The Post-Secular Republic: Turkey’s Experiments with Islamism

14 07 2015

Air and Space Power Journal, 2nd Quarter 2015

http://www.au.af.mil/au/afri/aspj/apjinternational/aspj_f/article.asp?id=151

PDF File:     http://www.au.af.mil/au/afri/aspj/apjinternational/aspj_f/digital/pdf/articles/2015_2/alvi_e.pdf

Hagia_Sophia_Istanbul         turkey flag

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The Need for Intellectual Jihad

28 04 2013

jihad                      Islam Rational Thinking

The Islamic world has been suffering an intellectual crisis in the modern era since the decline of the Ottoman Empire.  This has accounted for the intellectual malaise and stagnation found internally within the Islamic umma, or community at large.  While this stagnation has occurred, those voices of reason and intellect that have tried to stimulate and resuscitate an ‘intellectual jihad’ within the umma have not only been stifled, but outright repressed and marginalized by the orthodoxy.  They’ve been silenced, bullied, and threatened.  Rational thinking has been banished; unquestioning compliance with the orthodoxy and blind dogma have become the order of the day and the status quo, even today.  Intellectual jihad has been defeated, but it has not been tossed in the dustbin just yet.  Intellectual jihad must be revived.  The Boston bombings are only one of many ominous signs of the dangers of repressing intellectual jihad and rational thinking.

One voice that strongly urged the Islamic umma to undertake the ‘intellectual jihad’ was the late Professor Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988), originally from Pakistan.  He was exiled for speaking for rational thinking and against fanaticism and fundamentalism, which were on the rise in Pakistan.  Professor Rahman wrote many books and articles, and his book, Islam (1979), in particular explains the sources of fundamentalism and fanaticism in puritanical Islamic movements, since early Islamic history to the post-colonial era.  His advocacy for ‘intellectual jihad’ remained marginalized, while the voices and power of the puritanical orthodoxy in the umma became popularized.  Violent jihadism has managed to eclipse what used to be considered “the Greater Jihad,” that of struggling for self-improvement.  Intellectual jihad is yet another vein in Islamic exegesis and the need for reinterpretation in order to adjust to modernity, which has for too long remained suppressed.

The puritanical orthodoxy, then, has perpetuated intellectual stagnation and impeded the much-needed Islamic renaissance and reformation in the modern era.  The spread of harmful, intolerant ideologies, such as Wahhabism and Salafism, are documented sources of indoctrination into violent jihadism.  Online and satellite TV self-proclaimed clerics, who are usually uneducated in Islam and Classical Arabic, have easy access to impressionable Muslims, appealing to their emotions.  Rational thinking never enters their spheres and domains.  Counter-terrorism strategies need to address the source of the problem – these clerics, their messages, and the dangerous emotive ideologies they profess – rather than dealing reactively with just the symptoms.

Islamic schools usually teach rote memorization of the Quran, without understanding the meanings of the verses.  Classical Quranic Arabic is difficult even for native Arabic speakers, because it’s an obsolete and extremely difficult language.  Religious seminaries do not encourage questioning.  Memorizing verses, but failing to understand them, and also authoritatively forbidding any questioning of the curricula, all constitute a recipe for disaster.  Such curricula will never lead a student to a comprehensive education with competent skills for a viable career, nor would such students be contributing anything to social progress.

Muslims and Islamic religious authorities bear the responsibility to support and promote intellectual jihad and rational thinking.  This is imperative, and without such reformation those embracing the violent form of jihad will continue to capitalize on its use of violence and terror.  Hence, the proponents of violent jihad will continue to perpetuate insecurity, and governments will continue to react with harsher constraints on civil liberties and rights.  The vicious cycle will revolve indefinitely.

