Pakistan church bomb: Christians mourn 85 killed in Peshawar suicide attack
Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category
Opportunism, loud-mouths, and more than distasteful allegations have marked the anti-semitism controversy embroiling the British left, and the Labour Party in particular, in recent days.
Some say, with justification, that the issue is being used as a stick with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn.
In our view Corbyn has responded with measured dignity, and John McDonnell has expressed the wishes of many.
For those – and there are great numbers of us – who follow what’s happening in Syria and Iraq, there’s a lot happening which is causing us burning concern.
It’s hard not to feel that with millions of refugees in the Middle East, many of whom are desperately trying to enter Europe, with Islamists from ISIS committing real genocide, with mass killings by the Assad regime, with murders by the Shariah enforcing A-Nusra Front, religious sectarian hatred involving the wholesale religious cleansing of the region, that this British row is irrelevant in the face of events that really matter.
There are, nevertheless some deeply thought-out reflections on the controversy.
Ross Wolfe’s Reflections on Left antisemitism, towers over many analyses.
Bob makes the point about the famous ‘Brenner’ book: Lenni Brenner says Ken’s wrong. He links to an interview (IB Times) with David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists’ Group who states, “”badly written and with poor scholarship – a piece of tabloid journalism glued together with selective facts and lots of conjecture”.
This is worth – critically – thinking about: The Livingstone Formulation – David Hirsh April 29, 2016 .
Significantly for left as a whole Jon Lansman has just published an important piece on Left Futures which is headed, Why the Left must stop talking about ‘Zionism’
I would argue that it is time for the Left to start talking in a new language – one that expresses our views about Israel, about the policies and actions of its government and about the rights of Palestinians without alienating any of those who might agree with us. It is not necessary to abandon any non-racist criticisms of Israel, however robust they may be, in order to do so.
Clearly if need there were this is a case in point: “Normal service to be resumed as the UKs Zionist political class push the country towards the 19th century.“
But it is not just language but politics which are at stake.
A serious argument is that, as John Rees argues, there is a case for a “secular, democratic state across historic Palestine (which) has nothing in common with anti-semitism.” (Counterfire)
What the revolutionaries wanted was a democratic, free, non-oppressive and non-exploitative society. The Palestinian revolution is no different. It does not want to ‘drive the Jews into the sea’. In the founding statutes of the Palestine Liberation Organisation demanded a democratic, secular state in which Jews and Arabs could live in peace in the historic land of Palestine, as they did before the forcible exclusion of the Arab population that was the necessary precondition of the establishment of a religiously exclusivist state in 1948. The exclusivity of that state is nowhere more obvious than in the fundamental ‘law of return’ in which a Jew from any part of the globe, no matter if they have never had the remotest contact with the Middle East in their lives, can migrate to Israel and become a citizen, but no Palestinian refugee forced from their home can exercise a legal right to return.
That state, its extensions and colonial conquests, its racist laws, checkpoints, walls and settlements will have to be completely overthrown before that vision of a homeland for both Palestinians and Jews can be realised.
The often toted alternative, a two state solution now sadly and disastrously accepted by the PLO leaders, is actually a retreat in the face of the argument that Arabs and Jews must have racially exclusive states because they cannot live together. That is wrong, and so unworkable. It would, indeed it has, perpetuated war in the region, and will not abolish it.
It would be important, for this to be more widely accepted, for those who accept Ress’ view to clarify how they see the role of Hamas and Hizbollah in this overthrow. and the creation of a democratic secular state.
Socialist Worker published this, August the 5th 2014 which puts forward one position.
(This is an edited version of an article by Egyptian Revolutionary Socialist Mostafa Omar. Read the full version at global.revsoc.me/2014/07/towards-a-revolutionary-perspective-on-hamas)
We consider Islamist movements such as Isis in Syria and Iraq as reactionary to the core. Its racism wipes out the idea that the unity of the oppressed is fundamental to resisting dictatorship and colonialism.
We differentiate between such utterly reactionary Islamist movements, and Islamist movements such as Hamas and Hizbollah. The latter two movements came into existence to resist imperialism.
We consider Hamas to be a resistance movement against Zionism and imperialism.
From this perspective we unconditionally support Hamas when it is engaged in military or non-military struggles against Israel. This is because it weakens the Zionist state and terrifies the Arab regimes and the US.
It therefore strengthens the potential for class struggle in the Arab states against this imperialist system.
Our unconditional support for Hamas is not uncritical. Hamas’ strategy is to associate itself with regimes which are reactionary and conspire constantly to repress their people and suppress the Palestinian struggle.
Secondly Hamas adopts an elitist approach to dealing with the Palestinian masses. This weakens the capacities of mass resistance in the long term.
Like all colonised peoples, the Palestinians alone have the right to decide their destiny.
But our support is critical because the fate of revolutionary change in the Arab world and the fate of the Palestinian Resistance are organically connected to each other.
This is the rub: very very few people have the slightest confidence, let alone belief, that Hamas (a key actor on the ground in any future settlement, rather than the Lebanese Hezbollah), are committed to a “secular, democratic state”.
To say the least.
Yet those who use the language of a “resistance” have locked Hamas into a fight with “Zionism” and “Imperialism” with their “unconditional” but not “uncritical” support.
Perhaps one of the many reasons why people look to the Two State position is that they cannot possibly see any democratic way out of the conflict which involves Hamas playing the determining role that Mostafa Omar supports.
Malia Bouattia: “Condemnation of Isis appears to have become a justification for war and blatant Islamophobia.”
Anti-Jewish Riots and Killing in Constantine 1934.
Malia Bouattia, new President of the NUS, stood on a radical grassroots platform and made headlines last year after opposing a motion to condemn Isis reports the Guardian.
The new president is a controversial figure among many students, coming to prominence in the national press after speaking against an NUS motion “to condemn the IS and support Kurdish forces fighting against it, while expressing no confidence or trust in the US military intervention”.
The motion failed to pass and Bouattia said she had objected to the wording, issuing her own statement expressing solidarity with the Kurds against Islamic State and condemning the group’s “brutal actions”.
“We recognise that condemnation of Isis appears to have become a justification for war and blatant Islamophobia,” she said at the time. “This rhetoric exacerbates the issue at hand and in essence is a further attack on those we aim to defend.”
Obviously this issue interests an audience on the left far wider than the student movement.
A particularly ridiculous response is offered by Lindsey German of Counterfire, who simply ignores the subject of the Kurdish fight and ISIS and states this,
Her most recent profile has been round a series of meetings opposing the government’s Prevent strategy. Her background as someone of Algerian descent gives her a first-hand knowledge of imperialism and racism. That means she understands the concerns of many of the students she will be representing.
The backlash against her has begun on day one. She will need all the support and solidarity that she can get. But today marks a victory for those who oppose war and racism. And a defeat for those who don’t.
We note that anybody from an Algerian background, which saw a civil war in 1991 break out between the repressive Algiers state and violent Islamism (MIA, GIA, GSPC and the still active, Al–Qaïda au Maghreb islamique, AQMI) should express a position not just on imperialism and racism, and not only the blood-drenched Algerian military, but on a very specific type of racism and persecution: that embodied in various forms of Islamism (Guerre civile algérienne).
This is what she says,
….describing how her family had been forced to flee civil war in Algeria when she was child .
“I know too well the price of terrorism, the consequences of racism and oppression,” said Ms Bouattia, a leading figure in the Students Not Suspects campaign against the Prevent anti-terrorism agenda.
“I saw a country ripped apart by terror and was forced into exile,” she explained, adding: “I know too well the damage done by racism and persecution.”
She explained how her university lecturer father was almost killed by a bomb and her school had been attacked by gun-wielding militia, causing her family to flee.
“I know many of you will have seen my name dragged through the mud by rightwing media, and might think I am a terrorist and my politics driven by hate,” she said, adding: “How wrong that is.”
Bouattia comes from Constantine, Algeria.
The city is also infamous for the French far-right Parti Social Français, PSF, and their successful efforts to incite Muslims against Algerian Jews that led to the antisemitic pogrom of 1936 (link gives another version of the causes) in which 25-34 Jews were killed and some 200 stores were pillaged. There is a long history of anti-Semitic activity in Algeria (by both pieds-noirs and Muslims) and the Vichy regime instituted official anti Jewish legislation.
In the present example 1941 around 18 to 20% of the City’s population were Jewish.
There have been no Jewish community in Constantine since the end of the Algerian war of Independence.
