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The tragedy of being Christian in Pakistan: New Age Islam’s Selection From Pakistan Press, 8 December 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau


December 8th, 2015


 The tragedy of being Christian in Pakistan

By Daniyal Yousaf

 Sectarian scourge

By Tufail Hussain Malik

 Religious terrorism and beyond — II

ByBabar Ayaz

 Russia-Turkey tension has to be defused

By Manish Rai

 San Bernardino shooting — a clash of world views

By Taha Najeeb




The tragedy of being Christian in Pakistan

By Daniyal Yousaf

December 8th, 2015

The state-led drive to raze the largely Christian occupied katchi abadis is inarguably consistent with the more palpable ‘private’ acts of intolerance and targeted violence, since they all germinate from the same milieu where Christians are viewed and treated as inherently inferior

In its badly spelled official response to an inquiry by the Supreme Court (SC) on the spate of katchi abadi (slums) demolitions, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) shamelessly betrayed the ignominious bigotry deeply ingrained in the institutions of Pakistan. Amidst the plethora of poorly articulated and illogical assertions, one despicable ‘justification’ for this energetic trend of razing informal settlements took the cake for being the most blatantly odious. The CDA earnestly observed how “Most katchi abadis are under the occupation of the Christian community” and thus constituted an encroaching demographic threat to the pristine Muslim majority of the capital city. The CDA duly presents itself as an unabashed noble protector of the ‘Islam’ in Islamabad, even if it is impossible to imagine a reality where a disenfranchised and marginal group can in any way present a credible ‘threat’ to the well-being of an overwhelming majority. The rest of the response goes on to rue how Islamabad — formerly one of the most beautiful cities in the world, apparently — has come to “resemble ugly villages” and that removing these katchi abadis was necessary to give the “citizens of the city” a better environment. The implication is clear: Christians as a group can never be conceived of as anything more than filthy outcasts unworthy of being given even the most rudimentary rights and protections afforded to ‘real citizens’.

It should be clear with this disarmingly frank admission of the CDA that such drives are not simple by-products of a ‘value-neutral’ desire to achieve development and curb illegal land occupation. The drive to render swathes of people homeless overnight without regard for their shelter and safety is underscored by a particular vision of development that would service only a select class. It is characterised by a state that engages with its people not as individuals but as ‘essentialised’ groups of desirables and undesirables. The document is coded with an entire history of oppression and though it is reprehensible and farcical, it is also important as evidence of institutionalised prejudice. The state-led drive to raze the largely Christian occupied katchi abadis is inarguably consistent with the more palpable ‘private’ acts of intolerance and targeted violence, like the attacks on Gojra, Jospeh Colony and Youhanabad, since they all germinate from the same milieu where Christians are viewed and treated as inherently inferior.

The Christians of Pakistan, who barely make up two percent of the population, are pejoratively referred to as chuhras in regular parlance but few are aware that this demeaning term was once the name of the Hindu caste from which most Christians in Pakistan descend. The emergence of indigenous South Asian Christians was a consequence of the colonial state’s desire to render a diverse Indian populace ‘knowable’, thereby starting the practice of census taking, which solidified previously fluid identities on the basis of ‘inescapable’ caste characteristics. The chuhra caste was one such group of predominantly landless people in the larger Punjab region who found themselves stuck being labelled ‘untouchable’ and ‘impure’, and entirely at the mercy of powerful patrons. The same colonial enterprise that condemned them to a fixed identity also offered a chance of escape: after 1875, entire communities of chuhras started to convert to Christianity en masse one after another in a bid to escape their lowly status as promised by the stream of missionaries descending on Indian soil. Within a few decades, the number of Christians went from less than a few thousand to almost half a million, and under the auspices of the church the emerging community got access to its own villages, health services and education.

When Pakistan came into being based on an exclusionary movement, the Christians suddenly found themselves in a precarious position and lacking the previous cushion of state patronage. Despite the fact that Pakistani books denigrate Hinduism and talk up Islam’s egalitarian spirit, Pakistan’s social systems have a wholly unacknowledged caste-based paradigm. The tragedy of the chuhras is that though they gave up their original religion and strove for generations to shed the ‘untouchable’ label, they are never allowed to escape their historical position and are constantly objectified as intrinsically ‘unclean’. Waste management has become the sole preserve of this community and every governmental job listing the position of ‘janitor’ comes with an asterisk signifying that only Christians are allowed to apply. They cannot be imagined as having aspirations beyond base servility.

