FaithWorld

Kissinger, Iraq and India’s Muslims – a new domino theory?

Henry Kissinger at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 21 Jan 2008/Wolfgang RattayIs Henry Kissinger trying to update the domino theory to fit what he fears in 2008? He had a “Lunch with the FT” interview in Saturday’s Financial Times and surprised his interviewer, historian Stephen Graubard, by linking the war in Iraq and Muslims in India. As Graubard wrote:

He believes the military “surge” is working and says the next question is when to start to move away from an exclusively military option. “This is not a war of states,” Kissinger says. “If we withdraw from Iraq, the radical elements in all the neighbouring Arab countries will be greatly encouraged.” We will, he fears, be unable to maintain ourselves in Afghanistan, or to retain our present position in Pakistan.

He fears a rapid withdrawal could radicalise the vast Islamic community in India. I am fascinated by this statement – I have never heard anyone else say it so robustly – and suggest that he argued in a similar vein about the dangers of a departure from Vietnam. “Not at all,” he says, adding that the collapse in Vietnam was partly compensated for by the almost simultaneous and fortuitous disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Hmmm … that’s not what we’ve been noticing. In fact, our chief correspondent in New Delhi, Alistair Scrutton, just wrote a post on a “Movement Against Terrorism” among Muslim clerics there urging imams to preach against terrorism at Friday prayers across India. Earlier this year, an influential Islamic seminary declared terrorism un-Islamic. That’s not to say there’s no possibility of anything happening, but it seems the situation is more complex than Kissinger seems to think.

It’s not clear whether Kissinger lunched with the FT before or after the Jaipur bomb that killed 60 people. But he is a historian who prides himself on taking a longer-term view. Do you think he’s right to see dominoes falling in India if the United States pulls out of Iraq?

from India Insight:

Are Indian Muslims leading the way in condemning terror?

A man prays at the Nizamuddin shrine in New DelhiFor those Western critics that say Islam does not enough to to condemn terrorism, perhaps they should look at India, home to one of the world's biggest Muslim populations -- around 13 percent of mainly Hindu India's 1.1 billion people.

 On Wednesday, it was the turn of Khalid Rasheed, head of the oldest madrasa in the northern city of Lucknow -- a traditional centre for Muslims and religious scholarship. He rejected terrorism as anti-Islamic after he and his colleagues had been accused of apostasy over their pacifist stance by at group that calls itself the Indian Mujahideen.

Indian Mujahideen made threats against the madrasa in which they also claimed responsibility for last week's bomb blasts in Jaipur, western India, which killed 63 people.

Secularist slide in Pakistan as local Sharia courts proposed

Pakistani voters in Karachi, 18 Feb. 2008/Athar HussainOne of the most interesting results in Pakistan’s general election last February was the victory of the secularist Awami National Party in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) after six years of Islamist government in Peshawar. In a province where the Taliban and other Islamists had made heavy inroads, the vote for the ANP and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) seems to herald a turn toward some form of secularist democracy. “The greatest achievement of this transition to democracy is the rout of religious extremists who wanted to plunge Pakistan into anarchy,” Najam Sethi, editor of the Daily Times, wrote in his post-ballot analysis. “It is the rise of liberal democracy … that will help solve the problem of religious extremism in Pakistan.”

It’s only been three months, but the secularists seem to be backsliding already. According to Pakistani media, the ANP and PPP have agreed to allow qazi courts (known as qadi courts in Arabic ) to operate in Malakand, a rugged mountainous region in northern NWFP near Afghanistan. Qazi courts have a judge (qazi) who hears cases and quickly hands down decisions based on his interpretation of Sharia law. Although Malakand is officially a “settled area” where state and province laws apply, it also has tribes that often prefer their rough-and-ready Pashtun jirga system of justice run by tribal elders. By introducing qazi courts, critics say, the NWFP government will effectively cave to local Islamists, put an Islamic veneer over tribal justice and roll back the role of civilian justice. This does not sound like a turn towards some form of secularist democracy.

Since first reading about this on Ali Eteraz’s blog, I’ve seen that the secularists haven’t totally caved. The original proposal only allowed appeals to the Federal Sharia Court, but the latest version allows appeals in the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court in Islamabad. That’s an improvement, but it still gives the qazis considerable power.

What does Benedict’s Ground Zero prayer actually say?

The World Trade Center burns, 11 Sept. 2001/Jeff ChristensenThere is an interesting discussion about a Reuters story going on at another blog. Terry Mattingly of GetReligion started it with some comments on Phil Pullella’s report (headline: “Pope Ground Zero prayer seeks terrorists’ redemption”) on the prayer that Pope Benedict will say at Ground Zero during his visit to New York. The operative line in the prayer is: “Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.”

