To Kill a Mocking Film

20 12 2014

flowers at Sydney Cafe Candle light vigil Peshawar

 

Film The Interview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You left and I cried tears of blood. My sorrow grows. It’s not just that You left. But when You left my eyes went with You. Now, how will I cry? – Rumi

The above quote reflects the unbearable grief of this past week that witnessed some of the most horrific acts of violence and terror in Sydney, Australia, and most poignantly, in Peshawar, Pakistan, where 132 school children and plus their teachers and administrators were viciously and methodically killed at the hands of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). It’s enough to numb the mind and shatter the sinking heart.

But, as if this moment in history has been carefully scripted, the week has culminated with a climax and anti-climax that no one saw coming. For a few weeks, Sony Studios engaged in steady promotions of its Christmas Day premier of the film, “The Interview,” a mocking, satirical comedy of a CIA-led assassination plot targeting North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. No doubt, the film and story line are in poor taste, and the keen eye could see that, despite its comedic and satirical contexts, the film cannot be divorced from real world politics. The oxymoronically named “Guardians of Peace” (GOP) hacking group reminded those who needed reminding that this film is not only politically loaded, but perceived by many (read: North Korea’s leader and his loyal minions) as highly offensive, inappropriate, and duly punishable for entertaining the idea, let alone depict it. Sony is their bulls-eye target, and the punishment is promised to be painful and severe. If you had any doubts until now, here it is for the record: This saga is North Korea’s ‘shock and awe’ tactic, which seems to be wholly successful, in the somewhat new domain and high stakes of cyber warfare. From the beginning, North Korea has called the production of this film “an act of war.” North Korea has made good on its threats to retaliate, assuming the FBI is correct in its assessment that the hermit kingdom is behind the extremely embarrassing leaks of Sony executives’ emails, hacks of the upcoming films that are not yet released and uploading them on the internet, and threats to release Sony employees’ and corporate heads’ personal information, including social security numbers, salaries, bank information, and the like, to the public. Sony said “Uncle, Kim.”

This entire episode sets a dangerous precedent. It also contains some ominous linkages to the bloodbaths in Pakistan and Australia earlier in the week. Sony’s surrender to the GOP’s demands has achieved within a matter of days what years, and sometimes decades, of diplomacy and economic sanctions employed against a given “rogue” country might achieve incrementally: that achievement is simply to get the other party to do what you want them to do, and not do what you don’t want them to do. And, this was not even involving solely non-state actors targeting a state. The Sony episode indicates that a state, North Korea, has successfully and effectively utilized a proxy group, the GOP, to threaten a major, multi-billion dollar multinational corporation, Sony, which produced its film in its Hollywood studios in the United States, the sole superpower in the post-Cold War era. Everyone is taking notice; and that includes some incredibly unsavory characters. This “cyber-manipulation,” and some call it cyber-terrorism, signifies a new perspective and context in modern international relations. This is a game changer, as the goal posts have shifted.

How easy has it been for the GOP / North Korea to access Sony employees’ personal information and films that Sony has yet to release, and to issue threats? Think about it: the criminal mind will observe that the GOP easily killed a mocking film; what else can similar tactics make powerful states do to dance to the terrorists’ tunes? The global community is entering a scary new frontier in the fight against terrorism, on the ground as well as in cyberspace.

Think about this: How hamstrung are we today? No one can, or will, find and rescue the hundreds of Nigerian girls and women that the terrorist group Boko Haram has kidnapped with impunity. Who has bothered to rescue the countless Yezidi girls and women that the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) has grabbed and trafficked? We play “whack-a-mole” against numerous terrorist groups proliferating worldwide, but they continue to terrorize and brutalize untold innocent civilians. Now, thanks to the GOP / North Korea, the terrorists of the world have found a better tool in the terror toolbox. Fear is their ultimate objective, as well as their method. We think that the Peshawar massacre of innocent school children is a “turning point,” as many pundits are describing the new drive in counter-terrorism. But, the playing field has been rendered multidimensional now, and proven capable of making a powerful corporation change its course of action.

