No quarter for the militants

EVERYTHING phoney reveals itself to be so sooner or later. The Lal Masjid episode has precisely done this. All noble Islamic concepts have been reduced to a joke by semi-literate fanatics lacking in some of Islam’s fundamental virtues. The circumstances of Maulana Abdul Aziz’s arrest, hiding himself in a burqa, shows that behind all that bravado and fiery speeches supposedly infused with the spirit of jihad, was a phoney man who had brainwashed thousands of boys and girls merely to show his power to threaten and blackmail the government and the nation at large. His threat to launch a series of suicide bomb attacks turned out to be the bullying of an inherent blackmailer, and the entire fortress based on propaganda and religious rhetoric collapsed like a house of cards. After two days of tear gas shelling and sporadic fighting, leading to the killing of at least 16 people, the back of the Lal Masjid militancy seemed broken when an estimated 1,200 boys and girls had by Wednesday evening surrendered to the police. This was also the result of President Pervez Musharraf’s announcement of a general amnesty for all, except those guilty of criminal acts. The Lal Masjid stand-off is not yet fully over, and Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, the younger brother, had still not given himself up to the authorities when these lines were written. A large number of well-armed militants are still in the mosque, and Ghazi still insisting on negotiations. However, the authorities must not waver and demand his unconditional surrender, because there are criminal changes against the two brothers and Abdul Aziz’s wife.

Unless something out of the ordinary happens, the mosque will soon be an open place of worship. But certain lessons must be drawn by the government. First, it waited too long to finally act to flush out the militants. Perhaps it believed that negotiations could lead to a peaceful solution, because it feared that rash action could result in heavy casualties and prove counterproductive. Second, now that the rebellion’s phoney character has been revealed, the momentum of the drive against misguided elements masquerading as religious preachers must be carried to its logical end. Characters like the two Lal Masjid brothers are to be found all over the country. They have money and arms and brainwashed followers willing to do their bidding. The followers may sometimes be sincere and sacrifice themselves, but the leaders in most cases operate with impunity. It is, thus, the brains behind them that the government should go after.

The Lal Masjid drama is a symptom of a deeper malaise. It is a disease that has been with us since Pakistan played host to the anti-Soviet mujahideen and turned the entire country into a tribal area. The religious militancy, funded by the CIA and backed by sections of the army, has now become a Frankenstein monster. The leaders of this militancy are indifferent to Pakistan’s interests, as seen in the attacks on Pakistan’s security forces and suicide-bombings in public places. Unfortunately, such elements enjoy the backing of some mainstream religious parties. That, however, should not deter the government. The war against religious militancy and terrorism is in Pakistan’s interest, and the nation expects the government to pursue the terrorists until they cease to be a force.

Bangladesh at a crossroads

THE parallels are unmistakable. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh, two countries with a shared history, are no strangers to military rule, either direct or tacit. A key difference though is that the Pakistan Army’s domination of the political space is accepted as fact even in times of democracy, so much so that the military’s influence has become institutionalised for all practical purposes. In Bangladesh, on the other hand, the army has largely stayed out of politics since democracy finally took root in 1991. However, this healthy distance between the barracks and the executive branch has been closing steadily since the declaration of emergency in January this year and the installation of a new military-backed caretaker government. Elections that were due in January stand postponed and are now scheduled — if an arrangement so open-ended can be described as a timetable — to be held before the end of 2008. Meanwhile, after failed attempts to exile the country’s two top leaders, a purge is underway of allegedly corrupt politicians. Controls on the media have been tightened and political and trade union activities curtailed.

Pakistan has seen all this before, in one form or another. Another striking similarity is the widespread support in Bangladesh these days for the military-backed government and its crackdown on politicians who did their country no favours with their gross abuse of power. In Pakistan, too, punitive action against politicians perceived to be corrupt has often been welcomed — at least initially. In Dhaka, attempts have also been made to cobble together a ‘third force’ by sowing dissent in Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League of Sheikh Hasina. ‘Pro-reform’ groups wanting to sideline the two former prime ministers have emerged in both parties — moves that bear a striking resemblance to events that led to the creation of the pro-military PML-Q in Pakistan. The problem here is that, try as the establishment might, artificial third forces can never enjoy political legitimacy. This, in turn, creates a vacuum which can be filled perhaps only by the army. The warning signs are all there and it remains to be seen if Bangladesh will indeed go down the Pakistani route.

