New Age Islam Edit Bureau
14 December 2015
Islamophobia and Violence
By Orhan Oğuz Gürbüz
South Asian Diplomacy: Nawaz’s Good Day
By The Economist
Understanding the West and ISIL
By Ömer Taşpinar
Kurdish Drama, Turkish Tragedy
By Nuray Mert
Trump, Le Pen is ISIS’s best friends
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
War on Terrorism
By Mahmood Hasan
Mourning The Death Of Visionaries
By Upashana Salam
A Message To Trump From KSA
By SAAD DOSARI
The Real Threat Of Foreign Fighters In Syria
By Martin Reardon
Islamophobia and Violence
By Orhan Oğuz Gürbüz
December 12, 2015
The terrorist attacks in Paris have drawn the attention of the world once again to the topics of radical Islam and violence.
Global debates now rage over the relationship between Islam and violence. Perhaps we should debate whether these events would have occurred if our Turkish Islam had been taken into the European Union. We may also wish to examine available references to analyze whether or not our Turkish Islam is a model for the world or not.
There is no question that Sufism and its interpretations of Islam have had a great effect on Muslims in Turkey through the ages. Some think this is why we tend to have a more conceptual and all-embracing view and rhetoric in the arena of religion.
In the meantime, some believe that colonization of the Middle East and Asia by the West is what led to the birth of radical Islam.
After the eras of colonization came to an end, anger toward the West shifted to target authoritarian, tyrannical leaders at the helms of these societies. We've often heard the assertion that radical Islam is actually a desire to reckon with history, as well an expression of anger to the injustices meted out by a ruling elite. There might be some truth to the suggestion that the Turkish kind of Islam could be a mitigating factor in this all. We could interpret this as hope placed in an Islam that is at peace with democratic values and institutions. At the same time, though, at this juncture in history, it's difficult to say that Turkey is remaining faithful to this model, whether you are talking about domestic or international affairs.
It would be wrong to try and argue that radical Islam feeds only on anger toward the West and its leaders. After all, members of radical armed groups include not only people from Muslim countries but also people from prosperous Western countries. One of the most basic problems in all of this is the interpretation of jihad some Muslims make.
A terrorist incident similar to what occurred in Paris took place in Mali not long after the Paris event. The terrorists in that situation reportedly let some of the hostages go after testing their knowledge of Islam. In other words, those who appeared to be able to recite verses from the Quran were accepted as Muslims. Meanwhile, what can be said about people who claim they are Muslim? Who claim they are fighting for faith but who engage in such completely shallow interpretations of the religion? The real problem facing the Muslim world right now is a complete lack of depth, in every area, from politics to art. Interpretations are shallow, and common. And this is because the world of Islam seems to believe that it will soon take over the ideal values and institutions possessed by the West.
A wide range of voices in the Western world rises up in response to the violence seen in radical Islam. Some of the more racist reactions have included calls to expel all Muslims from Europe and the US -- notably, Donald Trump's recent speech calling to block Muslims from entering the country. Will Barack Obama's recent warnings on the topic of Islamophobia be enough, though, in the race of this level of racism?
Obama has, in fact, clearly stated the responsibility that falls to Westerners when it comes to not subscribing to discriminatory, racist rhetoric during these difficult times. But what about the responsibilities that fall on Turkey and the rest of the Muslim world? According to research done by the American-based Pew Research Center, somewhere between 10 and 14 percent of people in places like Nigeria, Pakistan and Senegal are sympathetic toward the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In Turkey, this is thought to be around 8 percent. What we need to do now is understand how and why it is that in Turkey, where we've seen tolerance and a Sufi view harmonize with Islam through the ages, the door has been cracked open for this kind of violent take on religion.
South Asian Diplomacy: Nawaz’s Good Day
By The Economist
Dec 10th 2015
THERE were doubts until almost the last minute about whether the top-billed guests would turn up at a diplomatic conference in Islamabad on December 9th to discuss peace in Afghanistan. Both Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan and co-host of the “Heart of Asia” conference, and Sushma Swaraj, the Indian foreign minister, had reasons to keep their distance: both believe Pakistan stays at the heart of their problems by harbouring, or even directing, the violent groups that attack them.
India is outraged by, among other things, the fact that Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the presumed operational mastermind of the jihadist attacks on Mumbai that killed 166 people in November 2008, was released on bail in April. Mr Ghani, for his part, has little to show for his conciliatory policy towards Pakistan, the historic foe, which he undertook in the hope it would use its influence to rein in Taliban insurgency. Instead violence has risen sharply and become more brazen.
In the event, both turned up. Ms Swaraj was the first Indian foreign minister to visit Pakistan since 2012. She told delegates it was time for India and Pakistan to display “the maturity and self-confidence to do business with each other and strengthen regional trade and co-operation”. At the end of a day of meetings, including a call on the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, she announced that Pakistan and India would restart talks on all outstanding disagreements, at a date yet to be announced.
