Morning Edition, March 2, 2007 · Islamic fundamentalists are suspected of murdering three women thought to be prostitutes in the Gaza Strip. The deaths follow the bombing and torching of businesses and public places that radicals believe to be un-Islamic.
Category Archives: Islamism
The Secret History of al-Qaida by Abdel Bari Atwan [ Buy from the London Review Bookshop ] · Saqi, 256 pp, £16.99
Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror by Michael Scheuer [ Buy from the London Review Bookshop ] · Potomac, 307 pp, £11.95
Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden ed. Bruce Lawrence trans. James Howarth [ Buy from the London Review Bookshop ] · Verso, 292 pp, £10.99
Osama: The Making of a Terrorist by Jonathan Randal [ Buy from the London Review Bookshop ] · Tauris, 346 pp, £9.99
When I was five years old, the first secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, threatened to bury me. That was in 1956, when he buried the Hungarian Revolution. In California we welcomed Hungarian victims of Soviet brutality while finding no room for the Guatemalans whose democracy the CIA had crushed two years earlier. We were trained to ignore our victims and to fear our enemy. After all, Khrushchev could have buried us, even if he did not mean to do so literally, so much as to attend the funeral of capitalism. His formidable arsenal, we were told by Senator Kennedy, when he ran for president in 1960, contained more intercontinental ballistic missiles than ours. Soviet scientists propelled the first satellite and the first man into space. The Soviets had more manpower, more tanks and more dedication than we would ever have, somnolent as we were in our material comfort. ‘Monolithic Communism’ ruled most of the Eurasian landmass. J. Edgar Hoover, America’s chief law enforcer, warned us about ‘godless Communists’ and their designs on our liberties in his bestselling Masters of Deceit. Other titles in the red-baiting crusade – yes, they called it a crusade – were You Can Trust the Communists (to Be Communists) and None Dare Call It Treason. Under banners proclaiming that ‘The only ism for me is Americanism’, and ‘Better Dead than Red’, Dr Fred Schwarz’s Christian Anti-Communist Crusade held rallies that were guaranteed to fill the Hollywood Bowl.
Every morning at my parochial school, we pledged allegiance to the flag, sang the national anthem and prayed for the conversion of Russia. The otherwise thoughtful Sisters of the Immaculate Heart sometimes asked us – a kind of moral quiz – what we would do if the Communists burst into the classroom ‘right now’, levelled guns at our heads and demanded that we renounce Christ. When we got home from school, our flickering black and white televisions escalated the Communophobic barrage. The FBI Story, a weekly drama, competed in unmasking disloyalty with the real House Un-American Activities Committee and its Senate equivalent under Joe McCarthy. Commies, loners and eggheads were undermining the American way of life with foreign ideas like socialised medicine, racial mixing and unemployment insurance. The most compelling TV series was I Led Three Lives, based on the autobiography of Herbert Philbrick. Normal, God-fearing Americans shunned Communist cadre Philbrick; but we viewers knew he was secretly – and patriotically – working for good old J. Edgar at the FBI to send his comrades to the slammer. I understand now why Dalton Trumbo and Larry Adler hightailed it to England. Bad as those days were, brother, we never had it so good.
Now, the kids are terrified of some guy in a cave. The successors of McCarthy, Hoover and the 1950s television network bosses teach them that the madman Osama bin Laden can kill them at any minute, that he hates their freedom (perhaps not so much as their parents do) and is out to get them just because they are free. Unlike Khrushchev, Osama bin Laden has neither ICBMs nor nuclear warheads capable of destroying mankind ten times over. He does not even have a country. Yet he scares more than Khrushchev did. As every American schoolchild saw, bin Laden attacked the homeland on 11 September 2001 – burying a few thousand of us. He may yet bury more. We, of course, are sending his kind to their graves in Afghanistan, Iraq and other corners of the Islamic patrimony.
Mar. 2, 2006 21:27
Libyan authorities on Thursday released 87 jailed activists from the Muslim Brotherhood group, all that were in custody, in an apparent gesture of conciliation toward the banned fundamentalist movement, a top Libyan official said.
“They are free now and were sent home,” said the official on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the press.
He said they were released from Abu Slim prison, a desert detention center where anti-regime activists have been held. Most of the activists had been in jail since the 1990s.
There were no other details about the release or the reasons for they were set free.
MUHAMMAD’S SILENT ARMY
By Susanne Koelbl
February 25, 2006
Islamic extremists are trying to win over the hearts and minds of earthquake victims in Pakistani Kashmir. Their efforts come at a convenient time for the Pakistani government.
