Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rageh Omaar on Why the West Should Fear the Taliban and al-Qaeda's Hold on Pakistan

THE TELEGRAPH: Stronghold of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the wild and lawless tribal border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan forms the crucial battleground in the war on terror. Rageh Omaar reports from the front line.

Photobucket
Supporters of Pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Muhammad march in Swat's main city of Mingora, Photo (AP) courtesy of The Telegraph

”Over the past two years, I have noticed that there is such a hatred of anything to do with the West throughout much of the tribal areas that the region has changed dramatically…

…Pakistan represents the first realistic prospect for a jihadist movement to capture a nation-state, or at the very least to control large parts of it. It would, in effect, mean that militants would have something approaching a mini-state within the country where the central government's power and influence would be non-existent, and from which they could plan and launch attacks beyond its borders. And Pakistan is not just any nation-state at threat from militant groups, but one that has nuclear weapons, a large population and economic resources; one that borders a vulnerable failed state in Afghanistan where tens of thousands of Nato forces are stationed; and one that also has as its neighbours two emerging economic superpowers, China and India. What is more, Pakistan has a long coastline open to the most economically important stretch of waterway in the world, the Gulf, from which hundreds of tankers supply oil-hungry economies. It is a nightmare scenario from which no country is immune. None of us will escape the consequences of a situation where large parts of Pakistan are politically, militarily and economically controlled by jihadists."
– Rageh Omaar


The stark mountainous northern regions of Pakistan's tribal areas are among the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Yet as Barack Obama's newly appointed special envoy to the region, the famously tough and straight-talking diplomat Richard Holbrooke, has said, Pakistan is the country that scares President Obama and keeps him awake at night more than any other.

On my assignments to Pakistan in the past two years, it has been hard to believe the country's nightmare could get any worse. It has been heartbreaking to see this nation of more than 170 million people convulsed by political violence that its government seems increasingly incapable of halting. From the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to the almost weekly suicide bomb attacks that go unnoticed by the outside world, every strike by the militants is more audacious than the previous one.

The ambush of the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore at the beginning of this month came at the same time that the four main Taliban groups in Pakistan announced their decision to unite their forces in a concerted military campaign against Nato and government forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. Cricket, as many have observed, is one of the few cultural and sporting pastimes in which all Pakistanis, regardless of class, regional, ethnic or sectarian traditions, can unite around. It is a sport that both the religiously conservative and the Westernised elite enjoy. The aim of the militant attack on Lahore was to undermine this; to make the point that nothing is immune from political violence and that the Taliban's vision for Pakistan is an absolutist one with no room for anything Western, or anything that isn't derived from their literal interpretation of Islam.

More and more of Pakistan is slipping beyond the control of the government. As the Lahore attack showed, even the centres of major cities are vulnerable. Nowhere is the absence of the rule of law more evident than the north-west of Pakistan. The region is officially known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a clunky but accurate description of this vast expanse of nearly 11,000 square miles, home to an estimated seven million people whose first loyalty is not to Pakistan but to their tribal community. As its name indicates, this region is nominally administered by the Pakistani government but it has been autonomous and unconquered for centuries. >>> By Rageh Omaar | Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Dawning of a New Dark Age – Paperback (US) Barnes & Noble >>>
The Dawning of a New Dark Age – Hardcover (US) Barnes & Noble >>>

Stand Up for the Right to Criticize Religion

I don't necessarily agree with everything this writer has to say, but overall his heart is in the right place. He sees our Freedoms of Religion, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression dissolving in a jihadist slash multicultural morass. If maybe, just maybe, we get the word out on these insidious developments, we might have a chance.