Previous attempts to resume the process have been postponed repeatedly. The government of Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, demanded that talks must be, first and foremost, about terrorism. Pakistan insisted that the status of the disputed territory of Kashmir could not be ignored. India also took umbrage at Pakistani officials’ habit of consulting Kashmiri groups before the talks. There could be not third parties, insisted Mr Modi. Nor could the talks take place in third countries.
But Mr Modi has compromised. The breakthrough came during a short conversation between Mr Modi and Mr Sharif on the margins of the Paris climate-change talks. Within days, their national-security advisers met in Bangkok, paving the way for Ms Swaraj’s visit. She has agreed to a “comprehensive bilateral dialogue” that includes the discussion of Kashmir, thereby resuming a process that had been broken off since 2012.
The reasons for Mr Modi’s change of heart are unclear. One factor, some think, may be the politics of the wider region. Mr Modi is committed to attending a summit in Islamabad in September next year of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), an eight-country grouping; its rules state that all decisions must be taken by unanimity, so the summit would have been cancelled if Mr Modi had not patched things up with Pakistan by then. Another reason may be Western pressure, particularly from America, which has long worried about the lack of dialogue between the two nuclear-armed rivals.
Mr Ghani is under intense pressure at home over his strategy, launched immediately after he came to office in September 2014, of compromising with Pakistan. He has stopped publicly complaining about Pakistan, agreed to long-standing demands for Afghan cadets to be sent for training at Pakistan’s officer academy and signed a hugely controversial intelligence-sharing deal with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Afghanistan’s spy chief, Rahmatullah Nabil, who was deeply unhappy about the collaboration (and has been blamed for failing to halt the spread of Taliban violence), resigned a day after the latest “Heart of Asia” summit.
Mr Ghani was warned by politicians at home not to smile when he came to Islamabad. But he could not help himself, such was the ceremony lavished upon him. He was met at the airport by the Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistani military chiefs and a 21-gun salute--far in excess of the protocol he expected. He left with promises from Pakistan, China and America that all efforts would be made to restart a dialogue between representatives of the Taliban leadership and the Afghan government.
This will return the situation to the position of last summer, when Pakistan used its clout over the insurgency to organise a meeting near Islamabad on July 7th. That breakthrough came to nothing after it was revealed that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s storied leader, had been dead for two years. Further talks were called off and a firestorm of violence erupted inside Afghanistan as Omar’s former deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, attempted to assert control. Many Afghans, though, suspect Pakistan of fuelling the fire to punish Afghanistan for leaking the news of Omar’s death.
For all the positive mood in Islamabad, few have much hope that this latest round of talks with India, if they are held, will settle a dispute that dates back to the partition of British-ruled India in 1947. And Mr Ghani left Islamabad far warier of his hosts than he had been after his first diplomatic offensive in Islamabad in November 2014.
Nevertheless it was a good day for Mr Sharif, a businessman-cum-politician more interested in trading with neighbouring countries than in the army’s traditional obsession with extending its influence in Afghanistan (and curbing its territorial claims to parts of Pakistan), confronting India and preventing its dominance of the region.
But Mr Sharif now has to deliver on promises that are in the exclusive gift of the country’s powerful security establishment. A key concession made to Ms Swaraj in Islamabad was a commitment to bring to a speedy end the glacially slow trial of the Mumbai plotters. Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Kashmir-focused jihadist group that carried out the attack, has long been allied to Pakistan’s deep security state, which may not yet be ready to give up its asset. Even the decision to improve trade by reciprocating the “most favoured nation” status that India applies to goods from Pakistan – nominally a civilian responsibility – has been repeatedly put off amid opposition from the army.
Moreover, it will be Pakistan’s powerful spooks who must deliver the Taliban to the peace table. Pakistan has repeatedly told the Afghans it lacks influence over the whole of the Taliban movement and will not use force to compel them to negotiate. The insurgency is now badly split; one well-placed official in Kabul estimates that Mullah Mansour has lost control of 40% of the movement (unconfirmed reports say he was injured in a recent shootout with rivals). It was noticeable that the summit’s final statement talked of facilitating talks with “Taliban groups” rather than a single body. Reducing violence and bringing stability to the region will require much more than diplomatic niceties.
Understanding the West and ISIL
By Ömer Taşpinar
December 13, 2015
Samuel Huntington must be smiling with a posthumous sense of vindication.
When the Cold War came to an end with the extinction of the Soviet Empire, two seminal essays were written by two brilliant thinkers. Huntington and Francis Fukuyama predicted diametrically diverging futures for the global order. Huntington argued the age of ideology was over but that a global conflict would continue. The wars of the new century, he predicted, would be driven by religious identity. He foresaw a gloomy future where civilizational conflict defined by religion would trump (no pun intended on America) political ideology. Fukuyama, on the other hand, predicted with his famous essay “The End of History?" a global democratic and capitalist convergence. I need not say who was closer to the mark.
