Mosque versus state

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

THE mosque in Pakistan is now no longer just a religious institution. Instead it has morphed into a deeply political one that seeks to radically transform culture and society. Actively assisted by the state in this mission in earlier decades, the mosque is a powerful actor over which the state now exercises little authority. Some have been captured by those who fight the government and military. An eviscerated, embattled state finds it easier to drop bombs on the TTP in tribal Waziristan than to rein in its urban supporters, or to dismiss from state payroll those mosque leaders belonging to militant groups.

Very few Pakistanis have dared to criticise the country’s increasingly powerful mosque establishment although they do not spare the Pakistan Army and the country’s political leaders for their many shortcomings. For example, following the Army Public School massacre, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s promise to regulate the madressahs was immediately criticised as undoable. Had he instead suggested that Pakistan’s mosques be brought under state control as in Saudi Arabia, Iran and several Muslim countries, it would have been dismissed as belonging to even beyond the undoable.

The state’s timidity was vividly exposed in its handling of the 2007 bloody insurrection, launched from inside Islamabad’s central mosque, Lal Masjid, barely a mile from the heart of Pakistan’s government. It was a defining point in Pakistan’s history. The story of the Lal Masjid insurrection, its bloody ending, and subsequent rebound is so critical to understanding the limitations of Pakistan’s fight against terrorism that it deserves to be told once again.

Very few Pakistanis have dared to criticise the country’s increasingly powerful mosque establishment.

In early January 2007, the two head clerics of the Lal Masjid demanded the immediate rebuilding of eight illegally constructed mosques knocked down by the civic authorities. Days later, an immediate enforcement of Sharia in Islamabad was demanded. Armed vigilante groups from Jamia Hafsa and nearby madressahs kidnapped ordinary citizens and policemen, threatened shopkeepers, burned CDs and videos, and repeated the demands of tribal militants fighting the Pakistan Army.

At a meeting held in Lal Masjid on April 6, 2007, it was reported that 100 guest religious leaders from across the country pledged to die for the cause of Islam and Sharia. On April 12, in an illegal FM broadcast from the mosque’s own radio station, the clerics issued a threat to the government: “There will be suicide blasts in every nook and cranny of the country. We have weapons, grenades and we are expert in manufacturing bombs. We are not afraid of death….”

The brothers Abdul Aziz and Abdur Rashid Ghazi, who headed the Lal Masjid, had attracted a core of militant organisations around them, including the pioneer of suicide bombings in the region, Jaish-e-Mohammad. Their goal was to change Pakistan’s culture. On April 12, 2007, Rashid Ghazi, a former student of Quaid-i-Azam University, broadcast the following chilling message to our female students:

“The government should abolish co-education. Quaid-i-Azam University has become a brothel. Its female professors and students roam in objectionable dresses. They will have to hide themselves in hijab otherwise they will be punished according to Islam…. Our female students have not issued the threat of throwing acid on the uncovered faces of women. However, such a threat could be used for creating the fear of Islam among sinful women. There is no harm in it.

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Terminator-style implant may help paralyzed people walk again

Swiss scientists have created a cyborg-style implant they hope will soon give paralyzed people a chance to walk again. So far, it has been successfully tested in labs, which means clinical trials with humans should start soon.

The soft, stretchable device, dubbed e-Dura, is the brainchild of scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. It is designed to act as a “bridge” between two ends of severed spinal cord and deliver electrical impulses and drugs.

It is named after dura matter, a thick membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

Due to its softness and flexibility, this silicon and gold “ribbon” implant doesn’t cause inflammation and rejection when connected to spinal tissue.

To make the gold even more elastic, the scientists laid it down in layers of just 35 nanometers (0.000035 millimeters) thick.

“The spinal cord expands and relaxes,” said Professor Stéphanie Lacour. “If you have a hard, non-deformable material, the friction and rubbing cause inflammation.”

The implant imitates the mechanical properties of living tissue, and can simultaneously deliver electric impulses and pharmacological substances with little risk of damage.

In previous attempts, similar implants caused the immune system to reject the “foreign body,” and so they had to be removed.

The Swiss scientists believe their e-Dura can last 10 years in humans before its needs replacing.

