Saturday, 2 July 2016

Khaled Ahmad - The nation state’s fatal defect: Predicament of Ahmadis in Pakistan points to the dangerous drive to ‘cleanse’ and ‘purify’ / Ikhtisad Ahmed - Dhaka terror attack the price for policy of appeasing Islamists

Khaled Ahmad - The nation state’s fatal defect
Nation states were sought to be superceded through the EU, ASEAN, EAC (Africa) and SAARC partly because they tended to designate external enemies and go to war with them in order to attain internal cohesion. But there was another fatal defect equally in evidence: Once internally united, they embarked upon an even more lethal process, exclusion, that is, cleansing themselves of unwanted communities, to make themselves more “pure”.

It so happened in Pakistan on June 15, 2016 that in a discussion called Ishq-e-Ramadan (Passion for Fasting), a well-known model, Hamza Ali Abbasi, acting as TV host on Aaj News, expressed sympathy for the constitutionally apostatised community of Pakistani Ahmadis. He was talking to a popular religious scholar, Maulana Kaukab Noorani Okarvi. Five million Ahmadis have been declared non-Muslim by the 1974 second amendment of the constitution, barring them from observing any Islamic ritual including fasting, while all Muslims must proclaim their identity by condemning the community in official documents.

Abbasi had definitely overstepped the TV bar on expressing heretical views.
In the eyes of Pakistani Muslims he had no business flouting the constitution and declaring that injustice had been done to Ahmadis through exclusion from the faith without giving them a protected identity as a minority. The cleric in the talk-show lost no time in condemning him, not so much out of personal outrage as from an instinct of self-preservation. Okarvi roared: “The honour of this nation is very much alive… If law (against Ahmadis) doesn’t take action, Muslims are ready to take action. It is law in the Pakistan armed forces that anyone who commits treason be shot dead at that very spot. If this is rule for an army, is my Prophet not worth even this much dignity? This (anti-Ahmadi law) is a part of Pakistan’s constitution. How dare you speak about this issue? Our honour does not allow us to tolerate this crime. We are very peaceful people, but if someone dares say such things about the finality of prophethood, then remember that we are all soldiers in the army of Islam. And we have no hesitation in this matter. Giving our life in this cause is the biggest honour for us. Anyone who remains silent on this issue is a criminal and is complicit…”

(Five days later, on June 20, 2016, an Ahmadi doctor, Chaudhry Khaliq Ahmad was shot dead in Karachi. The 49-year old homeopathic practitioner was slain while tending to his patients.) This is the language of “exclusion” and there is a pledge of violence in it that the Ahmadi community has faced since the establishment of Pakistan, and legally since 1974. The TV host stood targeted. Predictably, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) received thousands of messages from the fasting population, blasting Abbasi and the channel for having blasphemed. PEMRA hastily banned Abbasi from appearing on TV.

The process of “expelling the trash” goes on among many nations. It is visible as is intolerance in India these days but without the sanction of law. Many nations have done it in the past through “pogroms” and concentration camps, but in the 21st century it is the Muslim state that is particularly afflicted by it, at times under law but also with impunity.

We know that Egypt hates its Christian Copts and seeks to achieve purity of national identity through their extermination. But the attitude of the Iranian state towards the Bahai community is similar to what Pakistan does to Ahmadis, who are often said to have been created and subsequently protected by the British Raj. In a recent incident, this was demonstrated when Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of a former twice-president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, tried to fraternise with Faribeh Kamalbandi, a Bahai leader serving life in prison. Rafsanjani tried to avert the wrath of the state by describing the Bahai faith as “a deviant sect created by colonialists”, which “we disavow and have always done”.

Rafsanjani as president had fallen foul of the real power, the spiritual leader of Iran, because of his moderation, which is a kind of swearword among Muslims. His children, son Mehdi Hashemi and daughter Faezeh, made it tougher for him by being thrown in jail for their outspokenness. Faezeh, who last month offended again with Kamalbandi, has caused at least one grand ayatollah and one ayatollah to lose their cool.

Ironically, the Shia who demonise the Bahai in Iran are seeing fellow Shia being cut down by al Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Arab states across the Gulf without realising that they too had become “trash”. In Pakistan, whose founder was a Shia, his community is facing “genocide”. Note the irony in a headline carried by The Times of Israel on June 20, 2016: “Pakistani Shiite leaders say sectarian attacks are genocide”. Shia leader of Majlis Wehdat-e-Muslimeen, Pakistan, Allama Raja Nasir Abbas Jafri is continuing to use the word to describe the ongoing target-killing of his community in Pakistan. The nation-state is not done yet with “expelling trash”, it seems.
At 8.45 pm on July 1, the last Friday before Eid ul Fitr, an Islamist attack broke out in Gulshan, the diplomatic, expatriate and upper-class heartland of Dhaka. It developed into a hostage situation, with the assailants exchanging gunfire with the police. Two of the first responders were fatally wounded, and many others injured and hospitalised. Rumours abound on social media as shocked and distressed citizens gave in to voyeurism, but ten hours into the attack, neither the Bangladesh prime minister nor her ministers had addressed the nation. Their deafening silence echoed the tepid response of the Awami League government to rising terrorism.