Religious reform is embodied in the intellectual form of jihad.  Given that religion and politics are not separate in Islam, such reform is imperative for facilitating progressive intellectual, spiritual, and political discourses.  One of the methodologies of Islamic jurisprudence is ijtihad, which is ‘reinterpretation,’ or ‘original thinking,’ applying reasoning and analytical thought to Islamic laws and principles.  Ijtihad allows for change and reform, without modifying the essence of Islamic principles and laws.  In modern history, ijtihad has been static, as the ultra-orthodox religious authorities and institutions have suppressed the process of change, which has been urgently needed in order to adjust to modernity.  In the field it’s said, “the gate of ijtihad has closed.”  Hence, Islamic fundamentalism and fanaticism have predominated in modern history.  But is the gate truly closed, or is it blockaded by unsavory forces?  And if it’s closed, at least it is not locked!

It’s worth examining Fazlur Rahman’s forthright assessment of Islam and the roots of fundamentalism and fanaticism, and heeding his caveats and recommendations.  Otherwise, violent jihadism will continue to hijack Islam and perpetuate the worst that criminal behavior can offer.  It’s in no one’s interest to allow that to happen.

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





Islamic Extremists’ Propensity for Violence & Intolerance

31 10 2012

The shooting of the brave Pakistani teenager, Malala Yusufzai, underscores a reality, without exaggeration, about the degree and severity of misogyny of Islamic extremists.   The shooting, which the 14-year-old activist and campaigner for girls’ education survived, is an ever-growing stain on Pakistan’s fabric of militancy and mindless misogynist orthodoxy.  The list of threats and violence against women and liberal voices is long.  This week BBC profiled an Afghan female rap artist, who is a proud patriot, yet receives regular threats by militants, including threats of acid attacks.  In Dagestan, militants murdered the fourth Sufi cleric this year.

What drives these hyenas to commit senseless acts of violence against innocent civilians and even children?  Are they so threatened by girls that they have to resort to such tactics as acid attacks and shootings of school buses?  Is this what their seminary curricula have taught them, to hate everyone who doesn’t conform to their own way of thinking, and to fear girls, especially educated ones?  I once reprimanded my students for using the word “barbaric” for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, but now I lament my actions.  The behavior of these militants and extremists, which are not restricted to the Af-Pak region, is beyond barbaric.  They transcend the Dark Ages in their regressive madness and extremes.  They make me hate the news and cringe every time I reach for BBC or NPR.  They are a dark cloud hovering ominously over the “modern” Muslim world today, and sadly many Muslims remain defensively in denial or apologetically rationalize the existence of these ugly elements, or re-frame Shariah (Islamic law) to distance themselves from such ideologies.

If so called moderate and liberal Muslims fail to acknowledge the reality of these extremists and their agendas, and, more importantly, fail to counter these militant and extremist forces in their midst, dire consequences await Muslim communities worldwide.  Some of these consequences are already occurring, including:

  • Hijacking and undermining children’s education systems, in the guise of “religious education,” by the infiltration of extremist and ultra-orthodox ideologies that promote intolerance and potentially militancy.  Such ideologies include Wahhabism and Salafism;
  • Stifling of liberal and Sufi voices and practices, as well as destruction of religious sites, as in the case of Salafi destruction of Sufi shrines and UNESCO heritage sites in recent months in Mali and Libya;
  • Attacking and killing non-Muslims in the name of Islam, as in the case of Boko Haram killing Christians and attacking churches in Nigeria;
  • Increasing the oppression of girls and women and religious minorities, as well as religious pariahs (e.g., sectarian groups like Shiites, and religions like Bahaism), and denying their rights and freedoms;
  • Stoking anti-Americanism, anti-Westernism, anti-modernism, and anti-Jewish and Christian sentiments, again in the name of Islam;
  • Undermining democratization and socioeconomic progress, especially by means of suppressing segments of society like women and minority groups;
  • Repressing intellectual freedoms and the arts;
  • Arbitrarily invoking takfir (calling someone a non-believer, or an apostate) and blasphemy labels, resulting in excommunication or even death of the targeted individual;
  • Questioning modern secular ideas, education, and progressive lifestyles, and seeking to repress them;
  • Locking entire communities in cycles of religious authoritarianism and totalitarianism by use of force or threats of violence, peer pressure, and excommunication;
  • Killing anyone who opposes them;
  • Focusing on nothing but their own myopic concepts of “jihad” and manipulations thereof;
  • Pursuing agendas of territorial expansion, areas of operation, recruitment, and cooptation of local government, law enforcement, and religious officials, where possible;
  • Blaming everything on the US, Jews, and Israel;
  • Interpreting religious laws and principles literally;
  • Attempting to superimpose 7th century ideas and practices on the present;
  • Bullying innocent people into submission and conformity, resulting in religious fascism that does not tolerate dissent, nor does it tolerate women’s rights to choose how they dress, live, acquire an education, work, and marry or divorce.