From the rise of Donald Trump in America and Marine Le Pen in France to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Middle East, the age of identity politics and the clash of civilizations has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. President Barack Hussein Obama is well aware of this perilous state. The world is lucky to have the White House occupied by a man with such a sophisticated intellect and multiracial/multi-religious pedigree. It is not a coincidence that he is resisting the political vocabulary driven by religious identity in identifying the threat facing the civilized world. Yet, Obama is a lonely man these days. Even if the Democrats win the next election, the temptation of a more populist narrative will seriously test the resolve of Hillary Clinton. The craziness of the Republican camp speaks for itself.
Obama surely understands what ISIL is and how it should end. He is also acutely aware of the limitations of American power. This is why he believes sending American troops to Syria and Iraq will not solve the problem in the long run. Although he is now talking about "eradicating" ISIL under the pressure of current events, he is realistic and knowledgeable enough to know that the threat can only be "contained" in the absence of serious changes in power-sharing arrangements in Baghdad and Damascus. It has by now become a banal truism to argue that Sunnis have to be better integrated into the state structure of Iraq. Everyone knows this has to happen for an enduring solution to Sunni radicalization. Yet, no one knows how such power-sharing can take place in the absence of inclusive institutions. It is easy to identify what needs to happen. Having strategic objectives does not amount to a strategy when you have no clue how to achieve these objectives. This is why strategy is about identifying the balance and feasibility of ways, ends and means.
It is, however, unfair to blame the Obama administration for the absence of a strategy. If the strategic objective is the integration of Sunnis into the state structure, the only realistic way to achieve this is to understand the history of power-sharing and nation-building in the West. How did Catholics and Protestants learn to share power in Europe? How did secularism, civic citizenship, power-sharing and inclusive institutions emerge in the West? The policy prescriptions emanating from such a history lesson will not be encouraging. Because it took centuries of civil, religious and ethnic wars and genocides for Europe to emerge as a postmodern paradise. "Give war a chance" does not sound like sound policy advice for the West. Especially since war in the Middle East has global implications in this day and age of globalization. But the bloody history of the West should at least generate more humility in denouncing the barbarity of "other" cultures and religions. For this is not about a clash of civilizations or religions as Huntington predicted. It is and has always been about power and politics. Nation-building, power-sharing and state formation is a bloody process that takes centuries of war. The West knows this all too well.
Kurdish Drama, Turkish Tragedy
By Nuray Mert
The new Turkish party-state has proven to be no different to the “ancien regime” regarding its Kurdish policy, despite all the fanfare in the name of democratization, dialogue, negotiations and the so-called peace process. Now, the situation has returned to a fully-fledged “war on terror,” military operations, long curfews, and suspension of the order of law in the name of the law of order. The infamous Sri Lanka model has replaced the aspired IRA model.
From the beginning, the peace process was essentially an attempt to make peace with Kurds in the name of religious - and indeed sectarian (Sunni) - brotherhood. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) started negotiations with the leader of the outlawedKurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to achieve a call for the PKK’s disarmament. Ultimately, the AKP expected to make a deal with Kurds in return for their support for the presidential system. This plan was doomed to fail and indeed it did; still, the regression back to war could have been avoided.
As for the Kurds, it seems there was no clear policy other than oscillation between two extremes: A strategy of overconfident optimism and pragmatism and a strategy of over-scepticism and war. At the beginning of the peace process, the Kurdish political movement and especially their leader chose to turn a blind eye to democratic regression in Turkey, paradoxically in the name of securing their deal for peace. Some even flirted with the idea of supporting the presidential system, despite the fact that the idea created a rift within the Kurdish political movement.
The Kurdish democratic wing, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), later decided to transform itself into an opposition party for all, declaring its opposition to the presidential system and to any deal with the AKP. It was supported by some Turkish left-liberals and democrats as a positive idea, and its sympathetic young leader Selahattin Demirtaş was portrayed as an opposition leader. Foreign observers also liked what they saw.
However, the worst outcome of this delusion turned out to be the deterioration of the Kurdish democratic political experiment - and its leader’s loss of credibility – after thePKK decided to return to military confrontation last July.
The Kurdish movement’s regional success in securing free enclaves in northern Syria, as well as the legitimacy given by the Western powers regarding the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), could have been political assets for Kurdish politics in Turkey. But in fact the “Rojava revolution” turned out to be a delusion fed by overconfidence. As for Turkey, the Kurds’ successes provoked extreme skepticism, giving new impetus to Turkey’s further intervention into the Syrian war in order to counter Kurdish moves, using the so-called “Turkmen forces.”