Dengue fever once again

IT appears that Karachi will once again have to brace itself for a possible outbreak of dengue fever. Viral haemorrhagic fever, a more lethal form of the disease, has already claimed two lives in the last three weeks. As hospitals start taking in patients suffering from suspected dengue fever, there are fears of a repeat of the situation last year when the disease claimed 50 lives while hundreds tested positive for the virus. With the onset of the rainy season, pools of stagnant water — the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes — are once again visible in several areas of the city, with no signs of their being drained. It is also not clear how prepared hospitals in the city are to cope with another outbreak of the disease, especially as many lack the required diagnostic and treatment facilities. Dengue fever may be self-limiting in most patients, but complications can prove fatal if hospitals are not equipped to handle cases where blood transfusion is needed.

Going by last year’s poor disease management by the authorities, there is every reason to be skeptical of the government’s level of preparedness this year. However, the people, too, must be faulted for not adapting basic measures to protect themselves from mosquito bites. Apart from applying insect repellent and wearing long-sleeved clothing, people should be wary of exposed standing water in and around their homes, in potted plants and uncovered containers. Such safeguards should be promoted through the media and regular government campaigns. Not only will this prevent the spread of dengue fever, other vector-borne diseases like malaria, too, can be warded off. Precautionary measures at the government and community levels must be taken now before hospitals are flooded with dengue cases.

Misconceptions about spread of Islam

By S.G. Jilanee


Friday feature

SIGMUND Freud defines “the projection mechanism” as “attributing one’s own traits to others.” A glaring example of this phenomenon is the perception that 'Islam was spread by the sword,’ studiously generated over many centuries, by non-Muslims.

Pictures are conjured of Muslims going on rampage, berserk, sword in hand, slaughtering men, women and children, right and left, mercilessly: their slogan “accept Islam or die.” They even go to the length of making the preposterous allegation that Muhammad (SAW), himself ‘commanded’ his followers to wanton massacre, making use of their scholarly credentials to add authenticity to their disinformation.

Even Pope Benedict XVI seems to subscribe to this perception. Therefore, in a speech at the Regensburg University in Germany last year, for example, he quoted the fourteenth century Byzantine Emperor Manuel Paleologos II, referring his Persian interlocutor to Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) “command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

But the truth is just the opposite. There is not a single instance, ever, when the Prophet (SAW) made any such 'command,’ for that would outrightly negate his divine sobriquet of 'Mercy for the Universe’ (rahmat al lil alameen). It would also be incompatible for one whom Allah 'certifies’ as standing on “an exalted standard of character” (68:4) and having “a beautiful pattern (of conduct)…” (33:21).

Actually, what such critics seize upon is verse 5 of Sura Tauba, which is termed as the (ayatus-saif) or the “Sword Verse,” saying: “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them (captive), and confine (besiege) them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But, if they repent and perform the prayer and pay the alms, then let them go their way. God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.”

But from even a cursory perusal of this verse it should be evident that it was not a carte blanche for Muslims to go on rampage, but strictly limited in time and scope. The very reference to the ‘sacred months’ (ashorul horom) indicates that it applied only to the conflict between the Muslims and the pagan Arabs, before the conquest of Makkah.

The sacred months were four, Muharram, Rajab, Zilqa’d and Zilhaj, during which fighting was forbidden among Arabs, whether pagans or Muslims. Obviously, this restriction could not apply in case of those 'enemies’ who did not observe the sanctity of those months. Secondly, the very fact that Muhammad (SAW) entered into peace treaties with Jews and Christians and, when he entered Makkah as a victor, granted general amnesty to all, including the woman who had chewed the raw liver of his uncle Hamza, proves that the Sword Verse had ceased to be valid after the given circumstances.

Then there is the reference to ‘mushrikeen’, meaning polytheists. According to Michael Cook, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, “the term could be used for those Christians or Jews who allied with the idolaters, thereby proving that they were not really the 'People of the Book.” But “it cannot, refer to either Christians or Jews, because they do not worship idols.” (Milan Rai: 7/7 London Bombing).

Similarly, Juan Cole, Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan and President of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, asserts that references to unbelievers in the Qur’an are “almost always to the idolaters of Makkah who are characterised by kufr or the ingratitude of active disbelief.” (ibid).

Cole says, “I contend that the only Quran verses that commend violence are referring to the need to defend against the Makkan siege of Medina (where the Muslims had found refuge from the Makkans) and the machinations of the Makkans’ allies… There are no Quran verses that commends violence against anyone but the Makkan pagans and their allies. Jews, Christians, even the Mandaean Gnostic sect of Sabeans are all granted freedom to practice (their religions) and to live in peace.” (ibid).

In light of the above arguments from Christian scholars it would be evident that the Quran commanded Muslims to fight 'back’ against those idolatrous Makkans who were attacking Medina and not all other non-Muslims. The injunction to attack the 'idolaters,’ in the Sword Verse was given at a specific point in time in the history of the new Muslim community, “when it was in grave danger of extinction at the hands of the people of Makkah.”

