New Age Islam Edit Bureau
24 September 2015
• Hijacking Mohamed’s Story
By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
• The Money That You Spent on Your 3rd Hajj Could've Fed Children Dying Of Hunger
By Wishal Raheel
• Stemming The Syrian Slaughter
By Harlan Ullman
• Consuming Sacrifice
By Khurram Husain
• Mullahs Of Democracy
Hijacking Mohamed’s story
By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
September 24, 2015
By now most of us with a social media account would’ve heard of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed who was targeted in one of the most high profile cases of religious or racial discrimination in the US this year. Mohamed, a student at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, was removed from the class, and interrogated by the police for bringing to school a clock that was perceived as a (hoax) bomb. The 14-year-old was taken away in handcuffs.
What ensued was a massive backlash on social media, with Mohamed’s teacher and school administration being accused of, and derided for, blatant anti-Muslim bigotry or Muslimophobia – commonly known as the misnomer ‘Islamophobia’.
Multiple reports have reaffirmed Mohamed as an inquisitive young teenager, who has a knack for technological innovation. And even though Muslimophobes have queued up to downplay his work with a plethora of theories – none of which convincingly discredit his intellectual ability – the popular sentiment around the world is that a promising youngster was about to be hard done by, owing to his religious identity.
The US, like many parts of Europe, has witnessed a wave of Muslimophobia in the recent past, which has been further aggravated by the on-going Syrian refugee crisis. The anti-Muslim PEGIDA rally in December 2014, where 17,500 rallied against ‘Islamisation of Germany’ coincided with three mosques being firebombed in Sweden. A couple of months before that Canada’s Cold Lake mosque was vandalised and sprayed with messages like ‘Go Home’, while 16 Australian cities hosted ‘Reclaim Australia’ protests with hundreds of demonstrators vying to ban anything remotely related to Islam in April this year. The Chapel Hill shooting, when three young Muslims were shot dead in February, manifested the ugliest side of anti-Muslim bigotry in the West.
Even so, what one has witnessed in all cases of high-profile exhibits of Muslimophobia, is the Western media, masses and public figures vocally denouncing the bigotry.
PEGIDA’s rally was followed by 30,000 marchers, led by Chancelor Angela Merkel, protesting against the Muslimophobes in other German cities on the same day. Canadians and Swedes “love-bombed” the vandalised mosques with messages of support. Meanwhile, #IllRideWithYou trended in Australia when Muslims feared a backlash of last year’s Sydney Siege in December.
Following last week’s arrest of Mohamed, #IStandWithAhmed trended all over the world, with messages of support coming from people like Mark Zuckerberg, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The US president invited Ahmed Mohamed to the White House, with invitations pouring in from Facebook, Microsoft and MIT as well. As is evident, the West’s self-reflection and reaction to the xenophobia, of what clearly is a minority, overshadows the existence of anti-Muslim bigotry. Or so one would assume…
As is the norm, the Muslim world, where bigotry, discrimination and tolerance are ubiquitous, jumped aboard the ‘Islamophobia’ bandwagon to further propagate its perpetual sense of victimhood. Not only did we hijack Ahmed Mohamed’s story, and the #IStandWithAhmed hashtag – which for all intents and purposes signifies pluralism conquering chauvinism – we reiterated the ‘Us vs Them’ rhetoric to bizarrely emphasise the differences in the most anticlimactic of manoeuvres.
Not only that, as we Muslims stood with ‘Muslim brother’ Ahmed, we conveniently forgot the millions of Ahmeds in Muslim states that are targeted over a multitude of discriminatory fault-lines on a daily basis. While the pan-Islamic fraternity – that unfortunately dominates most Muslim countries as things stand– was always going to cash in on another incident of ‘Islamophobia’, it’s the rational and progressive members of our intelligentsia that completely missed the plot.
Ahmed’s isn’t a Muslim story. It’s an American’s tale, where a young prodigy was first discriminated against owing to his religious beliefs, but then received overwhelming support from his compatriots, defying racial, religious, and class-based divides. Our rationalists, meanwhile, joined the Islamist contingent of the ‘Islamophobia’ bandwagon preferring to highlight the act of discrimination and not the reaction that ensued.
The moral from Mohamed’s story, for us Muslims, living in Muslim countries should’ve been to look inwards and maybe learn how to react to bigotry. Instead we were hankering after the scores of brownie points that accompany taking a stand against ‘Islamophobia’.
