Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: Over the Tightrope

PS: the book is free to download on kindle on Monday and Tuesday 11-23 and 11-24

Asif Ismaeel's debut novel mixes dystopian science fiction, sufism, politics, humor and Salafist Islam to create a stunning and unexpected joy-ride through post-apocalyptic (or is it pre-apocalypse?) Pakistan in 2050. Of course it is now called Al-Bakistan, since the blessed Arabic language does not have the letter P, and it is ruled by a Khalifa who established law and order after the proletariat rose in revolt and decapitated the ruling elite in a paroxysm of rioting and holy war a few years earlier.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why do Muslims Blow Stuff Up?

Indian secular commentator Harbir Singh Nain has a nice piece in the Nation (a Lahore newspaper that has shifted from jingoistic Islamism to hosting the most "free-thinking" blog posts of any major Pakistani paper; there is probably a story in there somewhere). The entire piece is here, but a few excerpts give you the flavor:

Again I hear talk everywhere that Islamist terrorism is a reaction to Western imperialism.  It’s supposedly got nothing to do with radical Islamists.  I have to wonder if why Korea and Vietnam didn't start pumping terrorists into the world as an aftermath of the horrendous wars there, why oil producers in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa didn't start pumping terrorists into the world in reaction to western meddling there.

The cause is Saudi Arabia, which has used its oil revenues to drive fundamentalist radicalization of Muslim societies all over the world, infesting them with mosques and seminaries that disseminate Saudi scripted fundamentalist, hateful perspectives. Every major Muslim terrorist organization in the world is connected to a web in the center of which sits Saudi Arabia..

The West is not without fault. But it is dishonest to assert that the Islamist terrorism is merely a backlash to Western foreign policy.  The other party at the table is radical, oil fed fundamentalist Islamism.

In the West, after every instance of slaughter by a crazed Islamist, liberals run to call for tolerance towards ordinary Muslims innocent of the crime. It is the West that welcomes immigrants from Muslim countries and guarantees their freedom to practice their faith and to live their lives without persecution. It is the West that makes peace with its former enemies at the first opportunity. See the relations of Germany, Japan, Italy, Vietnam, and South Korea with the US. The West welcomes immigrants en mass from enemies, both former (Russians flooded into the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union) and present (so many Iranian students in the US). It is the West that takes in Muslim refugees escaping from slaughter by Muslims as has been seen by the flow of Syrians into Europe.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have not opened their own borders to the faithful fleeing the slaughter.  There is no call in the Middle East for understanding and tolerance towards the West and non-Muslims. There is no voice allowed to call for moderation of Islamist hatemongering, to curtail the raging hatred that constantly spews out against the West...

These are actually fairly common sentiments among liberal Muslims and Hindus (and presumably, many others). I don't have time for a full post, but a few comments came to mind:

South Americans, as colonial settler nations with a history of conquering Native Americans and owning more slaves than the United States, are not exactly in line for the honor of being oppressed subjects of the West. (though good branding and anti-Yankee propaganda has pretty much cleared their elites of their colonial/slave-owning past, especially amongst distant observers).

Korea was not colonized by the US. South Korea was saved from Stalinist North Korean invasion by the US and its allies. They are not exactly grateful (more anti-American than the Vietnamese, for complicated reasons) but still they are hardly expected to be in the "lets bomb America now" section.

Vietnamese holds pride of place in Desi Leftist minds as victims of America (with some justification), but the Vietnamese themselves include (and always included) significant pro-American factions, and since the Americans left, their priorities are very different from the kind of unrelenting anti-Americanism that Desis sometimes feel they should have... Details complicated, I know.

