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Islamic World News ( 8 March 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Rising Criticism of Child Bride Marriages in Saudi Arabia


Rein in Extremist Wahhabis, Ayatollah Khatami Tells Saudi King

Prominent Tunisian woman academic calls for Ijtihad


Fear of death stalks Pakistan women in Swat


Mullah Omar Calls for a Taliban Surge


Taliban cement rule, hard-line law after truce


Pervez Hoodbhoy: Pakistan needs a new vision?


Officer Leads Old Corps in New Role in Pakistan


Religion Provides Emotional Boost to World’s Poor


Obama urged to push for democracy in Muslim world 


Muslim Women “Warriors”


Palestine And The Post-State Era


Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Rising Criticism of Child Bride Marriages in Saudi Arabia

By: Y. Admon *

March 8, 2009



The Saudi press has lately been discussing the custom of child bride marriage, especially cases of middle-aged or elderly men taking prepubescent girls for their wives. The religious justification for this custom, which has been prevalent in Saudi Arabia and in many Muslim societies since the early Islamic era, is that the Prophet Muhammad married his wife 'Aisha when she was only six years old.


Recent press reports on child bride marriage in Saudi Arabia sparked a wave of criticism among columnists and social activists, who called for abolishing the custom and for setting a minimum age for marriage in Saudi law. In response, on November 24, 2008, the Saudi Shura Council passed a resolution setting the legal age of majority at 18. However, the council refrained from explicitly defining this as the minimum age for marriage, reflecting the difficulty it faces in confronting this well-entrenched practice.


At the same time, the council's resolution leaves room for hope that the religious law permitting child marriages may be amended. It should be noted that at least two religiously based practices have been previously changed in Saudi Arabia. The first is slavery. In 1962, King Faisal bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz issued a decree "abolishing all [forms of] slavery" and freeing all the slaves in the kingdom. [1] The second is the Jizya (the poll tax on non-Muslims), which is no longer enforced in the kingdom.


The following is a review of the recent press reports about underage marriage, the views of clerics who have addressed this custom, the efforts of various human rights organizations to combat it, and articles by Saudi columnists condemning this practice.


Child Brides - A Prevalent Phenomenon in Saudi Arabia


The following are some examples of press reports from the recent year on cases in which little girls were married to men over 50.


In July 2008, the Saudi daily Shams reported that residents in the city of Hail were trying to stop the marriage of a 10-year-old girl to a man of 60, on the grounds that the girl's innocence was being violated and that her father was selling her to her future husband. [2] The Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC) urged the Hail district governor to prevent the marriage, arguing that it contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory. [3]


In August 2008, the daily 'Okaz reported that a 70-year-old man had married a child of 10, [4] and in the same month, a court in the 'Uneizah district rejected a plea to annul the marriage of an eight-year-old girl whose father had married her to a man of 58 for a dowry of 30,000 riyals (about $8,000). The court suggested that the husband divorce her and receive back the dowry, but the latter refused, saying that he had done nothing wrong in marrying the girl. [5] The Saudi Society for the Defense of Women's Rights issued a communiqué in which it condemned the court's ruling, and asked the Saudi Justice Ministry and the HRC to help the child get a divorce. [6]


Child marriages sometimes involve young bridegrooms as well. On March 18, 2008, Shams announced the betrothal of the youngest bridegroom in the Saudi kingdom: an 11-year-old boy who was to marry his 10-year-old cousin during the summer vacation. [7] The Saudi Justice Minister denied the story, saying that the bridegroom and bride were aged 19 and 14, respectively. The HRC nevertheless appealed to the ministry against the marriage, arguing that in either case it contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines anyone under 18 as a minor. [8]


Saudi Clerics: Child-Bride Marriages Are Permitted


The Saudi religious establishment is generally supportive of child bride marriages. Some clerics who addressed this issue cited the example of the Prophet's marriage to 'Aisha. For example, Jeddah marriage and divorce official Ahmad Al-Ma'abi said on a June 2008 program on Lebanon's LBC TV that a girl may marry and have sexual intercourse from the age of nine, arguing that the Prophet Muhammad had married 'Aisha when she was six and had consummated the marriage when she was nine. Al-Ma'abi added that, in Yemen, girls often married at the age of nine or 10. He concluded that as long as the father of the bride consents to the marriage and is present at the ceremony, as required by religious law, "the marriage is obviously legal." [9]


A similar opinion was posted on the website, which is supervised by well-known Saudi Wahhabi sheikh Salman Al-'Oda. The article stated that Islam attributes no importance to the age of the bride, and that intercourse is permitted as long as the girl is able to cope with the act and its implications. The article also criticized the opponents of child marriage and those who deny that the Prophet married 'Aisha when she was six. [10]


Saudi Mufti Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal-Sheikh has been inconsistent in his position on child marriage. On August 23, 2008, he advised parents to refrain from marrying their daughters to men who are their seniors by 50 years or more. Such a marriage, he stated, reflects a lack of conscience on the part of the parents, violates the girl's chastity, and may lead her to sin. He added that girls in such marriages suffer while their parents live in comfort on the dowries they receive from the groom. [11]


Conversely, on January 14, 2009, the Mufti issued a fatwa permitting the marriage of girls under 10, stating that those who oppose this are mistaken and are causing harm to women. [12]


Saudi Shura Council Sets Age of Majority at 18


In a November 17, 2008 Shura Council session, several council members demanded penalties for men who marry girls under the age of 18. Dr. Talal Al-Bakri, chairman of the Shura Council family, youth, and social affairs committee, said that child marriage was tantamount to trafficking in children, and urged the council to put an end this practice by setting 18 as both the legal age of majority and the minimum age for marriage. He stressed that families must not exploit girls by selling them to any potential buyer, but should respect their wishes and ask them if they consent to the match. [13]


The calls of Shura Council members, and pressure by social activists, led the council to pass the November 24, 2008 resolution setting the age of majority at 18 for both men and women. [14]


Saudi Clerics against Child-Bride Marriages


Some Saudi called to abolish underage marriage. Shura Council Member and Justice Ministry advisor Sheikh 'Abd Al-Muhsin Al-'Obikan, whose usually expresses the position of the Saudi government, said that the Justice Ministry had banned marriage officials from marrying underage brides. He added that girls must not be forced to marry against their will, [15] and that fathers who force their daughters to marry should be punished and should lose their status as their daughters' legal guardians. [16]


Dr. Muhammad Al-Nujaimi, member of the Saudi Shari'a Academy - a state institution - demanded a ban on underage marriage. In an interview with the Saudi daily Al-Watan, he called on parents who had already arranged such a marriage to postpone it until both the bride and bridegroom come of age. He stressed that the practice is not sanctioned by Islam, and that fathers who marry off their underage daughters must therefore be punished. As for the minimum age for marriage, he said that 15 was not old enough, and that fathers must wait until their daughters are at least 17 before bringing up the subject. Even then, he stressed, the marriage should only take place with the girl's consent. [17]


Saudi Human Rights Commission: Underage Marriage Contravenes UN Convention for Rights of Child


HRC President Turki Al-Sudairi characterized underage marriage as a human rights violation, saying that contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory, because it deprives the underage bride and/or groom of their childhood. Al-Sudairi called on the Saudi authorities to put an end to the practice, and to raise Saudi families' awareness of its negative consequences. He stressed that the bride had the right to accept or reject a proposed match, and that, according to the Shari'a, her consent was a basic condition for the validity of the marriage contract. [18] HRC spokesman Dr. Zoheir Al-Harethi stated that the organization had prevented the marriage of a 10-year-old to a man of 60. [19] 'Okaz reported August 9, 2008 that the Justice Ministry, in cooperation with other government agencies, had approved a charter banning the marriage of girls under 14. [20]


Dr. Suhaila Zain Al-'Abedin, chair of the NHRS information and research center, said that a child had no future when married to a man her grandfather's age, and compared this practice to the crime of burying girls alive, which had been prevalent in the pre-Islamic Arab society. She too stressed that fathers who arranged such marriages must lose their guardianship over their daughters. She called on marriage officials to verify the age of the bride by exposing her face and confirming the authenticity of her identification papers, and suggested that women officials should be appointed in order to prevent fraud. She stated that marriage officials who approved underage marriage should be punished, and that 18 must be set as the minimum age at which a person is physically, mentally, and socially ready for marriage. [21]


On January 1, 2009, the daily 'Okaz reported that the HRC would submit a recommendation to senior Saudi authorities to set the minimum age of marriage at 15 for girls. [22]


Women's Campaign against Child Marriage


Especially active in the effort to stop the practice of underage marriage is the Saudi Society for the Defense of Women's Rights. As part of a campaign initiated by Saudi women's rights activist Wajeha Al-Huweidar, it recently published a seven-minute video titled "I Am a Child, Not a Woman," which presents newspaper reports on child brides in Saudi Arabia, as well as interviews with Saudi girls voicing their opposition to premature marriage and demanding that it be banned. [23]


A communiqué issued by the society on September 8, 2008 characterized underage marriage as a violation of the rights of the child, and demanded that a minimum legal age for marriage be set. On September 23, 2008 (Saudi National Day), the society submitted a petition to the HRC and to the Saudi National Human Rights Society in which it demanded that the minimum age for marriage be set at 17 for girls and 18 for boys, and stressed that all persons must be free to choose their spouses without coercion or intervention by their families. [24]


A communiqué recently issued by Saudi human rights activists stated: "We will fight the phenomenon of child brides in our country by every legal means, work to ban it by law, and warn of its harmful consequences by means of scientific studies, articles and media interviews... [We] call for the passage of religious family laws to protect the rights of women and children within the family..." [25]


Saudi Health Ministry Report on Child Marriage


A special report by the Saudi Health Ministry stated that child bride marriages were "one of the primary causes for the emergence of physical and psychological problems... [and for] the rising incidence of disease within the family and society, which are a burden on the health system." Among the physical problems mentioned in the report were menstrual problems, infertility and vaginal tearing, as well as osteoporosis and frequent caesarian surgeries due to pregnancy and childbirth at a young age. As for psychological problems, the report stated that the early withdrawal of maternal love and the sudden termination of childhood caused anxiety and marital problems, among other difficulties. [26]


In response to this report, Shari'a Academy member Dr. Muhammad Al-Nujaimi said that girls must not wed before the age of 15. He recommended that a medical committee be established to determine whether a girl is ready and willing to be married. [27]


Saudi Columnists: Child Marriage Tantamount to Murder of Childhood; Religious Establishment Must Intervene


Articles in the Saudi press likewise condemned the phenomenon of underage marriage, especially the case in which the Saudi court sanctioned the marriage of an eight-year-old girl to a man in his fifties. Columnists characterized these marriages as a crime against humanity, society, and women's rights.


