New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Saudi support for extremism must be halted
By Jonathan Power
A crisis in Russian-Turkish relations
By S P Seth
Beyond the usual to fight extremism
By Mohammad Ahmad
The refugee crisis in Pakistan
By Babar Mirza
Is there a viable solution to the Afghan problem?
By Rasul Bakhsh Rais
Saudi support for extremism must be halted
By Jonathan Power
Saudi Arabia's oil and massive arms' purchases have made western politicians mute decade upon decade. But now western leaders are waking up to what their expediency has tolerated and allowed
On Sunday the German vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, publicly accused Saudi Arabia of financing Islamic extremism in the west and warned that it must stop. He said that the Saudi regime is funding extremist mosques and communities that pose a danger to public security. “We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over,” Gabriel told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag in an interview.
At last some western leaders are grasping the Saudi Arabian nettle. For too long the country has been given a clean pass. Saudi Arabia’s oil and massive arms’ purchases have made western politicians mute decade upon decade. But now, with clear evidence that Saudi Arabia has allowed rich Saudis to fund first al Qaeda and more recently Islamic State (IS), western leaders are waking up to what their expediency has tolerated and allowed.
Thanks to Wikileaks we know that Hilary Clinton when secretary of state wrote in a cable in December 2009 that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba in Pakistan.” Lately, running for president, she has been explicit in her warnings. Why has it taken so long for eyes to begin to open? In his autobiography, Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service (home of James Bond), wrote that some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington, told him, “The time is not far off in the Middle East when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”
Dearlove, speaking last week, said he has no doubts that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with their governments turning a blind eye, have played a central role in the IS surge. “Such things simply do not happen spontaneously,” he said. Saudi Arabia, over the next few years, may well come to regret its support for these extreme militant movements and its support for the Sunni revolts in Syria and Iraq. Jihadi social media is already beginning to talk of the House of Saud as its next target. But Saudi Arabia, Nelson-like, still puts the telescope to its blind eye when observing what Saudi supporters of IS are doing.
Should we be surprised? The Saudi regime is Wahhabi, the puritanical and intolerant version of Islam that condemns Shias and other Islamic sects as non-Muslim apostates and polytheists. Saudis believe that they possess a monopoly of Islamic truth and that leads them to be deeply attracted towards any militancy that can effectively challenge Shia-dom. Fifteen out of the 19 9/11 plane hijackers were Saudis, as were Osama bin Laden and most of the private donors who funded the operation.
Wahhabism was founded as an Islamic movement back in the 18th century by Abd al-Wahhab. Besides his puritanical views on alcohol and the role of women he demanded conformity: all believers must pledge their allegiance to a single Muslim leader. Those who did not should be killed, and their wives and daughters violated. Shias, Sufis and other Muslim denominations were apostates who merited death. In the 16th century, when John Calvin founded his church in Geneva, similar attitudes were prevalent, and Calvinist opponents and witches were sometimes executed.
At first, Wahhabi was not popular. Indeed, he was expelled from his hometown. But then, in 1741, he found refuge under the protection of Ibn Saud, an up and coming tribal monarch. He perceived in Wahhabi’s teaching the means of overturning Arab tradition and convention. It was a path to seizing power. Jihad came into being as did its corollary, martyrdom, with its concept of being rewarded with entry to paradise. By 1790, this alliance controlled most of the Arabian Peninsula and repeatedly raided Medina, Syria and Iraq. There were many setbacks but, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of World War I, the movement took on new life and expanded fast while remaining loyal to the Saudi royal family.
The end of the Great War and the discovery of huge amounts of oil brought the west into the life of Saudi Arabia. As Alistair Crooke has written, “In the collaborative management of the region by the Saudis and the west in pursuit of the many western projects — countering socialism, Baathism, Nasserism and Soviet and Iranian influence — western politicians have highlighted their chosen reading of Saudi Arabian achievements (wealth, modernisation and influence) but they have chosen to ignore the Wahhabist impulse.”
Now the penny is beginning to drop in western capitals. How could the west have ever imagined that a doctrine of ‘one leader, one authority, one mosque; submit to it or be killed’ would ever lead to moderation or tolerance? It did not and now the chickens are coming home to roost.