But here is the point I really wanted to make:
I heard (more than 10 years ago) from an Islamist historian (PhD U Chicago) that the correct way of looking at lack of Hindu or African Pagan blowback is to regard them as weaker civilizations, unable/unwilling to contend for world-beater status (Hindutvadis are trying, with limited success, to alter this perception btw). His point was that Islamists sending terrorists and throwing bombs maybe wrong (in his opinion, it was wrong) because it may be tactically harmful to their cause or it may be morally unsound (he was not in favor of indiscriminate slaughter), but on the general point of fighting against the West, he thought the crucial difference is that the Islamic world represents real civiliazational competition; challengers who think they can and SHOULD fight in the big leagues...while Hindus and Africans are just waiting to be converted to more successful ideologies and are "not even invited to the party".
In short, that Muslims are different, but not in the way you think: they are not different in being more bloodthirsty (he believed, as a historian, that ALL great powers and dominant civilizations have been blood thirsty) but in thinking of themselves as a potential world power, not just "subalterns". 

I think he was wrong (i.e. the world is not best described by the kind of clash of civilizations he subscribed to, and the Muslim world is in no position to challenge as some sort of outsider civilization, distinct from what Naipaul famously dubbed "our universal civilization").

But one should not think that sophisticated Islamists themselves have no such ambition.

Finally, the oil-kingdom and wahabiism are indeed proximate causes of the Jihadi upsurge, but they succeeded not just because they paid people (the US has paid billions for "counter-jihadist" propaganda, with little noticeable impact) but because their ideology could be presented as the logical culmination of classical Islamic themes. Which is why educated (therefore more susceptible to "logic" and rational argument) believing Muslims in Pakistan so frequently gravitate to Maudoodi-like figures, even if their own families were Barelvi/Sufi/grave-worshipping/Indian-inflected "moderate Muslims" just one generation ago.

I hope to write more later to expand on this point.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris, Islam, ISIS and Sykes-Picot. Random Thoughts

The latest Islamist-terrorist atrocity hit the news on Friday with a Mumbai-style attack on the city of Paris. The same group (ISIS) has recently bombed Ankara, a Russian aircraft and a civilian neighborhood in Beirut. But as expected, the strike in Paris got the most attention (not inappropriately so, in my opinion). It was a typically brutal operation. Ordinary civilians going about their pleasure in one of the world's great cities were targeted in Restaurants, outside a football stadium (when the suicide bombers could not get in), on the streets and, most cruelly, while watching a death-metal concert. Most of the casualties occurred in the concert hall, where the terrorists managed to get into a location with a large number of innocents gathered in a confined space. They shot and killed calmly and ruthlessly and without any hint of pity or common humanity. When the police burst in, the killers blew up their suicide belts to shower those around them with ball bearings in one last atrocity before they departed to what they no doubt expect will be a land of milk and honey, suitably supplied with virgins so fair and delicate that their bone marrow will be visible. It takes all kinds.

Several interactions on twitter (@omarali50) revealed a few common themes and I thought I would expand on some of those brief comments and get some feedback. It's one way to learn.

Is the Islamic State Islamic? by Charles Cameron

[ by Charles Cameron , original at zenpundit— both answers are true in different contexts — IMO a significant point that previous discussion has tended to overlook ]

Were (are) the Khawarij Muslim? That’s the question I keep thinking of when discussion of whether IS (or AQ) is Islamic comes up. From a Muslim perspective, they were heretics. Joas Wagemakers identified the central distinctive opinion of the Khawarij thus:

The first of these is the Khawarij’s belief that revolt against Muslim rulers was allowed if they were deemed insufficiently pious. When ‘Ali accepted arbitration with Mu‘awiya, the people later known as Khawarij reportedly shouted ‘judgement is God’s alone’ (la hukm illa li-llah). In the context of that event, this referred to their belief that only God had the authority to arbitrate, not human beings, and that ‘Ali should not have accepted Mu‘awiya’s offer. The slogan later came to represent their broader view that all judgements and rulings should be left to God, thus applying Qur’anic rulings so strictly that they expelled Muslims guilty of major sins from their community and fought them. Because they believed sinful Muslims to be unbelievers (kuffar, singular: kafir), they directly applied passages from the Qur’an pertaining to jihad against non-Muslims to those of their co-religionists who were less than perfectly pious.