We would be interested to hear her views on this and more details about her – horrific – experiences in Algeria.
Indeed we would be curious to know how the Algerian civil war was a creation of ‘imperialism’.
But it is about a contemporary Islamist movement, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that the present controversy has erupted.
Here is the background: Report on that Motion (2014) by Daniel Lemberger Cooper
Two motions debated at NUS NEC
The meeting then turned to motions submitted by NEC members. Unfortunately this part of the meeting was no feast of reason. There are two motions I want to focus on: Iraqi solidarity and Israel/Palestine. I urge you to read the motions before continuing.
The “Iraqi solidarity” motion had been worked on with Roza Salih, a Strathclyde university student of Kurdish descent (she submitted an almost identical motion to the Scottish equivalent of the executive, the Scottish Executive Council, which I will post later, which, incidentally, did pass! One must ask Scottish executive members why vote for a motion in Scotland, but not in England?!).
The motion was opposed by Malia Bouattia, the NUS Black Students’ Officer, for astonishing and bewildering reasons. Bouattia argued that the motion was “Islamophobic” and “pro USA intervention” – (see Aaron Kiely, a fellow NUS NEC member’s, tweet during the meeting as reflective of the position). The motion then fell as large numbers of NEC members either abstained or voted against (including the bulk of the political Left on NEC). I think this says a lot about the current state of the student movement.
(I must also put on record that after only a single round of speeches, Toni Pearce moved the debate on. This was wrong: there was no opportunity to respond to Bouattia’s allegations. I had my hand up to speak in response, but was not called.)
Let us look at Bouattia’s arguments: is the motion anti-Muslim or pro US intervention?
The motion was partly written by a Kurdish student activist, and presented by the International students’ officer, Shreya Paudel. I have looked again and again at the contents of the motion, yet I cannot track any Islamophobia or racism.
The US occupation, and its aftermath, has been an utter disaster for the people of Iraq. Resulting governments, led by Nouri Al-Maliki, have been authoritarian and carried out virulent Shia sectarianism. A civil war in the mid 2000s killed 34,000 civilians. Today there are 1.6 million refugees.
The dynamics in 2014 are complex. ISIS, who have grown out of Al-Qaeda, have seized huge swathes of the country; there is a new, shaky, shia-sectarian government; and a Kurdish regional government, whose self determination I believe we should support.
The ultra-Islamist group ISIS is a threat to all the people of Iraq. It is repressing and persecuting minorities, including Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and Sunni Muslim Arabs. On the 29th June it declared a “caliphate” (a religious dictatorship). It has carried out rape and other forms of sexual violence are being used as weapons against women in IS-occupied areas.
These developments have been exacerbated and driven by US policy deliberately fostering sectarianism.
The situation is desperate.
In this situation, it is fundamental that the political Left, trade union and student organisations, like NUS, show our solidarity with the Iraqi people, in particular the hard-pressed student, workers and women’s organisations, and those fighting for democracy and equality.
It is unclear whether Western forces (which congregated in Paris the day before the NEC meeting, on the 15th of September, to announce a “game plan” to defeat ISIS) will send boots onto the ground in Iraq. We know already that French aircrafts have begun reconnaissance flights over Iraq; and that US aid has assisted the Kurds and Yazidis. However it is unlikely they will want a re-run of a war that even they believe to have been a colossal failure. It may be more likely that the USA assists established forces from afar to defeat ISIS.
However, the motion cannot be clearer in saying that such forces cannot be relied upon to deliver democratic change in Iraq: “no confidence or trust in the US military intervention.” If one were to believe it is not sufficiently clear or that the motion is not worded strongly enough, fine: make an amendment to the motion; or seek to take parts to remove or strengthen a particular aspect. Instead, the whole motion – which calls for solidarity with oppressed forces in Iraq – was argued as wrong. This is a grave shame!
It is also true – and Left-wingers should think this over – that the Kurds and Yazidi’s thus far would not have been able to survive if it had not been for aid from the Americans. Calling simply for an end to this intervention is the same as calling for the defeat of the Peshmerga forces by ISIS. The policy is based on a negative criteria – opposing the US and UK – instead of positive criteria – solidarity with the oppressed.
Perhaps this is what Bouattia meant when saying that the motion is pro-intervention? Such a suggestion is arrived at only when one’s “analysis” becomes an issue of principle: that even within limited parameters, that to suggest that imperialism is not the only problem is somehow to “support” imperialism. This is the basis of “Stalinist” politics on international questions: that one considers forces that oppose the US as either progressive or, at worst, not the real issue -no matter how barbaric and reactionary and fascistic that force is. This is not a useful or effective way of looking at the world
The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty published a short time afterwards some important qualifications about this report: Fact and fiction about the Kurdistan row in NUS.
Daniel Cooper: I objected to Malia opposing the motion on Iraq proposed by me, Shreya Paudel and Clifford Fleming, and responded to her claims that it was Islamophobic and pro-imperialist. Some people have claimed I misrepresented Malia. The only justification I have heard for this is, firstly, that I did not state that Malia condemned ISIS. That is because it was so blindingly obvious: before the right-wing attacks on Malia, the idea that anyone on NUS NEC would not condemn ISIS had not even occurred to me. And, secondly, that I failed to report that Malia offered to support a different motion on Kurdistan at the next NEC if it fitted with her politics. Whether or not I should have reported this or not, it is hardly decisive! Does anyone seriously believe that if I had stated either of these things it would have prevented right wingers distorting and making use of what I wrote?
The AWL now comment,
The controversy surrounding Bouattia’s attitudes to Islamism and to anti-semitism over the last two weeks is not simply a matter of interpreting this or that comment at a meeting, or exchange on the internet. It has deeper political roots, which we are precisely attempting to sketch out here
Last year, Bouattia denounced a left-wing motion to NUS NEC in support of the Kurdish national liberation struggle as “racist” and “imperialist” and helped get it voted down. This sparked wide criticism from Kurdish and left-wing students, but when some right wingers including in the press noticed this and tried to whip up a storm against her by absurdly and shamefully portraying her as a supporter of Daesh, she responded by whipping up a storm against the proposer of the motion, Workers’ Liberty comrade Daniel Cooper.
We remind the movement of this because we believe that Bouattia behaved like a petty and unprincipled factionalist, putting her resentment at her bad luck, her prestige and the chance to attack a political grouping she doesn’t like above the massive issue of the Kurdish struggle. Although the NEC eventually, two months later, passed a motion about Kurdistan, NUS circles spent far more time and energy on the row than on supporting the Kurds. So much for anti-imperialism!
We have little confidence that an NUS led by Malia Bouattia would be more habitable for political minorities and dissenters, more democratic or more serious about political debate and discussion than one led by Megan Dunn.
There remain a host of other issues about the new NUS President, not least the fact that some on this left backed her.
That is a matter for students.
The Gerry Downing-Socialist Fight style anti-imperialism of fools which led, and justified a rejection do support for the Kurdish people in their hour of need signals a broader problem.
The central question for a wider activist public is: what is Bouattia’s stand on Islamism?
How does she qualify, judge and assess the different Islamist movements?
If she does not support the misguided state ‘Prevent’ strategy does she offer any other way of combatting and fighting these anti-working class, anti-liberal, anti-feminist, anti-left, and violent groups?
This Islamist Facebook Page is still up (735 Likes, mid-day Monday),
“Ghazi Tanveer Ahmed Qadri killed A False Prophet Asad Shah Kazzab IN Scotland 25 march 2016 Thursday.” ” Father of Asad Shah Kazzab Curse on him.”
This is his declaration on Haq Bat
English:Ghazi Tanveer Attari from MirPur Azad Kashmir currently residing in Scotland has killed Liar Asad Qadiani and send him to hell who claimed to be a Prophet. Asad Qadiani was a News agent and also owned a General Store and many people were attached with him. Asad Qadiani also used to accept and declare Kufria – Non Islamic beliefs of christians to be right. That is why british establishment gave him high protocol. Ghazi Tanveer Attari entered his shop and got on him and stabbed him 30 times in his chest and sent him to hell. European Media is publishing wrong name of Ghazi Tanveer as Muhammad Faisal. He is arrested at the moment and his martial status is married and also has a son. May Allah Protect him. Aameen.The blasphemer was killed on 24th march.
‘Kill’ Leaflets Found In Stockwell Green Mosque In South London.