In an article titled "The Murder of Childhood" in the Saudi daily Al-Yawm, columnist Muhammad Al-Bakr wrote: "Marrying off an eight-year-old girl is an act that harms society, contravenes the very meaning of childhood, offends humanity, and constitutes the exploitation of a little girl who barely understands what is going on around her. The court's ruling [which denied her the right to divorce her husband] not only harms her, but constitutes a dangerous precedent that threatens all the girls [in our society], and enables fathers to sell their young daughters… This is not just the case of a single mother wanting to protect her daughter. It is a [general] social issue, [because] the verdict applies to all underage Saudi girls… How can we keep silent in the face of this flagrant offense [committed by] marriage officials who permit little girls to be married without even asking [their opinion]?..." [28]


In an article in the daily Al-Jazirah, columnist Jasser 'Abd Al-'Aziz called on the religious establishment to intervene and stop this practice: "Everyone needs to [take part in] fighting this strange phenomenon… beginning with the mosque imams, who must address this perversion. It is paramount that they address it in their Friday sermons, which are supposed to deal with problems in the religious [and general] conduct of [Muslim] society… [When] a father [marries off his underage daughter], doesn't he realize that he is turning her into merchandise to be bought and sold, denying her humanity, and treating her like a lowly slave? Does Muslim law sanction this? If such acts contravene Muslim law, and corrupt [our] society and norms, why do the clerics, mosque imams and preachers remain silent? Why do the intellectuals, educators and cultural [leaders] remain silent?..." [29]


In another Al-Jazirah article, columnist 'Abdallah bin Sa'd Al-'Abid wrote: "Child marriage can cause severe psychological problems… Physically, childbirth at a very young age can be life-threatening. Why do the human rights organizations acquiesce to these marriages in a country that is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child? In order to stop this phenomenon, fathers who marry off their underage children must be punished, as well as marriage officials who permit it.


"The relevant authorities must take the following steps: use the media to increase awareness [of the need] to stop this practice; engage various education institutions - mosques, schools and universities - [in preventing it]; pass a law setting 18 as the minimum age for marriage, and restrict the permissible age gap [between the bride and groom], perhaps to a maximum of 15 years…" [30]


Columnist Nasser Al-Hujailan called to establish an organization that would protect children from premature marriage: "There is no choice but to take some effective measures to minimize the threat posed to society [by this phenomenon] and the damage it may cause. [This can be done] by establishing an organization to protect our children from [premature] marriage, which would be subordinate to the Human Rights Commission [in charge] of protecting women and children against violence. This organization should be allowed to continue functioning even if a law is passed setting a minimum age for marriage…" [31]

*Y. Admon is a research fellow at MEMRI.



Prominent Tunisian woman academic calls for Ijtihad


By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 06/03/09


University professor Amel Grami is one of the most prominent Arab female academics to call for Ijtihad, women’s right to lead prayer and equitable inheritance between males and females. Magaharebia recently spoke with her in Tunis about her calls for reform in the Maghreb.


Magharebia: You have said that in modern Islamic societies, rituals have come to replace real spiritual values, a change which has led to cultural "backwardness". What did you mean?


Amel Grami: We are living in an age of accumulated crises: war, famine, poverty, corruption, unemployment, human rights violations, illiteracy and dependency and others. Also affecting us is the phenomenon of “new slavery", which means control over the masses by sheikhs or preachers or others trying to restore their old glories.


This explains the spread of phenomena such as superficial devoutness, obsession with superstitions, the practice of rituals in public and private places and efforts to add a religious touch to public places, which weakens diversity and pluralism and weakens the margin of freedom. That also explains the disappearance of flexibility and tolerance among people and the spread of hypocrisy, tension, intolerance and hatred.


Magharebia: Can Ijtihad be effective in steering the Islamic world away from its present condition or is secularism the only option?


Amel Grami: Refusal to take responsibility and consequences of decisions, domination of stiff mentalities that insist on practicing the condition of "blindness"- all these impede not just the renewal of Islamic thought but also the course of establishing democracy and pluralism with all of their manifestations. As to the calls for reform within or outside the religious system, we are faced with more than one proposition.


Magharebia: A short time ago, Jamal Al Banna called on Muslims to refine the books of sunna and not take everything from Sahih Imam Bukhari for granted. Do you agree with him on that?


Amel Grami: Jamal Al Banna was preceded by a big number of thinkers who were interested in this issue, especially after the appearance of new methodologies, which opened new fields for examining and probing religious texts according to a concept where the approaches are integrated. Hence, we can’t deal with books like El Sahih and collections of hadiths as if they were isolated from a context where various sects, factions, denominations, creeds and groups were in conflict, where political enmities were strong, where ideological purposes were prominent, and where there were conflicting interests and bad needs for looking for legitimate arguments to strike balances or to sponsor certain goals.


It’s no wonder then that we find certain hadiths that contradict the true essence of the Islamic message. Therefore, we saw hadiths on the hatred of women, rejection of slaves and contempt of black people, etc. This makes caution in adopting all hadiths a necessary thing to do so that this issue can’t be used to tarnish the essence of Islam.


Magharebia: What is your position on female Imams that is sparking controversy among Muslims?


Amel Grami: There are no religious texts that prevent women distinguished in knowledge from leading the prayers. It was just the social considerations disguised in religious form which prevented women from Imama Kubra, Imama Sughra, the judiciary, etc. The issue is related to women’s relation with authorities: whether political or religious, and knowledge, holy things and collective imagined things.


The pulpit is the symbol of authority, sphere of confrontation and show of masculine distinction. Any attempt calling for equality is understood as some sort of transgression on standings, an aggression on men’s privileges, violation of Sharia, call for dissipation and loyalty to the West, etc. and other accusations directed at all these drives which call for women’s participation in the religious field through playing key roles.


Magharebia: The Tunisian woman has long held rights her peers in other Muslim countries do not share. Is this still the case?


Amel Grami: We are noting a change of awareness among the new generations, in particular, about these gains and ignorance of the history of Arab and world feminist movements and the sacrifices made in different countries to gain these rights. It seems to us that the position of Tunisian women started to shake in view of the changes taking place in neighboring countries. For instance, some articles in the Moroccan personal status law are more advanced than what we have in our personal status law, and perhaps considering the husband to be the head of the family is the best proof of that. This requires more keenness on developing these rights if we really want to maintain our leadership position.


Magharebia: Based on your experience, do you find differences between Maghreb and other Arab


Amel Grami: The toiling rural woman has certain demands and awareness about herself, existence and body that are different from those of the self-indulgent woman who cares only about consumption, her body and following the latest fashions. [But] there are common aspects among women in all countries, whether in the east or west, and in all cultures, such as women’s experience of violence of all its forms, whether verbal, material [or] symbolic. However, there are also certain aspects that characterise some regions and countries based on their geographical location, history, and economy, which are determined by the same facts and cultural legacy. We can say that Maghreb women have a joint history.


Magharebia: There are some who say that the campaign led by Maghreb women for equality in inheritance violates Islamic Sharia. Do you agree?


Amel Grami: The call for equality in inheritance must be preceded by studies that reveal the practices in everyday life, which actually contradict Qur’anic text that guarantees women's right to inheritance. We don’t have accurate field studies that cover all Muslim countries that would reveal the facts. Traditional thinkers, who call for the application of sharia laws, often neglect this subject. Only a few contemporary scholars have studied the gap between law and practice concerning women’s issues.


Since the Qur’an is the only source of inheritance rules in Islamic societies, I think that it is important to analyze the contexts of verses dealing with inheritance and show the relationship between the divine texts, jurisprudence and the role of ijtihad in responding to social change.



Fear of death stalks Pakistan women in Swat

Saturday, March 07, 2009

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) — Terrified, locked up at home and courting death if they go out alone, women oppressed by Taliban extremists in Pakistan's Swat valley have nothing to celebrate on International Women's Day.


Nearly 100 years after the annual day was created to mark the struggle for equal rights for half the world's population, most women in Swat look blank and go silent when asked about gender rights and discrimination.


They're too frightened to speak in public. They can only leave the confines of their homes accompanied by a male relative, their bodies hidden in veils.


"How can I tell you my name, are you crazy? I was told not to give my name to anyone because the Taliban could hurt me," one girl in the ninth grade told AFP by telephone from the former ski resort.


For nearly two years, thousands of Taliban fighters have waged a terrifying campaign to enforce their repressive interpretation of Islam in Swat, transforming the region of majestic mountains and lush valleys into a war zone.


Last month, the government signed a widely criticised agreement with a pro-Taliban cleric to enforce sharia law in exchange for a ceasefire in a region where most locals say the Taliban have become the masters.


The girl's dreams of becoming a doctor are over. She worries the Taliban will stop her finishing school, regardless of her parents' support.


"My mother told me I can do anything, but my inner soul is shattered.


"Tell me if you stop women getting an education where will a sick woman go? Do you want her to go to a male doctor? I was told that education is compulsory for every man and woman in Islam but the Taliban destroyed our schools."


Militants have destroyed 191 schools in the valley, 122 of them for girls, leaving 62,000 pupils with nowhere to study, local officials say.


Huma Batool -- not her real name -- is a 42-year-old mother of two who dices with death to teach girls at a private school in the region's main town Mingora.