Jonathan Power has been a foreign affairs columnist for the International Herald Tribune for 20 years and author of the much acclaimed new book, Conundrums of Humanity — the Big Foreign Policy Questions of Our Age.
A crisis in Russian-Turkish relations
By S P Seth
Turkey has been unhappy with the US over, what it considers, its failure to remove the Bashar al-Assad regime
The recent shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkey has added a new dimension to an already complicated and dangerous situation in the Middle East. Turkey blamed Russia for breaching its air space in its bombing raids over Syria. Ankara had earlier complained of Russian over flights but, in the latest incident, it decided to act alleging that the Russian military aircraft was ignoring warnings from its air force. Turkey is a member of the Atlantic Alliance, which makes the shooting down of the Russian plane potentially a serious issue between not just Turkey and Russia but also between Russia and the Atlantic Alliance. Even though neither Turkey nor Russia is inclined to let it develop into a military conflict, President Obama supported, in principle, Turkey’s right to defend its sovereignty, finding fault with the way Russia is operating in Syria close to the Turkish border, targeting moderate rebels (and not Islamic State) to bolster up the Assad regime.
Why did President Erdogan and his administration decide to act against Russia for its bombing raids inside Syria? Such straying of aircraft into another country’s air space would not normally invite such drastic action like the shooting down of an aircraft, as Russia was not involved in a warlike situation with Turkey. Indeed, the plane in question was shot down in Syria on the Syrian-Turkish border. It was, therefore, a provocative action on Turkey’s part.
And it resorted to such dramatic provocation for a number of reasons. Having won recent parliamentary elections on the issue of stability and security for his country, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey wanted to build on it in the international arena. Russia is seeking to bolster up the Assad regime that the Erdogan administration has been unsuccessfully seeking to unseat by favouring the Syrian rebels. At the same time, Turkey has been unhappy with the US over, what it considers, its failure to remove the Bashar al-Assad regime. However, the US dithered, even after Assad crossed Obama’s ‘red line’ when it used chemical weapons. Ankara wanted him replaced by a moderate rebel coalition under its patronage, and thus get rid of the ‘hated’ Alawite (a Shia sect) rule over the country’s Sunni majority.
Instead, to Erdogan’s great disappointment and exasperation, the Obama administration seemingly collaborated with Russia to save the Assad regime by their joint action to get rid of its chemical weapons. This, in their view, created conditions for the rise of Islamic State (IS), making the so-called IS caliphate into the dreaded phenomena it has become. But, in Ankara’s view, Assad appears an even bigger monster for oppressing and killing his people, and for daring to ignore Erdogan’s dictum to step aside. After Russia’s military intervention in his favour, Assad looks seems to be further entrenching his position. This has greatly incensed the Erdogan administration. Having failed to register its unhappiness with Russia by oral warnings over its over flights on bombing raids in Syria, it apparently decided to act dramatically and provocatively — if not aggressively — by shooting down its military aircraft. And it certainly succeeded in capturing international attention, with what consequences is still not clear.
President Vladimir Putin called it “a stab in the back” carried out by the accomplices of terrorists, saying it would have serious consequences for Moscow’s relations with Ankara. In other words, he accused Turkey of supporting terrorists. Elaborating, Putin reportedly said: “We established a long time ago that large quantities of oil and oil products from territory captured by IS have been arriving on Turkish territory” and that was how IS militants had been funding themselves. Moscow even accused the Erdogan family, particularly the president’s son, of involvement in the oil smuggling racket from IS.
At the same time, when Russia has sought to fight terrorists, according to Putin, Turkey has been attacking its planes. Russian aircraft “was shot down on Syrian territory by an air-to-air missile from an [Turkish operated] F-16... It fell on Syrian territory four kilometers from the Turkish border. It was flying at 6,000 meters, one kilometer from Turkish territory when it was attacked.” And this, Putin said, “despite the fact that we signed an agreement with our American partners to warn each other about air-to-air incidents.” Indeed, according to this account, Russia had passed on the flight details of their military aircraft to the Americans to avoid incidents, but it was of no avail, with the Russian president hinting at complicity.