Because they are ‘unclean’, Christians are effectively ghettoised and consigned to their own insecurely held pockets within a hostile urban landscape. These ghettos, whether ‘formal’ like Joseph Colony in Lahore or ‘informal’ like the katchi abadis of Islamabad under threat, at once act as a jail and a sanctuary where they can observe and preserve their religious practices relatively unobstructed. But being conceived of as ‘inferior’ is a potent tool in perpetuating and normalising acts of extreme violence against the group, which go unpunished and unprosecuted by an apathetic criminal justice system. Born poor and to a minority held in contempt, the Christians cannot hope to have access to the state’s protection and even the aforementioned ‘sanctuary’ is distinctly vulnerable.

During a research project to investigate the razing of Joseph Colony in March 2013, I encountered local residents from surrounding neighbourhoods, denizens of the markets, members of the police and union councils. Consistent in all the interviews was the invocation of tropes that caricatured Christians as filthy criminals who spread the vices of gambling and alcohol, and deserved to be punished for ruining the moral fabric of the surrounding areas. It was clear that the small portion of land occupied by the colony in a large steel market was deeply resented and the pretext of blasphemy was all the ammunition needed to activate a mob to run out a whole community. The attack on Jospeh Colony was but one fortuitously non-fatal example; if one sets out to compile a list of brazen, unpunished attacks on Christian individuals or communities by sickening hordes eager to assert their credentials of ‘piety’ — as I did — one would come away with hundreds of pages and the deepest sense of despair.

The reason the CDA’s technically legal practices were earlier equated to the unambiguously illegal attacks on Christians was precisely because, in both cases, Christians are treated with apprehension and disgust, and cannot be allowed to be integrated. They are targeted on the basis of their identity and are made aware in no uncertain terms that they will remain unwanted and unaccepted. When occasionally this deep rooted sense of alienation tips over into angry protests, as it did in the aftermath of the Youhanabad church bombing earlier this year, rather than leading to an appraisal of discriminatory policies it is used as further proof of the inhumanity of Christians and this vilification on popular media then lays the ground for more ‘retributory’ violence. It is hard to come away optimistic about a change in the fortunes of Pakistan’s minorities. The only conceivable way for Christians and other minorities to find relief is if the impossible happens and the state of Pakistan and its police forces let go of the colonial-inherited technique of ethnically stereotyping and classifying the people, and start to serve citizens as individuals and not members of a particular group.

The writer is an Assistant Editor at Daily Times


Sectarian scourge

By Tufail Hussain Malik

December 8th, 2015

ALONG the Golden Hillock Road in Birmingham, UK, a huge procession celebrating the birthday of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is taken out every year.

It wends its way through a mainly Muslim area which, as can be expected, includes people from diverse sects just as can be found in Pakistan.

However, unlike in Pakistan, where there are risks associated with attending any religious gathering, you will not see any security provided by the state.

In fact, in the UK, the police will, normally, not provide security if it is over and above their usual duties. Providing police security for such religious gatherings is considered unnecessary. The reason for this is simple; any act of violence is plainly not tolerated and the ‘extremists’ in the UK understand that perfectly.

Despite all their differences, adherents of one Muslim sect would never dare to hurl abuse and stones at another. No one will cause harm to processions making their way through a street or place barriers in an attempt to stop them from passing through an area where they are in the majority. During my 11 years in the UK, I have never heard of a serious incident which smacked of a sectarian motive. That is the case in respect of Shia processions or gatherings of other sects and religions.

Bigots in Pakistan are on their best behaviour in the UK.

It is an ironic state of affairs though that the very same bigots who show intolerance towards others in Pakistan will be on their best behaviour in the UK. They will take a ‘proactive approach’ in making sure they do not give succour to sectarianism — a startling transformation in the behaviour of ‘extremist’ Muslims.

The worst they would probably do is whisper in a corner of the mosque which is out of public sight.

