representatives (HOR) - has close ties with Libyan army commander in chief General Khalifa Haftar, who is ferociously opposed to all forms of Islamist politics. The two men, at opposite extremes of Libyan politics, actually met together to express their opposition to the deal.
Their refusal was dressed in a nationalist or even patriotic appeal against a unity government in all its details and choice of leadership imposed by an outside force. Instead, they offered the 1951 constitution, but with a ceremonial president instead of a constitutional monarchy. This counter-proposal is not going anywhere in Libya, but it did take the wind out of a growing demand to restore the 1951 constitution in its original form.
Why then has the unity deal not crashed? Because rival Misrata and Zintan militias had already agreed to a ceasefire, and because the strong Muslim Brotherhood faction within the GNC leadership secured from the U.N. mediator a State Council drawn entirely from the GNC to serve as an advisory body to the HOR.
The unity deal recognized the HOR as the sole legislative authority, but there is a clause buried in it suggesting that in certain types of legislation, the State Council shall express a binding opinion to the unity government, which is otherwise dominated by the HOR.
The deal has not crashed also because of the growing strength in Libya of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The HOR has been asking for the past year that the U.N. Security Council lift the U.N. arms embargo so it can secure heavy weaponry to seriously move against ISIS.
The United States and UK refused, saying they will only do so when there is a unity government. As such, ISIS has been relatively unchallenged as it expands in Libya. So in recent months, London and Washington have been increasing pressure on both sides to sign a unity deal, threatening political isolation for whoever obstructs it, and promising financial and military aid to any unity government that emerges from the U.N.-brokered talks.
Perhaps most important of all, most political figures - particularly those identified with the HOR - are grudgingly going along with the deal because of the obvious widespread yearning among Libyans for peace.
Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and distinguished visiting professor of political mass media at Future University in Egypt. He is also professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.
ISIS Sets Its Sights on the East
By Vijeta Uniyal
December 20, 2015
The Islamic State (ISIS) is apparently planning to subjugate and conquer the ancient civilizations of the East as part of its worldwide jihad.
The Islamic State's newly-released manifesto contains, among the ideological positions and strategic objectives of the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate, direct threats to Hindus and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The 130-page English-language manifesto, entitled "Black Flags from the Islamic State (2016)," was uploaded in early December on various online forums sympathetic to the Islamic State. Previously, in July 2015, ISIS had circulated another document declaring its ambitions of expanding its Jihad into India.
This month's ISIS manifesto claims India as part of Islamic Caliphate and, referring to the recent resurgence of Hindus in the country, states: "a movement of Hindus is growing who kill Muslims who eat beef."
Hindu groups have lately been campaigning for a national ban on the slaughter cows, in keeping with the religious sentiments attached to the animal, which most Hindus consider sacred.
The social and political movement of reviving Hinduism in India was also strengthened by the historic election, 18 months ago, of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his nationalist BJP party.
The ISIS manifesto mentions India's Prime Minister Modi as a "right-wing Hindu nationalist who worships weapons and is preparing his people for a future war against Muslims."
Modi's government wants to reduce India's dependence on foreign defense suppliers by encouraging foreign firms to set up manufacturing operations in the country. Encouraged by the deregulation of the defense sector, several foreign companies have set up production lines and set up joint ventures with local partners.
Undeterred by the current losses on the ground in Syria and Iraq, ISIS propaganda on social media has repeatedly proclaimed the group's dream of an Islamic Caliphate or theocratic empire ruling the entire Indian subcontinent, parts of East Asia, the Middle Eastern and North and Central Africa.
The new manifesto recognizes the Mumbai 2008 massacre, which targeted tourist, commercial and cultural targets in the city -- including a Jewish synagogue -- as the blueprint for the Paris attacks. "In the centre of Paris," the booklet states, "some Mujahideen holding AK-47s copied the Mumbai attacks' style of shooting through the window of a Cafe bar (where alcohol and food was served), then the people fell on the floor, so they threw a grenade into the building."
After last month's Paris attacks, India issued a nation-wide alert.
Seeking to broaden the 'intellectual' horizon of its sympathetic readers, the manifesto recommends earlier texts published by ISIS such as; "Black Flags from the East," "Black Flags from Rome" and "Black Flags from Palestine."
