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Extremism and Counter-extremism…. Whatever happened to moderation? Part III

In extremism and counter-extremism, Islam on February 25, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Linked to Part I and Part II

Extremism in people’s reaction?

To be extreme means “to be very far in any direction”, to be “farthest from the centre or middle”, and “exceeding the bounds of moderation”.  I recognize extremism in the views of people when they begin with the example of  a  limited group of people and make a sweeping generalization that Islam is a terrorist religion. They ignore the everyday example of the masses of Muslim peoples who form a significant community in a number of non-Muslim countries today. As an example I refer you to a google search using some of the keywords from the terrorism drama and to read some of the postings and comments on blogs and other sites which allow comments. One blog proudly announces as its tagline “know islam, know terror; no islam no terror”.

Apart from the evidence in the authentic sources of Islam cited above, past surveys have  explicitly established that Muslims do not support violence. For instance, surveys in 2006 established that the consensus of the world’s  Muslim population (whether resident in Muslim or non-Muslim countires).  Interestingly, most of the country-wise figures reported are actually higher than the opinions of Americans regarding the issue: A contemporary survey by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Public Attitudes found that 46% of Americans believed that bombing and attacks that were intentionally aimed at civilians were ‘never justified’.

A Gallup poll of Londoners similarly found that the number of Muslim Londoners who renounced violence (81%) was higher than London’s general population (72%). In the same survey, 82% of the Muslims expressed respect for other religions as compared to 54% of the general public. The renown Gallup poll, by the name of Who Speaks for Islam?, found that religiously extremist views were only 7% across the total population surveyed. Contrast with this finding from a poll of Americans by  The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that nearly “one-in-four Americans believes that Islam is a religion of hatred and violence”. This despite the fact that 60% of the sample acknowledged not being knowledgeable about the religion.

A concept of moderation

My inspiration for this series of posts has been a piece of writing by Mr. Khalid Baig. Khalid Baig has been a columnist for the monthly Impact International in South Africa. His columns were published in book form titled First Things First and the piece I’m referring to is one of his republished columns ‘What does Islam teach about justice?’. Below I quote extracts from his column which serve to illustrate the concept of moderation I wish to highlight here.

There is one word that captures the essence of all Islamic laws and all Islamic teachings; one word that describes the overriding value that permeates all Islamic values. Justice. The Qur’an says:

We sent aforetime our messengers with clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that mankind may stand forth in justice. [Al-Hadeed, ayah 25]

Then:

Under normal circumstances many people can be just. But Islam commands its followers to be just even in the face of strong conflicting emotions. In dealing with other human beings, two major impediments to justice are love and hatred. See how the Qur’an teaches us to overcome the first impediment when we are dealing with out closest relatives or even ourselves.

You who believe, stand our firmly for justice, as witness to Allah, even though it is against yourself, your parents and near relatives; whether it concerns a rich or a poor man, Allah (stands) closer to them both. Do not follow any passion so that you may deal justly. If you swerve about or turn aside Allah is still informed about whatever you do. [An-Nisa, aya 135]

Then, turning to that other impediment, hatred…

Here again Qur’an commands:

You who believe, stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do. [Al-Ma’idah, aya 8]

Finally:

Justice does require retribution and Islam does call for “an eye for an eye.” But it does not mean an innocent eye for an innocent eye; it means the eye of the perpetrator for the eye of the victim. It is amazing how those who call the latter as barbaric, actually rally for the former when a real crisis develops.

He wrote these lines many years before the world know terrorism as it knows since 9/11. Yet how aptly this last line applies to the cases of USA and Israel reviewed in the Part II of this post.

This world is full of the lore of terrorism today and the issue is real. Yet, has the world been JUST and MODERATE in its own reactions?

Judge for yourself.

Extremism and Counter-extremism…. Whatever happened to moderation? Part II

In extremism and counter-extremism, Islam on February 25, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Linked to Part I.