Here in Pakistan, the followers of any sect should be perfectly aware, after a number of faith-based massacres, that any steps to declare another sect non-Muslim or kafir has not made them ‘better’ Muslims; rather, such measures have been a constant source of sustenance to unscrupulous preachers. This has been at the cost of precious lives, at the cost of killing someone’s beloved or a family’s sole breadwinner.

The reason why sectarianism is a heinous act of terrorism is that it attempts to justify violence on the basis of differences ancillary to the basic tenets of Islam. While economic reasons can probably be cited as one of the underlying issues, they are in no way an excuse for the carnage of our fellow countrymen.

The intolerance that we see today in Pakistan is unheard of in the Islam that the Prophet taught.

It has become almost an axiomatic argument that the failure of the law-enforcement authorities is one of the main reasons behind this continued and appalling state of affairs. The issue is rooted in the superfluity of Pakistani policing. The police have been protecting various interests of the ruling parties rather than concentrating upon the law and order situation on the ground.

My opinion might be countered by some with the argument, ‘are you comparing the situation in the United Kingdom with that of Pakistan?’ However, I strongly believe that this question is nothing more than an expression of disappointment in what we can achieve in Pakistan. A case in point is the significant improvement that can be seen in the law and order situation in KP. All we need is sincerity and resolve to root out this monster.

Any efforts by the leading institutions, no matter how well-intentioned they are, time and again have proven to be insufficient and toothless. It is yet to be seen whether the Council of Islamic Ideology’s proposed 14-point code of conduct for religious organisations to curb sectarian violence, which is reportedly to be further discussed in the council’s next meeting, is implemented in letter and spirit.

The restrictions imposed by the government on the use of loudspeakers have seemingly discouraged provocative speeches being ‘imposed upon’ the wider audience and also resulted in a more peaceful environment in cities and villages. The government needs to send out a clear message that sectarianism is terrorism and will not be tolerated in any form. Any promoters of sectarianism and hate speech must be dealt with strictly within the parameters of the law of the land. The government must also take decisive steps to make sure that any funding, local or foreign, to different religious factions is strictly regulated and constant checks are in place to monitor the use of those funds.

Borrowing from David Cameron’s words from his recent speech on extremism delivered in July this year at the Ninestiles School in Birmingham; “We will defeat the extremists and build a stronger and more cohesive [Pakistan], for our children, our grandchildren and for every generation to come.”

Tufail Hussain Malik is a lawyer.


Religious terrorism and beyond — II

Babar Ayaz

December 8th, 2015

Muslim terrorists are more in number, they are spread all over the world, are more organised, are more violent and, above all, al Qaeda and now Islamic State (IS) have given them a global agenda

Islamist militants want to establish their cherished ‘Islamic khilafat’ through jihad against the governments siding with the ‘infidel’ Americans. They draw their inspiration from the teachings of Ibn Taimiyya, Farraj and Qutb on how the ulema (clergy) have failed to rise and call for jihad against the government declaring the rulers as infidel lackeys of the west.

One of the major reasons for the revival of religious extremism and terrorism is that in each religion there are puritans who want to keep a cultural and religious status quo, and resist any change particularly when it appears to be foreign. Many scholars have used the term Islamists for the extremists. Humeira Iqtidar, in her paper ‘Secularism beyond the state: the state and the market, explained: “Islamists are defined as those among Muslim revivalists who focus on taking over the state — they certainly seem to take the state, both as an idea and as a material object, very seriously.”

They are asking for more Islamic laws and a lifestance in accordance to the Islamic code as practiced in the seventh century. According to Charles S Liebman, religious extremism in all religions is the natural outcome of the fact that “religion claims absolute truth about ultimate reality. It knows the route one must follow to live one’s life in accordance with that which is ultimately right and ultimately just... The search for stricter or harsher interpretation of the law is consistent with the desire to assure one’s self and others that one is indeed living in accordance with what one is commanded to do rather than simply in accordance with what one would like to do.”