From the perspective of what I’m going to call “ongoing Islam” they were heretics — the very name Khawarij indicates those who have gone out, ie left the religion of Islam — and yet their heresy was that of “fundamentalizing” Islam, being, if you like, excessively Islamic.

Consider: according to a hadith reported in Abu Dawud:

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “There will be dissension and division in my nation and a people will come with beautiful words but evil deeds. They recite the Quran but it will not pass beyond their throats. They will leave the religion as an arrow leaves its target and they will not return until the arrow returns to its notch. They are the worst of the creation. Blessed are those who fight them and are killed by them. They call to the Book of Allah but they have nothing to do with it. Whoever fights them is better to Allah than them.”

As a student of religions might say, their use of the Qur’an marks them as clearly Islamic, and as a Muslim theologian might say, they have clearly departed the religion, in truth “they have nothing to do with it.”

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hamid Hussain: Remembering Colonel Shuja Khanzada

Colonel ® Shuja Khanzada (28 August 1943 – 16 August 2015)
Hamid Hussain


Shuja Khanzada as a young cavalry officer.

On August 16, 2015, Punjab Home Minister Colonel ® Shuja Khanzada was killed in a suicide attack in his hometown of Shadi Khan in Attock.  He belonged to a military family and several family members served in British Indian army and junior civil service.  His grandfather Subedar Major and Honorary Captain Ajaib Khan had served in British Indian army.  Ajaib Khan was Subedar Major of 76th Punjabis (later 3rd Battalion of Ist Punjab Regiment and now 3rd Punjab Regiment of Pakistan army).  He was with his battalion during First World War in Mesopotemia and won Indian Order of Merit (IOM) in an action.  On May 15, 1915, Ajab stormed a fort in Khafajiyah with six other soldiers.  In this action, his orderly Sepoy Burhan Ali was killed in action and awarded posthumous IOM.  Ajaib retired after a long service and was awarded OBE and OBI.

Ajaib’s one brother served in Indian Medical Service while three other brothers served in civil service in Hong Kong.  Hashim Khan spent his whole career in post office department, Sardar Khan was chief clerk of harbor office and Khawas Khan was clerk at Supreme Court.  Shuja’s uncle Captain ® Taj Muhammad Khanzada was one of the most decorated officer of Indian army.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Hamid Hussain Reviews Cloughley's Book about the Pakistan Army

A History of the Pakistan Army: Wars and Insurrections by Brian Cloughley

Dear All,

Some questions came my way about Brian Cloughley’s good book about Pakistan army. I put them in an unconventional book review. Regards, Hamid.

Book Review by Hamid Hussain

A History of Pakistan Army: Wars and Insurrections by Brian Cloughley, Fourth Edition. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 588

Brian Cloughley’s A History of Pakistan Army is the fourth edition of a book, which was originally written in 1999. Fourth edition adds many new chapters especially tenures of General Pervez Mussharraf and General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. Author is one of few foreigners with long association with some senior Pakistani officers going back to early 1980s. This gives the author an advantage to draw on his personal associations.

Book is a comprehensive review of history of Pakistan army starting from 1947 when country gained independence. It documents journey of Pakistan army over six decades.

On page 29 author commenting about Ayub’s actions after becoming C-in-C states that “He examined the Military Secretary’s records of every senior officer and, if in doubt about someone’s competence, he sacked them”. This needs clarification and understanding of the context. The issue was not much about competence but about reliability. In March 1951, only about two months after General Muhammad Ayub Khan took over command of Pakistan army, a conspiracy was unearthed by the local police where a group of army officers were planning to overthrow the civilian government. The leader was then Chief of General Staff (CGS) Major General Muhammad Akbar Khan. Many officers involved in the conspiracy were left leaning and avowed leftist and famous poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was also involved peripherally. After the arrest of main culprits, Ayub used this opportunity to ease out all officers with leftist leanings. For Ayub, the issue was reliability of officers and proper orientation rather than competence. Many officers promoted by Ayub to senior ranks will never pass a competency test in any decent army.