And here is the thing. President Erdogan worried that international efforts at a united front against IS, more so after the momentum gained from the Paris carnage, might further come to the rescue of the Assad regime as happened between Russia and the US after they agreed to get rid of his chemical weapons’ arsenal. The shooting down of the Russian plane for violation of Turkey’s air space was supposed to rally NATO behind it, being an attack on a NATO member’s sovereign space. And this will throw a spanner into the works, as if, to sabotage any progress with Russia over a united strategy against IS, likely based on Moscow’s position that Assad would still be around, at least during any political transition.
But it seems that it has not worked so far. NATO’s support for Turkey has been, at most, lukewarm, emphasising more the de-escalation of the crisis. At the same time, if Ankara was expecting Moscow to rethink its support for the Assad regime, it appears to have only strengthened its resolve to stand by the regime and increase its bombing of border areas in Syria. And this is not all. Russia is freezing/scrapping all economic and trade relations, including a very thriving tourism sector, with serious consequences for the Turkish economy.
The Erdogan administration was apparently over-estimating NATO’s solidarity on its behalf and under-estimating the Russian reaction. Its bluster has serious consequences for its wide-ranging and fast growing relations with Russia. Ankara is now trying to backtrack and de-escalate the situation. Hopefully, things will settle down over time and put a damper on Erdogan’s delusions of power, though there are no signs of it yet. This might even help to tone down his obsession and paranoia about the Kurds who, he fears, might come out stronger from a virtual US-Kurdish alliance to beat back IS. This is another reason Ankara is unhappy with the US, fearing that Kurdish gains might eventually work to its disadvantage by strengthening Kurdish separatism. Turkey is thus caught in a web of its own making, diving only deeper into it.
S P Seth is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia.
Beyond the usual to fight extremism
By Mohammad Ahmad
The monarchs, to protect their rule, used the services of the clerics to make the people believe that the state and faith were inseparable. This was but a sly move to thwart any challenge to their legitimacy as rulers
The people of France were exercising their right of spending a weekend in whichever way they deemed fit when the so-called Islamists chartered the final actions of their worldly life in a manner that ruined whatever good, if any, they may have done in their lives. The cardinal sin of taking 129 innocent lives and injuring more than 300 others of their humankind will never leave them in the hereafter and they will surely meet justice. Their horrible deed was not for the supremacy of God. The Lord belongs as much to the Christians and Jews as He does to the Muslims.
The Islamophobes are using this dastardly act of sheer brutality to malign the Islamic faith. However, it is good that despite being unfashionable there are people in the west who come out and say that it is not religion but brainwashing with a twisted doctrine that is making people act inhumanly. It is therefore not for this article to answer Megyn Kelly, Robert Spencer or the like for there are others out in the west who suffice. On this one can only say that unless the soul transforms, one carries the violence within into the religion one follows. It is for this reason that we find some Buddhist monks committing horrible acts of violence in Myanmar (Burma) though Buddhism never advocates violence. While in the short term urgent security response and elimination of active terror cells anywhere and everywhere is a must the point of real concern is why so many are getting their doctrine twisted and expressing violence. What can be done to stop this?
The separation of the church and state in the west brought about a transformation there that led to the non-acceptance of the expression of violence in the name of religion. Things had not always been such. Around the ninth century, when the nexus between Christian clerics and the monarchs had evolved for mutual benefit, Popes Leo IV and John VIII declared that killing unbelievers was actually spiritually beneficial for Christian soldiers: their sins could be erased if they killed in defence of the church. The infamous Spanish Inquisition also has its roots in this alliance and twisted doctrine.
In Muslim faith too the idea of the need of protection of the faith by the state was brought in later. It was an idea stemming from the necessity of the rulers needing legitimacy for governance after the assassination of Hazrat Ali, the fourth caliph. For this, the institution of clerics was created and a nexus formed, which was based on scratching each other’s back. This continued into their rule in Spain and even in Turkey till it was uprooted by Kemal Ata Turk.
The monarchs, to protect their rule, used the services of the clerics to make the people believe that the state and faith were inseparable. This was but a sly move to thwart any challenge to their legitimacy as rulers. That the first Constitution of the state of Medina, also known as the Charter of Medina, formed when its inhabitants, the refugees and the local population of Muslims and Jews agreed to bind themselves into one nation, did not reflect this. It called people of differing faiths one community to the exclusion of all men. It protected the rights of all inhabitants. This was shamelessly forgotten for political reasons. The efforts towards mixing sate and religion were so successful that even the authenticity of the saying of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) declaring “love for one’s homeland is part of faith”, which requires patriotism from all Muslims residing in other lands, was put into question. The clerics cherry picked verses from the holy Quran to assist the rulers in dealing with their subjects and never stopped them from initiating wars, a few purely for territorial gains. This was despite the fact that war was only allowed for those wronged. This was to later become the fuel for inter-faith acrimony, although the holy book calls for convergence on the basis of what is common.