That explains why the Islamists are afraid of change and are fighting the proverbial ‘windmill’ like Don Quixote. The world, as Thomas Friedman stated, is now flat because of information flow, thanks to digital technology and optic fibre. In each country, foreign ideas, culture and political debates are beamed into the sitting rooms of the people. The internet has broken all barriers. Knowledge is being democratised. All this is scary for retrogressive conservative forces. They are fighting back, declaring that globalisation of culture is a threat to religion and religious tradition. Even some of the leftists and liberal activists in Pakistan are resisting the change and instead of moving on with the changing times want to remain attached to antiquated theories and systems. Olivier Roy explained that Muslim ‘neo-fundamentalism’ “looks at globalisation as a good opportunity to rebuild the Muslim ummah (Muslim community) on a purely religious basis, not in the sense that religion is separated from culture and politics, but to the extent religion discards and even ignores other fields of symbolic practices. Neofundamentalism promotes the decontextualisation of religious practices.” We have seen that along with the petro-dollars of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf kingdoms cultural and religious influences are also coming to the country, decontextualising the local culture. Saudi-funded mullahs and even some educated people are influenced by Wahhabi thinking and they denigrate local cultural practices because they are not practices in Arabia.

A question is often raised then: when there are extremist strands in all religions why are Muslims extremists profiled as terrorists? The major reasons are that Muslim terrorists are more in number, they are spread all over the world, are more organised, are more violent and, above all, al Qaeda and now Islamic State (IS) have given them a global agenda. Unlike others who have local issues, Muslim extremists have the al Qaeda and IS manifesto to establish Islamic supremacy over the world. There is a debate raging among Muslims as to whether the Salafi explanation about the permanent jihad by the individual is correct or whether jihad has to be a collective action declared by an Islamic state. Olivier Roy maintains that [w]hatever the complexity of the debate among scholars since the time of the Prophet (PBUH), two points are clear: jihad is not one of the five pillars of Islam (profession of faith, prayer, fasting, alms’ giving [zakat] and pilgrimage [Haj]) and it is therefore a collective duty (fard kifaya) under given circumstances. However, the radicals, since Sayyid Qutb and Mohammad Farrag, explicitly consider jihad a permanent and individual duty (fard ayn).”

The Arab countries in West Asia fall into two categories: one, ruled by tribal kingdoms and, two, the countries that are in the eye of the storm i.e. Iraq, Syria and Libya. The common thing in the Arab kingdoms and these three countries is that all had in place dictatorship over their people that denied them their political rights. The oil rich Gulf kingdoms led by Saudi Arabia have tried to appease their people by doling out a small amount of oil income but the growing inequality in these kingdoms and the accumulation of oil wealth in the hands of a few members of the ruling elite, lack of human rights and social repression in decision-making have led to widespread discontent and anger among the people. This anger is manifested in the occasional terrorist acts within these countries and has led many disgruntled youth to join terrorist groups like al Qaeda and IS.

This brings us to the crucial question asked frequently about how long terrorism will continue. The French Scholar Maxime Rodinson was of the following view: “Islamic fundamentalism is a temporary, transitory movement, but could last another 30 or 50 years — I do not know how long. Where fundamentalism is not in power it will be an ideal, [but] as long as the basic frustration and discontent persists that leads people to take extreme positions. You need long experience with clericalism to finally get fed up with it — look how much time it took in Europe!”


Babar Ayaz is author of What’s Wrong With Pakistan?


Russia-Turkey tension has to be defused

By Manish Rai

December 8th, 2015

Shooting down the Russian warplane can be interpreted as a way to impose a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. That protects Turkey’s protégés and forces other powers to recognise Turkey’s special status in the region

Turkey recently shooting down a Russian SU-24 Bomber over Syria has brought Russian-Turkish relations to their lowest point since the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s. This incident acted as a catalyst but, for quite sometime, Russia-Turkey relations have been strained. Challenges in Turkish-Russian relations commenced with Turkey’s support to the Syrian opposition increasingly continued with Turkey’s decision to host the NATO missile defence system, Turkey’s stance towards the Crimean Tatars following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and, finally, worsened by Russia’s direct military involvement in Syria that targets all opposition groups and its support to the Kurds, particularly the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that has a link to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey. In locking horns over Syria, Russia and Turkey are playing out the latest chapter in a rivalry that has spanned for centuries. Russia and Turkey emerged as independent powers almost simultaneously in 1380 and 1389. A direct rivalry with the Ottoman Empire began in the 17th century when Russia joined the holy league alliance with Poland and the Habsburg Empire, taking significant territory from the Ottomans although, importantly, not Crimea.