The result is that the Kurdish predicament has turned into a messy drama, while the Turkish predicament has turned into a tragedy. It is a tragedy for Turkey, as the country will only be able to survive its political and social crises by reforming itself through democratization and striking peace with Kurds. The return of dark politics is not only a matter of liberties and peace; it is now a matter of survival for our troubled country in terms of domestic, regional and international politics, which are all closely intertwined.
Trump, Le Pen are ISIS’s best friends
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Sunday, 13 December 2015
In order to fight racism and hatred, countries like Austria have banned all Nazi symbols and have gone as far as banning Nazi codes like 88, 1919, 18 and AH on license plates.
Nazism is the worst form of discrimination against anyone who does not belong to the White Aryan race. Its followers are currently active under the excuse of confronting refugees and Muslims, and fighting terrorism. Austria has also outlawed the use of IS and ISIS on personalized number plates. These policies are adopted by governments which have learnt lessons from the recent past and are attempting to prevent racial incitement.
Some politicians are however willing to do anything, even if it involves moral decline, to garner votes. They'd thus insult their society's values by making insinuations against others' religions or race. In order to make political gains, they are currently inciting against Muslims. Tomorrow, they'd incite against black people, then against the Jews, then against the Chinese and so on. This incitement will trigger opposing hateful speech, as ugly racism knows no limits.
Trump, Le Pen
s the presidential race begins, two models of opportunist politicians seem to occupy the scene in two countries: Donald Trump in the U.S. and Marine Le Pen in France. They're both increasing pressure on society and their damage is far worse than what is perceived. Those who think Muslims are the only ones to be harmed by racial incitement are in fact wrong, as the harm done is more general than that. Groups based on prejudice and hatred, like ISIS, thrive on speeches made by racist figures like Trump and Le Pen. We nowadays live in an intertwined planet, where we watch the same videos and news, see the same photos and read the same comments whether they're made in New York or in Raqqa!
Before making his controversial call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., Trump had begun his presidential campaign by making anti-Latino remarks. At the beginning, many people considered him a silly candidate and did not take him seriously. Some described him as a temporary candidate and thought his humor and haircut spices up the presidential campaigns.
I was in Florida last summer when he launched his campaign against Latinos. His remarks sparked anger in this state which is packed with immigrants and with citizens originally from Latin American countries. Trump later on tried to amend his rhetoric and in the end, he stopped criticizing them; however, he left an open wound. Few days ago, his presidential rival Hillary Clinton condemned his statements and said "he's no longer funny." Trump has become a phenomenon and he continues to lead among Republicans in presidential polls.
Trump may not be racist, as he claims, but his concern is to win people's votes regardless of the means and the result, and this is worse than being racist. He may not seek to fulfill the promises he made if he becomes president: he can't actually discriminate against American Muslims, monitor them, or ban them from travelling by air under the excuse of fighting terrorism. Even if he retracts his appalling statements, he's unfortunately popularizing a hate speech that incites clashes and which people will continue to remember for decades.
Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen is walking in her father's footsteps, Jean-Marie Le Pen, one of the most famous figures to call for racial discrimination in France. However, despite all his statements and incitement, he lost presidential elections five times as the majority of the French people refused to elect him. We hope the French people continue to reject racists despite the increase of French extremists calling for hate and despite the escalation of terror operations via people aligned with Islam. However, our confidence is that the French regime and the morals of the French people will not allow Marine Le Pen to spread this hate, and the people will thus reject her just like they did with Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Serving extremists everywhere
As for the U.S., we know that Trump cannot fulfill most of his promises if he becomes president, as many of his promises are unconstitutional; the Constitution is above the word of any official, even the U.S. president himself. The American Constitution is what protects all citizens and clearly prohibits discrimination, and it's the final legal reference for the Supreme Court.
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks and their repercussions, American Muslims won most complaints they filed against individuals, companies and governmental institutions that discriminated against them and violated their rights as citizens.
However, despite our confidence in American justice, we see that the hate speech - broadcast by television stations under the excuse that it's coming from political candidates - only serves extremists everywhere. And it is actually Muslims who are harmed most by terror attacks like those of ISIS, an organization that uses what's happening in the West to justify its crimes.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
War on Terrorism
By Mahmood Hasan
December 14, 2015
On December 2, 14 people were massacred in San Bernardino,
California, by a Muslim couple who were US citizens. The duo was killed subsequently after a police chase. The FBI suspected that the couple had ISIL links and were radicalised. ISIL probably knew nothing about the attack, but when it learnt about FBI's suspicions, it released a statement claiming that the couple was ISIL followers.
The US has relaxed gun laws. In a country of 320 million, there are 310 million lethal weapons. According to CBS Los Angeles, as of December 2, there have been at least 355 mass shootings in the US during 2015. What is different about the San Bernardino incident is that the perpetrators were Muslims. That has changed the whole complexion of the perception of non-Muslim Americans towards Muslims.
President Barack Obama, in his address to the nation on December 6, has linked the shooting to the influence of ISIL. In his impassioned speech, Obama declared a war on ISIL saying, “We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. . . Our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary.”