According to India's intelligence agencies, which monitor ISIS activities, at least 20 Indians have joined the ranks of the Islamic State as fighters in Iraq and Syria, and an additional 150 people are being monitored because of suspected involvement in activities related to ISIS. Since 2005, India has lost over 7,400 civilians and 3,200 security personnel to terrorism.
Support for ISIS is not, however, limited to a handful of identifiable operatives. ISIS flags and insignia are regularly displayed at protest rallies and religious gatherings in the Muslim-majority province of Kashmir. In July, the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Fitr was marked by widespread vandalism and stone-throwing, carried out by rioters waving Pakistani, Palestinian and ISIS flags.
The Islamic State's social media operation also bears at least one Indian signature. Last year, police in southern Indian city of Bangalore arrested a 24-year-old engineer who operated one of the main Twitter accounts associated with ISIS. The India-based Twitter account had 17,700 followers and circulated ISIS propaganda, including beheading videos.
The stated ambitions of ISIS to make India part of Muslim empire are not based on the historic Islamic conquest of India, mainly from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries, but are rooted in established, mainstream Islamic theology, central to an Islamic end-of-time prophecy in thehadith. Those reports of the sayings and actions Islam's prophet Mohammad -- collectively called Ghazwa-e-Hind -- predict a final battle with India, and resulting in victory over the Hindus by the invading Muslim armies.
Instead of tackling the problem head-on, Indian Muslim organizations continue to deny the presence of the Islamic State and its affiliates in the country. On December 9, 2015, the umbrella body of Muslim organizations, the All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat (AIMMM), issued a press release calling the reports of ISIS's penetration into India "baseless and misleading."
Despite regular video footage broadcast by Indian news channels, showing Muslims regularly carrying ISIS flags during religious gatherings and protests in the Muslim majority region of Kashmir, Muslim leaders maintained their claim that "ISIS does not exist in Kashmir." Instead, they portray themselves as victims of an elaborate conspiracy hatched by the Indian security forces to "pave the way for their large-scale arrests."
Prime Minister Modi's government has reacted to the heightened security threat posed by ISIS with a new counter-terrorism strategy. The measures could best be described as an attempt at "social engineering," with the government pledging more spending on education and employment programs in the hope of keeping Muslim youths away from the influence of radical Islamists. The problem with this approach is that it addresses a problem that is not relevant. Most of the Indian Muslims known to have joined the ranks of ISIS seem to come from affluent families and hold professional degrees. All of them had the means to travel abroad to join ISIS -- in a country where majority of people earn less than 3 dollars a day. Poor people are too busy just trying to exist.
If poverty were driving people to commit acts of terrorism, why are Indian's Hindus not lining up to join their version of "jihadi" outfits?
Indian lawmakers and officials are trapped in the same politically correct -- if in every other way incorrect -- assumption as their Western counterparts. They also seem just as scared of calling Islamist terror by its rightful name. Instead, they appear to be trying to distract the public by throwing taxpayer money at ineffective social welfare programs. Perhaps these officials hope the public will think that at least "something" is being done and fail to see that, instead of countering ISIS, in they are really just fleeing from the problem.
Vijeta Uniyal is an Indian current affairs analyst based in Europe.
World far from an effective fight against ISIL
By Nursel Dilek
December 25, 2015
Former diplomat Öztürk Yılmaz, who spent three months in captivity at the hands of the terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the summer of 2014, told Today's Zaman in an exclusive interview that not only has ISIL turned into a global threat, but no country in the world is mounting an effective fight against it.
“This is a global topic at this point. It's indeed a deeper topic than it even appears from the outside. No country in the world is fighting it [ISIL] hard enough. That includes Russia. From this angle, all countries need to examine the case more and do more to help,” the former diplomat stated.
The Turkish Consulate General in the Iraqi city of Mosul was raided on June 11, 2014 by ISIL militants, who took not just then-Consul General Yılmaz, but some 48 consulate personnel hostage for what wound up being 101 days. Following intense talks, the ISIL militants released Yılmaz and the other staff. Yılmaz does not like talking much about the tough days he experienced as a hostage.
After his return to Turkey, Yılmaz was appointed ambassador to Tajikistan. Before the Nov. 1 general election, he resigned from that post and was subsequently elected as the Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy from Ardahan.
Noting that ISIL's ultimate goal is to become a state and to form a new caliphate, Yılmaz asserts that if the paths leading toward radicalization in Muslim countries were blocked, the ISIL problem would be largely solved. We had the chance to talk with Yılmaz about ISIL, the Russia crisis and international politics.