“It’s the first neuronal surface implant designed from the start for long-term application. In order to build it, we had to combine expertise from a considerable number of areas,” says Courtine.

Read more » http://rt.com/news/221567-implant-paralyzed-walk-test/

Terror attacks cannot save Islam’s ‘honour’

By Husain Haqqani

Soon after the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, Islamist sympathizers on social media unleashed familiar rhetoric. AlQaida and ISIS supporters used Arabic language hashtags like “our revenge for the messenger (Muhammad)”, “Paris is the messenger (Muhammad)”, “Paris is Burning”, “Paris under Fire” and “Lions of Tawheed (monotheism)”. One self-styled jihadi tweeted, “This is the first reaction. You’ll not live in safety again.” Another said: “This proves that the Islamic State can strike deep in Europe whenever it wishes.” Someone styling himself as Abu Sari alIraqi put up a graphic of the Islamic State’s black flag on the Eiffel Tower, with the slogan in French: “We are everywhere.”

Such bombast reflects the emptiness of the Islamist dream. The killing of unarmed cartoonists and journalists is hardly an act of courage. Paris did not, in fact, burn and this latest act of terrorism mobilized the French against the jihadis just as terrorist attacks in New York, London and Mumbai had united people against them in the past.

More important, terrorism is unlikely to dissuade anyone so inclined to refrain from insulting Islam, its prophet or Muslims. Like followers of any other religion, Muslims do not like insults to their faith or to their prophet. But threats and actual attacks of the type witnessed in Paris last week have been limited to Islamists.

Contrary to the assertion of some, such violence has nothing to do with recent wars or the policies of great powers in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria. A man named Alam Din from Lahore was proclaimed a ‘ghazi’ for killing a Hindu publisher of a book insulting Prophet Muhammad in 1929. Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ prompted fatwas and violent protests 50 years later. These incidents cannot be attributed as reaction to US military intervention.

Of course, not all of the world’s over one billion Muslims react to real or perceived insults to their religion in the same manner. Believers in different deities and prophets have often slandered each other’s faiths. Islam has endured its share of criticism and abuse over the centuries, especially from Christians, against whom they fought the Crusades and the Ottoman wars.

But in earlier times, Muslims responded to religious affronts by pointing out flaws in other religions and outlining their own perfect faith. Their armies were violent but so were the armies of others. When Muslim emperors ruled over large non-Muslim populations, preachers and Sufi mystics worked to win converts to Islam. There is no record in those days of targeted attacks in retaliation for blasphemy against the prophet or Islam in distant lands.

The phenomenon of violent outrage over insults to Islam seems to have started during western colonial rule, with Muslim politicians seeking issues to mobilize their constituents. Contemporary jihadism seems to have grown out of the slogan ‘Islam in Danger’, which has been periodically invoked as a rallying cry for Islamist politics.

Ironically, it is the Islamists who draw attention to otherwise obscure attacks on Islam and then use those to muster popular support. The reaction makes more people aware of a book like Rushdie’s or a film like ‘The Innocence of Muhammad’. Charlie Hebdo regularly published only 45,000 copies but will likely be read by hundreds of thousands now.

The violence over ‘Islam’s honour’ is a function of the collective Muslim narrative of grievance. Decline, weakness, impotence, and helplessness are phrases most frequently repeated in the speeches and writings of today’s Muslim leaders. The view is shared by Islamists, who consider Islam a political ideology , and other Muslims who don’t. The terrorists are just the most extreme element among the Islamists. As a community , Muslims are obsessed with their past pre-eminence, which stands in stark contrast with their current weakness. The bravado of beheading blasphemers and thinking a terrorist attack can change the global order are ways of reclaiming a glory that is vividly recalled but not seen by Muslims in recent centuries.

Like all national and community narratives, this one has elements of truth. But it is equally true that Muslims have made no serious effort to understand the causes and remedies of their decline over the past 300 years. Outrage, resentment and violence -and the conspiracy theories that inform them -serve as palliatives for an Ummah that reads little, writes even less, hasn’t invented much in recent centuries, and wields little political or military power in the contemporary world. Dealing with the causes of Muslim decline, not random or orchestrated acts of terrorism, would be the real way forward in saving Muslims from dishonour.