The end result of this religious fascism is nothing but destructive, oppressive, intolerant, and violent, authoritarian male-dominated communities living anachronistically in a 7th century time warp.  In fact, that itself is an untruth, because much of these extremists’ attitudes and behaviors pre-date Islam.  Yet, they insist on attributing their take on Islam as replicating the time of the Prophet Muhammad in 7th century Arabia.  Still, even the latter was not such a shining example of women’s emancipation and rights, certainly not by modern standards, nor was it brimming with religious tolerance and harmony.  Pre-Islamic Arabia fared even worse of course, but to compare these historical contexts to modern times is a non-starter.  Hence, the extremists’ backward regression is far worse than anticipated.  We all thought the Taliban were the worst when they emerged in the 1990s, but now they have parallel groups and ideologies that mirror them in many respects.  And we have the Saudis to thank for the proliferation of Wahhabi / Salafi ideologies that are inspiring these extremists and militants.

Last year and even earlier this year, I had high hopes for post-revolution political and socioeconomic development in Tunisia, where the 2011 Arab Awakening began.  Now, Salafist thugs are threatening to derail stability and security in Tunisia, while continuing their violent agendas and attacks.  Even as recent as October 31st, there have been fierce clashes in Tunis, as Al Jazeera reports:

“Wielding sharp tools and swords, the protesters went on the attack in the Tunis suburb of Manouba after police arrested a Salafist suspected of assaulting the head of the suburb’s public-security brigade, Khaled Tarrouche, interior ministry spokesman, said.

‘There has been a reinforcement of security, of the National Guard, of the army to prevent any retaliation’ by the Salafist movement, Tarrouche said on Wednesday.

‘The response by the security forces led to the death of an attacker who was hit by a bullet.’

Two security force members were also seriously injured, he said.”

These extremist elements are enemies of knowledge.  They are haters of peace and harmony.  They are the most intolerant towards tolerance.  Muslims must not bury their heads in the sand about this.  There is way too much at stake.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views





Dara Shukoh and the Struggle for Liberal Islam

19 09 2012

Please read this excellent article by Sameer Khan, “Dara Shukoh and the Struggle for Liberal Islam”

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=285570

Dara Shukoh





Salafist / Wahhabi Hooligans’ Agendas for Destruction and Violence

2 09 2012

The last couple of weeks have been filled with bad news across the Middle East, South Asia, and even the Caucasus.  The sheer destructiveness, outrageous, deplorable behavior, and intolerance manifested in the events are extremely disheartening, to say the least.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has a real challenge on his hands.  Militants have attacked a number of moderate Muslim clerics in the Caucasus, and some have died.  The clerics were known to be voices of moderation and criticism against the fanatical militants, who are proliferating in Russia’s southern edges.  Reuters reports that in Dagestan, “more than a dozen young men from the village have ‘gone to the forest’ – the local euphemism for joining insurgents in their hideouts, says village administrator Aliaskhab Magomedov.”  The reports indicate that these men are hardened Islamists as a result of working in the Gulf Arab states, returning home and spreading their Wahhabi ideology with violence.

Similarly, in two African countries we see Salafist and Al Qaeda-affiliated militants destroying Sufi mosques and shrines.  In parts of Libya, they are literally bulldozing heritage sites, not unlike the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues.  In Mali, militants have literally chipped away at UNESCO heritage sites with hammers and chisels.  These militants also want to target libraries and museums in order to destroy precious archeological icons and manuscripts that they deem “un-Islamic.”  When you read Ahmed Rashid’s book on the Taliban, you learn that when the Taliban first came to power in the mid-1990s, and took over Kabul, one of the first institutions they attacked and destroyed were libraries.  Nothing has changed, except the geography.  Such mentalities still may be among minority fringe groups.  Nonetheless, their propensity for violence and destruction is not only horrendous, but also, alarmingly, proliferating in other regions.