Anti-Muslim bigotry clearly exists, as was made evident by an attendee recently asking Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump about “getting rid of Muslims from the US” in a campaign rally in Rochester, New Hampshire. However, the xenophobia that exists in the Muslim world vis-à-vis non-Muslims – and minority Muslim sects – towers above Muslimophobia in the West.
From Pew polls highlighting overwhelming support for primitive punishments over beliefs, sexual orientation or crimes of conscience to hogging all global lists of intolerance and discrimination, the Muslim world is the unquestionable hub of bigotry.
With wholehearted endorsement of hadd laws, blasphemy law and Shariah, prevailing in the Muslim world, do we Muslims not realise that the principal source of Muslimophobia are we, ourselves?
Do we not realise that the decades-long support for jihadism in the Muslim world is a major reason why Mohamed, and many others like him, have to face discrimination over their religious identity?
Instead of obsessing over the West’s prejudices, shouldn’t we first own up to our part in synthesising an irrational fear of Islam and the paranoia that non-violent, tolerant Muslims have to suffer from?
The reason why certain sections of the West paint us all in all with the same brush is because we proudly flaunt that brush ourselves, while self-pointing as one monolithic Ummah. The stereotype of a monolithic Muslim population wasn’t created in the West. It has originated, and been proliferated in majority of the Muslim states, wherein pluralism is actually outlawed (Case in point: Ahmadis in Pakistan).
We also peddle that stereotype with our silence on Yemen, Syria, Nigeria, North Wazristan, Balochistan, Kurdistan, as we bellow for Palestinians, Kashmiris and the Rohingyas. We’re only outraged when non-Muslims kill Muslims, only moved when non-Muslims discriminate against Muslims…
Despite decades of massacre by the al-Assad family in Syria, it took Europe’s ownership of the Syrian refugee crisis for us to protest. Because then we could blame the ‘Islamophobic’ West again.
We hijacked Alan Kurdi’s story then. We have hijacked Ahmed Mohamed’s story now. And we rigidly refuse to look into the mirror, tightly clutching our handy victim card.
The money that you spent on your 3rd Hajj could've fed children dying of hunger
By Wishal Raheel
September 23, 2015
Once again, more than 2 million Muslims have successfully managed to complete their religious obligation to perform the annual pilgrimage to Makkah. For many, it was the first time they visited the Grand Mosque for this ritual. Many were visiting it for a second time. Countless among these 2 million, however, were people who have performed this ritual a multitude of times, yet they still find it justified to spend huge amounts of money on traveling and accommodation while that money could be used for the welfare of the poor which is something I’m sure God wouldn’t mind either.
We all have grown up learning that Hajj is only mandatory for those who can afford it. Furthermore, emphasis has been paid on how even performing Hajj just once is sufficient. Yet we boast about how we have managed to go to Hajj for the 11th consecutive year.
The world is dying of hunger. According to data from UNICEF in 2014, 159 million children are stunted; 50 million are wasted i.e. too thin for their age. It isn’t the lack of food that causes malnutrition; it is the inability to buy the food that does so. While we spend huge amounts of money to visit the House of God each year, God’s children in Africa – which isn’t too far from Saudi Arabia – die painful deaths owing to the lack of food available.
We adorn the Ka’abah with silk embroidered with gold. Thousands of people have lost their dignity to poverty for not being able to afford enough clothing to cover themselves up respectfully. God’s house gets decorated beautifully while his men cannot afford rags to cover themselves. Once again, I make reference to Africa since it is a highly poverty struck continent extremely near to Saudi Arabia, the blessed land.
We’re building skyscrapers and hotels all around the Grand Mosque to be able to accommodate even more people, yet there’s no help being provided to the countless homeless refugees who have nowhere to go to.
In an attempt to please God, we have allowed the greedy Saudi elite to exploit this weakness of the entire Muslim community. As long as the Muslim community fails to see beyond the rewards of heaven, it will not be able to think selflessly. At the moment, though, everyone is part of a selfish game where each man wants to please God by visiting his house the most, not realizing that perhaps God would want that money to go to the improvement of one of his men’s lives. Perhaps, when God finally meets his people, he will question them on how they could be so blinded by the gifts of heaven that they chose to let a fellow human die just to please God.
Of course, this is a problem that can very easily be tackled if the money making intentions of the Saudi royal family change. There can be strict checks on who gets to perform Hajj each year. Any visa applicants who have previously performed Hajj should be rejected. With such controls, not only will the Muslim community start thinking selflessly but the Saudi government will be able to preserve the historical sites that are being constantly demolished to make room for more people in Makkah and Medinah. Of course, this would mean lower revenues for the Saudi government as a result of which I do not see something of this sort happening anytime soon.