He was, however, careful not to alienate American Muslims when he said, “We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam . . . they (ISIL) are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death . . . Majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we're to succeed in defeating terrorism, we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies – rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.” Obama also said there was no evidence that the San Bernardino assault was directed by a militant group overseas or was part of a broader conspiracy at home.
Republicans criticised Obama's speech for lacking any dramatic innovation. House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “No new plan, just a half-hearted attempt to defend and distract.”
What is not surprising is that the incident has created uproar all over the world. The US goes for presidential elections in November 2016, and currently several Republican candidates are campaigning in the run-up for the final party nomination. Among the hopefuls is billionaire Donald Trump, who is a frontrunner.
Addressing a rally on December 7 in South Carolina, Trump dropped a bombshell when he called for a “total and complete shutdown” of the entry of Muslims to the United States. Speaking to cheering supporters, he further added that he would support heavy surveillance of mosques and would consider establishing a database to track all Muslims in the country if he were elected. Trump has also called for a ban on the internet, claiming that it is being used to “radicalise young people”.
This is not the first time Trump has made deeply provocative remarks against Muslims and other communities. In another speech, he called for building a fence separating the US from Mexico and wanted to evict all Latinos from the US.
Trump, in his arrogance, has refused to withdraw his remarks. Interestingly, surveys show that 42 percent of the Republicans back Trump, while 36 percent oppose him; Trump continues his lead in the GOP presidential race. However, we should note that surveys also assert that 57 percent of the American voters oppose Trump's plan.
Rival Republican candidates have denounced Trump's statement. If Trump continues to preach his anti-Muslim rhetoric, it may be difficult for the Republican party to nominate him as their presidential candidate. A Brookings Institution study shows that perceptions about Muslims among American public are grossly divided.
Condemning Trump's remarks as “totally contrary” to American values, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Trump “disqualifies” himself from serving as president. After what Trump said, he cannot be the president of the country, as he would have to take an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution. Secretary of State John Kerry also rebuked Trump, saying, “Anything that bolsters ISIL's narrative and pits the United States against Muslim faith is certainly not only contrary to our values but contrary to our national security”.
Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has said, “Declaring war on Islam or demonising Muslim Americans is not only counter to our values – it plays right into the hands of terrorists”. Speaking to NBC she said, “I no longer think he is funny . . . And what he is saying now is not only shameful and wrong, it is dangerous.” Nihad Awad, Executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations added, “Donald Trump sounds more like a leader of a lynch mob than a great nation like ours”. Some have even compared him to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Meanwhile, the international alliance to fight IS has clearly become a Western undertaking with Britain and Germany entering the fray. Prime Minister David Cameron sent warplanes to Syria on December 3 to fight ISIL and “keep the British people safe”. Germany, on French's request, has also decided to send 1,200 troops to Syria. President Obama, departing from his promise to not put “boots on the ground”, has ordered 50 special operation troops to Syria to advise moderate forces opposed to Assad.
Interestingly, regional partners don't seem to be interested in this fight. Saudi Arabia and UAE warplanes are busy in Yemen while Jordan and Bahrain are not so active and Turkey is focused on hitting Kurdish targets.
After the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers by Al Qaeda and the recent attacks on Paris, the discourse on the war on terrorism has become even sharper in the media. Sensationalism of this issue in media gives the impression that the West has declared a crusade against the terrorist group. Major news channels in the West bring in so-called experts everyday to speak about the terrorist threats posed by ISIL. These simplistic and motivated discussions clearly show that the West is thoroughly confused about the difference between terrorist, jihadist, ISIL, Muslims and Islam.
Donald Trump's demagoguery has trumped up a toxic atmosphere of Islamophobia in the US. A vigorous debate that has reshaped the political discourse in the US has ensued, and it will continue to dominate the presidential election campaign in the months ahead.
Mahmood Hasan is a former Ambassador and Secretary.
Mourning the death of visionaries
By Upashana Salam
December 14, 2015
Today we mourn the loss of some of the brightest minds of our country. We mourn their cruel murder in the hands of a regime that hoped to destroy the future of a country, to shatter a nation's collective spirit, to permanently maim the intellectual sphere of a yet to be born nation. So insecure were the occupying forces about the abilities and united might of a free Bangladesh that they avenged their failure by systematically rounding up, torturing and killing the torchbearers who could have led Bangladeshis to a path of resurgence and recovery.
Contrary to the expectations of the Pakistani regime, Bangladesh survived this blow, and it continues to survive several other attacks on its existence. The scars, however, remain, as does the question: How different would things be if we hadn't lost the free thinkers who seeded the very idea of nationalism in every Bangalee heart?