Leaflets calling for the killing of a sect of Muslims have been found in a south London mosque, days after the Muslim Council of Britain issued a statement sayingMuslims should not be forced to accept Ahmadis.
Flyers saying Ahmadis should face death if they refuse to convert to mainstream Islam were displayed in Stockwell Green mosque, the BBC reported.
The broadcaster said the leaflet was authored by an ex-head of Khatme Nabuwwat, a group which lists the mosque as its “overseas office”.
The Metropolitan Police are yet to state whether or not they will investigate the matter.
A mosque trustee was reported as saying he had never seen the leaflets and suggested they were fakes or left there maliciously. However, on Friday it was reported that similar leaflets were being distributed in universities, mosques and shopping centres across London.
Police are yet to respond to a request for comment on the leaflets which say those who refuse to convert to mainstream Islam within three days should face a “capital sentence” – or death penalty.
On Thursday the Huffington Post UK revealed how tensions had been reignited between Muslims and the Ahmadiyya community following the murder of Asad Shah in Glasgow on March 24.
The Ahmadi shopkeeper was killed after wishing Christians a happy Easter and the man accused of his murder later issued a statement saying “if I had not done this others would”.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) issued a statement last week saying it wanted to clarify its position on Ahmadis, and that Muslims should not be “forced” to regard them as belonging to their religion.
A spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK responded by saying there were “a few positives” in MCB’s statement but criticised the timing of it given an “Ahmadiyya person had just been killed for his faith”.
Love and solidarity to all our Ahmadi sisters and brothers: #Ahmadiyya
Un Silence Religieux. La Gauche Face au Djihadisme. Jean Birnbaum. Seuil 2015.
“Quand on voudra s’occuper utilement du bonheur des hommes, c’est par les dieux du Ciel que la réforme doit commencer.”
When we wish to carry out some useful work for human happiness, reform will have to begin with the gods in the heavens.
D’ Holbach. Système de la nature. 1777. (1)
The Brussels killings, have “nothing to do with Islam” said the Belgian Muslim on Sky News on Saturday. Amongst the disarray that follows each atrocity, the dignified quiet of mourning, there is this statement, “It has nothing to do with Islam” – Jean Birnbaum cites the official, the specialist, the columnist, and the academic in France, as across the world. Charlie Hebdo, the Hyper-Cacher, the Bataclan, and now Brussels; the slaughters in the Middle East, North Africa, Nigeria, and so many elsewheres, have nothing to do with Islam. These are, we are informed, acts of terrorism, with ‘causes’, about which the interested will find a very long, very weighty, list. But one is stubbed out: religion, left in silence. Rien-à-voirisme, that is, “nothing to with-ism” is the response. Jihadism has nothing to do with Jihad.
The massacre in Lahore leaves us enveloped in the deepest of silences, the most profound sadness. But we have to listen. Jean Birnbaum asks, by what right does anybody have to deny the religious claims of the Jihadists? If members of Daesh are ever brought to the Hague Tribunal and judged for Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity will the religious doctrines that order their lives and by which they destroy those of others, be ruled inadmissible evidence?
Birnbaum’s Un Silence Religieux is not an essay on the failings of politicians grappling with the need to avoid scapegoating religious minorities. It is not about the generous feelings of people who wish to show respect for the beliefs of Muslims. It is not against those who point out the faulty syllogisms of the hate mongers who assert that ‘all’ Muslims are Islamist Jihadist sympathisers because…they too are Muslims. It is not, to cite a daily reiteration of his point, about the BBC’s official “rien-à-voirisme” labelling the Islamic State “so-called”.
Un Silence Religieux, the Gauche Face au Djihadisme is a dissection of the French left’s failure to tackle the fact of the irruption of Islamic belief in politics and war. His charge is that the majority fail to deal with the power of religious faith, its “autonomous force” in the lives of the Jihadists, reinforced in rituals and in murder. That Islam far from being consigned to the past, is a “universalism” with its own political impact – Islamism – is hard to accept, he argues, for a French left that is incapable to taking religion seriously.
If French left-wingers, intellectuals and activists, are more likely to dismiss faith as reactionary than, say, the English-speaking left, there remain those who take the that there is a form of “rebellion” at work in Islamism, a – distorted – projection of social causes. For every reflection on the Middle East and Islamism itself, another immediately jumps out: on Europe’s Islamists, on Europe’s states, on the French Republic, and the Salafism of the housing estates. That is to follow Olivier Roy, an “Islamisation of radicalisation”, (l’islamisation de la radicalité) a ‘nihilist’ and ‘generational revolt by those uninterested in written doctrine. (Le Monde. 30.11.15). To look for the sources in the failings of the French Republic, Western foreign policy, to look everywhere but in religion, In short, to explain away the fact of faith, that “day after day” by prayer and ceremonies guides the Jihadists, animated by the “récits mythiques et les formes symboliques” that “orientent leur esprit” (Page 31).
For Birnbaum this “community of fate” is the only ideal in the world for which young people by tens of thousands are willing to risk their lives, “le combat en faveur du rétablissement du ‘califat.” (Page 186) That claim, for all the elegance, clarity and passions he puts into this landmark essay, as they say, se discute – that is, it is very very debatable.
Un Silence Religieux traces the French left’s refusal to come to terms with the force of religion in the anti-colonialist history of North Africa. The minority of the country that stood in support of the struggle for Algerian independence and against the vicious repression of the French state was also marked by a tendency to remain silent about problems posed by the nationalist movement. Above all they treated the central role of Islam as “folklore”, the result of colonial underdevelopment that would disappear in the universalism and third-world socialism of the new society.
Four years after independence, in 1966, Pierre Maillot, closely involved in the conflict and its aftermath, sent an article criticising the Algerian programme of Arabisation and Islamisation to the ‘personalist’ left journal, Esprit. They accepted its truth, but judged it “inopportune” to publish.
Readers of the (colonial) Algerian raised Camus’ condemnation of all forms of blind terrorism, and those familiar with the section of the French left that backed the FLN’s opponents, led by Messali Hadj, and the small circulation writings of those who quickly denounced the new regime’s bureaucratic and repressive turn are familiar with some of the issues. But, as Claude Lanzmann recalls, having been overwhelmed by the necessity to defend the fight for independence against French repression and torture, the majority of the anti-colonial left was not about to denounce the efforts of the independent nation to create a new society.
One result, as Birnbaum states, was that nobody singled out the project that Maillot and a few others tried in vain to signal, the “arabo-islamisme” of the majority of those fighting against the occupiers, and the FLN’s determination to make Islam the centre of national life. Those critical of the new government concentrated their fire on these issues, and the emerging bureaucracy In Socialisme ou Barbarie, Jean François Lyotard warned in 1963 immediately after independence of the economic difficulties facing an underdeveloped country and a regime empty of democratic political life which began with populist slogans, including Ben Bella’s simultaneous railing against “cosmopolitanism” and calls for an Islam freed from “superstition”. Even the anti-totalitarian Claude Lefort, warning in the same year of the dangers of One-Party rule, considered the issue of secularism and Islamism to be a diversion from the economic – agricultural – and social problems of the country. (2)
Birnbaum argues that the legacy of this stand has indelibly marked the French left. The view that Islam is a religion of the “dominated” served to explain away the dominance of religious themes in the anti-imperialist Algerian struggle, to make it seem as if it was vehicle of revolt, and to conceal the autonomous importance of religious fervour. This had a long afterlife. In the 1980s Ahmed Ben Bella, the emblematic figure of the revolution deposed by the 1965 Boumédienne coup, was inspired by the Iranian example and became a fervent Islamist. An Arab nationalist (with all the problems that creates in a country with a strong Berber minority) he came to pronounce that Islamism was the “only authentic revolt against the economic and cultural domination of the West.” (Page 96) Freed from Maghreb detention he put his ideas into action, and, within a few years, founded an Islamist party opposed to the Algerian one-party state. Bella’s former comrades on the French left – and here I am speaking from direct experience – excused the turn. Asked if there was room for atheists in his version of the Islamic society when his template theocracy murdered non-believers it was said that a follower of Das Kapital could be considered one of the People of the Book.