How come the foremost reactions to extremism are often extremist?

The reasons for counter-extremists being as much extreme  as the so-called extremists are primarily the same as in the case of the latter: unjust and indiscriminate killing! You could even  skip reading this section as the facts reported below that I use as my example are well-known.

1. The US War on Terror

The US War on Terror waged in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the northern areas of Pakistan, is also guilty of a considerable wastage of innocent civilian life. In a report released in late 2007 by the British poll group Opinion Research Business (ORB), over one million Iraqi civilians have died between March 2003 and August 2007.  An earlier study by Dr. Les Roberts estimated the number of civilian deaths between January 1, 2002 and March 18 2003 at over 100,000. A research published in Lancet in October 2006 had concluded that at least a third of such killings were attributable to direct action by US. forces.The losses encompass Iraqi children, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, cab drivers, clerics, schoolteachers, factory workers, policemen, poets, healthcare workers, day care providers, construction workers, babysitters, musicians, bakers, restaurant workers and many more, the ORB stated. The rate of civilian death is estimated to be above 10,000 per month.

The situation has been not less inhuman in Afghanistan. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) documents various instances of killing of innocent Afghanis in bombs or helicopter strikes or in face-to-face encounters by US soldiers. A panel of eminent judges and lawyers, organized by the International Commission of Jurists, recently reminded us all that the U.S. War on Terror had caused “immense damage in the last seven years to a previously shared international consensus on the framework underlying both human rights and humanitarian law” (read here). Even certain “governments in other parts of the world are justifying their own wrongdoing by comparisons with the United States”!

While there’s talk of ‘change’ in Obama’s policy towards Iraq and Afghanistan, the tribal areas of Pakistan continue to suffer in the name of this War on Terror. One of the earliest missile strikes by the US was in June 2004 killing Nek Mohammad a Taliban leader who had recently signed a peace deal with the Government of Pakistan (Refer here). In the second week of January, 2006, a missile strike had killed 18 civilians of which five were children (Refer here). A missile strike in a religious school in Bajaur on  30th October, 2006 had killed 83 individuals, most of them students (Refer here).  On 8 September 2008, 23 people were killed in another such strike including 8  children in North Waziristan (Refer here).

There had been hopes that Obama’s alleged change of policy would be reflected in Pakistan. So far they have been answered with four attacks with a total death toll of 50 (refer here) and with the express permission by Obama to CIA for further extrajudicial killings (Refer here).

2. Gaza War

Israel’s recent bloody assault on the highly vulnerable Gaza strip had been done with the pretext of ending for good the firing of rockets by Hamas. On the other hand, the rockets had been stimulated when the Israel-Gazan cease-fire ended on December 19 when Israeli commandos raided a tunnel and killed a group of Hamas fighters. According to an analyst, Dennis Rahkonen, who writes for the Online Journal, “they’re little more than slingshots against Israel’s incredible military might, and they’re used out of desperation by Palestinians who’ve never been accorded the democratic space within which to gain redress of their eminently just grievances”. The missiles can’t even crack the pavement on which they may chance to fall, as the following picture shows:

the truth behind hamas rockets

the truth behind hamas rockets

Over a span of eight years, Hamas has allegedly fired more than 8,ooo of these rockets leading to a total death toll of 20 deaths! (read here). The Israely army killed more than thirteen hundred Palestinians, shamelessly attacking points on the exposed Gaza strip that were saturated with civilian population – a story there’s no need to retell.

Read the final Part III  here.

Possibly related in this blog:

Protest on the Israel Day of Science

On the Sharia Deal in Pakistan

In Current Issues, Pakistan Issues on February 17, 2009 at 7:36 pm

HOT NEWS from Pakistan!

On Monday the NWFP Chief Minister Mr. Ameer Haider Hoti agreed on a deal with Maulana Sufi Mohammad of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) to instigate a sharia-based judicial system in the Malakand division (encompassing Swat). This took place after President Asif Zardari gave express permission to the provincial government to make the agreement.