"We have to veil ourselves and wear shuttlecock burqas. We are not safe even at home. We fear the Taliban all the time. Life is becoming worse and worse for women in Swat," she told AFP by telephone.


Educated and financially self-sufficient, she cannot even pop to the shops without a male relative, leaving her frequently couped up at home for hours, waiting for a suitable escort to become available.


"You cannot imagine how I manage to get to school, practically every day I think about leaving the job and sitting at home."


Taliban hardliners have outlawed entertainment as un-Islamic, shut down beauty parlours and closed shops considered dens of vice rather than virtue.


"Life bores us to tears. There is no entertainment. We can't even think about cable TV, cinema, film and music. Imagine I can't even go shopping or to the bazaar as women are banned by Taliban."


Salma Javed, 35, is a nurse at a local hospital, where women -- however sick -- can only be admitted if accompanied by a male relative.


"Every woman fears she will be killed if she comes out, so even sick and pregnant women have to visit hospital with their husbands."


Salma would love to leave, but she cannot scrape together the money to set herself up in Peshawar, the teeming metropolis of Pakistan's northwest, or in the capital Islamabad barely 160 kilometres (100 miles) away.


"Now we are waiting to see what will happen after the peace deal, but let me tell you things will not change for women," she said.


The only light in Shahnaz Kousar's life is that the Taliban -- at least for now -- are allowing her to go to school in Mingora. But outside her 10th grade classroom, the daily pleasures of shopping and make-up are gone.


"We are now totally depending on Taliban.


"There's not a single shop left where I can go and buy cosmetics, all shops selling women's things are either closed or empty.


"I remember when I used to go to this market with my mother and sisters, but now it seems like a dream."



Mullah Omar Calls for a Taliban Surge

By Robert Mackey

The Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports that on Thursday, “the mausoleum of renowned Pashto mystic poet Abdur Rehman Baba was bombed by unidentified miscreants,” outside Peshawar, in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. Dawn calls the bombing of the shrine to “a 17th century poet, revered for his message of love and peace” part of an “attack on Sufism.”


As the BBC notes, suspicion has turned to the Taliban, “who represent a more purist form of Islam and are opposed to Sufism, preventing people from visiting shrines of Sufi saints in areas they control.” The BBC also says that “No casualties are reported but the poet Rahman Baba’s grave has been destroyed and the shrine building badly damaged.”


According to Dawn:


    The shrine’s watchman had received a threat from suspected militants on his cell phone three days ago. He told police that the attack took place to crack down on the tradition of women making pilgrimages to the site.


In spirit, the attack on the Pashtun poet’s shrine in Pakistan seems to echo one of the Afghan Taliban’s most infamous acts of cultural cleansing: the destruction of the Great Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001. But, surprisingly, the Taliban leader who ordered the attack on the “idols” at Bamiyan, Mullah Muhammad Omar, might not approve of this bombing in Pakistan, or, for that matter, the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team and its Pakistani police escort in Lahore.


That’s because Mullah Omar, who is believed to be operating from the Pakistani city of Quetta these days, recently issued a letter in which he called on Islamists in Pakistan to stop fighting there. On Tuesday, The Guardian’s Saeed Shah reported that Mullah Omar’s letter reportedly said that:


    Attacks on the Pakistani security forces and killing of fellow Muslims by the militants in the tribal areas and elsewhere in Pakistan is bringing a bad name to mujahedeen and harming the war against the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.


Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani journalist, wrote in Canada’s Globe and Mail on Saturday that Mullah Omar’s letter “to the commanders of the Pakistani Taliban,” also said that “If anybody really wants to wage jihad, he must fight the occupation forces inside Afghanistan.” According to Mr. Rashid, Mullah Omar’s letter was part of “a strategic attempt by both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to unify and concentrate their forces for a spring offensive against the expected arrival of 17,000 more U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan.”


Mr. Rashid reported that Mullah Omar “followed up by sending envoys to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) — the tribal belt adjoining Afghanistan — where the Pakistani Taliban leaders are based. His appeal was part of a concerted attempt by al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban leaders such as Jalaluddin Haqqani, calling upon the Pakistani Taliban to unite.”


In an interview on The Guardian’s Web site, Mr. Shah suggested that Mullah Omar was partly worried that attacks inside Pakistan were “damaging the Taliban brand,” but was more concerned about getting reinforcements, to offset the increase of the U.S. force in Afghanistan from 36,000 troops to 53,000, ahead of “the spring fighting season.” (There are also about 30,000 other foreign troops operating in Afghanistan under a NATO-led command.)


Mr. Shah cited estimates that there are about 15,000 Afghan Taliban and perhaps the same number of Pakistani Taliban, predominantly drawn from the Pashtun tribes that live on either side of the colonial-era border that divides the two countries but is almost unmanned and essentially ignored by almost everyone in the region.


While Mr. Shah said that “it is not really a numbers game,” since the Taliban are fighting an asymmetric war, using guerrilla tactics and suicide attacks as what the military call “force multipliers,” the fact that the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan already seems to outnumber the Taliban raises the question of just how many troops it might take to really secure Afghanistan.


Last month Elisabeth Bumiller wrote in The Times that the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan, “said that the failed history of the British and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan should not be a predictor of America’s future in the country.”


It is true that times have changed a good bit since 1878, when a British force of 33,500 troops invaded Afghanistan, quickly occupied Kandahar and Kabul and toppled the regime in power (although that force ultimately failed to secure the peace and was forced to withdraw.)


But the Soviet effort to control Afghanistan ended just 20 years ago. On February 15, 1989, Bill Keller, reporting “Special to The New York Times,” wrote that the last Soviet soldier had crossed out of Afghanistan. As Mr. Keller noted at the time:


    Today’s final departure is the end of a steady process of withdrawal since last spring, when Moscow says, there were 100,300 Soviet troops in Afghanistan. At the height of the Soviet commitment, according to Western intelligence estimates, there were 115,000 troops deployed.


As the Soviets withdrew that day in 1989, the BBC reported that “Kabul is surrounded by a mujahedeen force of around 30,000,” So the size of the Afghan insurgency battling to take control of the capital 20 years ago this month, was just about the same as the combined strength of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban today.


Another way of looking at the great difficulty of the task of securing a country this size militarily is to look at how much larger a force the U.S. military deployed to keep the peace in just the one-quarter of post-war Germany it controlled in 1945. According to a Rand corporation study called “America’s Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq,” the U.S. peacekeeping force in that part of Germany (a region which then had a population of about 17 million people and no active insurgency) was more than 290,000 soldiers and “a constabulary or police-type occupation force” of 38,000.


Looking closer to home, consider that there are nearly 38,000 police officers in New York City, patrolling an area of just 300 square miles, with a population of 8.3 million. Given that, it is no wonder that the U.S.-led coalition is having a hard time policing the mountains and plains of Afghanistan with 66,000 troops. The country covers 250,000 square miles and has 30 million people in it. Even if only 15,000 are insurgents, the fact that they can escape across an international frontier to a sanctuary controlled by their allies makes it nearly impossible to entirely defeat or overwhelm them.


An awareness of this numbers game is perhaps what led General McKiernan to say that, no matter how big a force the U.S. ultimately sends to Afghanistan, “We’re not going to run out of people that either international forces or Afghan forces have to kill or capture.” Which is why, he stressed, “It’s going to be ultimately a political solution.”



Taliban cement rule, hard-line law after truce




MINGORA, Pakistan (AP) — Zeb Gul used to sell music CDs in this mountain town but was driven out of business by Taliban militants engaged in peace talks with Pakistani leaders desperate to halt their march across the nation.


The government insists the Taliban won't be allowed to enforce its harsh version of Islam here, but merchants like Gul know otherwise — he switched to selling poultry.


"The Taliban now call the shots. We cannot do anything that offends them," he said, standing outside his shop in this once-popular tourist destination less than two hours drive from the Pakistani capital.


Pakistan's leaders contend their peace talks with the Taliban in this region of snowcapped mountains and fertile valleys involve implementing a mild version of Islamic law, in which girls would still be allowed to attend school, vendors like Gul could continue to sell music and movies, and there would be no public floggings or executions.


But three weeks since a cease-fire took hold, the Taliban appear to have used the pause in fighting to tighten their hold over the Swat Valley, especially in and around the main town of Mingora.


There is also skepticism the militants — who do not have to surrender any arms under the cease-fire — will modify their hard-line brand of Islam, as well as concern the region will simply become a safe haven for the Taliban.


In his tiny shop in Mingora's main bazaar, Ali Ahmed now hawks cell phones — not the Pakistani pop music he used to sell, deemed sinful by the Taliban. He says only that the "situation" means his music business was no longer viable.


With its lush mountain scenery and the country's sole ski resort, the Swat Valley once attracted wealthy Pakistani vacationers and adventurous Westerners. It lies just east of Pakistan's tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan, where al-Qaida and the Taliban have long held sway.


But over the past 18 months, Taliban militants have battled security forces in Swat, beheading political opponents and burning scores of girls' schools. Hundreds have been killed in the fighting, which has sent a third of its 1.5 million people fleeing.


The prospect of ceding a further chunk of the region to extremists has alarmed Washington and many Pakistanis, who note the people of Swat rejected Islamic hard-line parties in 2008 elections and voted in a secular party which is now negotiating with the militants.


Many analysts believe any final peace deal in Swat, like a previous agreement with the militants that failed last year, will eventually collapse leaving the Taliban in a stronger position, having been given time to consolidate.


Despite the current cease-fire, violence has continued. Taliban militants killed two Pakistani soldiers this week who they accused of patrolling without first informing them, one of the terms of the truce. The day after the cease-fire was formalized, a TV journalist from Pakistan's most popular news channel was abducted and murdered in an area known to be under militant control.


The government has been talking to the Taliban through Sufi Muhammad, an aging pro-Taliban cleric who has publicly renounced violence, but who leads a movement with identical political aims. He was imprisoned for years for sending thousands of fighters to Afghanistan to fight U.S. troops after the invasion in 2001.


Government officials have defended the negotiations with Muhammad as an attempt to isolate armed Taliban militants from nonviolent movements in the valley, even if the latter have extremist views.