The people of Kashmir just call them “the militants,” and 25-year-old Mohammed Maqsood is one of them. His beard is dark and long, and his head is covered with a Palestinian scarf. He refuses to shake women’s hands, and he never looks directly at their faces when he addresses them.
Men like Maqsood were the first aid workers to arrive in the disaster zone on the morning of Saturday, October 8, when a devastating earthquake struck the Kashmir region. All were well-trained young men, and all were bearded.
They conducted systematic searches for survivors in the rubble of ruined buildings, often digging with their bare hands. In the first two days following the earthquake, the bearded young men seemed to be the only ones with a well-functioning network — both in Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistani state of Azad Kashmir, and in the completely devastated settlements of Bagh and Balakot. Many local residents owe their lives to these aid workers.
Today Maqsood is the acting director of the Al-Rahmat Trust Camp, a refugee camp for earthquake victims in central Muzaffarabad. Al-Rahmat is loosely translated as “Mercy.” It’s an open secret that the organization is the civilian wing of a banned guerilla organization, Jaish-e-Mohammed. Jaish-e-Muhammad, or “Army of Muhammad,” and its fighters are battling Indian security forces in the Indian section of Kashmir in an effort to “liberate” the Indian-held side of the Kashmir Valley.
Maqsood sits on a floor cushion in his office and has an aide serve milk tea and biscuits. He has had little contact with foreigners from the West. But he is familiar with the images of torture and abuse from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, as well as with publicized photos from the US terrorist detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Maqsood harbors a deep dislike for non-Muslims, especially Americans.
The Taliban ideal
Afghanistan under the Taliban government was what Maqsood would consider an ideal, God-fearing Islamic society, and he still reveres Taliban leader Mullah Omar as the greatest living Muslim. The Americans, he says, bombed his dream to bits. Maqsood has been angrily following the controversy over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad printed in the Danish and other European media. As far as Maqsood is concerned, the dispute is a long way from being resolved. “We want revenge,” he says.
Maqsood would like to see the Danish government send the people responsible for the cartoons to the gallows. And if the death penalty doesn’t exist in Europe, he says, the cartoonists and other employees of the newspaper should be extradited to an Islamic country to stand trial. Otherwise, he believes, there can be no peace. Maqsood refuses to accept the notion that the entire matter was little more than a misunderstanding between different cultures, and that a regime like the Danish government cannot be held responsible for the independent actions of its citizens. After all, he says, didn’t the Americans bomb the Afghan people when they went after terrorist leader Osama bin Laden? And what did the Afghans have to do with al-Qaida, he asks?
More than 7,000 aid and rescue workers from all over the world rushed to Kashmir after last year’s earthquake, and soon small, private aid organizations were working side-by-side with major international groups. Given the sheer magnitude of the disaster, differences seemed barely relevant, at least initially. Cuban medical personnel were cooperating with American military doctors, while rival religious groups operated joint shelters for those who had lost everything.
It was also a golden opportunity for Islamists.
Hardly anyone is as familiar with the mountainous region of Azad Kashmir as the self-appointed freedom fighters. They set out on foot for villages that had been completely cut off from any aid by landslides. They brought blankets and food, performed first aid and transported the wounded down into the valley. Most importantly, however, in many places they were the only ones providing help.
At the time, 13 teams of doctors were working under the flag of the Al-Rahmat Trust. Maqsood says that he himself has walked up to 60 kilometers into the mountains to deliver aid. His organization still maintains a team of about 200 men in the area.
The Hamas model
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf banned militant groups and shut down their training camps in Kashmir four years ago, but their networks apparently survived. These days, the groups operate openly in the earthquake region, albeit under new names and mottos — and as charitable organizations.
Their politics and policies resemble those of the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah in the Middle East, where radicals have filled the vacuum left by the state. They develop social institutions and help address the local population’s day-to-day survival needs. In the long term, this social role also helps the local population identify with the respective groups’ political goals.
The mosque of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a group of radical imams, is made of blue tarps, like most of the tents housing the region’s refugees. As the faithful fill the makeshift mosque to capacity, Javed ul-Hassan, the imam and religious scholar in charge of Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s aid programs, delivers the Friday sermon inside.
The organization, with its many camps and hospitals, ordinary schools and Koran schools, is the region’s strongest and most powerful Islamist aid organization. It is closely associated with the banned Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, or “Army of the Pure,” which, like Jaish-e-Mohammed, sends its fighters into the Indian section of Kashmir to kill soldiers and blow up military barracks. Both groups are also suspected of having committed the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi.