Yet another year has gone by and 2 million pilgrims have visited the Ka'abah once again. In the same year, over 2 million children will get severely affected, or will die, due to malnutrition.
Stemming the Syrian slaughter
By Harlan Ullman
September 24, 2015
In the past four and a half years, nearly 300,000 Syrians have been killed in a conflict largely waged by opposing sides at the cost of the civilian population. Some eight million Syrians have been displaced with about half fleeing that ravaged country. Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have been pushed to near breaking point in accommodating refugees. And Europe is crumbling under the weight of many hundreds of thousands of desperate people in search of even tiny measures of safety and security.
In this clash, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not without blame. Islamic State (IS), al Qaeda, al Nusra and many other jihadi terrorist groups have acted with brutality. The Kurds have been deeply engaged. And the recent intervention of Vladimir Putin with increased Russian military forces and equipment to reinforce Assad, paralleled by Iran’s support of Damascus, adds a new and dangerous dimension to any strategic calculations.
President Barack Obama’s credibility and strategy regarding Syria have been grievously wounded. Declaring a “red line” against Assad’s use of chemical weapons and demanding “Assad must go” were hollow threats. In August 2013, Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron’s agreement for air strikes against Assad was soundly rejected by parliament and the White House was unwilling to act alone.
In a disastrous Senate hearing last week, the Armed Services Committee demolished the administration strategy in Syria, verbally flaying alive the rosy testimony offered by the two witnesses, General Lloyd Austin, the head of Central Command who is responsible for the region, and Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Christine Wormouth. While the committee chairman, Senator John McCain, did not call their testimony delusional, to any onlooker that was not an unfair conclusion. Among the more shocking revelations was the concession that the half a billion dollars appropriated to train 3,500 Syrian fighters produced only 54 who were killed or captured almost immediately by al Nusra. General Austin later testified that only four or five trained Syrian fighters remained.
The tragedy is that there is no single and maybe no solution for Syria. Direct military intervention would require hundreds of thousands of ground and air forces to control the country. A decades-long occupation would be needed to sustain order. The Iraq war demonstrated the weakness of that argument. And what states would offer troops to a hopeless cause? The answer is none. Establishing a ‘safe zone’ in some remote part of Syria likewise would require substantial numbers of ground and air forces to protect these camps that would still be vulnerable to terrorist and missile attacks. With Russian forces now operating in larger numbers, the possibility of a military engagement, accidental or not, would be heightened. And it is fair to worry that ‘safe zones’ could lead to further escalation and engagement.
Late last week, Secretary of Defence Ash Carter spoke to his Russian counterpart on Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry implicitly suggested that, while IS and Assad were equivalent dangers, a transition in government might occur over time as the violence subsided. Of course, a reversal by the Obama administration on Assad’s leaving would immediately be seized by Republicans to discredit White House credibility and used as further ammunition against the nuclear agreement with Iran.
What can be done? First, any solution to the Syrian crises involves many parties. Assad, IS, the myriad Sunni jihadist terror groups and the Syrian Kurds must be engaged. Russia, Iran, the region’s border states and the EU likewise have equities. Resolution cannot be seen as only an Assad and IS matter. And the overly optimistic estimates of the Obama administration in the fight against IS must be tempered with a severe dose of reality.
The grim truth is that Syria reflects the dangers of the 21st century. Terrorism and religiously inspired violence will continue to have hugely disruptive effects, some predictable, others not. Hence, the causes of this terror must be attacked, not the symptoms. In Iraq, for example, the de-Baathification law must be repealed to reduce the Shia-Sunni divide. In Syria, merely defeating IS or removing Assad may be necessary. Neither is sufficient for a lasting solution.
Perhaps the coming UN General Assembly meeting in New York later this month could be a forum for an international conference on Syria. But that requires a sophisticated understanding of a very complicated array of factors. Whether any administration is capable of creating and executing a strategy on that basis is the haunting question.
Harlan Ullman is chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and senior advisor at Washington DC’s Atlantic Council. His latest book, due out this fall, is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of an Archduke a Century Ago Still Menaces Peace Today
By Khurram Husain
THE other day the delivery boy asked me to share some of the meat from my sacrificial animal with him. Every day I see my neighbours walking their goats around evening time, and in every house there are half a dozen animals stocked up.