"In America, they have thousands of laws they use, they have their own system," said Amir Izzat, a spokesman for Muhammad. "Here we are Muslims. We are the supporters of the Islamic system and this is our right and we will use our right to live according to the Quran and the Hadiths," he said, referring to Islam's holy texts.


In Mingora, an Associated Press photographer saw scores of Muhammad's followers in the street last week, some in cars playing music glorifying jihad, or holy war. The police presence was limited to the occasional officer directing traffic.


The nearby districts of Kanju and Matta were under total Taliban control and outsiders were not allowed to visit, residents said.


The overall peace talks have been shrouded in secrecy: Neither the process for formalizing any deal nor who would enforce it has been clearly explained. A spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari says the Pakistani leader will not sign any changes in the law affecting Swat until peace and the authority of the government have been restored there.


"You know it has been bloodshed for the last two years. It has been a complete chaos and vacuum. So, what we are trying at present is a transition from instability to stability," said Khushal Khan, the top civilian administrator in the valley.


He suggested the militants would give up their weapons voluntarily after some time.


On Wednesday, the government in Swat said it had agreed to 17 points that appeared to significantly widen the scope of the Islamic law it promised to implement. Among them, stores must now close during prayer time, shops selling CDs and "obscene videos" must close, and prostitutes would be driven from the valley.


But other officials have insisted that while Islamic judges would be brought into the justice system, they would not be allowed to change the political system or start regulating social issues.


"Nobody will be allowed to close shops selling CDs," provincial law minister Arshad Abdullah said.


Residents, many of whom fled during the fighting, are simply glad of the respite from army shelling and brutal Taliban executions designed to dissuade anyone from resisting their authority.


"We are happy that peace is coming to our region," said Zia ud-Din, a 45-year-old lawyer. "We no longer see bodies hanging from trees."


Associated Press writer Sherin Zada reported from Mingora and Chris Brummitt contributed from Islamabad.



Obama urged to push for democracy in Muslim world 

Saturday, 07 March 2009 12:06


(Daily Star) - More than 80 scholars and experts - including Egyptian democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim and former deputy prime minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim - are urging President Obama to adopt a consistent and credible policy that supports democracy in the Arab and Muslim world.


The group will formally issue an open letter to the president at a news conference Tuesday, March 10, at 2:30 p.m. at the National Press Club in Washington.


"For decades, the United States and Europe have been coddling and supporting dictators in the Arab world, and this has been disastrous for the region and for US-Islamic relations," said Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and a co-convener of the letter. The letter states that for decades the United States has "supported repressive regimes that routinely violate human rights, and that torture and imprison those who dare criticize them."


The signatories call on the administration to make supporting democracy in the Middle East a top priority, even in countries that are US allies such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The authors call on the United States to "use its considerable economic and diplomatic leverage to put pressure on its allies in the region when they fail to meet basic standards of human rights."


"Because of its association with the Bush administration, there is a temptation to move away from any discussion of democracy promotion in the Middle East. That would be a mistake," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Project on Middle East Democracy and a letter co-convener.


The letter lauds Obama's initial efforts to reach out to the Arab and Muslim world, but warns that the US must show its commitment to democratic reform through policy changes.


Among the more than 80 signatories are: Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University; Morton Halperin, former director of policy planning at the State Department; Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House; Peter Beinart, contributing editor at The New Republic; Georgetown Professor John L. Esposito, and democracy expert Larry Diamond of Stanford University; and Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.



Pervez Hoodbhoy: Pakistan needs a new vision?


A leading Pakistani intellectual has described the Taliban as 'barbaric' because they are against elementary forms of civilisation and argues that negotiations are not possible with their leadership. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Professor of Nuclear Physics, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, also says in an exclusive interview to Shyam Bhatia of asianaffairs that the constitution of Pakistan needs to be altered to give equal rights to all citizens.


AA: Bearing in mind what happened at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, could you tell us how deep rooted are the Taliban in Pakistan?


PH: It was three or four years ago when we first heard of the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan. That translates into the Pakistan-Taliban movement. Prior to that we had thought the Taliban existed only in Afghanistan. Yes, we knew they were Pakistani creations, but in 1995 the ISI had formed and promoted them. That's how they won their great battle in Jalalabad, that?s how they took over Kandahar and that's how they ultimately took over Kabul. They were Pakistan's favoured allies, Pakistan was the first to recognise the Taliban government. But after September 11, 2001 Pakistan made its famous U-turn. I think they did right by doing so, but that was also the time that the establishment betrayed its allies. Nonetheless, even after 2001, for years after that, Pakistanis assumed it was just a problem for Afghanistan.


AA: But when does the link start with Pakistan?


PH: In 2004 we hear that they have an existence in Pakistan and are so powerful that the Pakistan Army is making compromises. So you have the famous treaty of Shakai in 2004 in which it was agreed that the Taliban would not be attacked, that they would be compensated for their losses, that they in turn would not attack Pakistani troops. So one starts wondering at that time what the heck is going on! How is it that the Pakistan Army, which is reputed to have such good fighting skills, is making compromises over there and then suddenly once after that, we start hearing that the Taliban have spread into Swat, that mullahs are broadcasting fiery messages on their private FM stations that they have indoctrinated a fair percentage of the population of Swat. Then comes the January of 2007 when the Taliban essentially took over the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad. The way it started was that the Capital Development Authority (CDA) announced it was going to demolish eight illegally constructed mosques in Islamabad. When they began doing this, I remember being astonished but pleased that they were finally taking notice of these illegal constructions. These had been intruding upon playgrounds, public parks, green areas and so forth.


Immediately, there was a reaction. The Red Mosque authorities started organising people. They launched a campaign to stop the illegal structures from being pulled down.


Lal Masjid was associated with Jamia Hafsa which was a madrassa for girls. It was originally sanctioned as a simple madrassa, which means one storey. It ended up as four storeys and accommodating between three and four thousand students, whereas it should have been for about 300 students. It was part of the Lal Masjid complex, or rather it became that, and at the end of January the students under the instruction of Lal Masjid mullahs took over the neighbouring children's library, a government building. The government watched, there was no action. After that it was all the way down the steep slippery slope until July 4, 2007. In the intervening six months there is much that the government could have done to stop it. For one thing it was obviously illegal for girls of Jamia Hafsa to go out on to the streets, to kidnap women alleged to be prostitutes. It was obviously illegal and wrong for them to break into shops accompanied by male madrassa students armed with Kalashnikovs, destroying CDs, DVDs and videos. They set up their own parallel justice system and there was apparently no check on their activities.


Three months into the Red Mosque issue, I was introduced to Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. He is a former prime minister and was Musharraf's emissary to the Red Mosque and he was very much in the news at that time. He also made statements, were published in the newspapers, that he had agreed to all the demands of the girls; these fanatical women with bamboo sticks accompanied by Kalashnikov-toting males.


He said to them, 'Aap to hamari baitiyon ki tarah hain, aapkey khilaf hum koi operation nahin karengey' (You are like our daughters and we will not launch any operation against you) and he said he agrees to their demands for having Sharia in Islamabad.


So when I was introduced to Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain in Islamabad, I asked him, 'Chaudhry sahib, is that what you said?' He replied, 'Yes, it is.' I asked him, 'Who gave you the authority to do that?' He pointed to a portrait of General Musharraf and said, 'He gave me the authority.' 'Well,' I said, 'you are a disgrace to Pakistan and its people'.


AA: Who signed the treaty of Shakai that you referred to earlier?


PH: That was General Aurakzai. He was a corps commander who later became governor of the Frontier province.


AA: Could you elaborate on the role of women in the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan and are there women suicide bombers as well?


PH: There are now suicide bombers to the extent of maybe 10 per cent and they are particularly effective because they can get through without being checked. This is a tactic that has been learned directly from Iraq. The women in Jamia Hafsa - the madrassa next to the Red Mosque - were under Ummeh Hassaan, the wife of Maulana Abdul Aziz. He was one of the two brothers - the other one was Abdul Rashid Ghazi who was killed - and he is currently in custody. He tried to flee from the siege by hiding under a burka. He was apprehended and exposed on television, leading to a temporary loss of status. Now his release has become a cause celebre.


Now astonishingly enough the Zardari government has decided to restore Jamia Hafsa. After the military action Jamia Hafsa was razed to the ground. Under pressure from the right-wing they are now restoring that women's madrassa. They have already released Ummeh Hassaan and the pressure is now on to release her husband.


AA: But what about the role of women in this militancy? Do they take their cue from the Iraqis?


PH: They are girls who have been brought mostly from the FATA and the tribal areas. They came under desperate circumstances, sent by their fathers. They spent their formative years in the madrassa and were brought up in a particular mindset. So when this whole thing happened (the siege of the Red Mosque), the girls were given the choice of leaving the madrassa. They chose to stay there and many were killed.


AA: You mentioned more than 60 suicide attacks in 2007. Was that one a week?


PH: It was mostly between July and December. And Islamabad has seen its 10th suicide attack. One of those, which left me quaking, was because of my daughters could have been in the path. They were scheduled to accompany the chief justice at a rally in August. They were heading towards the courts and it was then that the suicide bomber blew himself up and 32 people died.


AA: What are the favoured targets of the suicide bombers? Is it buses, public buildings?


PH: The favoured targets of the suicide bombers are first of all the military and ISI. The military has been devastated by the suicide bombers who have obviously acted upon inside knowledge. They have been able to get past security barriers, they have managed to kill special forces commandos. One of the suicide bombers breaks into their mess and manages to kill 16 of them. There have been attacks on the general headquarters, there have been successful attacks on the ISI headquarters in Rawalpindi. I remember that day so well because my students were late. I asked them what happened and they said Murree Road was closed and again it was a suicide bomber who got through. He apparently knew the security codes. I had a student who joined the ISI and then dropped out because he did not know who was on which side.


AA: Would you comment on our perception from the outside that the ISI is actually very heavily involved with the Taliban?


