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Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

Just as I was discussing the Pakistani state’s inability to control, yet alone dominate, the Islamic culture and religion within its borders, Islamabad announced a new deal allowing the Swat region to be ruled by Sharia law. This is yet another deal the Pakistani government has made with one of its tribal region’s that it cannot control, yet alone govern. The Taliban are strong in Swat and in return for allowing them to basically ‘govern themselves’ they have promised the Pakistan government to cease violence, at least against the Pakistani government and military.

Pakistani Taliban punished a man accused of impersonating one of them to extort money in Swat Valley-European Pressphoto Agency

When I mention that the Pakistani government ‘control’ or ‘dominate’ Islam within their boundaries, I am not meaning suppress or destroy the religion or culture. Far from it. A state needs to have legitimacy for it to rule effectively, and it is instances like this latest Swat-Sharia deal that undermine Pakistani hopes for this to occur. The situation is very complicated and autonomous regions in countries is not unheard of and can be stable, but this most recent victory for violent Taliban forces is just the latest in a string of loses for the Pakistani government and military. Sectarian forces of Islam carry more weight than the government can and it is creating great violence and instability for the whole region. Of course, Islam is far from the only problem and cause of the recent unrest in Pakistan as ethnic, social, and economic issues are vibrant throughout the country, especially in its northwest border area with Afghanistan.

The United States and the Karzai-led Afghan government will soon be entering into serious negotiations with certain Taliban elements that seem to be willing to do just that, negotiate, and there is much they can learn from Pakistan’s experiences. There will be a fine line between granting autonomy to a region, where Sharia law supercedes all state decisions, and creating enough wiggle room for local tribes to have a legitimate say in the way they are governed. In Pakistan, the Taliban have shown that once they obtain power in a region, and this becomes legitimatized by a deal with the Pakistani government, they have not only begun to rule the area like brutal totalitarians, but that they do not stop there, and their ambitions have led them deeper and deeper into Pakistan’s other regions.

What will Afghanistan’s future be? One where Islam is crucial, but partnered with the state? Or one where sectarian groups representing Islam, including radical Taliban groups, seek to dominate certain regions or the whole state?

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Islam and the State: Book Review

   Posted by: Pat    in Book Review, Middle East, religion   Print Print

I am reading Adeeb Khalid’s book ‘Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia.’ That’s it, I just thought you should know….Juuuuust kidding. Though I plan on summarizing and reviewing the book when I’m finished, I came across this interesting passage discussing Islam and the state that I would like to share. It’s a bit lengthy so bear with me (hey, I’m the one who has to type the darn thing!):

But even when states have sought to control Islam, they have don so to put it to work on their behalf. Having freed up large areas of public life from the authority of Islam and its carriers, they nevertheless have used Islam to bolster their legitimacy or to found systems of public morality based on a particular reading of Islam. The Egyptian state, for instance, derives a great deal of its legitimacy from the argument that it serves Islam. In Turkey, in an approved and properly nationalized form, Islam remains part of the moral education of all schoolchildren. In both these countries, religious higher education is under state supervision or control, but it remains uninterrupted, and the public presence of Islam is unmistakable. The Saudi state, of course, stakes all its legitimacy on Islam, but it keeps strict control over Islamic institutions. In Pakistan, in contrast, the state was never able to institutionalize control over Islam. Rather, the military, both in and out of power, has used Islamic groups for various purposes, from sponsoring the ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan, through instigating an insurgency in Kashmir, to fomenting sectarian violence within Pakistan itself.

Before this passage, Khalid emphasizes that Islam should be looked at like all other religions in the world and in history, in terms of its relations to the state. That is, that the state attempts to use it or suppress it for its own interests. This is Khalid’s main thesis of the book, that Islam is not monolithic and is strongly affected and changed by such other societal factors as governance and economics.

Back to the passage above, Khalid is accurate in that for the most part Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia have ‘successfully’ controlled most aspects of Islam while at the same time using the religion and culture for legitimacy claims. The first two, Egypt and Turkey, are mostly secular states, with Turkey’s constitution guaranteeing this, while Saudi Arabia’s government is much more tied to its Wahhabi-Islamic roots. Interestingly, these three states are all key US allies. Saudi Arabia and Egypt both run oppressive societies, but the US sides with them anyways for geopolitical, resource, and stability reasons. The US government appears to accept these repressive regimes over possible Islamist party takeovers, which it fears my have a similiar world outlook to Iran. Come to think of it, did the hostile nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s towards the United States ruin forever possible US support for Islamist parties throughout the Middle East?