“Look at theirs, it’s so skinny,” one fellow walking a fat healthy goat said, pointing towards an admittedly scrawny animal that was ushered out of the pedestrian gate of a neighbour’s house. “Won’t give you any meat worth the name.”
Then the fellow from across the street opened his gate, and out walked six proud animals, fattened up good for the slaughter, and behind them two sheep, also fat and juicy and covered in the fluffiest of fur.
“Wow! Look at those animals,” someone shouted, already walking a couple of doomed cattle on the street. “Their meat will feed an entire neighbourhood, and that fur will be worth a fortune!”
Consumerism has its peculiar demands. They include fetishising the object of consumption — the commodity.
There’s something bizarre about watching people drool over other people’s animals. Until you realise that this sacrificial ritual, seen as a symbolic tribute to the intense devotion to God’s command that the Prophet Ibrahim displayed, has been absorbed into a modern culture of consumerism.
Consumerism has its peculiar demands. They include fetishising the object of consumption — the commodity. They include ascribing the commodity with qualities it does not intrinsically possess, like how a goat can become a symbol of status at a particular time of the year. None of my neighbours are otherwise the goat-herding types, and it is very likely they would look down on anyone who reared his own animals at home to harvest for meat, milk and eggs. But on Eid day, we’re all goat-herders, and the bigger and fatter our goat, the springier our stride.
Fetishising the commodity also involves endowing it with sensual qualities. This is why pretty girls are used as models in ads selling everything from soap and detergent to mobile phone packages. The ads evoke an instinctual response in the consumer, calling out the reflex to be drawn to pretty girls, either as objects of desire or objects of jealousy. They seek to harness that reflexive, instinctual response for the purpose of creating demand for the wares being sold.
Eid has been commodified to a significant degree, but thus far it hasn’t crossed that line of tapping into sensual desires to evoke an attachment with the wares being peddled. But this year we’ve even seen a cattle fashion show, where models walked onto the catwalk holding the reins of a large cow or goat and doing their best to look alluring. Nothing further needs to be said.
Today, Eid sees sales of refrigerators and deep freezers hit a peak. Medicines designed to aid digestion are emptied out from pharmacies. New and innovative collaborations to pool collectively for a single sacrifice are advertised on billboards. Mobile phone companies advertise new package offerings, and launch SMS messages with stylised Eid greetings in the hope of generating massive traffic as they get forwarded around.
Sales of cattle hit such a peak across the country, that cattle herders from as far away as Kandahar make the long journey on foot to the large cattle marts of Punjab. Many years ago, when I was in Mianwali for a shoot on the Kalabagh dam, I was told by people there of a massive migration that takes place every year by Afghan cattle herders, who prepare their flocks all year for the bonanza on Eid, and start marching them from places as far away as the Afghan countryside, making a months-long voyage on foot to eventually settle on the outskirts of Multan or Lahore and sell their animals. Some amongst them pass by Mianwali on their long journey, and it was claimed by some of the older generation, that these nomads have been making this journey for centuries, unencumbered by the borders that have come up in the meantime.
This Eid let’s try and remember a little of what the occasion is really supposed to be about. It’s not about whose herd is bigger, or fatter, or can feed more people, or has the healthier fur. The occasion of Eid is about the spirit of sacrifice in the name of devotion. It is about values far larger than what the culture of consumerism can ever conceive. It is about paying tribute to something greater than us, greater than our desires, greater than our aspirations to rise above the herd we live amongst. It is about transcending the base desires that tie us to the ephemeral things of this world.
Let’s also embrace that sacrificing an animal is not obligatory for everyone, but attaining the realisation of this higher state of mind, or at least taking one day out of our busy lives to acknowledge the values that inspired this occasion, is what makes the occasion so special.
The culture of consumerism has taken into its fatal embrace many of our special occasions, and reduced them to its fetishisation of the commodity, the thing available for sale that is designed to gratify our base desires. Marx once described the cheap prices of England’s commodities following the Industrial Revolution as the artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls. He used Chinese walls as a metaphor, not literally, meaning that flooding the world with cheap goods to satisfy wants was the power with which the industrial system and its attendant way of life surmounted all obstacles.
Today, these walls have been battered down, and the culture of consumerism has been internalised by everyone to the point where the most sacred values of the past have been pulled into its service. So in the true spirit of Eid, from a heart humbled by the weight of the sacrifices we have to make to regain our humanity, let me wish all my readers Eid Mubarak!