Hassan, the imam, is trying to convince his congregation to participate in a protest march against the Danish Muhammad cartoons. “If we do not defend our religion,” he says, inciting the crowd, “we will soon become slaves of the West.” He insists that non-Muslims have no respect for other cultures, and that it’s too late for apologies. According to the imam, the only possible response to the blasphemous cartoons is “jihad, holy war!”
That evening Hassan sits in his tent, surrounded by military-style maps of the region. While multitasking with two mobile phones and a computer, he has an aide serve Saudi Arabian dates and sweet Halwa. His group is affiliated with a strict sect from Saudi Arabia, and Hassan is more than eager to describe his mission: “We are fighting for the rebirth of the true Islam.”
What Hassan understands under the term true Islam is in evidence at one of his refugee camps in Kori Piran on the Neelum River, an hour’s drive north of Muzaffarabad. The 25-year-old camp commander, Amir Abdullah Taher, has been a member of the holy war movement ever since his early youth, completing military training in Afghanistan at the age of 15. Since then, he has been convinced that it is only a matter of time before Jews and Christians will realize that the Prophet Muhammad is the only Almighty — and the entire world becomes Muslim. His young wife wears a floor-length hijab with only a slit for her eyes, like the women in Saudi Arabia, and despite warm temperatures, she also wears gloves. Even 10-year-old girls wear veils in the camp.
Respect from Islamabad
Almost all aid groups in Kashmir are Islamic organizations, but most are not radical. Their work, including that of the fundamentalists, is held in high regard by both the government and international organizations. “As long as they don’t arm themselves and recruit rebels, there isn’t anything wrong with what they are doing,” says General Shaukat Sultan, a spokesman for President Musharraf.
His words reflect the hope that earthquake relief may have given the Islamists a new purpose. Ever since the armistice of late 2003, it has become much quieter along the so-called Line of Control (LOC), which represents the border between the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. The number of attacks on the Indian side has dropped considerably, partly as a result of the Pakistani government’s ban on militant groups.
At times, it has even seemed as if the natural disaster had finally triggered political rapprochement between the two hostile neighboring countries. Border crossings were opened along the LOC to allow aid deliveries to pass between the two parts of Kashmir. Musharraf also put forward far-reaching political proposals, offering self-administration and demilitarization for the region. But his proposals have not been met with any concrete responses, at least not yet.
How the situation will develop remains unclear. Both sides are keeping their options open in anticipation of a new escalation of their long-standing conflict. So far the Indians have not withdrawn many of the 600,000 troops they keep stationed on their territory. The Pakistanis, for their part, have made sure that their military freedom fighters can be reactivated at any time.
The Islamists are taking advantage of the lull to gain support for their cause among Kashmiris. The inhabitants of this mountainous region are traditionally seen as conservative but nevertheless tolerant of other religions.
But the Islamists’ rigorous attention to local residents traumatized by the loss of their homes and families could be making an impact. The organizations are planning for the long term and intend to continue working toward reconstruction in Kashmir this coming spring. They appear to be generously funded by Muslims from Saudi Arabia and by overseas Pakistanis.
Despite international cooperation, earthquake-plagued Kashmir remains a dangerous place, both as a safe haven and breeding ground for militant Islamists — and for extremists waiting in the wings until the next holy war rolls around.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
In the days following the Palestinian elections on January 25, in which Hamas won seventy-four out of 132 seats in the Palestine Legislative Council, Hamas officials expressed hope that they could join with Fatah in forming a government. They spoke of national unity and referred respectfully to the authority of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. In statements aimed at the West, they claimed they had never truly advocated Israel’s destruction, and they made it clear they were willing to deal pragmatically with both the Jewish state and the agreements the Palestinian Authority had made with it. They apparently dropped, at least from their immediate goals, their demand for an Islamic Palestinian state; and they said nothing about resuming armed attacks. An outsider could be forgiven for failing to realize that Hamas had done quite well in the voting, let alone that it had won, let alone by a landslide.
Out-and-out victory was not what Hamas had expected or, for that matter, what it had wished for. It had come to see itself as a watchdog on the sidelines, sitting in the legislature without controlling it, shaping the government’s policies without being held accountable for them, taking credit for its successes and escaping blame for any setbacks. Its triumph presents it with challenges of a different, more urgent, and less familiar sort. Hamas suddenly finds itself on the front line, with decisions to make and relations to manage with the world, international donors, Israel, Fatah, and, indeed, its own varied constituents. The Islamists may have secretly expected to sweep the elections but, if so, that secret remains well kept. Referring to Iraq, President Bush once spoke of America’s catastrophic success. Judging from the Islamists’ initial, startled reactions to their triumph, this may well be theirs.