You were held hostage for 101 days by one of the most violent groups in the world. What sort of an organization is the world facing with this group?
ISIL is a Salafist radical group. It has both religious and ideological motivations. Unlike some other terrorist groups, it wants to take over and control pieces of land. When we talk about jihadist groups though, it's not like we're just talking about ISIL. While these groups have lots of different names, the mentality is the same. There's not really much difference between what the Taliban's done in Afghanistan, what al Shabaab does in Somalia and what Boko Haram does in Nigeria. These are groups in different areas of the world, but with methods and ideologies that are the same. ISIL is a break-away group from al-Qaeda; it just represents a more radical side of al-Qaeda. However, the real difference is this: ISIL wants to take over and control large swaths of land, becoming essentially a state. They want to declare a new caliphate. From the northern reaches outside Baghdad to the borders of Turkey, ISIL now controls a big piece of land and lots of resources. After all, once they take control of a region, they use all the resources in it. They take everything over. First they loot and plunder things, and then they place their own men in charge of the resources, according to their systems. If there is somewhere that has deeds to it, they take those, too. Anything, from money in the bank, to a car, to a house. So in this way, they've actually amassed an extraordinary amount. But their ultimate goal is to declare a caliphate, and in fact, in some regions, this has already happened.
Where are they most powerful?
Today in Libya, we see an 80-mile coastline area under their control. In Mali, a group close to ISIL controls large areas. The same thing in Nigeria and Somalia. One section of Yemen is under their control. Their primary aim at this point is to takeover wherever in the world the state has collapsed and there is a vacuum. The stage that comes after this is the declaration of a caliphate. Then comes tying these regions to a central caliphate center. They want to carve out a role for themselves as a caliphate representative for the Muslims in the world. But they do this in the most cruel way possible, of course. So really, the essential thing for this group is to control lands that spread far and wide. When they meet trouble or difficulties in one region, they pull out, but then they inevitably spread into another region. For example, ISIL is present in the coastline area of Libya now. Their fighting cadres are staying there right now. Tomorrow, when they leave Syria, they'll move somewhere else. So really, ISIL is a global threat. In other words, the whole idea that we can somehow finish off ISIL by taking over Mosul or Raqqa is just incorrect.
So what is possible? How to finish off ISIL then?
The paths that lead society toward radicalization in Muslim countries need to be shut off. And the best way to do this is through providing a secular education. You just don't get that kind of fanaticism in a secular societal structure. But unfortunately, it does appear that radicalism is fast spreading throughout Muslim countries. Societies are watching as all their rights are being taken away and religion being imposed as a strict ideology. So we're really talking about a global threat here. And as terrorism unfolds in the Muslim world, fear also spreads in places like Paris, attempts to ruin the fabric of the West. They tell those people, just sitting there sipping their coffee on the Champs-'Elysees, “I am everywhere now!”
Does the world see ISIL as a global threat?
There is definitely an awakening to this reality. Places like England, Germany and France are all busy taking precautions now. So the tendency to both see this as a threat and take precautions accordingly is growing. And we in Turkey need to join in this movement. Because as Muslims, we need to act before the West and struggle effectively against this mentality.
The explosions in Suruç and Ankara seemed similar in terms of method. Do you think ISIL was at the root of these incidents?
The sheer size of the attack in Ankara was akin to the Paris attacks. They are creating fear, maximizing human injuries, making a loud noise for the whole world to hear. Both these incidents do resemble things we've seen from ISIL, but whether or not it was is unclear.
For months we've debated the issue of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks. There are images and documents related to this. Were those trucks really delivering assistance to Turkmens in Syria?
I can't actually say. It's total speculation. So many different sides are already arguing on this front.
There is also talk of trade relations between Ankara and certain groups in the region.
At this point, Syrian has broken apart. We have no idea really what sort of relationships are still strong or not there. There's a big difference between the Syria of 2011 and the Syria of 2015. In places where people are fighting to stay alive, where everything has fallen apart, it's no surprise to find out about dirty deals. The only real chance for a solution for Syrian problem will come through diplomatic solutions.
At the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that many of the countries present were in fact assisting ISIL. After the downed jet crisis, he actually named Turkey as one of those countries. He also allowed video tapes showing what were purported to be tanker trucks carrying ISIL oil to Turkey to be broadcast.
