FaithWorld

A review of Christian-Muslim conflict and a modest proposal to counter it

conflict 1At a Christian-Muslim conference in Geneva this week, participants agreed to build a network for “peace teams” to intervene in crises where religious differences are invoked as the cause of the dispute. The idea is that religious differences may not be the real problem in a so-called religious conflict, but rather a means to mobilise the masses in a dispute that actually stems from political or economic rivalries. (Photo: Coffins of two of 52 killed in al-Qaeda-linked attack last Sunday on a Baghdad church, 2 Nov 2010/Thaier al-Sudani)

If outside experts could help disentangle religion from the other issues, the argument goes, that could help neutralise religion’s capacity to mobilise and inflame, in the hope of leading to a de-escalation of the crisis.

Is this idealistic? Maybe. However, given the number of crises throughout the world that have religion factored into the equation, it certainly seems worth the effort. Many of these conflicts are not simply battles between religious fanatics, as they may be presented, but calculated agitation by one group against another, usually for political or economic advantage. Some smokescreens are easy to see through, others almost impenetrable.

ghaziIn his speech to the conference, Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal sketched out the problem facing religious experts who undertake such peace missions.  “Before considering what to do and how to do it, we are faced with a series of complex social, political and religious puzzles which we must fully understand in order not to make things worse,” he said. (Photo: Prince Ghazi, 1 Nov 2010/WCC-Mark Beach)

He then offered a brief tour d’horizon of Christian-Muslim tension and conflict in the world.  It’s not complete and readers may disagree on specific points (that’s what the Comments section below is for!), but it’s a useful overview worth posting verbatim to highlight the problems and invite debate on them.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Attacking Sufi shrines in Pakistan

sufi shrineAmil Khan has a post up at Abu Muqawama about last week's bombing at a Sufi shrine in Karachi and its implications for intra-Sunni conflict between Deobandi Taliban militants and people of the majority Barelvi sect:

"There are all sorts of studies written by people much cleverer than me that will tell you violence in this type of conflict aims to do a lot more than just kill its immediate victims. In Pakistan, right now, it also aims to push people into ideological camps (for or against) so that the perpetrators can claim they defend a constituency and create an ideological cover for their actions. In that sense, the attacks were aimed at forcing people to think about the 'who is Muslim and who is not' argument." he writes.

"I would add just raising this argument where once it wouldn't be entertained at all is an achievement for extremists because, well.. if you are arguing about whether Muslims are really Muslims, whether people agree or not, you have already radicalised on the sly the discourse concerning non-Muslims, or Shia."

Pakistani Sunni militants stoking sectarian rift against Shi’ites: minister

quetta (Photo: Volunteers help injured after suicide attack on Shi’ite procession in Quetta September 3, 2010/Rizwan Saeed)

Pro-Taliban Pakistani militants are trying to fuel a sectarian rift, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Saturday, as a new wave of violence piled pressure on a government already struggling with a flood crisis.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on two Shi’ite rallies that killed nearly 90 people in the cities of Quetta and Lahore in the past three days. The attacks ended a lull after devastating floods which affected 20 million people. Pakistani officials had said before the attacks that any major violence at such a difficult time was likely to cause deep popular resentment against the militants.

Malik said after taking a beating in their strongholds in the country’s northwest in a string of military offensives, al Qaeda-linked militants were adding a religious color to their activities to whip up sectarianism.

Islamist charity aims to be Pakistanis’ salvation in flood crisis

aid line (Photo: Pakistani flood victims line up for aid distribution in Muzaffargarh district, September 2, 2010/Damir Sagolj)

Lime green dresses for girls spill out of the sack of food, supplies and shoes — a gift from the Islamist charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) to help flood victims celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid this month.

Blacklisted by the U.N. over its links to the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the 2008 attack on Mumbai, the JuD has been quick to help people hit by Pakistan’s floods, raising fears among U.S. officials that Islamists use aid to gain recruits.

But it does not have the capacity to establish a big presence — the devastation was so vast that roads were cut and the only means of transport is helicopter — so JuD officials say they are trying to make up for this by other, thoughtful, means.

Q+A – Why are militants attacking Shi’ites, Pakistan now ?

lahore 1 (Photo: Men gather near dead bodies after bomb attack on Shi’tes in Lahore, September 1, 2010/Mohsin Raza)

Suspected Islamist militants exploded three bombs at a Shi’ite procession in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday, killing 33 people and piling pressure on the government already overwhelmed by floods.

Here are some questions and answers on implications of the attacks which came after a lull in violence during floods.

WHAT MILITANTS ARE UP TO?

WHY DO THE MILITANTS TARGET SHI’ITES?

HOW IS THE GOVERNMENT HANDLING THE PROBLEM?