Mattingly writes: “At first I thought that was a bad headline, but now I think that it does capture the essence of the text.” Readers’ responses show they are not sure for whom the pope will be praying — hate-filled Americans post-9/11 or foreigners who hate America. I put in my two cents, too, saying we understood the prayer to mean terrorists. My comment said:

As we read it, the structure of the prayer strongly implies that Benedict is referring to terrorists abroad. He mentions the victims right there at Ground Zero in the first section, expands that in the second section to their families and casts an even wider circle in the third section by recalling the victims at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. He then begins the fourth section by looking even further afield by mentioning “our violent world” and “the nations of the earth” before getting to “those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred”.

Vatican baptism raises questions about Catholic-Muslim dialogue

Pope Benedict baptises Magdi Allam, 22 March 2008/Dario PignatelliJust when relations between the Vatican and Muslims were improving, Pope Benedict has taken a highly symbolic step that could set them back again. On Saturday evening, at the Easter Vigil Mass, he baptised seven people including one of Italy’s best-known Muslims. Magdi Allam, the new convert, is deputy director of the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera and an outspoken critic of radical Islam. The Egyptian-born journalist, who has lived in Italy since his university days, was one of the few Muslims who defended the pope after his controversial Regensburg speech in 2006. Allam’s outspoken articles have already prompted death threats from Islamists and he lives under constant guard. Announcing the surprise move only an hour before it took place, the Vatican stressed the Catholic Church had the right to baptise anyone who wanted to join it and that all were equal in the eyes of God.

That is certainly true, but such a high-level conversion can’t be seen outside its wider context. Islam considers conversion to another religion a grave insult to God. In some Muslim states including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, it is punishable by death. Afghan convert Abdul Rahman during his trial in Kabul for apostasy, 23 March 2006/Reuters TVAbdul Rahman, an Afghan convert to Christianity pictured at right during his trial for apostasy, only escaped death in 2006 because of an international outcry; he found refuge in Italy. Not all Muslims agree with this. An Italian Muslim spokesman, for example, stressed that Allam’s conversion was a personal decision and only questioned why Benedict chose to make his baptism such a public event. He could have been baptised in his local church without all the publicity, he said. This high-visibility baptism looks likely to provoke protests from Muslims in some parts of the world and raise questions about Benedict’s intentions.

France 24 television interrupted my Easter lunch en famille to interview me about this and their main question was whether it was a response to Osama bin Laden’s threat against the pope. That assumes a U.S. campaign-style readiness to react that is miles or centuries away from the way the Vatican works. Easter is the traditional time to baptise adult converts. Allam had to go through a long period of study before being accepted for baptism. Benedict had to know about this at least several weeks ago. In his article in Corriere (see below), Allam mentions a meeting with Benedict where he told him of his intention to convert and the pope said he would gladly baptise him. But Allam does not mention the date.

Influential Muslim seminary brands terrorism un-Islamic

Darul Uloom Deoband, India/official photoOne of the most influential Islamic seminaries in one of the world’s most populous Muslim states has issued an important statement denouncing terrorism as un-Islamic. The statement is all the more interesting for the fact that it comes from an institution often linked in the media to the Taliban. But the seminary is hardly known to non-Muslims and the country is not an Arab state, not even a real “Muslim country” as such. So the statement, which was backed by several thousand Islamic scholars, looks like it will end up like the tree that falls in the forest with nobody around to hear it. It got some good coverage in its home country (like here and here and here) , but little anywhere else.

The seminary is Darul Uloom Deoband, a 150-year old institution in northern India that is the spiritual home for the arch-conservative Deobandi school of Islam. Its influence spreads across the subcontinent, into Afghanistan and into Muslim communities abroad, such as in Britain. Its link to Afghanistan’s radical Islamists goes through the madrassas in Pakistan that are considered to be “Taliban nurseries.” Most of them are Deobandi schools. Many of the pro-Taliban Islamist parties in Pakistan are Deobandi. General Zia-ul-Haq, who began Pakistan’s Islamisation drive in the 1980s that helped spread those madrassas, was Deobandi. Etc, etc, etc. Darul Uloom Deoband has always denied any connection with the Taliban and there is no reason to think it had any direct links. Its denunciation of terrorism will probably not influence the men with guns along the Afghan frontier, but it might carry some weight with the Islamist parties and madrassa directors further inland in Pakistan.

A madrassa near the Afghan border where Pakistani troops arrested suspected al Qaeda-linked militants, 15 Sept. 2005/Anjum Naveed/PoolThe declaration saysIslam sternly condemns all kinds of oppression, violence and terrorism. It has regarded oppression, mischief, rioting and murdering among severest sins and crimes.” Maulana Marghoobur Rahman, the ageing rector of Darul Uloom Deoband, told our New Delhi bureau: “There is no place for terrorism in Islam.” Our bureau saw his comments as a sign of deep sense of anxiety among India’s 140 million Muslims that a violent interpretation of Islam was finding root in the country and tarnishing the reputation of the entire community. Indian Muslims were implicated in bomb attacks on packed commuter trains in Mumbai in 2006 and in a failed attack in Britain last year.

Is it time to scrap the term “jihadist”?