The Daily Star
Saturday, February 25, 2006
By Rami G. Khouri
Nothing better captures the broad lines of the great contestation that now defines the Middle East than the four very telegenic characters who have crisscrossed the region during the past week: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, her colleague in charge of U.S. public policy, Karen Hughes, Hamas official Khaled Meshaal and the young Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Their travels have been closely followed by the news media, which instinctively recognize a gladiatorial battle for the future when they see it, as is the case here.
Two of these four Middle Eastern itinerant ideologues are slick, appointed American political figures who spend many of their waking hours preaching the benefits of democratic elections in the Arab world. Two others are bearded Arab Islamists who have come to power through the American-supported vehicle of democratic elections in the Arab world. It would seem to be a match made in heaven: bearded Arab politicos who wish to expand their own efficient constituencies and militias into governing systems that enhance the wellbeing of their fellow citizens; and the American ladies who combine the bouncy enthusiasm of young high school cheerleaders with the more daring inclination to engage in political genetic engineering in order to enhance the wellbeing of Arab citizens and the security of Americans, in one fell swoop.
This convergence and happy ideological marriage has not happened. Instead, Rice and Hughes, when they are not preaching democracy for Arabs, spend the few remaining hours of their days fighting the incumbency of democratically elected Arabs. In response, elected bearded Arab politicos like Meshaal, the head of Hamas’ Political Bureau, and Sadr, who leads a powerful Shiite movement and militia in Iraq, increase their legitimacy and their impact through two parallel routes. They engage in electoral politics by being more responsive and accountable to the needs of their constituents, and they generate wider emotional and political appeal by defying Washington and its policies and presence in the Middle East.
The likelihood is that this past week will go down in the record books as one in which the American ladies significantly lost ground to the bearded Arabs. This is due to the simple reason that both the style and substance of American policies run sharply counter to the sentiments of ordinary Arabs, while the Meshaal-Sadr school of politics caters directly to ordinary people’s powerful emotional and political needs.
Rice’s trip to four Arab capitals embodies the explicit American diplomatic drive to convince Arab governments to quarantine Hamas and starve the Palestinians of aid funds, until Hamas changes its views and actions vis-a-vis Israel. This policy will be rejected by all Arab governments, and is also likely to set back Washington’s standing in the region more than any other action in recent years, even the unpopular Iraq war. That is because opposition to Hamas touches on and sharply inflames several deep nerves that already form the foundation of widespread skepticism about American foreign policy in the Arab world and internationally.
The first is the sense that the United States is neither serious nor consistent about promoting democracy. The second is that it fights mightily against Arabs or others in the region who try to manifest their identity through expressions of Islamism. The third is that Washington wages vigorous battles against any Arabs, Muslims, or others in the world who dare to resist Israel’s occupation and subjugation of Arabs, in Palestine and elsewhere. The fourth is that Washington treats sovereign Arab governments with contempt, expecting them to ignore their own public opinion and bend to America’s desires at the snap of a finger.
Not surprisingly, the trend of public opinion and political sentiments on the ground throughout the Middle East has been in favor of mainstream Islamists who simultaneously accept democratic pluralism, defy the U.S., resist Israeli occupation and colonization, and demand less corruption and more efficient governance at home. So Hamas, Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood and movements like Sadr’s are winning elections, even when America-friendly governments such as Egypt’s restrict their freedom of movement.
Meshaal’s and Sadr’s travels around the Middle East this week were more like a victory lap than anything else. We must challenge some of their past behavior and future plans, to be sure. But we must also admit that these Islamist leaders have more legitimacy in the Middle East than all of Rice’s and Hughes’ copious democratic rhetoric, and all the Marines in Mesopotamia put together.
What to do instead? Elected democratic incumbents in Washington, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere should engage honestly, to move toward a common middle ground where Arab, Iranian, Turkish, European and American policies could happily coexist. This desirable terrain would include indigenous religious and social values, universal good governance standards, global principles that assert national sovereignty and reject colonial occupation, and legitimate leaders who have both the political credibility and the managerial capacity to synchronize all these factors into sensible, sustainable policies. High-profile American officials should explore this more humane, mutually beneficial approach during their visits to our convoluted lands, rather than mainly lecture and offend us.
This week’s score: bearded Arabs 1, American ladies 0.
Rami G. Khouri writes a regular commentary for The Daily Star.