The fourth country and only outlier that Khalid mentions, is Pakistan, and it is a state that may be the most important US ally of them all at the moment. Khalid is correct, the Pakistan military, much less its government, has never had control over Islam in the country’s short history. What amount of the blame should the current domestic and regional problems facing Pakistan should be attributed to this lack of state control over Islam? Is there anything different about the culture and religion of Islam that makes it harder for governments to control? Or are geopolitical, economic, international, and other societal factors more responsible?

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Mumbai’s Consequences

   Posted by: Pat    in Uncategorized   Print Print


Taj Hotel in Mumbai - Even birds hate terrorism
Taj Hotel in Mumbai – Even birds hate terrorism

With the assault on Mumbai finally at an end, we can start to look at some of its likely consequences. The attacks, allegedly perpetrated by an unknown radical group in the name of Allah, killed at least 195 people, including several Americans, and created unseen havoc in one of the world’s great economic capitals. Though the nation of India has seen its share of terrorist attacks, including an assault on its parliament and a tremendous train bombing, it appears that Mumbai attack of November 2008 may be lead to a sea change in the way the Indian populace looks at Islamic terrorism.

The Times of India immediately put out an editorial basically stating that the nation was at war: 

“The scale, intensity and level of orchestration of terror attacks in Mumbai put one thing beyond doubt: India is effectively at war and it has deadly enemies in its midst.” 

Many of the citizens of Mumbai and state government officials have also made comments that ‘this is enough’ and referenced the US War on Terror as a possible strategy to follow.  These coordinated and dramatic attacks were carried out in a way that resembled war, they even featured a beach landing assault, and the targets chosen, major centers of commerce and foreign travelers, also raised the assault’s international exposure.  One cannot pretend that only India was attacked, as Americans, Britons, and Jews were all targeted and Mumbai’s businesses touch nearly every part of the globe.

For Indian perspective, one issue to immediately look to is the failure of their intelligence network to sniff out any possibly leads to prevent this incident.  Considering the sophistication and breadth of this attack involving tens, maybe hundreds, of perpetrators, how could they so effectively hide this coming calamity? The Indian police and commando units fought valiantly, but why did they have to come all the way from New Delhi?  That’s like an attack occurs in NYC and the US government had to send in elite fighting forces all the way in DC.  

Mumbai’s place as the center of Indian commerce also plays an important part in the possible ramifications of this incident.  Economists and investors are already saying that this attack could cause the city from becoming a regional financial powerhouse that it so much desires for itself.  As I mentioned on the day of the attack, the continuing presence of terrorist attacks hurts India’s ability to project its power outward.  A nation with internal fissures that are still volatile will struggle in its attempts to spread its influence elsewhere.  Now I’m not saying India is an anarchial state by no means, but it is true that incidents like this, if seen to be unstoppable and consistent, will decay international views of the state, and this includes less foreign direct investment.    

The Mumbai Massacre also puts India’s geopolitical position concerning Pakistan in more muddled waters. India’s President Singh has already stated that he believes there were ‘foreign’ influences in this attack, aka Pakistan.  With the perpetrators origins still unknown, it is too early to say if the Pakistani state or ISI had any involvement, but years and years of distrust lead to suspicions that may be just as powerful as the truth.  Pakistan’s has already agreed to send their top ISI chief to India to help in the investigation and to try and show transparency and cooperation, and this is a very positive sign.  If the perpetrators were in fact homegrown radical Islamists or from Pakistan, but unconnected to the ISI, other problems of course arise, but at least this may not lead to a greater war.  

This massacre will likely have consequences over much of India’s future and it will be worth watching to see how the nation, both its citizenry and its government, react in the near and extended future.  Will India start to more aggressively hunt terrorists and terrorist networks, a la the US War on Terror?  Or will this incident just be seen in the prism of the ongoing Indian-Pakistani clash over Kashmir?  

I’ll end this post on a positive note by quoting none other than Dubya:

“The killers who struck this week are brutal and violent, but terror will not have the final word,” President Bush said. “People of India are resilient. People of India are strong. They have built a vibrant, multiethnic democracy that can withstand this trial. Their financial capital of Mumbai will continue to be the center of commerce and prosperity.”

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