Filipino Muslim shouts “jihad” at ant-U.S. protest, 9 Oct. 2001/stringerAt a conference on terrorism in Brussels this week, debate on how to tackle al Qaeda was punctuated by repeated arguments over the terms “jihad” and “jihadist”.

The terms have became synonymous in the West with “holy war” and “holy warrior” against the West, and al Qaeda itself has used it in that sense. But for most Muslims, as our Security Correspondent Mark Trevelyan points out, it originally means a spiritual struggle and they don’t want it hijacked anymore.

Now to call jihadists as terrorists is either reflective of …lack of understanding of Islam, or it is I must say an intended misuse, which again is unfortunate,” General Ehsan Ul Haq, former chairman of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff, told the annual conference of the EastWest Institute think-tank. “It might have been somewhat excusable in the trauma post-9/11 but I don’t think it is any more.”

Q&A: Karen Armstrong on Pakistan, Islam and secularisation

Karen Armstrong at an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, 3 Feb. 2008/Mian KursheedKaren Armstrong, the best-selling British writer and lecturer on religion, has given a long interview to Reuters in Islamabad after addressing a conference in the Pakistani capital. A former Catholic nun who now describes herself as a “freelance monotheist,” she has written 21 books on the main world religions, religious fundamentalism in these faiths and religious leaders such as Mohammad and Buddha. Her latest book is The Bible: A Biography. The short version of what she said is in the Reuters story linked here. We don’t publish the Q&A text of our interviews on our news wire, but we can do it here on the blog.

Q:You were last in Pakistan in 2006. What brought you back this time?

A: There is a really poignant hunger here, as well as in other parts of the Muslim world, to hear a friendly Western voice speaking appreciatively of Islam. It is a sad thing for me that this should be such an unusual event, but given the precarious state of relationships between so-called Islam and the West it seems something that is important to do.

Q: Pakistan seems to be a crucial place for the future of Islam at the moment. How do you see the impact of events in Pakistan in terms of developments in Islam as a whole?

Back to the blog — first impressions after a break

Returning to news reporting after two weeks off feels like you’ve been away for two weeks. Returning to blogging after a holiday break feels like you’ve been away for an eternity. So much going on! My colleague Ed Stoddard in Dallas was minding the shop, but he was unexpectedly sent off to report the news from the campaign trail. That gave FaithWorld a very American accent, which was a timely twist given the role of religion in the Iowa vote. It’s back to the view from Paris now — here are some inital comments on recent events concerning religion around the world:

Bhutto’s upcoming bookBenazir Bhutto — The assassinated Pakistani leader will speak from beyond the grave next month when her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West is published. HarperCollins has announced it has brought forward to Feb. 12 the release of the book that Bhutto worked on before returning to Pakistan in October. In a statement, it called the book “a bold, uncompromising vision of hope for the future of not only Pakistan but the Islamic world. Bhutto presents a powerful argument for a reconciliation of Islam with democratic principles, in the face of opposition from Islamic extremists and Western skeptics.”

It will be interesting to see what she has to say about the role of Islam in Pakistani politics, especially after all the praise for her as a modern, secularist Muslim leader in comments after her assassination. Bhutto’s party is politically secularist and she pledged to fight against Islamist militants now challenging the Islamabad government. But let’s not forget that the Taliban emerged during her second stint as prime minister in 1993-1996 and were a key element in Pakistani policy towards Afghanistan at the time. She worked with an Islamist politician close to the Taliban then and now. It was also on her watch that, as historian William Dalrymple put it, Kashmir was turned into “a jihadist playground.” Whether she supported all this, couldn’t oppose the military people behind it or both (that’s my hunch) is something historians will debate long into the future. But it is clear that her record is more complex than some of the eulogies would have it.

Are “moderate” Muslims mum when they should speak out?

Ayaan Hirsi AliAyaan Hirsi Ali has an op-ed piece in the New York Times called “Islam’s Silent Moderates” today asking why moderate Muslims have not protested loudly against the “teddy bear case” in Khartoum and the Qatif rape case in Saudi Arabia. She makes some good points, especially asking why the Organisation of the Islamic Conference has not said anything. The OIC is quick to defend Islam and Muslim countries when the criticism comes from the outside, including from her.

Then she wrote:

For example, I would welcome some guidance from that famous Muslim theologian of moderation, Tariq Ramadan. But when there is true suffering, real cruelty in the name of Islam, we hear, first, denial from all these organizations that are so concerned about Islam’s image. We hear that violence is not in the Koran, that Islam means peace, that this is a hijacking by extremists and a smear campaign and so on. But the evidence mounts up.

“Why are the Muslims silent?” has been a mantra of many Western critics since at least the time of 9/11. It comes up fairly regularly after Islamist attacks or egregious cases of human rights violations in the Muslim world. It’s true that many Muslim leaders have avoided speaking out. But there have also been quite a few Muslim condemnations of terrorism that seem to have gone unnoticed. Something has been changing on this front and it has been evident these days. Hirsi Ali has either missed it or does not want to mention it.