We know that every one of the martyred intellectuals was instrumental in ensuring Bangladesh's victory in our fight for identity and existence. Not all of us are aware, however, that they were all remarkably talented in their respective professional fields. It wasn't chance that brought them to the attention of the Pakistani dictators; they were chosen because they were the cream of the crop, representing the educated, cultured and erudite section of a subjugated population.
Shahidullah Kaiser's novel Sangsaptak is considered to be a seminal work of Bangladesh's literary canon. It's therefore interesting that Kaiser credits Ayub Khan for his foray into writing as he famously said that he became a novelist only because the then dictator sent him to jail. Before playing an important role in the Language Movement, Kaiser was a journalist, beginning his career at The Daily Ittefaq in 1949. For his role in the Language Movement, he was first arrested by the Pakistani regime in 1952 and in the next 10 years, he spent a total of eight years in prison. His writing career truly began behind the bars as it is there that he penned some of his most remarkable plays, short stories and novels. Almost all his works, including Sareng Bou, Rajbondir Rojnamcha, Timir Belay, Naam Nei and Jadu-i Halwa, were written in confinement. The only book that he wrote after being freed from prison was the unfinished novel Kobey Pohabe Bibhabori - an account of the horrors inflicted by Pakistani forces. He would write parts of the novel during the night and bury the copies in the courtyard of his residence before dawn broke, digging them out again when night fell. He was tragically killed before finishing the four-part novel.
Munier Chowdhury is mostly remembered as one of the most outspoken critics of the Pakistani regime, but not many people know that Chowdhury redesigned and modernised the keyboard of the Bangla typewriter in collaboration with Remington typewriters of then East Germany in 1965. Over the years, his creation - the 'Munier Optima' keyboard - paved the way for further developments in improving the Bangla keyboard.
Always a revolutionary, Chowdhury was jailed for two years for his involvement in the Language Movement in 1952. Interestingly, even though he was allowed to continue his education at Dhaka University, Chowdhury was expelled from Salimullah Hall, his residential dorm, because of his involvement in leftist politics. This led to a new era in Chowdhury's life as he explored his literary talents, initially by writing plays for Dhaka Radio to pay for his education, and later by penning some of the most influential plays in the country's history. Munier Chowdhury is deservedly called the father of modern drama in Bangladesh; in fact, his play Kobor was performed by prisoners when he was in jail to commemorate the first anniversary of the Language Movement on February 21, 1953. He continued to write even after being freed from prison, some of his most notable works being, Roktakto Prantor, Chithi and Polashi Barrack O Onyanno.
On February 23, 1948, Dhirendranath Datta, a martyr of 1971, made a compelling speech calling for Bangla to be made into one of the official languages of Pakistan at the Pakistan Constituent Assembly in Karachi. It was the first formal call for Bangla to be declared a state language and this demand led to the Language Movement of 1952. Datta's demand was met with contempt from the Pakistan government, and he was targeted as a threat to the regime. Datta, a lawyer by profession, was a lone ranger, whose plea was not supported by the majority of Bengali leaders at that time but he could foresee that the future of the Bengali people would remain uncertain and under the regime's control, until the demand for their language to be officially acknowledged was met.
A renowned cardiologist and medical researcher, Dr Mohammad Fazle Rabbee could have spent his life in comfort but decided to forego professionally rewarding opportunities for the welfare of the public. A student of Dhaka Medical College, Rabbee became the Registrar of Medicine at the 'ripe old' age of 27 and earned a couple of MRCP degrees in cardiology and internal medicine within two years. After completing his graduation, Rabbee worked at the Hammersmith Hospital and the Middlesex Hospital in London but left his flourishing career for his country to which he returned in 1963.
After returning home, Rabbee became further involved in promoting the idea of good medical care for free but instead of being lauded, he was imprisoned by the Pakistani army for his “provocative speeches.” Rabbee didn't just limit his ideals to words, he acted on them. During the Liberation War, Rabbee provided medical care, monetary support and shelter to freedom fighters and survivors of the war. His confidence in his cause can be best exemplified by his refusal to accept the Best Professor Award from the Pakistani government in protest of their treatment to East Pakistan and its people. Apart from being a doctor, Rabbee was well known and respected for his research works, namely “The Tropical Pulmonary Eosinophilia” and “A Case of Congenital Hyperbilirubinaemia.” His works were published in the British Medical Journal and The Lancet, one of the world's oldest general medical journals.
Musician Altaf Mahmud always attempted to reveal the atrocities of a violent administration through his compositions. Mahmud was even invited to participate at the Vienna Peace Conference in 1956 but was unable to attend as his passport was confiscated by the Pakistani government. It was not just Mahmud's outspoken nature but also his inarguable talent that frightened an entire regime. How could they underestimate a man who had the ability to move a nation to action with a single song? Even today Mahmud's eternal composition, Amar Bhaiyer Rokte Ragano, takes us back to the struggle of our freedom movement. Apart from the revolutionary Jibon Theke Neya, Mahmud, a protégée of music legend Ustad Abdul Kader Khan, composed music for 19 films, including Kaar Bou, Satyer Joy and Ami Manusher Bhai Spartacus.