The global community of state actors will need to reassess their respective and collective legal, law enforcement, and counter-terrorism frameworks and tactics to encompass all of these dimensions and playing fields. The GOP has taught us that it’s simple to kill a mocking film. In the future, how simple will it be to kill via cyber tactics? This is the stuff of science fiction nightmares. It’s not science fiction, though. Terrorist entities already manage to shape the behavior and actions of others – including states, organizations, corporations, and individuals – while the latter are utterly failing to do the reverse.

I close with a quote by Ian Rush: “And the things that we fear are a weapon to be held against us.”

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the US Naval War College.

The views expressed are personal.





Ticket to Heaven: The Engine behind the Violence in Syria and Iraq

14 06 2014

Iraq fighters

Iraq map

iraq-update-3Feb

 

 

 

 

The pundits are churning out words like geopolitics, sectarianism, mission failure, and strategic expansionism regarding the current dynamics and jihadist gains in Iraq and in some parts of Syria. But, there is an underlying concept that serves as the driving engine for jihadism in the 21st century, and it is as old as Islam itself.

That concept is martyrdom, and intrinsically linked to it is the concept of jihad, two sides of the same coin. Although these are not new concepts in Islam, they have morphed over the last few decades. They now encompass the act that is prohibited in Islamic law, suicide, as well as the chillingly subjective tool of takfir, that is, rendering someone a “non-believer,” and hence allowing him or her to be fair game as a target for jihadists.

These are the concepts that are fueling jihadism today, and when we peel back the layers of the Sunni-Shia rivalry and geopolitical ambitions on all sides, the core concepts of martyrdom and jihad function as the meat on the bones of jihadist ideology. Martyrdom and jihad were useful tools in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. However, armchair militant clerics are continuing to exploit these concepts for their own political, ideological, and strategic agendas.

Normally, religious concepts are a façade for territorial and geopolitical goals. The real objectives are usually gaining territory, ruling over people, toppling regimes, and basking in the glory of power, wealth, and totalitarian control over others. In the case of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the tangible goals still exist, but its followers are feverishly driven by ideology, the primary engine of their violent vehicle. And now, with the sharpening of the Sunni-Shia face off, the religious potency of each side’s motivations only becomes more acute. This is not to say that they are not your basic thugs and gangsters; yes they are indeed. But, add to the mix their puritanical religious obstinacy and combine that with their fearless attitudes towards death because of the concept of martyrdom, and then we have a recipe for disaster unfolding before us.

Both Sunnis and Shias embrace the concept of martyrdom, albeit with some nuanced distinctions. For both, martyrdom is a ticket to heaven, that is, eternal residence in paradise. The definition of a martyr is also generally similar in both sects, but for Shias it is dramatically and emotionally manifested in the slaughter of Imam Hussein and his family in Karbala at the hands of the Sunni Caliph at the time, Yazid. If you think that these 7th century events are long forgotten, think again. Twitter and social media are abuzz with profile names and labels like “Mu’awiya,” the Umayyid Caliph and father of Yazid, and invocations of Ali and Hussein.

Given that the new wave of conflict in Iraq is intensely along sectarian fault lines, the symbolism of Karbala only magnifies itself. For would-be jihadists and martyrs on both sides, religious history never dies. It only continues in ensuing chapters. We are witnessing the next major chapter in the Karbala legacy. Now that Iraq’s prominent Shia Ayatollah Sistani has made a call to arms to fight against the ISIS/Sunni onslaught, the new Karbala chapter is certainly about to be written.