Let me answer from the standpoint of my own experience with diplomacy and the state. First and foremost, this subject was brought up right before the plane incident. And then after the jet was downed, it came up again, though more loudly. When we're talking about ISIL, I need to say this: No country in the world is fighting it hard enough. This includes Russia. This is a global topic at this point. It's a deeper topic than it appears from here. From this angle, all countries need to examine the case more and do more to help.
After the jet crisis, Turkmen areas were bombed even more. How can Turkey better protect these areas and these people?
Turkmens are in Syria, in Iraq, they are spread out all over the place. If we are about to see a transition period start, one triggered by the Vienna talks, then we need to think about the coming period for Turkey. Which is why we need to unite any and all Turkmens who are not radical. Turkmens are spread out all over Syria. But after we bring them together, they need to sit down at the table together. If Syria is going to transition to a federal system -- and that's what it appears will happen -- the Turkmens might face some problems. Their hand will become weakened. We need to take precautions now.
What about the crisis with Russia? How can we can through that?
We need to act with prudence, not rush anything and keep the dialogue going. We need to bring down the tension and act smart. We already saw the crisis with Ukraine. The West hit out at Russia over Ukraine. Now we need to not fall into the position of being used as the way the West hits out at Russia this time. We need to protect our national interests and our safety. We need to ask how right it is to see a troop build-up in Turkey just because of this crisis. We need to pay attention to our own priorities and use certain diplomatic channels to try and implement policies that might bring this crisis to an end. The other side is taking very angry, childish steps. We need to act intelligently. We shouldn't make things worse with Russia while depending on NATO to rescue us. And we can't allow people to just heap the results of this crisis on us and then take off to somewhere else.
There has been much talk of refugees being sent to Turkey and of the possibility that these refugees will become more radicalized and join ISIL. Do you agree that this is likely?
The state needs to pay attention to this point, and to the problems of the refugees. And especially if there really are radicalized people sent here.
Lastly, what do you believe lies behind the recent crisis related to Turkish soldiers heading to Mosul?
We've already learned that some of those troops have come back because of the reaction from Baghdad and some US intervention. And during this pull out, we had ISIL attack the camp at Bashiqa, and unfortunately four of our soldiers were hurt. The entire region has turned into a stage for the actions of different powers. The fact that Turkey fell prey to pressure to withdraw those soldiers -- some of whom were injured during that pull out -- should show us something. What it shows us is that in our foreign policy, we are making moves without thinking about our interests, our strengths and our balances. And in the process, we've become isolated.
From shepherding to politics
Where did your life begin? What was your family like?
I was born in 1970 in the village of Alabala in the city of Ardahan. We were seven children. We had a tough life, not much food. I don't remember any easy days. My father would head out to harvest in the summers. I used to shepherd animals in the mountains. Our village was 8.5 kilometers from the center. I stayed in a dormitory in order to attend school from the age of 12 until graduation. When it was time to go to middle school, I went to Ardahan. It was hard for me. I felt like I was in a huge city. My father took me by the hand and showed me the coffeehouses where I could go if I got lost. But I was a successful student. I was the only person that year in Ardahan to get into the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) international relations department. Before I arrived in Ankara, my family moved to Bursa.
Any other politicians in the family?
My family loves Atatürk, and they all stand behind the republic with great strength. My mentality and its underpinnings were determined by my mother and father. When I headed to Mosul, my mother told me, “If you're going to be afraid, don't go; I won't give you my blessings.” My father was a member of Turkey's Hotel, Restaurant and Entertainment Workers' Trade Union (TOLYEİS), but now he's retired. He encouraged me to become a deputy candidate. He said: “I know that you have a career in front of you as an ambassador, you have a salary, and you are putting a child through school. But, you went through so much in this job. If you aren't elected; we will share my salary.” His words really affected me.
Did you always plan to go into politics?
I was always interested in politics, but I never really thought I'd be able to get into it, because of my work. After a certain point in the government bureaucracy, it's hard to get anything done. We are a CHP family. We've always been involved in politics, but I'm the first to be directly involved.
There have often been many CHP diplomats, but in this past term, you were the only one. Did diplomats lose interest in the CHP, or did the CHP view on foreign policy change?
It's an interesting question. You can't have political parties in foreign policy. I don't know why the interest might have faded in the CHP. Speaking for myself, I feel I have done the right thing during this difficult time.