Professor Govinda Chandra Dev was the living embodiment of philosopher Paul Kurtz's statement that philosophers shouldn't just make obscure references to the works of other philosophers but “descend into the concrete world of human practice and belief, sweat and toil like the rest of humanity.” He believed that philosophy should have a connection with reality instead of dwelling in abstractions. Despite an impoverished childhood spent in the care of Christian missionaries, Dev proved his mettle when he earned the top position in his Masters degree in Philosophy from Calcutta University. He introduced the idea of Synthetic Philosophy in the subcontinent, which stressed that it was possible to believe in the ultimate perfection of humanity on the basis of advanced scientific conceptions, focusing on its practical application. Dev's popularity transcended borders; he taught at the Wilkes-Barre College in Pennsylvania in the US as a visiting professor and his popularity became such that some of his students founded the Govinda Dev Foundation for World Brotherhood to promote his philosophy of humanism. Some of his notable books include Amar Jibandarshan, The Philosophy of Vivekananda and the Future of Man and Buddha: The Humanist.
Around 991 academics, 13 journalists, 49 physicians, 42 lawyers and 16 others from various cultural and intellectual sections of the country were savagely killed in the 1971 carnage. We can never forget the contributions of other martyred intellectuals such as Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, Ghiasuddin Ahmed, Anwar Pasha, Dr Serajul Haque Khan, Humayun Kabir, Jogesh Chandra Ghose, Selina Parveen and numerous others who impacted the birth of a nation and could have contributed to the growth of Bangladesh had they lived. These visionaries may be long gone but their ideals, dreams and contributions still hold relevance. It is now our responsibility to ensure that our country reflects the values of fairness, tolerance and secularism that they gave their lives for. It is our responsibility to make sure that our country doesn't spiral down to the age of bigotry and militancy that existed during the oppressive regime that threatened our very existence. It is our responsibility to fight the forces that want to take us back to an era of confusion, intolerance and chaos that shook the core of our being 44 years ago. This is the very least we owe them.
The writer is Senior Editorial Assistant, The Daily Star.
A message to Trump from KSA
Published — Monday 14 December 2015
MR. Trump, I am writing to you from Saudi Arabia — a country thousands of miles away from the United States. I am a Muslim, who wishes to have a few words with you.
First of all, your election as the next president of the US does not really matter to me. It is up to the Americans to decide and deal with the consequences.
Keeping in view the important position you are eyeing, I would like to urge you not to further ruin our world. Please don’t put the future of this world in jeopardy.
Whenever the mankind collectively start thinking about a culture based on globalization, mutual respect and understanding, somebody like you emerges from nowhere and pull the world back into the darkness of bigotry, discrimination and prejudice. You and your likes want others to live amid fears and suspicions. We don’t want our future generations to inherit such a world.
I have grown up admiring a lot of aspects of the American culture — Hollywood movies, American music, the lifestyle where hard work and fun go hand in hand, dedication to science and discoveries, and above all, its culture of openness and tolerance toward those who are different. I have to admit that a lot of things have changed over time but you are trying to make it even worse.
By making generalizations about Muslims, you are not serving the interests of mankind. I want to assure you that we do not despise you, your people or your country. I am confidently writing on behalf of most of the Muslims. I know that we, Muslims, don’t hate any country or people.
We might have different views on some political issues, different cultural backgrounds than yours, but we surely do not wish you any harm. Contrary to what you may believe, according to many of your speeches, Islam as a great faith is one thing and those using it to justify their crimes against humanity is a totally other thing.
A political leader aspiring to become the president of one of the greatest nations in the world should be able to understand the difference between the views of a handful of people and the majority.
I have fellow citizens studying in your country. They chose the US because they believed that they would be welcomed and given the best education the world could offer. I have fellow brothers and sisters in faith who are living in your country, some of them are immigrants and some are Americans exactly like you. They always think of America as the land of the free — a country where they can practice their faith without the fear of being monitored and discriminated against.
We do not want to live in a world where the ideology of isolation, bigotry and revived discrimination and racism becomes the norm. We do not want to live in a world where those who are with us and similar to us are loved and welcomed, and those who are different are hated and discriminated against.
Your country has always been a close ally of my beloved country. Our people have always been business partners and good friends and I hope this would continue. When I visited the US for the first time, I enjoyed every second of it. Americans welcomed me wherever I went. They were eager to know more about my culture and me. And if one day one of my kids ever decided to visit your country, I would really love them to have the same experience.
The real threat of foreign fighters in Syria
13 Dec 2015
In its initial report: Foreign Fighters in Syria, released by the Soufan Group in June 2014, it was estimated that approximately 12,000 foreign fighters from 81 countries had travelled there since 2011. Most joined the ranks of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Jabhat al-Nusra, or Ahrar al-Sham.