The main demand of TNSM was to replace the regular courts with Islamic courts. Actually, Shariat law has been in force in Malakand since 1994 but appeal cases are heard in the Peshawar high court, which operates under the civil code.

Prime Minister Gilani has expressed the motive of the government behind this deal as follows: ‘The government has opted to hold dialogue as it believed that use of force was not the only solution.’ Some other Pakistani officials had already suggested that a truce was necessary in Swat because the army was unable to fight a guerrilla insurgency and civilians were suffering in the conflict.

Indeed, the Swat Taliban said on Sunday that they would observe a 10-day cease-fire in support of the peace process. On the other hand, President Zardari will reportedly not sign the deal unless TNSM observes the peace deal.

Read here a copy of the peace agreement (in Urdu).

Concerns and Criticisms

The issue of militancy in Swat is so sensitive that any move by the government must come under critical scrutiny by national and international analysts. The deal made news today but it has already generated considerable amount of comment and observation in both print and electronic media. Here are a few snapshots:

  • I.A. Rehman, a human rights activist and columnist wrote for the Daily Dawn: “An order presided over by clerics will not guarantee deliverance to the Frontier region as matters have perhaps gone too far to be reversed. The fact is, people will reject theocracy only after paying the cost of opting for it. Pakistan should think of minimizing the damage by granting full autonomy to FATA and the Frontier province in the hope that this will douse the fires.”
  • Also by him: “Ultimately, the key to a safe future lies in Afghanistan. The war there must be brought to a speedy end. It is posing a greater threat to Pakistan, Iran, Russia, China, India, and the Central Asian states than to the US.”
  • British High Commission in Islamabad: “‘Previous peace deals have not provided a comprehensive and long-term solution to Swat’s problems.'”
  • From the blog CYNCERITY: “The logic of the Pakistani government would seem to be that, under the new system, the TNSM will get their demand for Sharia law, but this will be Sharia law, to the extent it falls within the limits of the Pakistani constitution, as this region would still be part of the Pakistani state. Hence, this would not be much more than a change in appearance, as all that will happen is, in exchange for peace, judges within these areas, will move from having the title ‘Judge’ to having the title ‘Qazi’, a nominal difference at best. They have attempted this kind of compromise before, and it will not work.This is because these people do not have any interest in falling under the control of the state and constitution of Pakistan. These are not simple clerics, who feel their religious imperative urges them to establish an Islam-based legal system in Pakistan. This is an armed revolutionary movement bent on control and establishment of their own system under their own supervision.”
  • On the blog Pak Tea House: “It is also designed to malign the good name of Islam by enacting archaic and backward laws in its name.”
  • On pkpolitics.com: “No one is clear whether the sweets distributed in Swat by the people should have been distributed but it was a sign of the people clinging to straws,” according to one observer of the scene. But it did demonstrate that the people are fed up with violence and they were probably celebrating the 10-day ceasefire announced by the TTP.” Also: “The weakness of the agreement became evident when TNSM’s Sufi Mohammed and his spokesmen said he would start a campaign to convince the militants to agree. ANP leaders were claiming that Sufi Mohammed was a giant and those who would oppose him would be rejected by the people but the recent months have shown that Sufi Mohammed was already a spent force and the initiative had been taken over by militants who did not listen to the founder of the Shariah movement any more.”