It is hard, however, not to consider that the attitude of the French left towards Islam, like other European lefts, has been influenced by much wider considerations. The Bolsheviks, we learn from the Socialist Workers Party, tried in their early years to win Muslims to socialism. The early Comintern responded favourably to Pan-Islamism, as an anti-imperialist force. No less an authority than J.V. Stalin, supported the fight of the Emir of Afghanistan for independence, since his struggle “weakens, disintegrates and undermines imperialism.” If Trotsky’s assertion that, “the rule of Islam, of the old prejudices, beliefs and customs ……these will more and more turn to dust and ashes” was not fulfilled the tradition of supporting any movement which saps imperialist power was established. It has endured. If the principle that undergirded the strategy, that all these movements were part of the era of revolutions which would produce, sooner or later, the “transition” to socialism and a communist mode of production, has become threadbare there are still many on the left, in France and across the world, who remain trapped within its premises. (3)
From Foucault to Harman.
In this respect Birnbaum offers two contrasting accounts of the relation between Islam and revolution. The first is a sympathetic (some would say, unduly so) account of Michael Foucault’s writings on the late seventies Iranian Revolution. Foucault, we learn, was struck both by the originality of this revolt, a people united in a “ collective will” without – apparently – a vanguard – and by its originality, that is, its ‘political spirituality”. He remained, Birnbaum assures us, suspicious of “power”.
At the time Maxime Rodinson discerned the potential in the clerics for the totalitarian exercise of that power in the Iranian movement. If he charged Foucault with ignorance about the ambitions already apparent in Islamism, from the Moslem Brotherhood onwards, others have questioned the ‘anti-modernist’ project itself. In a comprehensive study of these writings, Janet Afray and Kevin Anderson (Foucault and the Iranian Revolution. 2005) ask ““Did not a post-structuralist, leftist discourse, which spent all of its energy opposing the secular liberal or authoritarian modem state and its institutions, leave the door wide open to an uncritical stance toward Islamism and other socially retrogressive movements, especially when, as in Iran, they formed a pole of opposition to an authoritarian state and the global political and economic order?” (4)
Foucault was no doubt right about the importance of the Iranian Revolution and its long-lasting effects. The evidence for that legacy is there to read on the left. Alistair Crooke’s claim that “The key event that emerge from the Islamist revolution has been the freeing of thinking from its long tutelage to the tyranny of instrumentalism” may be more muted today. Judith Butler’s claim that the Burka represents a form of oppositional spirituality to the Western gaze, follows Foucault in ignoring the struggle of Iranian feminists against the veil. For Butler the March 1979 enforcement of the Muslim dress code to cries of “You will cover yourselves or be beaten” is invisible as well. Such indeed is the autonomous power of Islamist spiritual ideology. (5)
Birnbaum then delves into Chris Harman’s The Prophet and the Proletariat (1994) for a less exalted view of Islamic revolution. Harman, a leader of the “puissant” (powerful – yes….see Page 148) Socialist Workers Party recognised the importance of the Iranian revolution. A polemic against those who considered the Islamists ‘fascists’., and those who were prepared to directly align themselves with Iran against imperialism, Harman’ account, notably of the Algerian government’s own role in encouraging ‘moderate’ Islamism in the 1970s and early 1980s, indicates the realism of the text. To Harman the class character of diverse Islamist movements, in the petty bourgeoisie, amongst ‘new exploiters’, went without any fascist ambitions to attack the workers’ movement. He noted (see J.V. Stalin, above), “the destabilising effect of the movements on capital’s interests right across the Middle East.” Their main fault in this respect was not being anti-imperialist enough; their petty bourgeois utopia envisaged justice without challenging capitalism.
Harman stated, that this, “utopia” emanating from an impoverished section of the new middle class. As with any
“petty bourgeois utopia” its supporters are, in practice, faced with a choice between heroic but futile attempts to impose it in opposition to those who run existing society, or compromising with them, providing an ideological veneer to continuing oppression and exploitation. It is this that leads inevitably to splits between a radical, terrorist wing of Islamism on the one hand, and a reformist wing on the others. It is also this which leads some of the radicals to switch from using arms to try to bring about a society without “oppressors” to using them to impose “Islamic” forms of behaviour on individuals.“ (6)
In fact what Harman advocated was not a formal alliance with the Islamists ‘against the state’ but – sometimes – being on the “same side” against racism and against (see J.V. Stalin again) against imperialism. Always naturally involving discussion, and exposing the ‘contradictions” of the Islamists’ utopian ideas and trying to win them to “revolutionary socialism.” As Birnbaum observes, this was not only an “optimistic” belief, it also rests on the assumption that the “objective” course of history, the working out of economic laws, favours the socialist left. Given the SWP’s own self-belief in the creation of its party as a “tribune of the people”, is equally, Birnbaum accurately gauges, is tied to the much shakier claim that they would emerge as the principle voice and vehicle for the oppressed.
This is not the place to more than outline the collapse of this attempt to embrace the same constituency as the Islamists. Birnbaum does not cover the grotesque alliance that brought forth the shambles and shame of Respect, a party that claimed to represent ‘Muslims’, and the SWP’s work with its leader, George Galloway, now puttering around on Russia Today, railing against Europe. Nor does he cover the miasma that came from these quarters following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the British Je ne Suis pas Charlie, workshop organised by the ‘anti-racist’ movement, Unite Against Racism, from those who had barely heard of the Hebdo who knew, just knew, that they (and the Hypercacher victims?) had it coming to them. But Un Silence Religieux, well informed as ever, does cover the more limited attempts on the French left, in the shape of the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA) to reach out to Islam. The admirable Pierre Rousset’s comment that the NPA’s acceptance of a veiled candidate in Avignon that this was (see J.V.Stalin above) an alliance against the “main enemy” and an inability to take religion seriously. And yet, as Rousset has more recently remarked, for the veiled candidate, Ilham Moussaïd, the « le voile incarnait ce projet politique » (7)
These examples would appear to show that anything but the most transient and punctual joint-action between those engaged in politics on the basis of Islam and those engaged in politics as socialists – that is those who derive their principles from the supra-human and those who base them on the world – is bound to run aground. If the British left could oppose the invasion of Iraq in alliance with a variety of forces, including the Liberal Democrats, it is hard to see how this can endure into the Syrian conflict where even the most moderate Islamists have sympathies for …Islamists who wish to create an Islamic – moderate – state. And that is without confronting the issue of secularism in its broadest and weakest sense. No Islamist, by definition, can back the principle of freedom from religion in the running of the public sphere.
Marxism and Religion.
Are there deeper fault-lines within Marxism that have contributed to this failure to come to terms with the religious reality of Islamism? Birnbaum discusses Marx’s conjecture that faith, as an imaginary projection of social relations, will evaporate once a fully transparent, communist society is created. He spends some time on the equally speculative writings on the origin of the religious imaginary in human alienation, despair and hope for the future. The feeling that somehow, at is origin, that Christianity, and – once whispered – Islam was a form of ‘primitive communism’, or at least socialistic, views expressed with some verve by Karl Kautsky and repeated by many, from Rosa Luxemburg, to, Birnbaum discovers, Gramsci, may yet encourage a renewal of that famous “dialogue” between the left and the believers that clearly some hanker after. Knowledge of the exclusive nature of these early communities, not to mention the reign of Mohammed, do not encourage imitation amongst more than small circles. The history of utopian communities is riddled with factionalism and failure. Medieval and other apocalyptic revolts with their mass killings, and hysteria, may also be important moments of early class – peasant – class conflict – but they do not inspire modern supporters of the right not to believe.
But for Islamism that time has long passed. Birnbaum contrasts the hopes for a fully human world that animated the Spanish Internal Volunteers with the Jihadist refrain of Viva la muertre! (Page 213) The social relations that are turned upside down and projected in the visions of death that appear in the jihadist wish for the “end of the world” and a “good death” are perhaps the affair of specialists, who might trace them in Olivier Roy’s nihilism. They do not fit easily into the explanations of those who wish to uncover a Universalist society of equality – a religious utopia in Ernst Bloch’s sense – amongst those attracted to violent Islamism. What we see bears a strong resemblance to another of Foucault’s visions, a disciplinary society based on obsessive regulation of every gesture by the learned interpreters of the Qur’an, or their home-made improvised pretenders. A world in which every form of behaviour, every belief we hold in our hearts under surveillance – by the vice-regents of god – and corrected. Which is ruled by punishment, always punishment. And mortal cruelty. (8)
Birnbaum asks why the enthusiasm for Islam, which has led in the form of Daesh, to a “cruel violence” a hatred of modern Reason, in its different shapes, philosophical, Marxist, bourgeois or proletarian, inspires. The left, after the Fall of Official Communism, the triumph of capitalist economics and the predatory wars of the West, briefly came to life in the anti-, or ‘other-‘globalisation movements, which have faded. We are, in sum, confronted with not the end of the ‘grand narratives’ of the left, progress, emancipation, but at an impasse.