PH: The ISI is bitterly divided within itself, as is the army. These are organisations that were brought up on the premise that defending Islam was just as important as defending Pakistan's national borders. After 2001 they find themselves in a quandary. Who must they obey? What they have been brought to believe, or those people who are in charge of the state, and don't have the same convictions? So that has been extremely divisive, which is precisely why one cannot say that the Pakistani state speaks with one voice. This is a fact with which the leadership of Pakistan is confronted. It may not be the fault of the present leadership. This is a legacy they have inherited from Zia-ul-Haq.


AA: Didn't Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah make a distinction between mosque and state?


PH: Mohammed Ali Jinnah did not leave any clear blueprint for the state of Pakistan. Had he lived longer he might have had a greater say in how the state was to be structured. But that's a hypothesis. He was primarily concerned with bringing Pakistan into existence. What he had in mind is unclear because he did not write any books, he did not author any academic titles wherein he expounded on his vision of Pakistan. He gave a number of speeches at different points and at different places. But some of those were based on expediency, others reflected his true thinking. But which reflected his expediency and which reflected his thinking is unclear. So, for example, he never used the word secularism. When he was asked, 'Will Pakistan be a secular state?' he replied, 'I don't know what a secular state is.'


Thereafter he had an interesting exchange with journalists from Australia where he essentially dodged the question. But precisely because he dodged the question, it has remained a question.


AA: Why do some people in Pakistan refer to the Taliban as barbaric?


PH: I would like many more people to use the adjective 'barbaric'. The reason is obvious. These are people who do not want girls to be educated. In fact they blow up girls' schools roughly at the average of two per week. They are opposed to music, they have declared that every form of music, whether classical or folk, is haram. They do not allow even simple pleasures like kite flying or traditional pleasures like bear fighting. They sent in a suicide bomber in Kandahar who blew up in a crowd of 1,000 who were spectators, killing a hundred and wounding who knows how many. They say no man who doesn't have a beard will be allowed to walk the streets and whip those without beards.


They have issued threats against barbers and tailors because they say even tailoring clothes for women is inherently against Islam. They are against those elementary forms of civilisation and they are indeed barbarians. I feel their leadership cannot be negotiated with. It must be destroyed because people who follow this level of primitivism cannot be persuaded out of it.


On the other hand I think the rank and file of the Taliban is made up of simple folks. They are those who have been used to simple ways of living, they are in desperate circumstances, they are also subjected to culture shock because when they look at life in the cities finding it totally out of consonance with the life that they have been leading. And, of course, there are plenty of criminals as well.


AA: Where do they draw their inspiration from? Is it 18th century Wahabis from Saudi Arabia or the Deobandhi School?


PH: Before 1979 the Frontier region was populated by heavily armed tribals. The Soviet invasion led to the organisation of the great global jihad under the leadership of the U.S., joined in by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. But the logistics were primarily placed in Pakistan. The aim was to defeat the Soviet Union. To enthuse the mujahideen, the U.S. projected this as a religious war and said Islam was under threat. So it was not a question of one country invading another. The Reagan administration thought that the most efficacious way of doing this was to declare this as jihad. Soon the CIA, working under the Reagan administration, brought in the most hardened warriors from across the globe. The religious sanction came from Saudi Arabia, the logistics from Pakistan, the money and the weapons from the U.S.


AA: Islam would justify this level of violence?


PH: The history of Islam has not been peaceful. Personally, I think no religion is peaceful. It can be used when necessary and parts of its history can be used to justify virtually anything.


AA: So the Americans in Afghanistan and their allies created a kind of goonda cult and took out whatever suited them from the religion, handed it to them and said now go ahead and do what's necessary.


PH: It wasn't the goondas, it was ideologically charged Islamic fighters that they brought in. Remember that at that point in history - the time of the Cold War - it was communism versus Islam. They brought the fatwas from all the maulvis and mullahs from across the world and they projected it as a religious war.


AA: Is there anything in the speeches of the Prophet and in the hadiths that proscribes music or that you should not educate girls?


PH: There are arguments you can make both ways and people cherry pick. I cannot say that Islam liberates or oppresses women, it depends on how you read it. To my mind saying that Islam is a religion of peace is just as wrong as saying that it's a religion of war. You just pick out the pieces you like.


AA: The Taliban have created problems for and in Pakistan, yet many Pakistanis remain ambivalent about them. Why?


PH: Let's try and understand what the Taliban demand. Their demands to the government of Pakistan are three in number. First, that they should be allowed to fight the Americans in Afghanistan for as long as the Americans occupy Afghanistan. The second demand is that the Sharia should be ordered as the law of the land in Pakistan, starting with the Frontier province and then extending to all of the country. Sharia is the system of law set down in the hadiths. What it means depends on what school of thought you belong to and there are four major schools. The third one is that whatever harm has been done to them by the Pakistani state should be compensated, prisoners released and so forth. But basically it's just these three demands.


The problem is with all of these. First, if Pakistan gives them sanction to attack the 'infidels' in Afghanistan, where does that leave Pakistan? Is it ready to fight the U.S. as a declared hostile state? On the second demand, if the Sharia is to be imposed then that's the end of civil law in Pakistan. It will also lead to infinite divisiveness. Pakistan may be Muslim, but it's infinitely sectarian. Even more, it has a 20 to 30 per cent Shia minority. Forget about the one to two per cent Hindu, Sikh and Christian minorities. So what happens to all except the majority Deobandis and Baralvis? The third demand means you allow the Taliban to carry weapons, to give back all those that have been taken back from them. All three are extreme demands, but nevertheless the rejection of the Taliban by the Pakistani people has not been unequivocal. Why? Two reasons: one is that Pakistanis have been told from the very beginning that Pakistan was made from Islam.


If the Taliban say they are the true followers of Islam, then even if some of their acts are extreme, they are still in the right direction. They are simply seen as being too enthusiastic about things, but they are seen as basically right.


The second thing is that they are fighting the Americans and they are the only ones doing so today. This is more important than the first reason.


AA: You and others speak of the need for a new vision of Pakistan. Is the country in desperate straits?


PH: To my mind Pakistan has to stop pretending that it is a religious state. That it is defined by a religion. The fact is that there are many different faiths living within Islam, as well as faiths living outside of Islam. If all those who live within the geographic boundaries of Pakistan are to be considered as citizens, they are going to have to be given equal rights and be regarded equally. The constitution of Pakistan will have to be altered to express that fact. To have anything different means that those who do not belong to that one particular sect of Islam are going to be discriminated against, are to be excluded. And that is simply not possible for a modern state to have. If Pakistan is to have a future, it will have to have ethical and moral premises that are independent of the particular linguistic and religious backgrounds of its citizens.


AA: If Pakistan implodes, how will that affect India?


PH: India has a particular responsibility to see that Pakistan stays together, does not implode or explode, because in either situation the people of India would be in extreme danger. One always talks of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, but even if those nuclear weapons are somehow captured or neutralised, that too would not be sufficient. Here is a country of 170 million. If a tiny fraction is possessed of the idea that it must go out and change the world and use horrible methods, it would be an extreme danger for the world and in particular for India and China. So as a citizen of Pakistan I have to fervently hope that Pakistan stays together. That's for our own people but also for the rest of the world. The fact is that geographical boundaries in this day and age do not constitute any insurmountable obstacles to terrorists. How difficult is it to cross two miles? Well it is difficult to cross directly, but then you can go around the world pretty much get to where you want. India's well-being lies in Pakistan holding together.


The girls(who have taken to militancy) are mostly from the tribal areas and come under desperate circumstances, sent by their fathers.


The favoured targets of suicide bombers are, first of all, the military and ISI.


One of the legacy of Zia rule is that ISI and the army were brought up on the premise that jihad was the most important thing and it was the duty of Pakistan armed forces to further that role. India has a particular responsibility to see that Pakistan stays together, does not implode or explode.


FEMALE TALIBAN: Girls from the Jamia Hafsa madrassa, affiliated to the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, had set up their own parallel justice system in 2007


LIVING WITHIN ISLAM: If Pakistan is to become a modern state, it will have to grant equal rights to its minorities



Religion Provides Emotional Boost to World’s Poor

In low-income areas, religiosity linked to more enjoyment, less worry

by Steve Crabtree and Brett Pelham


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A tour of the world's most religious countries wouldn't be all mountaintop shrines and magnificent temples -- it would also take you to some pretty bleak places. Gallup Polls in 143 countries reveal that among countries where average annual incomes are $2,000 or less, 92% of residents say religion is an important part of their daily lives. By contrast, among the richest countries surveyed -- those where average annual incomes are $25,000 or more -- that figure drops to 44%.


Why is a population's religiosity consistently connected to its wealth, or lack thereof? Sociologists going back to the 19th century have theorized that societies naturally grow more secular as they modernize -- that is, as people begin to grow better off in terms of education and living standards, the importance they attach to religion begins to recede.


But these secularization theories have come under fire more recently for their inability to tell the whole story. Other researchers have shown that religion is in fact a powerful positive force for disadvantaged populations. In 2004, Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris used data from the World Values Survey to document a growing "religiosity gap" between developing and industrialized populations. They argued that people in the poorest societies live with much greater vulnerability to forces that threaten their existence, so they're more likely than those in developed nations to rely on religion for hope.


Gallup's 2008 surveys in 32 countries with average annual incomes of $2,000 or less (the countries are listed in the "Survey Methods" section) document the extent to which religiosity appears to affect residents' emotional health. Specifically, they are more likely than those in the less religious group to say they experienced enjoyment the previous day, and they are less likely to have experienced a range of negative emotions.



These differences persist even after factoring in other variables that might affect respondents' emotional states such as gender and age. Now compare these results with those from the world's richest countries -- i.e., the 31 countries surveyed in 2008 where residents have average annual incomes of $25,000 or more.


Note that the differences here are smaller -- in fact, in the two cases in which they are more than a couple of percentage points, they are in the opposite direction from those we saw among the poorest countries.