Since states use force to enforce their commands, the idea of using force to comply others to follow the requirement of religion took root in society and weak minds accepted the use of force to further a doctrine although the faith had declared: “There is no compulsion in religion.” The twisted mind assumed the role of a warden — often a brutal one — though the Quran says: “Admonish thou then; thou art but an admonisher. Thou art not over them a warden.”
If the world is to become a safe place where all can generally live in peace there is an urgent need to make all possible efforts in the Muslim majority states to bring about this disconnection between faith and the state. The use of force in matters of religion was not an issue that developed from the bottom upwards. It rather developed the other way around. The unwinding also has to be done in that order. This change will eventually come from within but outside help will undoubtedly quicken the pace.
Islam is a potent force and its spread in the Indo-Chinese region though the work of Muslim traders is undebated. That argument alone could win over a whole region and points to the inherent strength of the argument. The Muslim populace needs to be made aware of the fact that their faith does not require the protection of the state. Since the faith-state relationship has evolved over centuries there are beneficiaries of this system and they offer strong resistance to any reform. For the good of humanity, the west should employ all possible means to assist Muslim majority states in achieving this reformation that goes with the fundamental teachings of their faith.
Mohammad Ahmad can be reached at email@example.com
The refugee crisis in Pakistan
By Babar Mirza
December 9, 2015
Ever since migrants marched out of Africa and spread out across the globe, migration has been a perennial theme in human affairs. Ambitious individuals looking for business opportunities, persecuted social groups fleeing bigotry, or simply the seasonal nomads looking for greener pastures have travelled to foreign lands and made their temporary or permanent homes there. The ebb and flow of the movement of people depends a great deal on the temperament of the host communities. That is why human rights activists are interested in protecting and promoting the rights of immigrants, who may unwittingly find themselves living in hostile host communities.
The treatment of migrants has been the biggest human rights issue in 2015. According to the International Organisation for Migration, more than 750,000 migrants have been detected at the borders of the European Union (EU) between January and November 2015 compared with 280,000 detections for the whole of 2014. The figures do not include those who got in to the EU undetected. Further, more than 2,800 migrants are reported to have died trying to make the crossing this year — altogether 3,406 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2015.
In the background of this global refugee crisis, Pakistan too has had its share of Afghan refugees to deal with. However, a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, “What are you doing here? Police abuses against Afghans in Pakistan” documents a marked increase in abuses against Afghan refugees in the wake of the APS attack in December 2014. The Pakistan government has a legitimate right to regulate refugees and migrants, however, that has to be done in compliance with international and domestic legal standards. While the security challenges faced by Pakistan from terrorism are real and need to be effectively tackled, the recent tragedy in Paris highlights the need for solidarity and that generalisations must be avoided. The persecution, intimidation and scapegoating of all Afghans living in Pakistan on the pretext of fighting terrorism is not the way forward.
Pakistan has hosted one of the largest displaced populations in the world for a long time. It has been a better host than many other countries and has traditionally welcomed and accommodated refugees. The country has seen a huge influx of Afghans fleeing violence and conflict since the 1970s. The first comprehensive registration of Afghans living in Pakistan, which took place in 2006-07, provided many Afghan refugees with a Proof of Registration (PoR) card, initially valid for three years. The government subsequently extended the validity of the cards several times. The PoR cards are now scheduled to expire on December 31, 2015. The failure to renew these in a timely manner will result in more than two million Afghans living in Pakistan without legal status and consequently, protection.
HRW documents accounts by Afghans of repeated threats, frequent detentions, regular demands for bribes and occasional violence by the Pakistani police in the months since the Peshawar school attack. The abuse has compelled many Afghans to return to an uncertain fate in Afghanistan, while those living in Pakistan remain in constant fear. The report records the testimony of many Afghans having PoR cards, but even this provided little protection against police harassment and abuse.