However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the already significant economic links continued to strengthen, particularly in the new fields of tourism and consumer goods’ exports from Turkey. Both countries became major trading partners for each other. Turkey accounts for around a quarter of Russia’s total food imports and Turkey is Russia’s second most important trading partner after Germany. Russia’s largest customers are the Turks when it comes to energy. Turkey imports 55 percent of its natural gas from Russia and 30 percent of its oil. Moscow, after the downing of its fighter jet, has banned the import of some Turkish goods, imposed restrictions on travel and plans to stop some Turkish companies from doing business in Russia. The Turkish economy will take a direct hit because of worsening economic ties with Russia. Analysts estimate Moscow’s sanctions could cut 0.5 percent off the annual growth, which is already slowing sharply. The Turkish lira has lost nearly 20 percent of its value against the dollar this year. On the other side, Russia will also feel pain. Inflation in Russia has soared this year, piling on the pain for an economy deep in recession.

Unfortunately, these two trading partners have conflicting interests in Syria. Ankara’s objective is to protect the rebel groups it is supporting in Syria, particularly the Turkmen but also Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups fighting Assad. Shooting down the Russian warplane can be interpreted as a way to impose a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. That protects Turkey’s protégés and forces other powers to recognise Turkey’s special status in the region. On the other side, Russia’s approach to the Syrian civil war is in no small part based on Moscow’s belief that secular authoritarian rulers are the only effective bulwark against radical Islam in the Middle East. The Kremlin sees radical Islam as a threat to its domestic security and the international order. It supports Assad to stress the illegitimacy of regime change through popular revolt or external pressure. In Moscow’s view, such movements potentially endanger its own legitimacy and create chaos in international relations as witnessed in Iraq, Libya and, from its point of view, Ukraine. Moreover, the Middle East is the only area where Russia can try to prove that it is not just a regional post-Soviet power with a revisionist agenda but a global actor able to make a difference in managing crucial conflicts.

However, this tension between Russia and Turkey, a NATO member, cannot be allowed to escalate into a larger confrontation. US and NATO’s other member countries should do what they can to calm tensions between the two important nations. An independent investigation of the shooting down of the plane perhaps by the UN might help to defuse a diplomatic tussle over whether the Russian plane was in fact in Turkish airspace, a claim that Russia denies. Much depends on Russia’s reaction in the coming days and weeks. If Russia views the downing of its jets as a sign that helping Assad win this war could prove far too costly, then Russia might be willing to get on board with a managed transition away from Assad’s leadership, which the US and other allies have advocated. But there is also a chance that the downing of the Russian jet and a subsequent reported attack on a Russian helicopter by rebels could strengthen Russian President Vladimir Putin’s resolve to vanquish the rebels in Syria and the regional powers who back them. The world cannot afford World War III. The UN and west must do all they can to keep the international community, including Russia and Turkey, focused on the most important matter at hand: an agreement that brings the bloodshed in Syria to an end and wipes out the extremist elements from there.

Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle-East and Af-Pak region and editor of geo-political news agency ViewsAround.


San Bernardino Shooting — A Clash Of World Views

By Taha Najeeb

December 8, 2015

As news surrounding the San Bernardino shooting develops, it is becoming increasingly clear that the couple behind this act had been radicalised. It has been reported that Tashfeen Malik pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) before she set out on a connubial death mission with her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook. The couple leaves behind a six-month-old baby, who will grow up without a mother’s nurturing touch or a father’s protective shadow. For those who have long maintained that terrorism feeds on poverty and lack of opportunity, this incident is yet another blow to their argument. It is becoming clearer by the day that religious terrorism has a whole range of causative factors, subsets or isolated strands, some of which are conveniently hand-picked and spun into self-expedient narratives for export to credulous throngs by those with personal agendas. But if we are to be honest about this issue and want nothing more than for this problem to go away, we should all brace ourselves for uncomfortable concessions we reflexively resist for fear of losing an argument, or in some cases, our deepest attachments.