Shoulder to Shoulder.
In these conditions what remains? If we recognise “la force autonome de l’élan spirituel” we have made a step forward: ideology is a material practice. But is that all? The rationalist strain in Marxism, which owes something to d’Holbach, has tried to concentrate on exposing the ‘error’ of religion. Yet science, atheism, or simply rational explanation, has so far fared badly faced with ideology. Translating Reason into lived experience has always looked a formidable task. But now when a world-view so all-encompassing, enforced by a web of publishers, of ‘educational’ bodies, and Courts, state backed or not, and financed so generously by the twin arms of Islamic intolerance, Riyadh and Tehran exists how can this be confronted but by open political struggle? (9)
They are already engaged in inter-Muslim warfare. But outside, from the institutions down to the jihadist micro-powers, right up to the Islamic State itself in Syria and Iraq, another battle, ideological, and ultimately, physical, is taking place. New fault-lines are emerging. It is clear, and Birnbaum admirably contributes to the literature, that there are many in the Islamic world, including those who consider themselves good Muslims, who for love of the world and its people, promote democracy, human rights, and free-thought about religion. We are less sanguine than Birnbaum’s former teacher, and one-times supporter of the Gauche Prolétarienne, Christian Jambert, on the resources available inside Islamic philosophy that can continue to the spirit of liberty. Will they, as d’Holbach suggested, be able to reform the idea of god? Will we be able to attract widely for the secular cause of freedom? For the moment it is for us to stand shoulder to shoulder with these democrats. (10)
(1) Page 67. D’Holbach. Premières oeuvres. Les Classiques du people. 1971.
(2) Albert Camus. Chroniques algériennes. 1939 – 1958. Gallimard. 2012. Pages 498 – 591 Claude Lanzmann. Le lièvre de Patagonie. Gallimard. 2009. Page. 56. Jean-François Lyotard: L’Algérie évacuée Socialisme our Barbarie. No 34. 1963. La Politique et la Pensée de la Politique. (Les letters nouvelles. 1963) Reprinted in: Sur un colonne absente. Claude Lefort. Gallimard. 1978.
(3) Page 75. J.V. Stalin. The Foundations of Leninism. Peking. 1970. Also available here, The Foundations of Leninism THE NATIONAL QUESTION. Leon Trotsky: Perspectives and Tasks
in the East. 1924. C:\Documents and Settings\Compaq_Owner\Desktop\Temporary\Leon Trotsky Perspectives and Tasks in the East (1924).htm.
(4) Page 136. Foucault and the Iranian Revolution.. Gender and seduction. Janet Afray and Kevin B. Anderson University of Chicago. 2005.
(5) Resistance. The Essence of the Islamist Revolution. Alastair Crooke. Pluto Press.2009. For Judith Butler the Burka, “signifies belong-ness to a community and religion, a family, an extended history of kin relations, an exercise of modesty and pride, a protection against shame, and operates as well as a veil behind which, and through which, feminine agency can and does work.”(Page 142) It is related to the fear of “decimation of Islamic culture and the extension of US cultural assumptions about how sexuality and agency ought to be organised and represented,”(Page 142). The Precarious life. The Powers of Mourning and Violence, Judith Butler. Verso 2006
(6) Chris Harman. The Prophet and the Proletariat.
(7) Pierre Rousset. Le NPA, sept ans après : projet, réalités, interrogations. January 2016. K:\Le NPA, sept ans après _ projet, réalités, interrogations – Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières.html
(8) Michael Foucault, Discipline and Punish. Penguin, 1991.
(9) Marx et la baron d’Holbach. Denis Lecompte. PUF. 1983.
(10) On the forces sustaining and dividing the power of Islamism see: Riddles of the Book. Suleiman Mourad. New Left Review. No 86. Second series. 2014. Christian Jambert. Q’est que la philosophie islamique. Folio. 2011.
Dozens of Children were amongst the dead.
A Taliban splinter group says it carried out a suicide attack on a park in Lahore, Pakistan, which killed more than 70 people, including children.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar said it had targeted Christians celebrating Easter, though police have said they are still investigating the claim.
There were scenes of carnage as parents searched for children amid the debris.
Pakistan’s president condemned the attack, and the regional government has announced three days of mourning.
At least 300 people were injured, with officials saying they expected the death toll to rise.
All major hospitals in the area were put on an emergency footing after the blast, early on Sunday evening.
A faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, claimed responsibility for the explosion, saying it was targeted at Christians celebrating Easter. A spokesman for the group, Ehsanullah Ehsan, told the Guardian: “We have carried out this attack to target the Christians who were celebrating Easter. Also this is a message to the Pakistani prime minister that we have arrived in Punjab [the ruling party’s home province].”
In Pakistan, 1.5% of the population are Christian. Pakistani law mandates that “blasphemies” of the Qur’an are to be met with punishment. At least a dozen Christians have been given death sentences, and half a dozen murdered after being accused of violating blasphemy laws. In 2005, 80 Christians were behind bars due to these laws.
Ayub Masih, a Christian, was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 1998. He was accused by a neighbor of stating that he supported British writer Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. Lower appeals courts upheld the conviction. However, before the Pakistan Supreme Court, his lawyer was able to prove that the accuser had used the conviction to force Masih’s family off their land and then acquired control of the property. Masih has been released.
In October 2001, gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on a Protestant congregation in the Punjab, killing 18 people. The identities of the gunmen are unknown. Officials think it might be a banned Islamic group.
In August 2002, masked gunmen stormed a Christian missionary school for foreigners in Islamabad; six people were killed and three injured. None of those killed were children of foreign missionaries.
In August 2002, grenades were thrown at a church in the grounds of a Christian hospital in north-west Pakistan, near Islamabad, killing three nurses.
On 25 September 2002, two terrorists entered the “Peace and Justice Institute”, Karachi, where they separated Muslims from the Christians, and then murdered seven Christians by shooting them in the head. All of the victims were Pakistani Christians. Karachi police chief Tariq Jamil said the victims had their hands tied and their mouths had been covered with tape.
In December 2002, three young girls were killed when a hand grenade was thrown into a church near Lahore on Christmas Day.
In November 2005, 3,000 militant Islamists attacked Christians in Sangla Hill in Pakistan and destroyed Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian churches. The attack was over allegations of violation of blasphemy laws by a Pakistani Christian named Yousaf Masih. The attacks were widely condemned by some political parties in Pakistan.
One year later, in August 2007, a Christian missionary couple, Rev. Arif and Kathleen Khan, were gunned down by militant Islamists in Islamabad. Pakistani police believed that the murders was committed by a member of Khan’s parish over alleged sexual harassment by Khan. This assertion is widely doubted by Khan’s family as well as by Pakistani Christians.
In August 2009, six Christians, including four women and a child, were burnt alive by Muslim militants and a church set ablaze in Gojra, Pakistan when violence broke out after alleged desecration of a Qur’an in a wedding ceremony by Christians.
On 8 November 2010, a Christian woman from Punjab Province, Asia Noreen Bibi, was sentenced to death by hanging for violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law. The accusation stemmed from a 2009 incident in which Bibi became involved in a religious argument after offering water to thirsty Muslim farm workers. The workers later claimed that she had blasphemed the Muhammed. As of 8 April 2011, Bibi is in solitary confinement. Her family has fled. No one in Pakistan convicted of blasphemy has ever been executed. A cleric has offered $5,800 to anyone who kills her.
On 2 March 2011, the only Christian minister in the Pakistan government was shot dead. Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities, was in his car along with his niece. Around 50 bullets struck the car. Over 10 bullets hit Bhatti. Before his death, he had publicly stated that he was not afraid of the Taliban’s threats and was willing to die for his faith and beliefs. He was targeted for opposing the anti-free speech “blasphemy” law, which punishes insulting Islam or its Prophet. A fundamentalist Muslim group claimed responsibility.
On 27 March 2016, a suicide bomber from a Pakistani Taliban faction killed at least 60 people and injured 300 others in an attack at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore, Pakistan, and the group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it intentionally targeted Christians celebrating Easter Sunday.
Bangladesh: Protests at the Deaths of our Beloved Secularist Comrades.