In both its August and September 2015 monthly updates, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees noted: “In general, eviction notices by the authorities, harassment, intimidation, movement limitations, economic factors, settlement closure/consolidation and fear of arrest and/or deportation were mentioned by interviewed returnees as the main push factors of return from Pakistan so far this year.”
HRW makes concrete recommendations to ensure better protection of the rights of Afghan refugees, including that the Pakistan government should extend current PoR cards until at least December 31, 2017 and review the PoR system to establish better procedures to avoid the stress and cost of periodic short-term renewals. The government should also issue a specific written directive instructing all relevant government officials and state security forces to cease unlawful surveillance, harassment, intimidation and violence against Afghans living in Pakistan. Lastly, the government should ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and adopt a national refugee law, as proposed in the 2013 National Policy on the Management and Repatriation of Afghan Refugees. The ongoing global refugee crisis is a reminder to all of humanity that refugees must be treated fairly. The HRW report serves as a stark and timely warning to the Pakistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governments; it is a warning that should be heeded.
Babar Mirza is a graduate of Michigan Law School and a lawyer based in Lahore
Is there a viable solution to the Afghan problem?
By Rasul Bakhsh Rais
December 9th, 2015.
Let the international community and the regional powers that have high stakes in Afghanistan try something new — reconciliation among various Afghan groups, including what passes for the government there. For the last 35 years, the Afghans, regional players and the great powers, all have employed one familiar policy — using armed forces, supporting their favourite warring factions and intervening to bolster a weak government that has little public support. Nothing of this sort has worked in the past, nor will it in the future.
No realistic politician, policymaker or power has been genuinely interested in helping Afghanistan and its helpless people. The reconciliation effort must start after acknowledging some basic facts. Five facts about Afghanistan stand out clearly. First, the war has not ended. While the US and its coalition partners have ended their war mainly due to the fatigue factor and growing opposition back home to involvement in this remote conflict, the Afghan factions, which include the Afghan National Army, the Taliban and former and current warlords that have the backing of the Kabul authorities, continue to fight. Second, the war is not confined to the Pakhtun-dominated regions, from where the Taliban movement rose against the Mujahideen factions in the 1990s. The new, post-American war has new conflict zones in north-eastern and central Afghanistan. Third, the Pakhtuns form the largest part of the Afghan Taliban movement, but unlike in the past, the movement also has Tajiks, Uzbeks and members of other ethnic groups in its ranks. Fourth, the Afghan security forces are neither sufficiently equipped nor motivated enough to defeat the Taliban in a war of attrition that the international coalition has left unfinished. Finally, factional war in Afghanistan will continue to fuel regional intervention by states and non-state actors.
All internal stakeholders and external powers know what the ground realities in Afghanistan are. The problem is that states, self-interested power-seeking groups and warring factions with conflicting agendas tend to ignore facts; some do so because they profit from conflict and others live in a bubble of a self-imagined, unreal world. Given the high human and material costs of the several cycles of the Afghan conflict, only fools from either side will expect to win this endless war. Indeed, Afghanistan’s wars have produced no winners in the past and will never do so in the future.
The humanistic and realistic solution of the Afghan conflict lies in a negotiated political settlement. Those from within Afghanistan — the Taliban factions and the Kabul government — who refuse to sit together at the negotiating table, must have motives other than that of establishing a stable Afghanistan. Pakistan, along with China and the US, played a key role in getting the Taliban to the negotiating table. While initially the Afghans praised the first round of the talks and showed eagerness to return for the second, they left the process one evening before the dialogue was to resume with the news of Mullah Omar’s death becoming public. Perhaps, they thought the Taliban movement will be buried with the death of Mullah Omar. The subscript of the official strategy was that with the death of Mullah Omar, the inspiration and a unifying force for the Taliban, Kabul can manipulate factionalism to destroy the group. Good luck with that. This strategy is not new to Afghanistan and its failures are well-publicised.
The starting point of resolving the Afghanistan problem has to be Afghan reconciliation. It has three dimensions — the government, the Taliban, and the leaders of the ethnic minorities from the north of the country. The problem is that the government is not unified. It is factionalised and it possesses a weak will because there are conflicting visions and interests within the government. This factionalism has been at the root of all cycles of the Afghan conflict.