My observations

If you care to follow all the links and read the statements of the government officials, analysts, bloggers, and comment-leavers on those blogs a few things will be clear:

  1. Pakistani government is concerned about the death toll in Swat and FATA with civilians being the primary sufferers whether it’s the militants or the American drones doing the killing [Refer: Prime Minister Gilani].
  2. The government is hoping to buy peace for the region with the possibility of paving way for further dialogue with the militants. This in admission of the failure of its own military in the region and of it’s helplessness given continuing drone attacks by USA.
  3. Critics of this move insist on interpreting it as succumbing to militants without sympathizing with the difficulties the government faces and the limited range of alternatives it possesses.
  4. Some critics, including Pak Tee House and Shaheen Sardar Ali seem to conform to a distorted view of Islami sharia and possess a misunderstanding of the older judiciary system in these areas which had been replaced by the inefficient and corrupt system of the country by previous governments. It is that older system of justice, which was even then called Islami Nizam-e-Adl that is hoped to be reinstated. [Refer NT Times and Abdul Qadir Hasan of the Daily Express]

Summing Up:

I believe that in discussions such as this one, both sides of the matter should be evaluated.

In international polls on Pakistani samples, people have repeatedly voiced the opinion that negotiations rather than military actions were a desirable move for the government to take.[Refer here]

Failures of past deals should not serve as an execuse for future attempts at constructive solutions.

Violence begets violence and maneavoures by the Pakistani and US military have only been followed by more intensive retaliations by the militants.

Strikes by Pakistani and US militaries have even been used to advantage by the militants in enticing the local residents’ emotional support.

Since the Nizam-e-Adl relates to a form of justice traditionally followed in the concerned areas, the locals are more likely to relate to it. Thus the government’s deal-making may also be seen as an effort to win back local support.

Finally, while the nation clearly has no tolerance for the Taliban’s innovation of school-burning and women-killing sharia, we shouldn’t use such discussions to propagate the modernist (rather, secularized) interpretation of Islam which is as much inauthentic. A significant number of people in Pakistan and many muslims all over the world favor the true sharia over the prevalent forms of their countries’ judiciary systems. [Refer here]

On the other hand, concerns that the government may fail to take true advantage of the deal or the deal itself may be weak to begin with are valid. We can help by offering constructive solutions rather than stacking pressure upon pressure.

Finally the winner of the day in my opinion is I.R. Rehman’s apt observation which I requote below to conclude.

“Ultimately, the key to a safe future lies in Afghanistan. The war there must be brought to a speedy end. It is posing a greater threat to Pakistan, Iran, Russia, China, India, and the Central Asian states than to the US.”

Protest the Israel Day of Science to be hosted by Science Musuems in UK

In Current Issues on February 16, 2009 at 8:45 am

Three hundred and sixty-eight persons, a lot of them university professors, have sent a joint letter to The Guardian, UK today protesting the collaboration of the Science Museum in London and the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. Apparently, these museums have asserted that they are not “sponsoring”, rather merely allowing their premises for the event to be hosted.

Here are some interesting excerpts from the letter:

“The event is being billed as a celebration of science. In fact it is an attempted celebration of Israel.”

“The event is promoted by the Zionist Federation [of Great Britain and Ireland] and is designed to showcase the scientific achievements of seven Israeli universities. But all of these are complicit in the Israeli occupation and in the policies and weaponry so recently deployed to such disastrous effect in Gaza.”

“In the immediate aftermath of the indiscriminate slaughter and attempted annihilation of all the infrastructure of organised society in Gaza, how can this “celebration” be allowed to borrow some respectability from the use of these distinguished institutions?”

The flyer prepared by the Federation announces: “As part of the celebrations of Israel’s 60th Anniversary, the ZF together with seven Israeli Universities are organizing two science days in the UK to promote the excellence of Israeli Science in new groundbreaking fields”. The days are to be held on 3rd March, 09 and 5th Marchi, 09 one on each of the mentioned museum’s premises, according to the flyer. According to the U.S. Campaign on the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, “Protests are rolling in from scientists and non-scientists alike.”

The text of the letter published in the Guardian has obviously been taken from the draft of a statement prepared by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine to be sent to the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the  Science Museum in London. Setting up a deadline of 21st February, the Committee offers an open invitation to put one’s name to the letter. If you wish to have your name included send an email to signwaldegraveletter@bricup.org.uk