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Islam and Politics ( 9 Oct 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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How To Tackle The Spectre Of ISIS: New Age Islam’s Selection From Pakistan Press, 10 October 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

10 October 2015

 How to tackle the spectre of IS

By Abbas Nasir

 Jinns invade campuses

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

S yria’s tragedy

By John McHugo


How to tackle the spectre of IS

By Abbas Nasir

October 10th , 2015

THE army chief’s statement in London earlier this month that there were elements in Islamabad who wanted to show allegiance to Daesh or the self-styled Islamic State was an acknowledgement of the dangers that continued radicalisation is posing to not just his own country but to the entire world.

The fight against Daesh and the group’s evolution is a story that cannot be told simply in a column as it is far too complicated. It needs to be seen as part of the enormous jigsaw puzzle of global power politics and the battle for satellite states and pockets of influence involving world and regional players.

Self-preservation warrants nonetheless that we, in Pakistan, take a long hard look at the phenomenon, otherwise the recent gains against the militants will amount to no more than a tiny respite from all the murder and mayhem perpetrated in the name of faith.

The danger signs are, and frankly have been, visible for a long, long time. But we chose to ignore those, probably in the hope that if bad news isn’t recognised as such for a period of time it might go away. Well, it hasn’t and is staring us in the face harder than before.

There is no doubt the battle has to be fought in each street in the country. Madressahs have been the obvious and easy target whenever blame is being apportioned for radicalisation of the youth but the truth is far graver than that.

The fight against the self-styled Islamic State needs to be seen as part of the enormous jigsaw puzzle of global power politics.

Recently, it emerged that among those arrested for the mass murder of Ismailis who were shot after their commuter bus was intercepted by killers in a Karachi suburb (near Safoora Goth) were educated young men.

Some of these young men, including a graduate of the city’s premier Institute of Business Adminis­tration, had probably not even seen the inside of a madressah. They had been indoctrinated right under our noses in a DHA mosque and not in distant Waziristan which bears the cross for most such evil these days.

A dear friend of mine, himself a devout Muslim who never misses Friday prayers, told me of his horror at the sermon of the maulvi at a mosque not far from the Gizri police station in DHA, Karachi a week ago. “Can you believe, the maulvi was spewing inflammatory and divisive poison? Among those present inside the mosque were the area SP and SHO.”

A conscientious citizen, he was appalled enough to drive straight from the prayers to the DHA Vigilance office. He says the retired major who was in the office took notes and dutifully promised to report it to the law-enforcement authorities. “I did warn this official that he’d have to act if he didn’t want a Waziristan-like explosive situation in DHA.”

Be honest and tell me how many of us have acted with the responsibility my friend did. I may have written about it but am ashamed to say I have never gone and reported such hate speech to the authorities. Have you? Well, we have been smug long enough and will all need to do our bit if this tidal wave is to be braved.

When the army chief referred to the Daesh phenomenon, he didn’t name Maulana Abdul Aziz of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad who has openly said he supported IS and the objectives of the group. In saying so Aziz seems to have endorsed the terrorism perpetrated by IS in the areas it controls and the little tolerance for diversity and dissent it practises.

When the state acted against the terrorists who had fortified themselves inside the Lal Masjid and the attached madressah in the summer of 2007 and were threatening to destabilise the capital, it came out on the losing side. It may have regained control of the mosque after a bloody fight but it lost the narrative.

We all know the consequences. Hardly anyone’s been spared the pain that followed. It took some seven years and so many thousands of deaths for Pakistan to sit up and look at itself, to assess where it had drifted to.

But it still needed a full-scale militant assault on Karachi airport and the utterly tragic Army Public School massacre in Peshawar and the sacrifice of far too many of our children to eventually provide the trigger for action.

The gains against militant strongholds were rapid, given the soldiers on the frontlines were willing to put their lives on the line and fight with incredible valour. However, the longer-term battle has to see each one of us involved if the victory is to be sustained.

It is easy for the civilian government to devolve all authority to the armed forces to fight this evil. The difficult part would be to deliver on the parts of the National Action Plan it is itself responsible for. There was talk of outlawing ‘takfir’ whereby one Muslim declares another ‘infidel’. Whatever happened to that legislation?

The provincial governments have been proudly claiming to have ‘geo-tagged’ each madressah as part of the strategy to battle extremism but what kind of mindset has been conveyed to, for example, the police force where there are instances of even senior officers walking away after attending prayers and sitting through divisive, takfiri sermons.

The onus is not merely on the civilian authorities. The military too needs to unambiguously signal it is distancing itself from every single militant group and not just those that threaten its authority. It has to as it only need count the number of its so-called assets that have now become toxic.