Read the answers in a Q+A by Zeeshan Haider here.

lahore 2 (Photo: A woman weeps next to the body of a relative after bomb attack on Shi’ites in Lahore, September 1, 2010/Mohsin Raza)

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FACTBOX – Lashkar-e-Taiba charity wing in Pakistan flood relief work

dawaThe Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the humanitarian wing of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, has been providing relief to those hit by Pakistan’s floods.

It is operating in flood-hit areas under a different name, the Falah-e-Insaniyat, after the JuD was blacklisted by the United Nations following the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, which was blamed on the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Pakistan has said  it will clamp down on charities linked to Islamist militants amid fears their involvement in flood relief could exploit anger against the government and undermine the fight against groups like the Taliban.

United States Agency for International Development head Rajiv Shah toured a camp run by the Falah-e-Insaniyat on Wednesday.

from Afghan Journal:

The exaggerated role of violent groups in Pakistan’s relief effort

PAKISTANS-FLOODS/

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari has once again spoken of the danger of hardline Islamists exploiting the misery of the flood-affected to promote their cause,  which must be cause for worry for security forces in not just Pakistan but over the border in Afghanistan as well, fed by the same  militant fervour. Zardari called it the " ideal hope of the radical" that the floods would discredit Pakistan's government and warned that some of these extremist groups aimed to scoop up orphaned children and  "create them into robots."

Such fears, though,  didn't stop Zardari from proceeding on a heavily criticised foreign tour just as the flooding was getting worse, even though that was exactly the sort of thing that would  fuel public anger and hand the initiative to the Islamist groups.

But quite apart from Zardari's fulminations, the question, nearly a month into the disaster is whether the Islamists charities linked to  militant groups have really made a difference to the lives of the millions hit by the floods.  Setting up a tent here, offering food and medicines at another place are all good, but they would seem like a drop in the ocean, literally, given the scale of the devastation Pakistan is confronted with.

Pakistan to clamp down on Islamist militant charities in flood areas

sukkur food line (Photo: Flood victims wait for food handouts in a relief camp in Sukkur, August 20, 2010/Akhtar Soomro)

Pakistan has said  it will clamp down on charities linked to Islamist militants amid fears their involvement in flood relief could exploit anger against the government and undermine the fight against groups like the Taliban.  Islamist charities have moved swiftly to fill the vacuum left by a government overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster and struggling to reach millions of people in dire need of shelter, food and drinking water.

It would not be the first time the government has announced restrictions against charities tied to militant groups, but critics say banned organisations often re-emerge with new names and authorities are not serious about stopping them.

“The banned organisations are not allowed to visit flood-hit areas,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters on Friday. “We will arrest members of banned organisations collecting funds and will try them under the Anti-Terrorism Act.” More than 4 million Pakistanis have been made homeless by nearly three weeks of floods, making urgent the critical task of securing enough aid.

Pakistanis start Ramadan fasting month amid flood misery

pakistan flood 1 (Photo: Evacuees from a flooded village dodge an army truck carrying relief supplies in Pakistan’s Punjab province on August 11, 2010/Adrees Latif)

They’ve been left homeless and hungry by the worst flooding in decades, but for many Pakistanis, their suffering is no reason to ignore Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month that began in their country on Thursday.

Floods triggered by heavy monsoon rain over much of Pakistan began nearly two weeks ago, and have killed about 1,600 people and disrupted the lives of about 14 million, including about two million who have been forced from their homes.

Many survivors from flooded villages have lost their stores of food as well as crops in the field and livestock, and are surviving on occasional handouts, living in the open.

from Afghan Journal:

The Islamists and the Great Flood of Pakistan

(Flood victims in Pakistan's Sukkur)

(Flood victims in Pakistan's Sukkur)

Pakistan's floods are now considered to be more damaging than the massive earthquake that devastated its part of Kashmir in 2005, not least because of the inability of the administration to respond quickly to the crisis.  Pakistan is not alone in the region ill-prepared  to cope with natural disasters. Bigger, richer India is just as unable to either eliminate or limit the destruction that its bountiful rivers unleash each monsoon, and you hear the same chorus of criticism of government apathy. Bangladesh, too, gets more than its share of cyclones and floods each season, and yet successive governments are overwhelmed each time disaster strikes.

But the one difference in Pakistan is that Islamist charities, some believed linked to militant groups, are ready to step into the breach. And that is worrying a lot of people, as the flood waters sweep over Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, the province in northwest Pakistan which has been the main battleground in the fight against militants, down to the heartland province of Punjab and into Sindh.

The concerns centre on Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charity arm of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the  banned Pakistani militant group blamed for the 2008 attacks on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed. The Jamaat, which was banned by the U.N. Security Council last December, is working with Fatah-i-Insani Foundation, which is also suspectedof links to extremists, setting up relief camps and sending medical camps to the flooded northwest. It had also organised medical ambulances for emergency treatment, survivors said.