Mullahs of democracy
September 24, 2015
The discussion on democracy in Pakistani media is becoming more meaningful and productive each day. Commentators are crossing self-imposed red lines, daring to see beyond the politically-correct jargon on parliamentary democracy and questioning the very shaky foundations of our dubious democracy project in the process. Obviously, there is no point in reforming a system that is rotten and undemocratic to the core. What our democracy needs is a revolution.
Don’t get me wrong now. I’m not talking about a revolution which starts with a speech by the army chief and goes on to revamp the political elite from the top. While God only knows whether things will come to such a pass or not, the revolution I’m talking about is something entirely different and has more to do with rethinking the basic features of our elitist democracy with a view to making it citizen-centric. Such revolutions start in the realm of ideas. And going by the mood of more than a few opinion-writers, this one has clearly started.
So, by questioning a system that has stopped working for the people, are these writers inviting another martial law? For pointing out the utter failure and structural defects of our democracy project, and suggesting solutions that do not fit neatly into our existing constitutional arrangement, are they to be included in the list of enemies of democracy? Why should such candid soul-searching about democracy be seen as an invitation to the COAS to wrap up the system? What stops the existing and future political leaders from drawing upon these fresh and independent perspectives? Going by the theory of it, they should be the ones most responsive to the media and actually leading this discussion on imagining a new future for Pakistan’s democracy.
Regarding Pakistan’s democracy, one thing is certain: Either we envisage a new future for it or there would be no future for it. Except for those who are still not tired of going round and round the democracy bush chanting misleading mantras to the gods of ‘continuity’ and ‘parliamentary supremacy’, it is pretty obvious to everyone else that our problems won’t go away with the holding of more elections. While these blindfolded champions would like the parliament’s authority to be unfettered, it is hardly a comforting thought for those whose faith in the current system is not as blind as theirs.
These rigid mullahs of democracy are not very different from the maulvis and maulanas peddling Islam; they worship the form and procedures but are unmindful of the spirit and outcomes. They are the ones who told us to pamper our democracy project like a spoilt brat, shielding it from even valid criticism and turning a blind eye to the serious crimes of its leaders and chamchas. As it turns out, our democracy has been standing upon pillars of salt that are dissolving before our eyes in the flood of an across-the-board action led by the armed forces.
The leaders and mullahs of democracy are not happy that the operation that started with the stated goal of breaking the back of terrorists has expanded to include a crackdown on corruption and criminal mafias. They’d rather not see the connection. To everyone else, it is not hard to decipher the nexus between all these problems and how they feed upon each other. Slogans of political victimisation are being raised by the leading lights of our democracy but they have lost the last remnants of something crucial that the armed forces have gained under the leadership of General Raheel Sharif: Public trust. The widespread support for the military-led operation is unmistakable.
One parliamentary party after another is complaining that it is being pushed against the wall. Those not complaining so far are expected to join the chorus when the operation reaches their door. Nobody’s sure what will happen when it reaches the core of PML-N. That’s what everyone is worried about, I guess. Will it create another stand-off between the civilian government in Islamabad and the military? Given the popularity of the armed forces, aren’t we clearly headed for another martial law in such an eventuality? Should we be writing opinion pieces maligning our democracy these days? Shouldn’t we postpone our democracy-bashing for another time? I don’t think so.
Now is as good a time as any to take a hard look at our democracy. Clearly, whether the Nawaz government is booted out or not is something that won’t depend upon what the opinion-writers have to say on democracy. Such decisions are taken due to very different considerations. In the present context, more than anything else, it depends on the government’s ability to stay on the same page as the COAS as far as the ongoing operation is concerned, especially once the ruling party starts feeling the heat. It seems that the Nawaz administration would further improve its chances if it stops dragging its feet and take the implementation of National Action Plan more seriously.
Just like they are not supposed to be cheer-leaders for martial laws, opinion-writers bear no responsibility for saving a system just because it comes with the holy tag of democracy. In fact, in a broken system like ours where political leaders have been reduced to players of unethical and self-serving games of power, it is important to keep reminding them of their purpose in our lives. It is important to identify the anti-democratic structures on which our present system stands and to imagine a better system that does justice to the name of democracy.
Fate could not have dealt a fairer hand to our petty political leaders. Despite their claims of representing the people, COAS General Raheel Sharif is the most popular person in Pakistan. As if this single fact was not bad enough for them, even the credit for sparking this healthy and substantive debate on democracy in the Pakistani media goes to him. Had he not started the military-led operation against terrorists and put pressure on the system to perform, we would still be unsure about how useless it really is.
Jalees Hazir is a freelance columnist.