Such is the venom of Wahhabi/Salafi ideology, and let’s not forget that the seat of Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia, has long upheld policies for destroying sacred and heritage sites, and carried them out within the kingdom.  The Saudis, after all, are one of the creators of the Taliban.  That is very telling indeed.  In fact, the “League of Libyan Ulema, a group of more than 200 Muslim scholars, on Tuesday evening blamed the attacks on a son of the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Saadi, and his Libyan Salafi allies it said were inspired by radical Saudi preachers.  Sufi theologian Aref Ali Nayed said Libya had not seen such attacks for centuries.  ‘Even Mussolini’s fascists did not treat our spiritual heritage with such contempt,’ he said” (Reuters).  Italy under Mussolini occupied Libya until WWII.

While the West is preoccupied with vilifying Iran – and this is not to say that the Iranian regime is not a problem or a threat – we in the West are frighteningly myopic in terms of seeing the big picture:  i.e., Salafism / Wahhabism is proving to be even more destructive, violent, intolerant, and hate-mongering on a daily basis than what we see coming from Iran, and not just in words, but also in action.  The only thing is that the former is not on the radar, while the latter (Iran) is the object of obsession in the West.  That scenario will only lead to repeating costly past mistakes:  can we say “Mujahideen” in the Af-Pak region?

The Libyan Ulema and citizens are extremely frustrated with Tripoli’s seemingly inability to stop the Salafi assault on the country’s shrines, mosques, and heritage sites.

“The League of Libyan Ulema (Muslim scholars) urged Tripoli ‘to pressure the government of Saudi Arabia to restrain its clerics who meddle in our affairs’ by training young Libyans in Salafism and spreading the ideology through books and tapes.

It also urged Libyans to protect Sufi sites by force.

Nayed, who lectures at the old Uthman Pasha madrasa that was desecrated on Tuesday evening, said the attackers were ‘Wahhabi hooligans (and) all sorts of pseudo-Salafi elements’ while government security officials were ‘complacent and impotent.’

‘Libya has to make a clear choice – either a Taliban/Shabaab-style religious fanaticism or a true Muslim moral and spiritual civility,’ he told Reuters.”

The Salafists – or, as Nayed pointedly and correctly calls them “Wahhabi hooligans” – are an imminent threat to the stability and security of the regions and sub-regions in which they operate.  And, that is exactly their intent, to destabilize, coerce, bully, and terrorize.  Although their militant ideologies have been dealt a severe blow since the mostly peaceful 2011 Arab uprisings and revolutions successfully changed regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the Wahhabi hooligans also see the same events and outcomes as an opportunity to fill any gaps that may appear in the nation building processes in respective countries.  Effective policies and law enforcement are needed to preclude them from gaining even an inch.  Think of them as hyenas lurking in the darkness, only now they are audaciously operating in broad daylight.

The other major recent incident is the disgustingly shameful “blasphemy” case in Pakistan, which has landed a young 14-year-old girl with mental disabilities, who happens to be a Christian, in prison.  Instead of protecting this child and her family, the Pakistani authorities, in all their hollow wisdom, have thrown her in jail, and might make her stand trial.  Blasphemy prosecutions can render death sentences.  This has stirred outrage worldwide, and especially among human rights organizations.  Perhaps in reaction to the outrage, police arrested the local imam who some claim is the culprit in framing the child.  But, this case is about more than just the tragic circumstances of this child, her family, and the Pakistani Christian community at large.  This ludicrous behavior by the authorities and even the government, which initially called for “an investigation,” rather than calling for her immediate release, only highlights the moral bankruptcy of Pakistan.  The expediency with which the so-called “blasphemy law” is used especially against religious minorities underscores the nakedly transparent bigotry that streams through Pakistan’s fabric.  Furthermore, it is not only an example of moral bankruptcy, but it also illustrates the most profound absence of intelligence and reason.  Regarding this case, there is no hole deep enough in the sand that would be sufficient for heads to bury themselves in, as far as I’m concerned.  I close with a quote by George Orwell:

“One defeats a fanatic precisely by not being a fanatic oneself, but on the contrary, by using one’s intelligence.”