A British newspaper has reported that Muslim-majority Bangladesh might abandon state religion Islam in the wake of attacks by suspected Islamists on the people of other faiths.
The South Asian country adopted Islam as its official religion in 1988 through a constitutional amendment during the regime of military dictator Hossain Muhammad Ershad despite the nation fought its 1971 war of liberation against Pakistan to establish secular values.
The Daily Mail report however did not mention any credible source to establish its claim.
It says Bangladesh’s Supreme Court has begun to hear arguments which challenge Islam’s status as the official state religion.
It comes after a spate of attacks against people of other religions such as Hindus, Christians, and minorities Shiites, which have been blamed on Islamic extremists.
“When Bangladesh was formed in 1971 after the nation split from Pakistan, it was declared a secular state,” said the newspaper.
But this is now being disputed as illegal in the latest court battle and is being supported by religious minority leaders.
Meanwhile the US has also warned that ISIS is stepping up recruitment in Bangladesh, even though the government says the extremist problems are home grown.
One Bangladesh police official told Breitbart: ‘We have made arrests on each and every so-called ISIS-claimed attack.
‘The attackers have confessed their crimes in court. They have also confessed being a Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh member, and denied any linkage with ISIS.’
However an American director of National Intelligence has insisted attacks were the work of terrorist groups.
In a written testimony to the U.S. Senate James Clapper noted the claims of responsibility from ISIS for 11 high profile attacks on foreigners and religious minorities, and claims from the Ansarullah Bangla Team and al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent for killing at least 11 progressive writers and bloggers in Bangladesh since 2013.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has been in political ferment since the run-up to January 2014 elections, said the newspaper.
They were boycotted by opposition parties, and over war crimes prosecutions brought against Jamaat-e-Islami leaders over alleged involvement in atrocities during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence.
Muslims make up some 90 percent of Bangladesh’s population, while Hindus account for 8 percent and other religions—including Buddhism and Christianity—make up the rest, according to Daily Mail.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina very often says that people in her country are generally pious and peace loving, they are not extremists.
This appears a more reliable account than the Daily Mail:
Religious minorities urge return to secular, less divisive charter
Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Feb. 29 began hearing arguments on a writ petition challenging the insertion of Islam as the state religion in the country’s constitution, in a move lauded by minority leaders including a Catholic bishop.
A three-judge bench is presently reviewing the petition to see if Islam as the state religion is in conflict with the country’s constitution. The petition was originally filed by 15 prominent writers, former judges, educationists and cultural activists in 1988.
“Even if it is delayed, the court has decided to start the hearing because it’s a petition on a constitutional issue,” attorney general Mahbubey Alam told reporters in Dhaka on Feb. 29.
They challenged the-then military government’s decision that same year to make Islam the state religion of Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
Drafted in 1972, soon after Bangladesh’s split from Pakistan in 1971, the original constitution declared the country a secular state.
However, military ruler Ziaur Rahman erased secularism from the constitution in 1977 while his successor, H.M. Ershard — another military ruler — made Islam the state religion in 1988.
In 2011, the government led by the center-left Awami League Party, reinstated secularism in principle to the constitution following a Supreme Court ruling in 2009.
However, it kept Islam as the state religion out of fear of losing votes.
Religious minorities have applauded the move to look at the state religion issue.
The court’s decision to review the petition is a matter great hope for religious minorities, said Bishop Bejoy N. D’Cruze of Sylhet, chairman of the Catholic bishops’ Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue Commission.
“When a state officially accepts a state religion, then it puts barricades for communal harmony because it recognizes supremacy of a particular religion and makes other religions inferior,” Bishop D’Cruze told ucanews.com.
Recent extremist attacks on religious minorities are an indirect consequence of the constitutional provision of a state religion, he said.
“We hope and demand that every religion in Bangladesh are put on an equal footing in terms of status and respect,” he added.
By sponsoring Islam as an official religion, the state has created grounds for the persecution of minorities, especially Hindus, says Govinda Chadra Pramanik, secretary of Bangladesh National Hindu Grand Alliance.
“The state religion established the supremacy of Islam over other religions, offering a weapon to radical Islamists to abuse minority communities. Moreover, Islam gets more attention from the state, not other religions, which is an obstacle to interfaith harmony,” he told ucanews.com.
State backing for Islam has slowly developed communalism and contributed to the dwindling Hindu population in Bangladesh, Pramanik added.
“As the state religion, Islam put psychological pressure on minorities, and makes them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. The [Supreme] court must come to the right decision and withdraw it,” he added.
Nirmol Rozario, secretary of Bangladesh Christian Association echoed the call.
“Since 1988, we have been opposing Islam as the state religion. Religion is a personal matter and a democratic state can’t have an official religion,” Rozario told ucanews.com.
“This is nothing but an effort to dominate other religions in the country. It must stop.”
About 90 percent of Bangladesh’s population is Muslim, eight percent are Hindus while the rest belong to other religions including Buddhism and Christianity.
Bangladesh: Police say local group, not IS, behind the killing of Hindu priest
DHAKA–The murder of yet another priest in Bangladesh last week has raised the question again – who were the killers, a local militant group or Islamic State (IS)?
Police arrested six people suspected to be of the outlawed Islamist organization Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) for the murder of Jogeshwar Dasa Dhikari on February 21.
But the US-based terror monitoring group SITE Intelligence says IS has claimed responsibility for the attack on Sri Sri Shonto Gaurio temple, Shonapota.
On February 26, police conducted an overnight raid at a house in Debiganj and arrested three JMB suspects. They also seized firearms, crude bombs, grenades and other weapons from them.
According to witnesses, as the priest was organizing morning prayers, three people on scooter approached the temple and drew the priest out by throwing stones at the temple. They then stabbed him and slit his throat, shot at a devotee who came to his help and sped away.
On the same day, police arrested three JMB suspects from adjoining areas. Hours after the murder, IS claimed responsibility for the killing.
“The murder incident had left the entire community of Debiganj distraught for more than a week,” said Abdur Rahim, a resident of Panchargarh, to Asia Times. “But a sense of relief returned after the police conducted the latest raid and arrested three more JMB members,” he added.
Since 2013, a number of secularist writers, bloggers and publishers in Bangladesh have been killed or seriously injured in attacks perpetrated by Islamist extremists. The attacks have taken place at a time of growing tension between Bangladeshi secularists, who want the country to maintain its secularist tradition of separation of religion and state, and Islamists, who want an Islamic state. Tensions have also risen as a result of the country’s war crimes tribunal, which has recently convicted several members of the opposition Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party for crimes committed during Bangladesh’s bloody war of independence in 1971. Secularists have been calling for harsher penalties for the convicted, with some calling for the Jamaat-e-Islam party itself to be outlawed, drawing the ire of the party’s supporters. Responsibility for the attacks on secularists which have since occurred have been claimed by a number of militant groups including Ansarullah Bangla Team, who have frequently justified their attacks on the grounds that their victims are “atheists” and enemies of Islam. Four bloggers had been killed in 2015, but only 4 people were arrested in the murder cases.
On 15 January 2013, Asif Mohiuddin, a self-described “militant atheist” blogger, was stabbed near his office in Dhaka. He survived the attack. Mohiuddin, a winner of the BOBs award for online activism, was on an Islamist hit list that also included the sociology professor Shafiul Islam. The Islamist fundamentalist group Ansarullah Bangla Team claimed responsibility for the attack. According to Mohiuddin, he later met his attackers in jail, and they told him, “You left Islam, you are not a Muslim, you criticized the Koran, we had to do this.” Reporters Without Borders stated that Mohiuddin and others have “clearly” been targeted for their “opposition to religious extremism.”
Ahmed Rajib Haider
On the night of 15 February 2013, Ahmed Rajib Haider, an atheist blogger, was attacked while leaving his house in the Mirpur area of Dhaka. His body was found lying in a pool of blood, mutilated to the point that his friends could not recognise him. The following day, his coffin was carried through Shahbagh Square in a public protest attended by more than 100,000 people.
Haider was an organizer of the Shahbag movement, a group “which seeks death for war criminals and a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami and its student front Islami Chhatra Shibir.” According to Haider‘s family, Haider was murdered “for the blogs he used to write to bring ‘war criminals’ to justice” and for his outspoken criticism of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. The Shahbag movement described Haider as their “first martyr”.