In a follow up report released by the Soufan Group just last week, it was estimated that those numbers more than doubled in the last 18 months to between 27,000 and 31,000 from 86 countries - a stark dose of reality that the foreign-fighter phenomenon has not only exploded in numbers but is global in nature.
Consider: The number of foreign fighters from Western Europe more than doubled in the last 18 months, from 2,500 in 2014, to over 5,000. Most of them come from just four countries - France with 1,700, the UK and Germany with 760 each, and Belgium with 470.
In Russia, those numbers have gone up three fold - from 800 in 2014, to 2,400 by September 2015 - most coming from Chechnya and Dagestan in the North Caucasus. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, that number is as high as 5,000 to 7,000 when fighters from the former Soviet republics are included.
In North Africa and the Middle East the numbers are even more startling, with over 16,000 fighters having travelled to Syria and Iraq. Tunisians make up the largest contingent of foreign fighters overall, with an estimated 6,000. That's double the number from 2014. Saudi Arabians make up the next largest contingent with 2,500, followed by Jordanians with 2,000.
Other countries in the region with significant numbers include Morocco - 1,200; Lebanon - 900; Libya - 600; Egypt - 600; and Algeria - 170.
Turkey, too, has had its share of foreign fighters, with approximately 2,100 having gone to Syria and Iraq, although many of them have already returned home. According to Turkish authorities, 500 of its citizens have been imprisoned for joining ISIL, and another 100 for joining Jabhat al-Nusra.
Southeast Asia is not immune to the foreign fighter phenomena either. According to Indonesian officials, 700 of its citizens have fought in Syria and Iraq as of late 2015. In May 2014, they had reported that figure as being only 30 to 60.
Compared to the dramatic increase in numbers of foreign fighters in Europe and elsewhere, the United States and Canada have remained relatively stable since 2014. According to FBI records, about 150 Americans have travelled to Syria as of September 2015, and another 100 have been arrested attempting to do so. Canadian officials report even less, with 130 of its citizens having gone to Syria as foreign fighters.
Why they go
The process of radicalisation and reasons for the foreign fighter flow to Syria and Iraq vary from region to region. In North Africa, which has a long history of foreign fighters dating back to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the deteriorating security situation, high levels of unemployment, and peer-to-peer recruitment by family, friends and influential members of the community are major factors.
In Europe, radicalisation and the foreign fighter flow are driven largely by a sense of marginalisation and alienation among immigrant communities, particularly those from North Africa. French authorities categorise foreign fighters as disaffected, aimless and lacking a sense of belonging - traits that appear common from region to region.
Add to that equation community-based recruiting in European countries with the highest number of foreign fighters, where groups of acquaintances are drawn to a common identity.
Case in point: the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, where several of the terrorists from the November Paris attacks lived, and knew each other before joining ISIL in Syria, and then eventually making their way back home to carry out the attacks.
For many foreign fighters, regardless of where they come from, their motivation is no more complex than a search for belonging, purpose, adventure, and friendship.
What it means
The most troubling significance with these numbers is that despite a sustained international effort to contain ISIL and stem the flow of foreign fighters to Syria, they have more than doubled in just 18 months, indicating that ISIL's appeal has not ebbed - and in fact, may be stronger now than it was 18 months ago.
Another disturbing fact in all this is that the issue of foreign fighters is both a near-term threat and a long-term challenge. The Syrian civil war will not end soon, and although ISIL continues to be degraded through concentrated air strikes and military pressure on the ground, it will likely survive in one form or another for a considerable time.
In the meantime, new foreign fighters will continue to join its ranks, and many of those already there will return to their home countries where they pose a very real threat of either carrying out terrorists attacks on their own or at the direction of ISIL or other extremist groups.
For Western countries in particular, where 20-30 percent of foreign fighters return to their home countries, this presents a significant challenge to law enforcement agencies that must first identify them and then assess whatever threat they may pose.
The foreign fighter phenomenon in Syria goes well beyond the civil war there. No doubt, they have been a major factor - one of many - that have changed that country forever. But their impact goes beyond the borders of Syria.
Many will eventually or have already returned to their home countries, whether elsewhere in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, Asia, North America or any of the 86 countries where they came from. Some will no doubt have had their fill of violence, and want nothing more to do with it.
But other returnees will no doubt be just as - or even more - radicalised and intent on carrying out terrorist attacks against their home countries, as we've already seen throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
And that's what makes the foreign fighter phenomenon such a dangerous and unpredictable double-edged sword - it kills and maims on both the down stroke in Syria and the upstroke abroad.
Martin Reardon is a senior vice president with the Soufan Group, a New York-based strategic security and intelligence consultancy, and senior director of Qatar International Academy for Security Studies. He is a 21-year veteran of the FBI and specialised in counterterrorism operations.