The Social Side of Religion


In rich-world countries, one reason people that are more religious are less likely to get an emotional lift from their faith may be that they have fewer similarly devout people to share that faith with. This gets to another line of thought that emphasizes the social connections that religion fosters in developing societies. Common faith traditions give residents access to social networks and opportunities to forge meaningful relationships that offer emotional satisfaction, as well as a safety net -- a literal form of "social security" -- in times of crisis.


An ongoing analysis by Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Danny Kahneman and Gallup senior consultant Raksha Arora supports this concept, finding that respondents who are more religious give higher ratings on a life evaluation scale in countries where religiosity is more common overall.


In other words, as you move to countries where higher proportions of people say religion is important to them, the relationship between that question and overall life satisfaction gets stronger.


Gallup's data also reveal that in poor countries residents who are more religious are more likely than those who are less religious to say they had positive experiences and interactions the previous day. For example, those in the more religious group are more likely to say they were treated with respect all day and that they smiled and laughed a lot that day. Again, these differences are smaller or nonexistent among rich-world populations.


Where Is the "Religion Lift" Strongest?


Finally, let's take a closer look at those poorer countries where 1) there are enough residents who are less religious to meaningfully compare them with their more religious counterparts (7% of the population was our lower limit) and 2) religiosity is most closely associated with more positive emotions and experiences. We can clearly see the effect in most sub-Saharan African countries, but in three countries -- Uganda, Ethiopia, and Burkina Faso -- it is particularly dramatic.


Controlling for the effects of age, gender, and household income, the connection between religiosity and enjoyment is just as strong or stronger.


What do these three countries have in common that might help explain why religiosity appears to have such a powerful effect? Many factors unique to each country may be at play, but it's notable that they share three characteristics:



      Prominent role of religion in culture. In all three countries, religious traditions are an important part of public life. In Ethiopia, for example, religious festivals are enthusiastically celebrated by entire communities, with members of all faiths participating together.


      High levels of religious acceptance. None of the three countries has a completely homogenous religious makeup -- all have some mix of Christianity, Islam, and indigenous faiths -- but all three have a history of harmonious coexistence between different faith communities.


      Low government involvement in religion. The government does not formally align itself with any particular religion in any of the three countries. Nor does the government in any of the three seek to limit or control the religious practices of its people.


It seems likely that these three elements contribute to an environment that maximizes the benefits of religiosity, while minimizing the likelihood of costly religious conflict.


Bottom Line


Gallup Poll results support the idea that the social and psychological benefits of religion are strongest in the world's poorest countries. However, these effects vary from country to country, and as history has shown, religion is often associated with devastating conflict as well. One implication seems to be this: Strategies for development in the world's poorest countries should seek to leverage the positive power of religion by promoting conditions, such as interfaith harmony and low state interference, under which its benefits are most likely to come shining through.


Survey Methods


Global results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted in 2006, 2007, and 2008 with approximately 1,000 adults in each country. Results from each country have an associated sampling error of ±4 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


Countries or areas surveyed with average annual incomes of $2,000 or less include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Haiti, Kenya, Kosovo, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Burma (Myanmar), Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.


Countries and areas surveyed with average annual incomes of $25,000 or more include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


Officer Leads Old Corps in New Role in Pakistan


Published: March 6, 2009


PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, commander of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps paramilitary force, got some bad news the other day: The Pakistani Army needed its two helicopters back for a more urgent mission.


Trouble was, they were the only two helicopters General Khan had that day — or any other day — to combat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the country’s lawless tribal areas. “If the army needs their assets, we don’t get priority,” General Khan said of the transport and attack aircraft that the army lends him because his forces have none of their own.


So it goes for the Frontier Corps, a stepchild of the army that has to borrow most of its heavy weaponry, even as it increasingly finds itself on the front lines fighting Qaeda and Taliban operations that threaten American troops in Afghanistan and are increasingly destabilizing Pakistan.


Still, with the 500,000-member Pakistani Army focused on its archenemy, India, and reluctant to embrace serious counterinsurgency training, the Frontier Corps, long maligned as poorly trained, ill equipped and at times in league with the insurgents, may yet be the country’s best immediate hope for countering a fast-spreading militancy.


Unlike the Punjabi-dominated army, the 60,000 troops in the Frontier Corps are largely drawn from Pashtun tribesmen who know the language and culture of the tribal areas, making it the most suitable force to combat an insurgency there, Pakistani and American military officials say.


Enter General Khan, a portly, 52-year-old tank commander who made his name last year battling the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan. He took command of the corps seven months ago and has sought to drag it from its 19th-century border-patrol past into the 21st-century world of counterinsurgency.


The general, who once was Pakistan’s military representative at the United States Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., has already improved morale by raising salaries and expanding medical care to dependents. He has drafted a detailed plan to overhaul the corps, aiming to transform it into a more agile lightly armed force while also swelling its ranks by more than 10,000 to allow home leaves.


He is an unusually progressive officer, a trait that has ruffled some feathers among his army brethren. In this conservative society, General Khan plans to offer women jobs as medics in rear-area field hospitals, freeing up male orderlies to fight.


Pakistani and American officials say the Frontier Corps is already more effective now. The corps’s forces, fighting alongside regular army soldiers, have largely wrapped up operations against the Taliban in the Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber areas of the tribal belt, the general said.


A new commando unit within the Frontier Corps has used information from the Central Intelligence Agency and other sources to kill or capture as many as 60 militants in the past seven months, a senior Pakistani military official said. “The results speak for themselves,” Owais Ahmed Ghani, the governor of the North-West Frontier Province, which includes the tribal areas, said in an interview.


General Khan has strong support from the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. But many military analysts question whether General Khan will get the resources and backing to continue carrying out his changes. Moreover, some critics say, the recent Frontier Corps operations have not eliminated the Taliban threat, but just shunted it to neighboring areas.


“The Frontier Corps has shown improvement, but there’s still a long way to go,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a military analyst in Lahore. “The Taliban are entrenched and move quickly from one area to another.”


The United States has thrown its support behind the corps. The Pentagon has spent more than $40 million to equip it with new body armor, vehicles, radios and surveillance equipment, with more in the pipeline. Over all, American officials have said that the United States could spend more than $400 million in the next several years to enhance the corps, including building a training base near Peshawar.


A United States Army Special Forces officer is assigned to the corps’s headquarters here to help share intelligence and coordinate operations with American forces across the border in Afghanistan.


Last fall, about 30 American and British military instructors spent three months training some 120 senior enlisted corps troops in new weapons, combat tactics, communications and other technical skills. Those Pakistani troops will in turn train additional corps forces.


But a review of policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan by the National Security Council this year, under former President George W. Bush, concluded that the “train-the-trainer” approach was so indirect that it would take about 12 years to field an effective counterinsurgency force. “They’ve got a long way to go before you can rely on them,” Representative John F. Tierney, a Massachusetts Democrat, said of the corps. Mr. Tierney’s oversight subcommittee has conducted several hearings on Pakistan.


In an interview here at his headquarters, a massive 19th-century brick fortress built by the British, General Khan said that a relatively modest investment — say, $300 million — in sensors, night-fighting equipment, sniper rifles and helicopters would enable the corps to respond to specific threats within 90 minutes and “to go independently anywhere it wanted to go.”


“It would change the dimension of the combat capacity of the Frontier Corps,” he said. “In the long run, it would reduce expenditures because you wouldn’t need so many troops.”


In the end, General Khan said the only long-term solution was to rebuild the tribal leadership structure that has been decimated by Taliban attacks, and then provide local tribal communities economic assistance and job training. “I consider the front-line force against the militants to be the tribes themselves,” General Khan said. “By bringing back tribal leadership, we’d be able to control this. But we have to have the wherewithal to protect those tribes.”



Ayatollah Khatami Tells Saudi King to Rein In Extremist Wahhabis

March 6, 2009     


    Iran Friday Sermon: Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami Tells Saudi King to Rein In Extremist Wahhabis, Says Saudi FM Spoke of 'Iranian Provocation,' Condemns ICC Arrest Warrant Against Sudanese President Al-Bashir, Praises Tehran International Conference In Support Of Palestine


Following are excerpts from today's sermon by TehranFriday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami. [1] To view the MEMRI TV page for Ahmad Khatami, visit:


Saudi FM's Remarks "Provocative"; Saudis Must Turn Islamic World Against Israel, Not Iran


In his sermon, Ayatollah Khatami expressed regret over recent remarks by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal in which he spoke of the "Iranian provocation," [2] and called on Iran's Foreign Ministry to find a diplomatic solution to the issue.


He also condemned the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, saying that it attested to "instrumental use of international bodies."


Speaking to a crowd of worshipers at the Tehran University campus, Khatami said that Al-Faisal's remarks were provocative, and added that instead of calling for the mobilization of Islamic forces against Israel, Al-Faisal had called for an Islamic mobilization against Islamic Iran. He added that Al-Faisal had repeated the statements of Israeli officials, and that the sovereign Iran had always showed that it is an affectionate neighbor and seeks peace and tranquility for all its neighbors.


"The guy [i.e. the Saudi foreign minister] needs to note that Israel has chanted the slogan of Nile to Euphrates," he said. He continued, "The Saudi foreign minister recently made statements spreading hatred among brothers and turning the Islamic world against Iran, and I say to him that he must turn it against Israel... [Israel is] also likely to turn against Mecca and Madina."


He added, "[Do not] forget that Moshe Dayan once spoke of capturing Khaybar in Saudi Arabia."


Wahhabi Extremism in Saudi Arabia Detrimental to Islamic World


Khatami distinguished between extremist Wahhabis and the Sunni population in Saudi Arabia. Addressing Saudi King Abdallah, he said that extremism was detrimental not only to the Islamic world, but also to his own status, and urged him to stop the extremist conduct. He said that the rights of the 15% of the Saudi population that is Shi'ite have been ignored in Saudi Arabia, adding, "I ask the Saudi officials, why don't you allow the minority to perform their rites? Why do you restrict their rituals?"


Calling on Iran's Foreign Ministry to take a firm stance against the issue, he added that a Hajj pilgrimage which comes along with insult and humiliation would betray the reputation of the noble Iranian nation.