As freethinkers continued to be slaughtered by Islamists, the government line, made unequivocal with each repetition, blamed the victims and appeased extremist ideology. A staunch refusal to acknowledge the growth of fundamentalist violence, dismissing them as isolated incidents when they occur, implies a desire to delude the public rather than solve a very real problem. Emboldened, Islamists of various stripes broadened their targets to foreigners, secular Muslims and sexual and religious minorities. There has particularly been an alarming rise in attacks on Hindus in rural areas, most recently Shyamanondo Das, who was hacked to death with machetes early on Friday in Jhenaidah District, adjacent to West Bengal.

The government has failed to display any kind of intention or plan to tackle such terrorist hate crimes. This inability to ensure security, the most basic responsibility of any government, has led to daily migrations of the Hindu population to India. National and international reporting has been skewed towards the urban killings. This, coupled with the lack of concrete law enforcement steps, has meant that an escalation in the capital was foreseeable.

When up to nine armed terrorists took over the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan with shouts of “Allahu Akbar”, their actions marked a major turning point in the crisis in Bangladesh. The trajectory to date suggests that, regrettably, it marks a turn for the worse. The attack revealed how woefully unprepared the state is, a fact that is unforgivable since there have been warnings aplenty as Islamist violence has shown no signs of subsiding. Ansar-al-Islam, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, and ISIS both claimed responsibility as the situation developed, with the latter releasing several updates to support its assertion. A US intelligence official told CNN that it was more likely that AQIS – Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent – had conducted the attack. The geographical proximity to Pakistan, where AQIS has its roots, gives credence to this.

Off-hand dismissal - The Bangladesh government, however, has previously rejected such claims, insisting that the butchering has been the work of home-grown outfits. Nothing suggests that the alleged links to global terrorist organisations have been scrutinised thoroughly before being discredited, nor has the possibility that domestic operators are aligning themselves with worldwide networks, either as a fear tactic or to profess legitimacy, been discounted. In the case of the latter, questions about whether the central command is local or foreign, i.e. whether the local outfits are operating without oversight or not, cannot be answered without a concerted effort to inspect the crimes.

Islam has been politicised by the Awami League’s opponents, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, birthed and nurtured Islamism, and directly and indirectly encouraged extremism. But when the government blames them without investigating the spate of attacks, it is refusing to address the issue. The deep-seated animosity that defines the partisan politics of Bangladesh prevents either side from rising above the blame game to offer proactive and productive solutions. BNP-Jamaat have never accepted responsibility for their misdeeds or distanced themselves from Islamism, marrying themselves to it more firmly instead; nor has the Awami League been held accountable for its ineptitude in arresting the deterioration of law and order, especially in relation to fundamentalist violence.

The attack itself raises several concerns. The restaurant in the upscale neighbourhood near embassies and international clubs, is frequented by foreigners. Located on a cul-de-sac, Holey is primed to launch a war of attrition from. Any surveillance conducted when settling on this target would have revealed that it could be closed off by responders, leaving no way out for assailants. Should this indicate a newfound inclination for suicide attacks amongst terrorists who have, until now, escaped after blitz attacks on individuals, it would signal a worrying development.

New modus operandi - The manner of the attack is a deviation from the modus operandi of the heretofore targeted killings. Whether this is a permanent departure remains to be seen, but the resolve of Islamists is not on the wane. The scale implies they are more determined than ever. Guns replaced knives, a hostage-rich location replaced targeted individuals, a significant disciplined group replaced pairs or small clusters. The finances and resources required for planning and carrying out such an attack provide further causes for concern. If the government follows its own precedent, then these concerns will not be quelled, and the fears arising as a result of such a brazen attack will not be allayed.

Foreign friends extending a hand to the government need to be reminded to do so to serve Bangladesh’s interests. The US opposed Bangladesh’s independence and actively supported the undemocratic Pakistani military regime’s oppression. Bangladeshi-American relations only improved during successive military dictatorships in Bangladesh from 1977 to 1990. This period also saw the rehabilitation of Jamaat by the then newly formed Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and the removal of secularism and introduction of religion in politics – a practice that has flourished since. The West’s collusion with radical Islam is largely omitted from the War on Terror discourse, thus overlooking the West’s culpability in global Islamist terrorism. To similarly ignore the history of Islamism in Bangladesh when discussing the current bane is perilous.

The Awami League can no longer obfuscate, deny and deflect. It cannot seek to derive political benefit by making concessions to conservatives and fanatics. The terrorist threat is as grave as it has ever been in Bangladesh, perhaps graver than ever. The government has to acknowledge this and assume its responsibilities. There needs to be a commitment to deal with Islamism, political Islam and Islamist violence sincerely and effectively.

see also
The Broken Middle (on the 30th anniversary of 1984)