Let’s start by admitting there is an intrinsic problem in the Muslim world. Yes, intrinsic, which means if all external factors — post-colonial resentments, Sykes-Picot border repercussions, Western intervention and support of autocratic regimes/unholy alliances in Muslim states and so on — were wholly subtracted from the equation, we would still be left with a problem. The problem is this: a significant majority of Muslims is simply not ready to reconcile illiberal ideas contained in their understanding of their faith-traditions with the demands of modernity. Consequently, for plenty of Muslims, the whole notion of a liberal secular nation-state — the hallmark of the West — is an anathema. Just take Pakistan, where any mention of the word liberal is guaranteed to raise cortisol levels in many. This is because many people view liberalism as a euphemism for moral debauchery with wings — all the things the scriptures warn about. Then comes the idea of secularism, which is often conflated with atheism and we all know the status of apostates in Muslim lands. Another anathema is the concept of a nation-state, which continues to remain in the minds of many conservative Muslims, a Westphalian construct and therefore un-Islamic. For a long time, some Muslim leaders toyed with other configurations like pan-Islamism, pan-Arabism and so on, but those didn’t work either.

Resolving this issue would necessarily entail the following. Firstly, recognising the issue and calling it as such: that this is a clash of world views and not a clash of civilisations — Islam versus the West. By sticking to the latter, we feed the hateful narrative peddled by both religious extremists on the one hand and right-wing hate groups in the West on the other, forcing progressive Muslims — sandwiched in the middle — to pick a side, compromising the middle ground in the process. Secondly, achieving clarity through dialogue. Progressive Muslims could expound terms like ‘liberal’ or ‘secular’. They could describe classic liberalism as an ideology, which advocates civil liberties and political freedom that is not necessarily tantamount to an orgiastic freefall. The extent to which civil liberties and freedoms are allowed can be debated, but some inalienable rights will need to be laid out, for instance, the right to life, property, universal suffrage and basic freedoms, such as the freedom to practise your religion and gender equality. Likewise, progressives will need to understand that unregulated liberties are no guarantee for a humanist utopia as some places in the West are beginning to find out. As with liberalism, secularism will need to be understood as not another word for atheism, but quite simply a separation of religion from the workings of the state.

What also needs to be understood is the ideological narrative from which groups like the IS draw their appeal. The narrative is simple: the West is evil, arrogant, debauched and doomed to hell, but worry not; to the rescue is the Islamic Caliphate which like earlier times will seize Byzantium and triumph. And in this lies the true danger of the IS, which unlike al Qaeda, seduces believers with the whole image of a recrudescent Caliphate against the demonic West. Schizophrenic though this may all sound to a rational mind, the symbolism of a defiant movement against a wayward Goliath is powerful, especially among those who are on the wrong side of an increasingly mechanistic, uncaring and unjust world. And insofar as this world is dominated by the West, many will continue to heap their grievances — legitimately or illegitimately — on the West, pointing to its double standards, resenting its callousness, and yes, in extreme cases, taking up arms against it even if it means leaving their homes to join a murderous anachronistic Caliphate.

To neutralise the appeal of the IS and its affiliates, some deep soul-searching is required within the Western world. It is not enough for some prominent Europeans or Americans to say that Muslim countries are regressive and easily radicalised while America stays allied to Middle Eastern royalties, and continues to fund apartheid in Israel.

For Muslims, a serious rethink in matters of faith and religious jurisprudence is long overdue and a moral necessity. Stoning people in public squares for the alleged crime of freethinking (thought crime), gagging the media for encouraging critical thinking, stultifying young minds with uncritical group-think — all this is a recipe for disaster. Any more inertia on this front will only lead to greater polarisation in an already fragmented society.

Finally, extremist ideology must be understood as a continuum that starts off as a belief in ideological superiority (e.g., conservatives/literalists), which then seeks expression in a theocracy (e.g., Muslim Brotherhood) and could easily, if suppressed too long, slide into a desire to establish an expansionist global Caliphate (e.g., al Qaeda/IS). The challenge, then, is to stop people like Tashfeen Malik from sliding in the wrong direction along this deadly continuum. And what is not going to help is statements like ‘this is a war with Islam’, nor will dropping bombs in Syria usher in the enlightenment.

Taha Najeeb is a freelance contributor based in New Jersey. He works in the technology sector


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