Having suffered at the hands of rampant terrorism, Pakistan ought to know better than to try and cherry-pick among terror groups. They are all bad. Eventually they’ll be on the same side no matter which side of what border they currently prosecute their murderous campaigns.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2015


Jinns invade campuses


October 10th , 2015

Last week, a workshop titled ‘Jinns and Black Magic’ was organised in Islamabad by the department of humanities at the COMSATS Institute of Technology (CIIT), one of Pakistan’s largest universities. The invited speaker, Raja Zia-ul-Haq, introduced as a ‘spiritual cardiologist’ is reputedly an expert on demonic possessions and evil spirits. He is popular: a press photograph shows no standing room left in the university’s main auditorium.

Interesting logic was used to prove the existence of jinns and black magic. The speaker first categorised all unseen creatures into three types: those that fly; those that change shape and appearance depending upon circumstance; and those that find abode in garbage or dark places. Why, he asked, would Hollywood invest in horror movies and paranormal phenomena if these didn’t actually exist?

But hang on! Doesn’t his argument force you to accept that Hollywood’s popular vampires, werewolves, and zombies are also real, not mere fiction? Surely this nonsensical claim could have been challenged by a single bold person in the audience. But, as at all such events, the organisers ensured that the preacher’s three-hour monologue would be uninterruptable.

What lies next is to be seen. Perhaps CIIT could go for creating a jinn-based telecommunications network. Another promising direction could be radar-evading jinn-powered cruise missiles. Jinn chemistry, a research subject activated in the Ziaul Haq era, could be another growth point. CIIT could also pursue a proposal from the 1970s, initiated by a senior director of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, to replace fossil and nuclear fuels with jinn power.

‘Motivational speakers’ claiming paranormal knowledge are today’s rage in educational institutions here.

Actually, last week’s event was unexceptional. In schools, colleges, and universities similar ‘motivational speakers’ claiming paranormal knowledge are today’s rage. The Institute for Business Management (Karachi), for example, organised a meeting on ‘The last moments of a man’. The poster showed the grayed hulk of a man slouching through a graveyard. Students (again a full auditorium, I’m told) were given graphic glimpses into life in the next world. The source of this information, probably secretly SMS’ed from inside the grave, was not revealed by the speaker.

One might have thought that Pakistan’s super-elite universities would be different. Lums, the country’s most expensive private university, has a school of science and engineering built with American dollars. It appeared to have a serious mission but several Lums professors now openly deride scientific reasoning.

Quite accidentally, earlier this year I happened to attend a public lecture given by a professor of humanities at Lums whose specialty is science-bashing. While admitting he knew no physics, he went through the usual stale post-modernist critiques of science and then claimed that the Nobel Prize for physics, awarded to American physicist Robert Millikan in 1923, was undeserved since it was based upon a selective choice of data.

The distortions were clear to me, but when the professor poured a ton of scorn on Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc squared, my eyes nearly popped out and my heart stopped beating. What else could make an atom bomb explode, or a nuclear reactor produce electricity? Jinns, surely! But he is not alone in making such claims. The head of the biology department, in an email to the entire Lums faculty, excitedly claimed that reciting or listening to certain holy verses “can control genes and metabolites” and suggested that specially equipped audio-visual rooms be made in hospitals to treat terminally ill patients.

Perhaps to underscore its determination to shift away from Western science, last month Lums ousted Pakistan’s most highly regarded and respected mathematical physicist from his tenured position. Fortunately, he loses nothing since Harvard, Princeton, or MIT (from where he received his PhD) will welcome him with open arms.

Paranormal and conspiratorial ways of thinking dovetail well with each other. Hence it should not surprise that the current vice chancellor of Punjab University, Pakistan’s largest public university, has written a book asserting that 9/11 was an inside job. Further, according to a newspaper interview, he says that the world’s entire economic system is controlled by Jews huddled together in the town of Monte Carlo.

Conspiracy buffs can expect even more delights now that the famous Zaid Hamid, having successfully dodged his sentence of 1,000 lashes, is back from his months of incarceration in Saudi Arabia. This fiery orator is expected to soon resume his popular campus speaking tours across Pakistan.

The all-pervasive anti-reason, anti-science attitude on our campuses might seem difficult to understand. No, it’s not hard, just think for a moment. To spit venom at science and pillory its epistemological basis is easier than falling off a broken chair. Rejecting science means you are spared the required toil, effort, and exacting mental discipline needed for learning hard stuff like math and physics. Besides, you might not even have the talent for it. It’s far easier to curse science than to woo it.