Another dimension of these recent developments is that the ISIS incursion into Iraq is resurrecting the Iran-Iraq War “chapter two,” with the difference this time being that Iran will be fighting against primarily non-state actors in Iraq, with all of her state military assets along with her own non-state assets as well, and whereas in the first Iran-Iraq War the sectarian identities of Sunnis and Shias did not play a significant role – this was a major miscalculation by Ayatollah Khomeini. This time, sectarianism will be the primary reason and calculus for the bloody conflict ahead. Don’t forget that the first Iran-Iraq War lasted eight years. To refresh your memory, here is a description of the Iran-Iraq War, courtesy of Juan Cole in an article for Moyers & Company:

“From September of 1980, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army invaded Iran’s oil-rich Khuzistan Province, until summer 1988 when Ayatollah Khomeini finally accepted an armistice, Iran and Iraq fought one of the Middle East’s longest and bloodiest wars. Its trench warfare and hidden naval encounters recalled the horrors of World War I, as did the Iraqi Baath government’s deployment of mustard gas against Iranian soldiers at the front and sarin gas against Kurdish civilians suspected of pro-Iranian sentiments.”

This second conflict is likely to match or surpass that, with varying degrees of intensity. Also, just like the first Iran-Iraq War, this one will also have powerful regional proxies backing their respective militias and armies. Some analysts are speculating that the venomous and violent nature of ISIS will oddly put Iran and the United States on the same side of this particular conflict. But in general, as in the case of the Syrian civil war, Iraq’s next conflict will be yet another Saudi-Iran face off vis-à-vis proxies.

ISIS has been disowned by Al Qaeda and other extremist jihadist groups fighting in Syria, because the former is considered too extreme even for them. Moreover, there is no doubt about ISIS’s anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Jewish and anti-Christian sentiments. That has been made crystal clear with its actions and abuses against Syrian Christians; and, like all extremist groups, their first targets always are women. Iraqis are right to be terrified. Those Iraqi and other Sunnis who are celebrating the ISIS gains are delusional. All you have to do is see what is happening in Pakistan with the Taliban wreaking havoc against their own supporters. These are rabid dogs that bite the hands that feed them.

It is impossible to argue against a deep belief in martyrdom, jihad, and salvation in paradise. Yet, that is exactly what must be done. The failure to win the ideological battle only yields more bloodshed and intolerance.

No amount of airstrikes, bombings, intelligence, and counter-terrorism strategies will be completely successful without taking on the core ideology that drives individuals to jihad and martyrdom. Both Sunnis and Shias adhere to this ideology, hence the challenge is ever greater.

Ultimately, this will become a national security threat to the United States and European allies. The “foreign fighters” who constitute the volunteer jihadist fighters include many westerners among them. Many countries in the Middle East, Europe and the western hemisphere are worried about these fighters returning home, and then turning their guns and lethal expertise against their own governments and citizens. Since the contexts of jihad and martyrdom are increasingly translated in very nebulous ways, the ideology poses a dangerous threat to everyone.

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the US Naval War College.

The views expressed are personal.

 





Elections Killing Democracy in the Middle East

5 05 2014

Bouteflika A supporter of Egypt's army chief Field Iraq Elections

 

 

This is an important election year for a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Egypt will hold elections on May 26-27, with the military dictator General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi likely to run. He has already gripped Egypt in an iron fist, while the courts do his dirty work sentencing hundreds to death without due process. In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to run for president in August, while journalists are arrested and the government promotes increasingly authoritarian policies that include tight controls over the judiciary. Rubbing salt into the wounds of millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) and families of more than 150,000 dead in the Syrian civil war, the vicious dictator Bashar al-Assad plans to run for re-election in June.

Iraq just witnessed crucial parliamentary elections amid fierce violence flaring in Fallujah, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s track record has not exactly fostered a healthy democracy. He has long antagonized Iraq’s Sunni minority, and managed to provoke violent backlash in Anbar. According to a Washington Post article, entitled “Iraq’s Elections May Accelerate its Descent” (May 1st) –

Mr. Maliki built support among Shiites before the election by launching a military campaign against Sunni tribes in Anbar province; the result was the takeover of Fallujah by al-Qaeda and waves of bombings against Shiites in Baghdad. Without U.S. support, the army appears to lack the means to recapture Fallujah and other Sunni-populated areas, though Mr. Maliki, like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, has resorted to using Iranian-backed Shiite militias. The prosperous, autonomous Kurdistan region, with its own oil reserves, has become a de facto independent state.”