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views





Taliban 2.0: Targeting Women Globally – Jerusalem Post Aug 27 2012

26 08 2012

Cell phones banned for girls and women under 40

Here is my latest opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post, “Taliban 2.0: Targeting Women Globally”:

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=282679

I would be interested to know what readers think about such decrees (fatwas) being handed down to restrict the rights and freedoms of girls and women in India and elsewhere.  Please don’t hesitate to submit your comments.  Thanks.





The Tunisian Model: A Promising Outlook

5 03 2012

I spent the last week in Tunisia and returned last night.  One year after the revolution, Tunisia looks impressive, and the outlook for the country’s economic and political development seems promising and bursting with potentials.  Tunisia is not without problems and bumps in the road to formulating some sort of hybrid Islamic democracy, although no one expects a smooth glide to post-revolution successes in all aspects of society.  That would be naïve for sure.

Tunisian nationalist pride is evident everywhere, and in terms of economic health, one notices construction projects proliferating the skyline in Tunis and elsewhere.  The souk (market) in the old quarter of Medina in Tunis is bustling with activity, but the number of tourists is still not up to standard.  Clearly, the usual crowds of foreigners filling the Tunisian streets and major sites are missing, and this is cause for worry, as the Tunisian economy relies heavily on tourism.  It is not peak tourist season yet, as that happens in the warmer summer months.  But still, people are anxious about uncertainties ahead and the ability to draw foreign investments and tourists.  French and German businesses are quite active in Tunisia, hiring young, tech-savvy Tunisians.  A Gulf-based Islamic bank has been built in Tunis.  The foreign investments are trickling in, but there is still a greater need for more.

The infrastructure functions well, despite the revolution’s overwhelming impact.  Locals informed me that the electricity never shut off, and water keeps flowing in the tap.  There is still unemployment and in the south one finds poverty and labor disputes, plus the grape vine reports serious concerns about Libyan migrants and some unsavory characters crossing into Tunisia from the Tunisian-Libyan border.  In general, Tunisia finds herself at a crossroads:  from reading the locals’ faces, it appears that for the most part everyone is very pleased to see the former dictator Ben Ali go.  Yet, there is anxiety about the way ahead, but nothing like the tension we find in Libya and Egypt.  Tunisia even prides herself as the potential future model for the Arab Middle East, whereas at one time the “Turkish model” was cited.  Tunisians see themselves as the torchbearers.

In order for Tunisia to truly live up to that image, the post-revolution government will need to develop effectively, particularly focusing on employment demands and improved income distribution.  The degree of corruption in the Ben Ali era has left an indelible mark on the Tunisian people, and they are firmly determined never to allow that to happen again.  Many political institutions remain intact, which, one scholar tells me, will allow the future government to function well.  They won’t have to rebuild institutions from square one.  The constitution is still being drawn up, but some speculate that it might be completed within a year.

Of course, there are still some Ben Ali era elements lingering within Tunisia, and I was even told that some Qaddafi family members have fled into the country as well.  These elements only add to the collective anxiety, but overall, Tunisia appears to be on the road to political development and long term prosperity.  These processes will take time, and the Tunisians are very much aware of that.  Everyone I spoke to expressed great optimism, and some even expressed Tunisia’s trailblazing role in triggering the regional uprisings as also a sign that Tunisians will serve as the role model for the post-dictatorship governments to follow.  Right now, Tunisians are sorting out what that model will look like – secular liberal democracy, or some combination of Islam and democracy – and while the subject may be contentious, the discourse and debates I observed were nothing less than civil and respectful.  One year later, Tunisia is deeply and collectively introspective, and may eventually emerge as the model for the region to follow.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.