Sudan Guilty Only of Standing Against Colonialists; ICC Should Judge Israel, U.S. Crimes


Turning to the ICC's arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, he said, "Israelis committed crimes in Gaza for 22 days, killing hundreds of women and children; Americans commited crimes in the Guantanamo and Abu Ghuraib prisons and Afghanistan; they turned wedding caravans into bloodbath; the Hague did not make any comment on all those but issued arrest warrant against president of a country."


Khatami said that Sudan was guilty only of standing against the transgressions of colonialists, and added, "We say that the [International Criminal] Court and the judiciary apparatuses have the right to judge [the heads of the Zionist regime] and to execute them because they are seditious on the land and are fighting against God and the Prophet."


Khamenei Showed Iran is Centerpiece of Islamic World


Also in his sermon, Khatami welcomed the idea of "a vote for every Palestinian," saying: "The idea of 'Each Palestinian One Vote' will work to save Palestine from occupation." He hailed the guidelines set out by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei at the "Fourth International Conference for Support of Palestine, The Model of Resistance, and Gaza, the Victim of War Crimes," [3] saying that he had shown that Iran is the centerpiece of the Islamic world and is passionately focusing on the world's oppressed. He said that Khamenei had "answered all doubts... and for the 60 years that Palestine has been occupied [by Israel], no proposal ever raised had any outcome, and the only way is for the Palestinian people to go to a referendum and decide its own destiny."


He added, "We cannot consider our and the Muslim world's destiny separate from each other - this is what our religion and our Constitution, that stems from religion, say."


Khatami noted that Iran, based on Islamic teachings, considers it a duty to support the oppressed, whether Lebanese, Iraqi, Palestinian, or even Saudi. He said, "Our support for the Palestinians is based on the Koran and the Hadith, and is not [merely] a slogan."



Reform in Saudi Arabia

Published: March 6, 2009


To the Editor:

Re “A Promise of Reform in Saudi Arabia” (editorial, Feb. 26):


King Abdullah’s commitment to reform in Saudi Arabia is genuine; as the custodian of Islam’s two great mosques, he is open to working with religious moderates, and that is changing attitudes across the Middle East.


I have had the privilege of working with King Abdullah on a number of occasions, most notably as a participant in the international interfaith forum he gave in Madrid and as a member of a select group of religious leaders he convened during his most recent visit to New York and the United Nations.


He has a sincere interest in enacting real initiatives to strengthen relations and bridge the gap between Muslims, Jews and other religious groups around the world.


Instead of questioning his commitment to reform, we should applaud King Abdullah for tackling the most pressing issues of the 21st century and for diligently working to curb religious extremism.


(Rabbi) Marc Schneier

President, Foundation for Ethnic Understanding

New York, Feb. 26, 2009



Muslim Women “Warriors”

By Frances Kissling

March 6, 2009

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a good time to reflect on the efforts of women of faith to reform or repeal texts and practices within their religions that contribute to women’s inequality or oppression.


For those of us in the United States and Europe, of Christian and Jewish traditions, the effort has focused on reinterpreting texts, working for the inclusion of women in ministry, for non-sexist language, and for the elimination of violence against women. The effort has not been easy; Christian and Jewish women still have a long way to go and we’ve experienced a fair amount of derision and even lost jobs, but none of us has actually risked our lives or ended up in jail as a result of this work.


Some of the most prophetic among us have found some acceptance. The Philadelphia Eleven, Episcopal women who were “irregularly” ordained in 1974, ushered in regular ordination by 1976 and the consecration of the first woman bishop, Barbara Harris, in 1989. Roman Catholic women began ordaining themselves in 2004 after an initial irregular ordination by a male bishop in 2002.


While these women (who number about 50 priests and five bishops) have been excommunicated, they are living proof that the institutional church has only the power we give it. They go about the business of ministry and service with skill and good grace.


Increasingly, Buddhist women have been seeking full ordination within the various branches of Buddhism. In Korea, Taiwan, and China, Buddhist nuns have been fully ordained for centuries, in an unbroken lineage back to the Buddha. In other countries and branches of Buddhism, the practice of fully ordaining women has not survived. Buddhist women have organized for ordination, and these are increasing. Thai Theravada Buddhism, which is linked to the state, has been most resistant to these ordinations, and Tibetan Buddhism under the Dalai Lama has been considering reviving the tradition, but as of today, no final decision has been made.


Muslim women—and feminists—are following a different and complicated path. This was brought home last month when I participated in a five day international conference in Malaysia which brought together 250 women from 47 countries, many of them predominantly Muslim with strong links between religion and state. The conference launched the Musawah Movement, a loose network of Muslim women’s groups working to ensure that Muslim family law recognizes and operationalizes the equality of women within the family. Muslim feminists are as diverse as other feminists which was reflected throughout the conference; Muslim feminism is not new. This conference, for example, was the result of 20 years of research and advocacy by a Malaysian group called Sisters in Islam (SIS). Zainah Anwar, the coordinator of Musawah (equality in Arabic) said:


    Musawah is in some ways a vindication of a long and difficult struggle to find liberation within my faith and to translate into action my utter belief in a just God. This is the last frontier in the feminist movement to break the theological stranglehold of the patriarchs that prevents Muslim women from enjoying equal rights.


For Sisters in Islam finding liberation in their faith has involved a two-prong strategy: theological education and political advocacy. SIS takes religion seriously. In its early years, SIS reached out to Islamic scholars, studied the Qur’an and came to adopt a modernist methodology of interpreting the Qur’an and the Hadiths. Those of us with less knowledge of Islamic scholarship are unaware of the fact that since the mid-19th century (and before), Islamic scholars have offered modernist methodologies of interpreting Islamic texts that have been developed independently but share some characteristics of modern biblical interpretation.


Abdullah Saeed, the Sultan of Oman Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at Melbourne University and a conference speaker, offered a methodological framework for interpretation that included understanding the Qur’an as a text influenced by the history of the time in which it was written and requiring analysis of how it was and is received as an element of legitimacy. He notes that progressive scholars and classic modernists in Islam emphasize “core Islamic values of justice, goodness and beauty” and engaging both Islamic tradition and modernity on the issues of human rights, social justice, gender justice, and pluralism.” It is this tradition that Sisters in Islam and Islamic feminist scholars including Norani Othman, Fatima Mernissi, and Riffat Hassan have engaged.


Not all at the conference (nor in the broader Muslim feminist community) are in sync with a theological approach to Muslim feminist advocacy. There was loud grumbling on the second day of the conference from feminists who want nothing to do with religion. For them, the task of Muslim feminism is to secure pluralism and democratic legislation in Muslim countries, based solely on human rights theory and treaty obligations.


Zainah Anwar weighed in on this approach in an opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune:


    The decision of so many activists to ignore religion has had undesirable consequences. It has left the field wide open for the most conservative forces within Islam to define, dominate and set parameters of what Islam is and is not.


Anwar makes sense. In many Muslim-majority countries civil family law is based on Shariah. To try to change those laws without addressing its underlying religiosity and offering a respectful but different understanding of the Qur’an is unlikely to succeed. Moreover, in some countries where Shariah is not accepted as civil law, Shariah courts exist within the Muslim community and Muslim women are urged by their families to take issues of family law to these courts rather than civil courts. There have also been efforts by Muslim conservatives in the UK and Canada to pass legislation that would make Shariah courts the legal arbiters of family law for Muslims. These moves have been opposed by Muslim women and human rights advocates although some mainstream political leaders have naively assumed that recognition of such religious courts was an act of respect for cultural diversity.


Shariah is already interpreted differently from country to country, used and abused to justify practices that limit women’s human rights. Women are stoned to death and imprisoned for adultery, and even for reporting rape. Custody laws, which automatically award children to husbands, keep women in abusive marriages. In some countries, women can be divorced without their consent and with no provision for support. So-called honor killings go unpunished; girls’ education is limited or forbidden; women are beaten with impunity by husbands, fathers and sons.


One moderator of a “talk show”-format session, in which women leaders described their personal efforts to change conditions for women, called them “warriors.” In some quarters of feminism and religion, such a word would raise hackles. We are a “kind and gentle people.” But in other circles we combine a fierce sense of bravery and rage, a willingness to do battle for women with the instruments of reason, scholarship, and compassion in pursuing justice and equality. Let us celebrate all the strategies women use to survive and thrive.



Palestine And The Post-State Era

By Cameron Hunt

06 March, 2009

Those of us appalled by Israel’s latest attacks on the civilian infrastructure of Gaza would likely have been delighted to hear the announcement by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, that the Court was actively considering whether Palestine was “enough like a state” for the ICC to investigate those attacks. More than 220 communications have already been received by the Court alleging Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Court, whose Statute entered into force on July 2002, had until now insisted that it had no jurisdiction over the occupied Palestinian Territories; mainly owing to the Court’s Statue, which limits the jurisdiction of the Court to “the territory of any State Party and, by special agreement, on the territory of any other State” – but in either case, to ‘states’ . Mr. Moreno-Ocampo was quoted as saying: “What is a state in international law, in particular in the Gaza territory - that is the discussion. It is a complicated discussion.”


Interestingly, I am not able to find a single piece of commentary (in English) on the significance of this quote from Mr. Moreno-Ocampo. If it is “a complicated discussion” whether, under international law, Palestine constitutes a state, then one thing is for sure: there may already be an internationally recognized ‘State of Palestine’ – at least for those of us that consider international law more fundamental than the assertions of either Israel or the US. Even more interesting, is that there is a very strong legal case that Palestine does indeed constitute a ‘state’ under international law, and that Israel should therefore not be surprised by any ICC investigation into its latest crimes.


In his Book, Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law, Professor Frances Boyle of the University of Illinois detailed his earlier analysis of the legal bases for Palestinian statehood; an analysis requested from him by the PLO, in June 1987. The immediate result of his research paper, many will not be aware, was that “on November 15, 1988, the independent state of Palestine was proclaimed by the Palestine National Council (PNC), meeting in Algiers, … as well as … in Jerusalem”. Writing shortly after the Palestinian declaration of statehood, Mr. Boyle concluded: “Generally put … there are four elements constituent of a state: territory, population, government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. All four characteristics have been satisfied by the newly proclaimed independent state of Palestine… Over 114 states have already recognized the newly proclaimed state … which is more than the 93 that maintain some form of diplomatic relations with Israel. Furthermore, on December 15, 1988, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution [A/RES/]43/177, essentially recognizing the new state of Palestine”.