In late April, Algeria has exhibited one of the most embarrassing and shameful sights when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, already in power for fifteen years, ran for a fourth term following a stroke and was sworn in while sitting in a wheelchair. This comes after the 2011 Arab Awakening revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, but Algeria has successfully suppressed similar uprisings and protests within its borders. However, the results are a gross blemish, analogous to the worst warts and boils on the ragged old face of Arab status quo, which convey only the Arab leaders’ obsessions with self-empowerment, stagnation, oppression, and authoritarianism. The delusion of these autocrats is boundless.

The only light in this dark tunnel is Tunisia, which has succeeded in nonviolently removing the Islamist Ennahda Party from power and preparing for new elections this year, while having revised the constitution once again. Democratization processes are not easy. They require not only smooth transitions in political leadership, but also substantive reforms of institutions and structures, with a lot of patience and determination. Clearly, Egypt and Libya, within their own respective contexts, have been impatient with the democratization processes. Leaders can be corrupt failures anywhere in the world, even in established democracies. But, the true test of democracy is the citizenry’s commitment to the values and principles of democracy. We have not seen this in the MENA region. In fact, egotistical self-promoting autocrats like General Sisi and Bouteflika and Bashar al-Assad eagerly want democracies to fail and collapse and be snuffed in the dust under the soles of their shoes. They also have powerful people supporting them, and in most cases that includes the military. They have been the circles of democracy assassins who rally around brutal dictators.

With all that Mohamed Bouazizi, the April 6th Movement, and hundreds, if not thousands, of others have sacrificed to change the face and stench of autocratic stagnation and status quo in the region, it is a tremendous tragedy that their revolutions, symbolism, and efforts have been undermined by the most diabolical people. The latter only possess self-interests, and are not concerned with the public’s welfare. The greatest irony is that so many of these self-interested autocrats and their supporters are using the tool of democracy, elections, to empower themselves. The counter-revolutions have been a slap in the face of the victims who died or were injured while trying to bring democracy, freedoms, and rights to their countries. When strokes and wheelchairs don’t deter a dictator, what can be said, but “what a shame.” But remember that it’s the circle of stakeholders around the dictator that is just as selfish, greedy, and ruthless. The proponents of real democracy in the MENA region face formidable challenges ahead. Their greatest test will be their commitment to democracy. The dictators and autocrats have shown their deep commitments to their brutality and authoritarianism. Stagnation and status quo will be the region’s future in politics, economics, and many other aspects of life if the “counters to the counter-revolutions” are not successful. And, those who are blindly supporting the likes of Sisi, Assad, Bouteflika, and a host of other oppressive and tyrannical dictators are dooming the entire region to a dark and wretched fate. Dictators deserve to be tossed into the dustbin of history, and the citizenry must commit to “never again!” Instead, we see countless people prepared to vote for new and old dictators. Has nothing been learned from the past several decades of tyranny?

The following quote by John F. Kennedy has profound wisdom for us all: “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”

 

The views expressed are personal.





Rest In Peace Professor Varis Alvi (Varis Uncle)

11 01 2014

AlaviVaris2 AlaviVaris3

Renowned Urdu critic Waris Alvi passes away after prolonged illness

Ahmedabad : World renowned Urdu critic and academic Waris Alvi passed away here on Thursday morning after a prolonged illness at the age of 86. He is survived by wife and three daughters.Alvi had authored 24 books,  the last being ‘Ghazal Ka Mahboob aur Doosre Mazameen’. He was among the top three living Urdu literary critics in the country, the other two being Dr Shamsur Rahman Faruqi and Dr Gopichand Narang.Alvi was known for his unique style of criticism, laced with humour and witty presentation of dry, complex literary subjects. He would often term his style as ‘creative criticism’ (takhliqi tanqeed). He had also written several plays in Gujarati language, many of which were staged in cultural events at St Xavier’s College here, where he taught English literature. His Gujarati play “Ekda Vina Na. Minda” had received wide acclaim.He had received several awards including Gaurav Puraskar from Gujarat government and Ghalib Award from Ghalib Academy, Delhi and Bahadur Shah Zafar Award from Delhi Urdu Academy. He was also conferred with an award by Maharashtra State Urdu Academy.Alvi also headed Gujarat Urdu Sahitya Academy for several years since its inception.