Consider the advantages: mental disorders like epilepsy can be understood and cured without bringing in neurosurgeons or clinical psychologists since, of course, it’s the jinns at work. A good resident pir or exorcist would do fine. You don’t have to learn the messy science of meteorology because jinns make winds. And seismology is useless since earthquakes happen because of our bad deeds.

As for toys and trinkets like computers and cellphones we can, like our Saudi brothers, always buy the best from Apple or Nokia. Some money-hungry Zing-Zang-Zong company will happily run the cellphone networks for Pakistan. The dirty business of technology and inventing things can be safely left to the Chinese, Americans, and Europeans. Their jinns know their job so well.

Pakistan’s universities should have been beacons of enlightenment, open inquiry, and bold new thinking. Instead they are sheep farms. A legion of intellectually lazy and ignorant professors wants a breed of students who will submit to authority, not question or challenge. Knowing that an invented bogeyman subdues five-year-olds effectively, they hope the spectre of unworldly creatures and fear of death will suitably frighten 20-25-year-olds. The newly launched jinn invasion of campuses means that Pakistan’s cultural and intellectual decline will accelerate.

The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, October 10th , 2015


Syria’s tragedy

By John McHugo

October 10, 2015

The conflict in Syria is often described as the greatest humanitarian disaster of the 21st century. Half of Syria’s population of 24 million has been displaced either internally or externally, and unprecedented numbers of refugees are frantically seeking safety in Europe. These include Muslims and Christians alike.

Nevertheless, by drawing attention to the scale of this tragedy, commentators risk depriving it of context. It is but the latest – if the largest – in a series of refugee crises arising from the events that followed on from the arbitrary partition of the Arabic-speaking provinces of the Ottoman Empire by Britain and France after World War I.

That partition led to injustices intertwined with instability, which have played their part in incubating the Syrian tragedy. Before Syria descended into chaos in 2011, it had been forced – as had Jordan and Lebanon - to accommodate successive waves of destitute people fleeing their homes.

Syria gave refuge to Iraqis escaping the effects of sanctions after 1990, and then from the organised crime and sectarian strife which have been hallmarks of the new Iraq since 2003. It did what it could with its limited resources, although the influx put strains on its economy and society.

The poorest refugees became very noticeable in the cities, where they almost drove the local shoe-shine boys out of business. Overcrowded schools were faced with a deluge of additional pupils for which there was little funding. At the same time, Iraqis with money started buying homes. This exacerbated a severe housing shortage and even led to a change in laws to restrict house purchases by foreigners.

Yet, this wasn’t the only refugee crisis in the area at that time. During Israel’s pulverisation of Lebanon in the summer of 2006, nearly one million Lebanese – perhaps over a quarter of the country’s population – were displaced internally or turned into refugees who fled the country.

Around 180,000 entered Syria and were frequently welcomed by hospitable local families, even in the poorest areas of the country. These refugees were lucky since most were eventually able to return home.

Before that, during Lebanon’s 15 years of civil war from 1975 to 1990, Lebanese were routinely forced to take refuge with their kith and kin in the heartland of their sect-tribe. Many of them, too, would finally be able to return to their homes.

But the earliest refugee crisis was that of Palestine at the end of the British Mandate. Even before the unilateral proclamation of the State of Israel in May 1948, much dispossession of Palestinians had already been carried out by the Zionist militias that would become the Israeli army.

Some of these refugees still live under Israeli occupation for the purposes of international law, such as the 70 percent of the population of Gaza who were driven into the enclave by Israeli forces. Although some of them live virtually in sight of their ancestral homes, they have little prospect of return.

Other Palestinians have made new lives abroad, but many have been unable to do so. With the exception of Jordan, Arab countries have been unwilling to give them full citizenship.

Their despair at their abandonment by the international community caused some to turn to armed resistance, something which led to the bloody crushing of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Jordan during ‘Black September’ in 1970, the eventual destabilisation of Lebanon in the 1970s, the Israeli invasion of 1982, in which thousands of civilians were killed, and, more recently, the suicide bombings and untargeted rockets fired at Israeli civilians by Hamas and other Islamist resistance groups.

When the father of Aylan al Kurdi, the three-year-old who drowned in the surf near Bodrum, rebuked wealthy Arab states for not offering hospitality to Syrian refugees, many will have heard an echo of the plea of the Palestinians for justice.

With the future of Syria so uncertain, will many Syrians, too, now find themselves deprived of the right to return to their homes? If so, the long-term consequences on the stability of the area are unbearable to think about.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘The roots of Syria’s tragedy’.