Unlike the majority, I consider the recent comments from the ICC Prosecutor to be more problematic, than beneficial. What if the ICC decides that Palestine already constitutes a state under international law, recognizes it as a new party to the Rome Statute, and opens up an investigation into Israel’s alleged crimes in Gaza? Many will no doubt express their gratitude, but what of the ICC’s ability to actually punish those it finds guilty as charged? Hasn’t Ehud Olmert, for example, already announced that Israel would keep serving soldiers “safe from any tribunal”? It is important to make the point, in this regard, that the ICC can only try those suspected of international crimes, if they have not already been tried by their appropriate domestic courts. What if those under scrutiny are tried in Israeli courts, and either cleared, or given absurdly light sentences? I suspect it is for this reason that Susan Rice, the new US representative to the UN, offered their long-standing ally some friendly advice: “Israel must investigate allegations its army violated international law”. And if it didn’t, and the ICC subsequently indicted various leading Israelis? Does anybody believe that their arrest would not be blocked by the Israeli military, using any means necessary? And what of the US – who likewise refuses to recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC – and its “unshakeable” support for Israel? It would certainly do everything in its power to prevent such legalistic action being taken against an important ally. The Palestinians are not only unlikely to receive the justice they deserve through any ICC action – as matters stand – but they might also end up destroying the ICC, by handing it what could become the first serious test of its mettle, very early in its life.


You may have noticed the caveat of ‘as matters stand’, in the preceding paragraph. This is a reference to one of my earlier Articles, Two-State Chimera, No-State Solution, of 24 May 2007, in which I outline a plan for a ‘no-state solution’ to the Israel-Palestine conflict. This solution is modelled on the multi-nation State of Switzerland – a Federation of nation-based cantons – and is predicated upon the forced internationalization of the entirety of historic Palestine: its conversion into a United Nations ‘Trust Territory’ (UNTT), divided into nation-based cantons. It would of course be very easy for you, at this point in time, to discount me as a naïve idealist, but before doing so, please consider the following quote from “a senior Hamas leader in Gaza”, dated 26 October 2007: “Switzerland is the model”. Needless to say, whether the requisite nation-based cantons existed within the framework of a UNTT, or within a single federated ‘state’, is almost entirely irrelevant, provided that each of those cantons operated on the principle of ‘subsidiarity’, thereby guaranteeing the inhabiting peoples their legal right to national self-determination. Important to note in relation to self-determination, is that, as is the case in Switzerland, the borders of any such cantons would not be rigidly fixed, but could be adjusted on the basis of a popular vote – contrast this with the prevailing ‘European Model’ of statehood.


Some of the ever-evolving benefits of the proposed no-state solution would include there being no need for Hamas to recognize the State of Israel – though the Nation of Israel would of course remain – and no need for Hamas to recognize past ‘peace agreements’ made between the PLO/PA and Israel – which have earnt the Palestinians no freedom, and cost them huge swathes of the West Bank. Likewise, there would be no need to form another National Unity Government between the Palestinian factions – something which, in addition to now being very difficult to achieve, would immediately allow Israel (and in particular Benjamin Netanyahu) to return to its earlier refrain of not dealing with any government that included Hamas – how quickly the World forgets. Hamas, as the democratically elected Government in Gaza, could simply go on governing those cantons which constituted Gaza, and the PA/Fatah those cantons that constituted the West Bank; until the next elections – something which would be mandated in the UNTT’s ‘Trusteeship Agreement’.


In returning to the opening theme of this Article, the proposed no-state solution would likewise facilitate the immediate investigation of war crimes alleged to have been committed in Gaza, by an ad-hoc tribunal established by the United Nations General Assembly – the Administering Authority of the newly established UNTT. Though the most senior criminals would undoubtedly be offered shelter in the US – perhaps a moral coup for Hamas in itself – there would no longer exist any capacity for the State of Israel itself to keep its citizens “safe from any tribunal”. There would no longer be an Israeli Army, and no longer any such thing as Israeli courts, thereby eliminating the two major instruments currently available to Israel to prevent the punishment of war criminals living within its professed borders. At this point in time, it is worth recalling Israel’s stance towards the international Fact-Finding Team established by Kofi Annan in April 2002, to investigate accusations by the UN Relief and Works Agency, amongst others, that Israel was guilty of “violating international humanitarian laws during its operation in the Jenin camp”. Upon setting up the Team, Mr. Annan announced: “I expect the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to co-operate fully with the team and to provide full and complete access to all … sources of information”. The Team was denied any and all access by the State of Israel.


It goes without saying however, that the major benefit offered by the no-state solution, is that Hamas can very quickly end the occupation, by ending the occupier – the State of Israel (as opposed to the Nation). How does this compare with the PA’s oft-mooted ‘nuclear option’ of simply dissolving the PA, and insisting at that point that there is only one State, and that the Palestinians should therefore be treated as equal citizens within it (despite all the evidence that even Israel’s Mizrahim Jews are discriminated against)? How well would that strategy advance the cause of Palestinian national self-determination? There is another point that needs to be made on this strategy: the ‘two-state’ and ‘one-state’ frameworks each require the full cooperation and support of both the US and Israel, to have any chance of success. Conversely, the ‘no-state solution’ sidelines the US – as is appropriate after more than 40 years of failure, with no policy change in sight – and ends the State of Israel.


The only advantage that a Palestinian State – with East Jerusalem as its capital – appears to offer the Palestinians over and above my proposed no-state solution, is the promise of (Sunni) Muslim sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif, in the Old City of (East) Jerusalem – the third holiest site in Islam. It seems telling that Hamas’ offer of a 10-year truce with Israel, in April 2008, was conditional upon a Palestinian “state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital”. On this issue – the only issue that appears to stand between Hamas and the immediate implementation of the no-state solution – it is worth citing the words of Professor Boyle, whose legal opinion was absolutely central to the 1988 Palestinian declaration of statehood: “neither Israel nor Palestine nor both together have the basic right under international law to dispose of Jerusalem”. We know already of Israel’s contempt for international law, but most had hoped for a different stance towards it from the Palestinians. Sadly, Hamas’ description of the ICC arrest warrant just issued against Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir, as “unjust and political”, doesn’t bode very well in this regard, and is likely to make it much more difficult to argue that Israel’s crimes in Gaza should be punished.


For those within Hamas that continue to insist that the only outcome they will accept is a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital – with full sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif – it is worth considering the attitude of Israel’s government in waiting, towards Hamas. Benjamin Netanyahu has recently been quoted as saying that Hamas should “ultimately be removed” from Gaza. What has his likely coalition partner, Avigdor Lieberman, had to say on the topic of Hamas? “If we will be in this government, the defeat of Hamas will be the foremost objective.” As for the Palestinians more generally, who continue to suffer indiscriminately whenever Israel decides to punish those it doesn’t like – democratically elected or otherwise – Benjamin Netanyahu “has repeatedly made clear that he opposes creation of a Palestinian state. Instead, he speaks of economic development – ‘economic peace’…”


So, with the promise of no Palestinian state that is recognized by Israel – or by way of that, the US – and the promise of ongoing attacks against Gaza (ostensibly) aimed at unseating Hamas, what else can the Palestinian leadership expect to continue if they don’t act soon to end the occupier? In the middle of February 2009, “Israel tightened still further the restrictions on Palestinian movement and residency rights in East Jerusalem... This means that tens of thousands of Palestinians are now cut off from the city”. Israel’s ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem is gaining pace, and shall certainly continue to do so under what is likely to become the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history. Hilary Clinton’s recent commentary on Israel’s planned demolition of 100 Arab homes in occupied East Jerusalem built without a permit from the occupier, something she referred to as “unhelpful” – as opposed to a war crime – gives no cause for hope of there being any US resistance to Israel’s endless expansion. Likewise, I am not aware of any commentary by Mrs. Clinton on Israel’s recently leaked plans for 73,000 new homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – this at a time when thousands of Gazans are living in tents, with no guarantee of new homes to replace those that Israel just destroyed.


With a decision on the legal status of the Palestinian state expected from the ICC within "months, not years", and a very strong possibility that the ICC decides in the affirmative, the fundamental question becomes: What if there already is a ‘State of Palestine’? Where would that leave the current ‘peace process’; a process premised upon a ‘two-state vision’ (namely, affording the Palestinians a state of their own, if they behave as Israel and the US demands)? Won’t that noble ‘vision’ have therefore already been achieved, possibly as early as 1988? Does this perhaps suggest that the current promise of a Palestinian state more closely resembles a ‘two-state placebo’, than solution? Might it point to the intellectual idolatry of ‘statehood’? If the Palestinians are found to already have their State, how has it helped them?


Were Hamas to embrace the proposed no-state solution, they would in fact be taking the first step towards a Post-State World. They would immediately represent the World’s intellectual vanguard, declaring that the European Model of statehood does not in fact represent the best framework for the 21st Century, or beyond. If challenged on this point, they might simply ask how the European Model helped to prevent the two major (European) Wars of the past Century? How it is helping to prevent the fissure of Belgium, or to placate the various separatist movements that exist within the State of Spain? How state borders have helped to calm tensions between nationalists in the Congo and Rwanda? In Pakistan’s Pashtun areas?


National borders are far more important than any recognized or disputed State borders; the European Model of statehood being barely a century old in most parts of the World. Hamas is in a position to reject that Model, and to demand the enlightened Swiss Model of nation-based cantons; something that can be easily imposed through the mechanism of the United Nations General Assembly, without regard to either Israeli or US objections – contrast this with the other two ‘solutions’ actually under consideration.


Cameron Hunt is the author of Pax UNita - A novel solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.