Islam was on the defensive. Spreading Islam by the sword was out of the question for Muslims who were fighting for their own survival. In fact, then as now, Islam did not spread by any force or coercion, because the Quran totally outlaws coercion in the matter of Faith. Islam spread by the irresistible charm of its beautifully egalitarian message that in the very first instance and at one stroke placed the pauper and the prince, the slave and the master on equal footing, shoulder to shoulder. Sometimes it even placed an emancipated, non-Arab, 'slave’ above many free, Arab people in reverence, as in the case of Bilal. The same magic that had tamed the wild and rough Arabs into disciplined, law-abiding people, even today casts its charm on those who seek the Truth, so they say 'lubbaik’ (here I come) and embrace Islam. Included among them in the present day are, Martin Ling, Ingrid Mattson, Keith Allison, Cat Stevens, to name just a few.

However, a comparison between the so-called 'Sword Verse’ and similar Biblical injunctions would be helpful in arriving at an unbiased judgment.

It will be noted that the Sword Verse makes exception for those who repent, saying, “if they repent and perform the prayer and pay the alms, then let them go their way.” But there is no word of their embracing Islam. “Prayer,” here, has not been interpreted even by the bitterest Islam-baiters as meaning Islamic prayers.

The Biblical injunction on the other hand is that “of the cities of these people which the Lord, thy God, doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth.” (Deut: 20:16).

But when Muhammad (SAW) marched almost unarmed – except for ‘short hunting swords,’ into Makkah and conquered it there was not a drop of blood shed and all “that breatheth” was saved alive. Moreover, neither the “Sword Verse” contains any mention of ‘sword’ nor does the Prophet (SAW) ever extol its use.

A time for joy and reflection

By Khalid Mish'al


TOGETHER With all freedom loving peoples, we in the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, shared the moment of sheer joy on Thursday when Alan Johnston stepped out of the darkness of captivity into the light of freedom.

We pay tribute to the stoic dignity with which the BBC correspondent in Gaza bore his ordeal. We commend the patience and faith of his parents and all the British, Palestinian and other people around the world who campaigned and prayed for his release. From the outset, we committed ourselves to securing his release. I entered into discussions with British officials, shared information and gave assurances of our concerted efforts to secure Alan's release.

The Palestinian people have been struggling for their freedom for almost a century. In our own land we have been denied basic human rights by an occupier that has enjoyed, under various spurious guises, international support. As Alan Johnston returns home, we hope that the British, and people the world over, reflect on the fact that more than 12,000 Palestinians are languishing in Israeli jails, unjustly denied their freedom. They include ministers of a democratically elected government, parliamentarians, women and even children.

Like Alan, they all have loved ones who long to see them again. Many of these hapless captives are their families' breadwinners. But the reality today in occupied Palestine is that there is no bread to win because the international community has imposed comprehensive sanctions on the Palestinians, denying them even the most basic necessities for survival to coerce us into accepting the occupier's terms.

Nowhere can a free people be made to surrender their historical and national rights. Accordingly, Palestinians will continue to make every sacrifice until we gain our freedom. In that endeavour, we are ready to work with all who wish to pursue our people's just aims. We look to Britain's new prime minister to begin a constructive new chapter in our relationship.

Many in the international community warned that the imposition of sanctions would undermine security and bring chaos to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Their warnings were ignored. The kidnap and 114-day-long captivity of Alan Johnston took place within a dysfunctional environment imposed from beyond Palestinian borders.

Is it not absurd that a duly elected and constituted government should be denied the authority, by external and internal forces, to control its security services? Is it not bizarre, is it not scandalous, that a national security force should itself become a mechanism for the spread of disorder? Where else in the world today would an elected prime minister find that persistent assassination attempts were allowed to pass without any security measures taken? Where else would the known would-be assassins be allowed to walk free? Where else would assailants and racketeers be given the licence to attack at will? It is to address such chaos in Gaza that Hamas was compelled to take charge.

It is in this context that we condemn the attempted attacks in London and Glasgow — as we have done in the past after attacks in Spain and the US. We could not be clearer: Hamas will not accept nor tolerate anyone exploiting the sacred cause of the Palestinian people to commit acts of murder and carnage around the world. Our strategy has always been and remains firmly based on the principle that the resistance should be fought only within Palestine.

We appreciate and commend the support given to our cause by international civic society in the pursuit of justice and freedom for the people of Palestine. ––The Guardian, London

The writer is head of the Hamas political bureau.



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007

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