On the night of 7 March 2013, Sunnyur Rahaman was injured when two men swooped on him and hacked him with machetes. He came under attack around 9:00 pm near Purabi Cinema Hall in Mirpur. With the assistance of local police he was rushed to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital with wounds in his head, neck, right leg and left hand. Rahaman was a Shahbag movement activist and a critic of various religious parties including Jamaat-e-Islami.
On 15 November 2014 a teacher of Rajshahi University sociology department named Shafiul Islam, a follower of the Baul community, was struck with sharp weapons by several youths on his way home. He died after being taken to Rajshahi Medical College and Hospital. A fundamentalist Islamist militant group named ‘Ansar al Islam Bangladesh-2‘ claimed responsibility for the attack. On a social media website, the group declared: “Our Mujahideens [fighters] executed a ‘Murtad’ [apostate] today in Rajshahi who had prohibited female students in his department to wear ‘Burka‘ [veil].” The website also quoted a 2010 article from a newspaper affiliated with Jamaat-e-Islami, which stated that “Professor Shafiul Islam, while being the chair of the sociology department, recruited teachers on condition of being clean-shaved and not wearing kurta-pajamas. He barred female students from wearing burka in classes. This led to many students abandoning burka against their will.”
According to one of Shafiul Islam‘s colleagues, the victim was not anti-Islam, but had prohibited female students from wearing full-face veils in his classes as he believed they could be used to cheat in exams.
On 26 February 2015, bio-engineer Dr. Avijit Roy, a well-known Bangladeshi blogger, and his wife Bonya Ahmed were attacked in Dhaka by machete-wielding assailants. Roy and his wife had been returning home from the Ekushey Book Fair by bicycle rickshaw when around 8:30 pm they were attacked near the Teacher Student Center intersection of Dhaka University by unidentified assailants. According to witnesses, two assailants stopped and dragged them from the rickshaw to the pavement before striking them with machetes. Roy was struck and stabbed in the head with sharp weapons. His wife was slashed on her shoulders and the fingers of her left hand severed when she attempted to go to her husband‘s aid. Both were rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where Roy died at 10:30 pm. His wife survived the attack.
Roy was a naturalized U.S. citizen and founder of the influential Bangladeshi blog Mukto-Mona (“Freethinkers”). A champion of liberal secularism and humanism, Roy was an outspoken atheist and opponent of religious extremism. He was the author of ten books, the best known of which was a critique of religious extremism, Virus of Faith. A group calling itself Ansar Bangla 7 claimed responsibility for the attack, describing Roy‘s writings as a “crime against Islam”. They also stated that he was targeted as a U.S. citizen in retaliation for U.S. bombing of ISIS militants in Syria.
Roy‘s killing sparked protests in Dhaka, and expressions of concern internationally. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, and for the government to defend freedom of expression and public debate. Author Tahmima Anam wrote in The New York Times “Blogging has become a dangerous profession in Bangladesh” stating that writers have rallied at Dhaka University to criticise the authorities for “not doing enough to safeguard freedom of expression.” Anam wrote
[Avijit Roy] and Mr. Rahman were the victims of murderous thugs, but they were also the victims of a poisonous political climate, in which secularists and Islamists, observant Muslims and atheists, Jamaat-e-Islami and the Awami League are pitted against one another. They battle for votes, for power, for the ideological upper hand. There seems to be no common ground.
Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star wrote that the death “is a spine-chilling warning to us all that we all can be targets. All that needs to happen for any of us to be killed is that some fanatic somewhere in the country, decides that someone or anyone, needs to be killed.” Anam stated
We believe that diversity, tolerance and freedom of conscience – fundamental to our existence – are being challenged here… What is being destroyed is an integral part of the values of our freedom struggle and the democratic struggle that we have waged so far.
On 30 March 2015, another blogger, Oyasiqur Rhaman, was killed in Dhaka in a similar attack to that perpetrated on Avijit Roy. The police arrested two suspects near the scene and recovered meat cleavers from them. The suspects said they killed Rhaman due to his anti-Islamic articles. Rhaman was reportedly known for criticizing “irrational religious beliefs”. The suspects informed the police that they are also members of the Ansarullah Bangla Team and had trained for fifteen days before killing the blogger.
Imran Sarker told reporters that unlike Roy, Oyasiqur Rhaman was not a high-profile blogger, but “was targeted because open-minded and progressive bloggers are being targeted in general. They are killing those who are easy to access, when they get the opportunity… The main attempt is to create fear among bloggers.” According to Sarker, Rhaman‘s murder was part of a “struggle between those who are promoting political Islam to turn Bangladesh into a fundamentalist, religious state and the secular political forces … That is why [the bloggers] have become the main target, and the political parties who are supposed to prevent such attacks and provide security to them seem unable to do so. The main problem is that even mainstream political parties prefer to compromise with these radical groups to remain in power”.
Ananta Bijoy Das
Ananta Bijoy Das, an atheist blogger who was on an extremist hit-list for his writing, was hacked to death by four masked men in Sylhet on 12 May 2015. Ananta wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona. He had authored three books on science, evolution, and revolution in the Soviet Union, and headed the Sylhet-based science and rationalist council. He was also an editor of a quarterly magazine called Jukti (Logic).
Ananta Das was invited by Swedish PEN to discuss the persecution of writers in Bangladesh, but the Swedish government refused him a visa on the basis that he might not return to Bangladesh after his visit.
Lawyer Sara Hossain said of Roy and Das, “They’ve always believed and written very vocally in support of free expression and they’ve very explicitly written about not following any religion themselves.” Asia director of Human Rights Watch Brad Adams said on Ananta’s killing, “This pattern of vicious attacks on secular and atheist writers not only silences the victims but also sends a chilling message to all in Bangladesh who espouse independent views on religious issues.”
An editorial in The Guardian stated “Like Raif Badawi, imprisoned and flogged in Saudi Arabia, the brave men who have been murdered are guilty of nothing more than honesty and integrity. Those are virtues that fundamentalists and fanatics cannot stand.” It concludes “Violent jihadis have circulated a list with more than 80 names of free thinkers whom they wish to kill. The public murder of awkward intellectuals is one definition of barbarism. Governments of the west, and that of Bangladesh, must do much more to defend freedom and to protect lives.”
Niladri Chattopadhyay Niloy, also known as Niloy Chatterjee and by his pen name Niloy Neel, was killed on 7 August 2015. It is reported that, a gang of about six men armed with machetes attacked him at his home in the Goran area of Dhaka and hacked to death. Police said that the men had tricked his wife into allowing them into his home before killing him. Neel had previously reported to the police that he feared for his life, but no action had been taken. He was an organiser of the Science and Rationalist Association Bangladesh, and had gained a master’s degree in Philosophy from Dhaka University in 2013. Niloy had written in Mukto-Mona, a blogging platform for secularists and freethinkers, was associated with the Shahbag Movement, and also attended the public protest demanding justice for the murdered bloggers, Ananta Bijoy Das and Avijit Roy. Ansarullah Al Islam Bangladesh, an Al Qaeda group, claimed responsibility for the killing of the blogger.
The UN urged a quick and fair investigation of the murder, saying, “It is vital to ensure the identification of those responsible for this and the previous horrendous crimes, as well as those who may have masterminded the attacks.” Amnesty International condemned the killing and said that it was the “urgent duty (of the government) to make clear that no more attacks like this will be tolerated”. Other entities which condemned the killing, include the German Government, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Human Rights Watch, Communist Party of Bangladesh, Gonojagoron Moncho and other rightist and leftist political parties of Bangladesh.
Writer Taslima Nasrin criticized the prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her Government saying, “Sheikh Hasina’s government is morally culpable. I am squarely blaming the state for these massacres in installment. Its indifference and so-called inability to rein in the murderous Ansarullah brigade is solely predicated on the fear of being labelled atheists.”
Faisal Arefin Dipan
Faisal Arefin Dipan, aged 43, the publisher of Jagriti Prakashani, which published Avijit Roy’s Biswasher Virus (Bengali for The Virus of Faith), was hacked to death in Dhaka on 31 October 2015. Reports stated that he had been killed in his third-floor office at the Jagriti Prokashoni publishing house. The attack followed another stabbing, earlier the same day, when publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul and two writers, Ranadeep Basu and Tareque Rahim, were stabbed in their office at another publishing house. The three men were taken to hospital, and at least one was reported to be in a critical condition.
n had a role in this death.
Supporters of Murderer of Pakistan Blasphemy Law Reform Supporter Salmaan Taseer .
Thousands at funeral of Pakistani executed for murdering governor.