The writer is former Pakistan envoy to the US.

Courtesy: The Times of India
Learn more » http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/stoi/all-that-matters/Terror-attacks-cannot-save-Islams-honour/articleshow/45839372.cms

Pakistan: Govt to act against ‘violent banned outfits’ only

By Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: Of the nearly 72 organisations and outfits that have been declared ‘proscribed’, only a handful are likely to face action in the coming days as part of the government’s impending crackdown on terrorists and militant groups, sources in the interior ministry told Dawn.

The sources say that the government’s focus, at least in the initial stages, would be on organisations which had taken up arms against the state. Such organisations will not be allowed to operate on Pakistani soil anymore and members of such groups who are known to be involved in violent activities will be arrested, an official in the interior ministry told Dawn.

“Following their arrest and interrogation, such individuals will be produced before military courts for trial under a defined procedure,” he said.

The official confirmed that groups which had claimed responsibility for recent terrorist attacks would be proceeded against, but refused to give any details.

He said the provinces had been asked to develop a “multi-faceted process of scrutiny” whereby cases would be sent to military courts, adding that the methodology would be fine-tuned by his ministry.

Benign groups?

It is believed that most banned organisations do not have militant wings and the ministry has no plans to act against such groups. In addition, the ministry’s official said, it was ‘not advisable’ to simultaneously act against all banned outfits.

The provinces had been asked to identify outlawed outfits and keep an eye on key operatives. They will also be looking into groups that have re-emerged under different names after their original incarnation was banned by the government.

The official told Dawn that individuals who faced criminal charges under the fourth schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act would be monitored closely. Under the law, he added, such persons were supposed to report to a police station before travelling to any other city, as well as intimating their date of return. He said such people were also required to report to the police station concerned in the city they are travelling to, but admitted that this provision had scarcely been enforced in the past.

Although he did not offer specifics on which organisations were regarded as being an immediate threat, the official said a comprehensive assessment was being carried out to ascertain how many of the 72 were active and how many were operating under changed names.

The National Counter-Terrorism Authority’s National Coordinator Hamid Ali Khan could not be contacted to get his point of view.

The government’s list features organisations such as Al Qaeda, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, and some of its factions, including the Tehreek-i-Taliban Bajaur, Tehreek-i-Taliban Mohmand and Tehreek-i-Taliban Swat. Then there are organisations whose names reflect their inherently militant nature, such as the Balochistan Liberation Army, Balochistan Republican Army, Balochistan United Army, United Baloch Army, Balochistan Bunyad Parast Army, the 313 Brigade and the Abdullah Azzam brigade, among others.

When asked about banned outfits that had taken part in the last general elections, he said a new procedure was being devised for registration of political parties.

At least 40 candidates from the outlawed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, including its chief, Ahmad Ludhianvi, had taken part in the 2013 general elections.

Former Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah met Ludhianvi more than once prior to the 2013 elections and justified his meetings by saying that members of the Jamaatud Dawa and Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan were not terrorists.

However, the official avoided commenting on political parties which were said to have links with banned outfits.

In June 2010, Ludhianvi even claimed that at least 25 PPP MNAs had won the 2008 general elections with his party’s support.

Courtesy: Dawn, January 11th, 2015
Learn more » http://www.dawn.com/news/1156321/govt-to-act-against-violent-banned-outfits-only

Charlie Hebdo attacks: Vast Paris rally to take place

Huge crowds and some 40 world leaders have gathered in Paris for a unity march after 17 people were killed during three days of deadly attacks.

More than a million marchers are expected to take the streets.

Police are seeking accomplices of the gunmen who attacked satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket.

Ahead of the rally, a video emerged appearing to show supermarket gunman Amedy Coulibaly pledging allegiance to militant group Islamic State.

In the video, he said he was working with the Charlie Hebdo attackers: “We have split our team into two… to increase the impact of our actions.”

Said and Cherif Kouachi – who were shot dead by police on Friday – killed 11 people at the magazine offices in the French capital on Wednesday, and a policeman in a nearby street.

Read more » BBC
Learn more » http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30765824