The Merger of Jihad Franchises in Syria: A War of Islamisms

22 11 2013

Syrian Rebels

syria_heavy_weapons_rebels.si

The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) accidentally beheaded one of their own commanders recently. Meanwhile, jihadist rebel groups have been fighting against the secular or more moderate Free Syrian Army forces, as well as against Syrian Kurds. Now, a group of Islamic rebel forces has announced a merger: “A statement posted online said Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Sham and the Kurdish Islamic Front had agreed to a ‘gradual merger’. It said the new Islamic Front will be an ‘independent political, military and social formation’ to topple the Assad regime and build an Islamic state” (BBC News, Nov. 22, 2013).

Throw into that mix Shia fighters in Assad’s camp, including Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and other pro-Shia Islamist militias, and now we have a full-fledged complex multidimensional sectarian war vying for a dominant Islamism to take hold of Syria.

The announcement of the new Islamic Front “may also challenge the growing influence of the two al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist rebel groups, the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), although they have co-operated with some of its component groups in the past.”

In sum, Syria embodies multi-layered “spiders web-like “ networks of Sunni and Shia militias and paramilitary forces, and this can only continue to plunge Syria into violence and chaos not unlike the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), although Syria’s war is at least a hundred times worse and intense and potentially will last a lot longer.

The supporters of these proxy rebel groups, like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other GCC states on the Sunni jihadists’ side, and Iran on the Shia side, have no regard for the innocent civilians suffering horrifically in Syria and also as refugees in neighboring countries. These proxy supporters are as guilty of atrocities as Bashar al-Assad. All sides are guilty of war crimes.

More crucially, this merger of jihad franchises in Syria encompasses a “war of Islamisms,” wherein even after Assad’s downfall, these religious rebel groups will continue – and possibly intensify – the war in power struggles, in order for their own Islamist ideology to win. We have seen this pattern of the war of Islamism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In particular, once the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan (1989), the multitude of Islamic fundamentalist/militant warlords and militias proliferating throughout the Af-Pak region turned their guns against each other. Within that scenario the Taliban arose and engaged these warlords in the Afghan civil war. We know the rest of the story, once the Taliban succeeded in taking Kabul and creating the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

I have called the Syrian civil war the “Afghanistan of the Middle East.” I would love to be proven wrong about that, but this merger of Islamic rebel groups and the power struggles between the Islamic Front and the Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist groups portend a similar outcome to Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew. The war of Islamisms is nothing new, especially in terms of the sectarian rivalry between Sunnis and Shias. That’s as old as Islam itself. Now, we see the power struggles in the post-Arab Awakening Middle East and North Africa consist of all shades of Islamists trying to climb over each other for the seats of power. This is all at the expense of civilians, both Sunnis, Shias, Christians, and secularists.

To quote U.S. President John F. Kennedy, “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”

Those waging the war of Islamisms seem to fail miserably in grasping that concept.

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the US Naval War College.
The views expressed are personal.





Congratulations to Motley Monks Theatre Group, Pune, India

28 10 2013

Congratulations to Motley Monks Theatre Group, Pune, India for their outstanding performance of “Shakespeare Meets Bollywood” on October 26, 2013

http://motleymonks.com/

 

Motley Monks Pic Oct 13 2013

The Flirt





My Blog Article in Today’s Zaman

28 10 2013

What’s Wrong With This Picture?  Saudi Arabia

http://www.todayszaman.com/blog/hayat-alvi-329853-whats-wrong-with-this-picture.html

 

Saudi Activist








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