Huge crowds mourn for Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged for killing Salmaan Taseer over his opposition to blasphemy laws.
An estimated crowd of more than 100,000 people have attended the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri, in a massive show of support for the convicted murderer of a leading politician who had criticised Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
The vast gathering on Tuesday centred on Liaquat Park in Rawalpindi, where a succession of clerics made fiery speeches bitterly condemning the government for giving the go-ahead for Monday’s execution of Qadri, a former police bodyguard who became a hero to many of his countrymen after he shot and killed Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, in 2011.
Reports the Guardian.
Pakistani Christians are in great fear,
Protests and riots have broken out across Pakistan following the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri a former Police Officer who ruthlessly machine-gunned former Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer in the back several times on January 4th 2011.
Mr. Qadri never repented of his crime stating it was retaliation for the vocal opposition of the ‘holy’ blasphemy laws of Pakistan and Governor Taseer’s support for freedom for Asia Bibi, who Mr. Qadri refers to as a kaffir (infidel) and blasphemer.
The lawful hanging of Mr. Qadri took place at 4.30am (9.30 in Pakistan) at Adyala Jail in the city of Rawalpindi. The family of Mr. Qadri were secretly ushered to the jail during Sunday evening under pretext that he was ill, in an attempt to prevent mass hysteria. A media blackout was also in place preventing the news reaching supporters of Mr. Qadri during the tense early moments after his death.
The Muslim legal fraternity of Pakistan on hearing about Mr. Qadri’s hanging immediately declared a one day strike. This was later matched by a call for national protests in support of a Muslim Hero and martyr, by the leader of Sunni Tehreek a Muslim political wing of the Barelvi sect of Islam.
Mr. Sarwart Ijaz Qadri called for roads to be blocked and tyres to be burnt. However, during the riots that have ensued, shops have been attacked and those buses attempting to complete their journeys have been attacked and burnt. In many districts shops have remained shut and across the country schools have remained closed while security forces who are extremely stretched work towards restoring peace.
Mumtaz Qadri is held in high esteem by the growing number of conservative Muslims in Pakistan. He made history when he received the largest number of Valentines cards of any Pakistani during a court hearing on February 14th 2011. During the hearing he was garlanded with flowers and praises were sung about his killing of Governor Taseer and returning honour to Islam. The judge who initially ruled the guilty verdict in the case of Mumtaz Qadri was forced to flee the country, as he was targeted by death threats.
A mosque in Islamabad was named after Mumtaz Qadri and as a consequence rapidly grew to double its original size (click here)
Christian communities have locked their homes with families hidden safely inside, other Christians have travelled to families in more rural regions, hoping to escape the furore and rioting in the cities. Every Christian, our officer Shamim Masih has spoken with, has expressed their fear that their homes will be burnt down in retaliation for the hanging of Mr. Qadri.
Shamim Masih said:
“The Christians of Pakistan are in great fear and want the Government to ensure their safety. Threats have already been made to Christian communities and those who have fled their homes to escape to more rural areas will no doubt return to find their homes have been looted. Christians remember the attacks on the communities of Shati Nagar, Gojra and St Joseph’s colony where mob violence resulted in loss of lives, homes and churches. They also remember the recent bomb attacks in Peshawar and Lahore, they do not believe extremist and conservative Muslims need much of a reason to attack them and feel the current climate is creating great animosity towards them.”
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, said:
“What chance do Christians have for survival in a nation that openly places hero status on murderers? Mumtaz Qadri was involved in the heinous murder of Governor Taseer, an act that traumatised Pakistan and brought to light the extent of extremism and hatred towards minorities in Pakistan. This man enjoyed privileges whilst in Pakistani prisons that few obtain and was able to spread his evil ideology within prison often coercing wardens to punish those involved in blasphemy cases – which contributed to the death of a British Prisoner. Most alarmingly the legal fraternity of Pakistan have come out in support for Mr. Qadri and declared a one day strike, an act that is a clear indictment of the extremism that is ubiquitous throughout all tiers of Pakistani Muslim society. The few voices of liberality in Pakistan will have an uphill struggle making the nation one that is egalitarian, yet in the meanwhile western nations including Britain have deduced that Christians in Pakistan rarely face persecution, a judgment that has led to the re-persecution of thousands of Pak-Christians stranded in Thailand.”
“Pakistan’s current government should be commended for their efforts towards upholding justice in this landmark judicial process. Whatever one thinks of death sentences, it is the prevailing law in Pakistan and to bring it to fruition in this manner has been a brave decision. The hanging of Mumtaz Qadri illustrates that justice is achievable. The terrorists can no longer hide behind their faith and public support and the former impunity has been terminated.”
We spoke to several Christians in Rawalpindi and Islamabad about how they felt. Here is what they said:
Kaneez Bibi said:
“I work as a beautician but I did not go into work today. Our bosses told us to stay at home as they are not opening their businesses due to threats of violence. My family and I are bunkering down at our home and it is very frightening.”
Tariq Parvez said:
I work in a permaflex and printing company. I could not get through to work this morning. A large group of protestors threatened to beat me if I tried to reach my work premises. The group looked scary and was shouting out about how Kaffir (infidels) were ruining the country. I am fearful for my life and my family.”
Shakil Masih a school music and fine art teacher at BeaconHouseSchool said:
“I was travelling to school and was stopped by protesters. They threatened to kill me and beat me on my back to send me home. I later called the school and found out it was closed, but no-one from management had contacted me. This type of incident will continue until the government takes bolder steps to improve Pakistani Society.”
Rafique Gill, a scrap merchant, said:
“It is worrying that the protesters are in the streets with such animosity. So far Christian areas have not been attacked but there is, as yet, no extra policing for our communities. I have taken the risk of opening my business as it is far from the city centre and most of my clients are Christian. But if I am threatened I will close the shop. It is not worth the loss of life, even though I desperately need the money.”
Inspire (1) is shocked and disappointed that some British imams, Muslim groups and individuals in our country have expressed their support and paid tribute to Mumtaz Qadri following his execution* yesterday in Pakistan, by declaring him to be a “martyr” who defended the honour of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)
Mumtaz Qadri assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 for his stance against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and his robust defence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who is currently on death row for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Governor Taseer pointed out in November 2010 in an interview with CNN that the blasphemy law is not a religious law but a political tool implemented in 1979 when he stated:
“The blasphemy law is not a God-made law. It’s a man-made law. It was made by General Ziaul Haq and the portion about giving a death sentence was put in by Nawaz Sharif. So it’s a law which gives an excuse to extremists and reactionaries to target weak people and minorities.”
“The thing I find disturbing is that if you examine the cases of the hundreds tried under this law, you have to ask how many of them are well-to-do? Why is it that only the poor and defenceless are targeted? How come over 50 per cent of them are Christians when they form less than 2 per cent of the country’s population. This points clearly to the fact that the law is misused to target minorities.”
Such remarks angered Qadri enough to murder Governor Taseer in cold blood. Yet today in Pakistan thousands of supporters cheered and threw flowers at the casket of Mumtaz Qadri. Here in the UK since yesterday, a number of imams, Muslim groups and individuals have praised and defended Qadri’s act of murder.
We believe there is absolutely no justification – whether religious, moral or ethical – for supporting individuals like Qadri, least of all from an Islamic perspective. Qadri’s supporters have argued that he honoured the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by murdering Taseer when in fact Qadri and his supporters have tainted the name of the Prophet and dishonoured his teachings by murdering a man in cold blood who showed solidarity with minority communities, as did the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). As Governor Taseer rightly pointed out: “Islam calls on us to protect minorities, the weak and the vulnerable.“
We at Inspire believe that we must stand for equality, human rights and the rule of law. We also recognise we must challenge those who seek to bring our faith into disrepute by justifying violence and death in the Prophet’s name.
(1) Inspire is a non-governmental advocacy organisation (NGO) working to counter extremism and gender inequality. We empower women to support human rights and to challenge extremism and gender discrimination. By empowering women, Inspire aims to create positive social change resulting in a more democratic, peaceful and fairer Britain. Women are key to the development and prosperity of any society; Inspire believes that Muslim women are no different and are capable of being at the forefront of strengthening communities as well as tackling problems both within Britain and internationally.
Inspire was founded in 2009 after its co-founders had spent over 15 years working within British Muslim communities. They were concerned that not enough was being done to challenge both gender discrimination and extremist ideologies within UK’s Muslim communities. Inspire was created to fill this void.