by Johann HariColumnist, London IndependentJanuary 27, 2009

The right to criticize religion is being slowly doused in acid. Across the world, the small, incremental gains made by secularism -- giving us the space to doubt and question and make up our own minds -- are being beaten back by belligerent demands that we "respect" religion. A historic marker has just been passed, showing how far we have been shoved. The UN rapporteur who is supposed to be the global guardian of free speech has had his job rewritten -- to put him on the side of the religious censors.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated sixty years ago that "a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people." It was a Magna Carta for mankind -- and loathed by every human rights abuser on earth. Today, the Chinese dictatorship calls it "Western", Robert Mugabe calls it "colonialist", and Dick Cheney calls it "outdated." The countries of the world have chronically failed to meet it -- but the document has been held up by the United Nations as the ultimate standard against which to check ourselves. Until now.
Starting in 1999, a coalition of Islamist tyrants led by Saudi Arabia demanded the rules be rewritten. The demand for everyone to be able to think and speak freely failed to "respect" the "unique sensitivities" of the religious, they said -- so they issued an alternative Islamic Declaration of Human Rights. It said you can only speak within "the limits set by the shariah [law]. It is not permitted to spread falsehood or disseminate that which involves encouraging abomination or forsaking the Islamic community." In other words: you can say anything you like, as long as it precisely what the reactionary mullahs tell you to say. The declaration makes it clear there is no equality for women, gays, non-Muslims, or apostates. It has been backed by the Vatican and a bevy of Christian fundamentalists.
Incredibly, they are succeeding. The UN's Rapporteur on Human Rights has always been tasked with exposing and shaming those who prevent free speech -- including the religious. But the Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he seeks out and condemns "abuses of free expression" including "defamation of religions and prophets". The council agreed -- so the job has been turned on its head. Instead of condemning the people who tried to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself.
Anything which can be deemed "religious" is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN -- and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah "will not happen" and "Islam will not be crucified in this council" -- and Brown was ordered to be silent.
Of course, the first victims of locking down free speech about Islam with the imprimatur of the UN are ordinary Muslims. Here is a random smattering of events that have taken place in the past week in countries that demanded this change. In Nigeria, divorced women are routinely thrown out of their homes and left destitute, unable to see their children, so a large group of them wanted to stage a protest -- but the Shariah police declared it was "un-Islamic" and the marchers would be beaten and whipped. In Saudi Arabia, the country's most senior government-approved cleric said it was perfectly acceptable for old men to marry ten year old girls, and those who disagree should be silenced. In Egypt, a 27-year old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman was seized, jailed and tortured for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah.
To the people who demand respect for Muslim culture, I ask: which Muslim culture? Those women's, those children's, this blogger's -- or their oppressors'?
As the secular campaigner Austin Darcy puts it: "The ultimate aim of this effort is not to protect the feelings of Muslims, but to protect illiberal Islamic states from charges of human rights abuse, and to silence the voices of internal dissidents calling for more secular government and freedom." Those of us who passionately support the UN should be the most outraged by this.
Underpinning these "reforms" is a notion seeping even into democratic societies -- that atheism and doubt are akin to racism. Today, whenever a religious belief is criticised, its adherents immediately claim they are the victims of "prejudice" -- remeber Rick Warren calling critics of his homophobia "Christophobic"? -- and their outrage is increasingly being backed across the world by laws.
All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don't respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water, and rose from the dead. I don't respect the idea that we should follow a 'Prophet' who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn't follow him. I don't respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don't respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of "prejudice" or "ignorance", but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.
When you demand "respect", you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.
But why are religious sensitivities so much more likely to provoke demands for censorship than, say, political sensitivities? The answer lies in the nature of faith. If my views are challenged I can, in the end, check them against reality. If you deregulate markets, will they collapse? If you increase carbon dioxide emissions, does the climate become destabilized? If my views are wrong, I can correct them; if they are right, I am soothed.
But when the religious are challenged, there is no evidence for them to consult. By definition, if you have faith, you are choosing to believe in the absence of evidence. Nobody has 'faith' that fire hurts, or Australia exists; they know it, based on proof. But it is psychologically painful to be confronted with the fact that your core beliefs are based on thin air, or on the empty shells of revelation or contorted parodies of reason. It's easier to demand the source of the pesky doubt be silenced.
But a free society cannot be structured to soothe the hardcore faithful. It is based on a deal. You have an absolute right to voice your beliefs -- but the price is that I too have a right to respond as I wish. Neither of us can set aside the rules and demand to be protected from offense.
Yet this idea -- at the heart of the Universal Declaration -- is being lost. To the right, it thwacks into apologists for religious censorship; to the left, it dissolves in multiculturalism. The hijacking of the UN Special Rapporteur by religious fanatics should jolt us into rescuing the simple, battered idea disintegrating in the middle: the equal, indivisible human right to speak freely.

Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent. To read more of his articles, click here or here.
To read his response to charges of 'Islamophobia', click
here.
An excellent blog for secularists to keep up to date is
Butterflies and Wheels.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

RPK--A liar for Islam, or just incredibly ignorant?

by The Anti Jihadist

Today here in fair Malaysia, it's the so-called 'Prophet's' birthday and hence a national holiday for everybody. Well, I certainly don't mind having a day off, so I cooked a nice tasty haram bacon breakfast, and now I'm going to write my first column in several weeks. What better way to celebrate the birth of that delusional, 7th century psychopathic 'prophet'?

My favourite Malaysian writer and provocateur Raja Petra ('RPK') has an annoying habit of writing pieces that apologise for Islam, the aggressive and intolerant ideology that somehow has won his allegiance. His latest piece has a jaw-dropping title that is breathtaking in its audacity: Freedom of opinion and speech in Islam. And RPK's main idea here? Rather than paraphrasing, I shall quote from his piece thusly:

"The concept of freedom of opinion as applied by the Prophet is mentioned in various verses of the Quran revealed in both Mekah and Medina. The total freedom of opinion and speech is a principle that was guaranteed by Islam since the beginning of the revelation.

"Wait an infidel moment...is he kidding?!? Islam guarantees freedom of speech? The idea is laughable, ridiculous and absurd, until one realises that RPK, that powerhouse writer, intellectual extraordinaire, is being absolutely serious. Hence, RPK's thesis deserves a careful and thorough debunking.

First of all, RPK fails to mention in his own article which verses of the Quran supposedly guarantee 'freedom of speech.' Perhaps we're supposed to just take his word for it, then? And what does RPK mean when he says 'freedom of speech', anyway? Does he mean that Islam or its founder can be criticised? It stands to reason that Mohammed, were he alive, would certainly disagree with RPK's notions; Mohammed had critics of his movement (the poet Ka'b bin Al-Ashraf, among others) assasinated on his personal orders, during his own lifetime [1]. In other words, Muslims have a word for 'freedom of speech' and 'criticism of Islam', and that word is blasphemy.

Mohammed's followers have diligently followed their prophet's example, killing untold numbers of people (Muslims and otherwise) over the years who dared to criticise Islam. Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was stabbed to death in broad daylight on a street in Amsterdam in 2004 by a Muslim immigrant following the release of his film 'Submission' which was highly critical of Islam [2]. At the trial, Gogh's murderer Mohammed Bouyeri was unrepentant -- and absolutely clear about why he murdered van Gogh. “I did what I did purely out my beliefs,” he explained, Qur’an in hand. “I want you to know that I acted out of conviction and not that I took his life because he was Dutch or because I was Moroccan and felt insulted….If I ever get free, I would do it again.” He was, he said, acting in accord with Islamic law: “What moved me to do what I did was purely my faith. I was motivated by the law that commands me to cut off the head of anyone who insults Allah and his prophet.” [3] Other well-known critics of Islam, like Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, require round-the-clock protection and face nonstop efforts (litigation, death threats, etc) from Muslims and others to silence them.

But this barbarous Islamic behaviour is not just a recent phenomena. Nor was van Gogh the first critic of Islam to be silenced. Back in 1946, Islamic radicals of a group called Fadayan-e Islam murdered Iranian lawyer Ahmad Kasravi in court; Kasravi was there to defend himself against charges that he had attacked Islam [4]. Four years later, members of the same group assasinated Iranian prime minister Haji-Ali Razmara after a group of Muslim clerics issued a fatwa calling for his death. In 1992, Egyptian writer Faraj Foda was murdered by Muslims enraged at his 'apostasy' from Islam--a capital offence under traditional Islamic law. Foda's countryman, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz, was stabbed in 1994 by more of RPK's co-religionists after being accused of blasphemy [5].

But Muslims are not content with the mere murder of individuals, however prominent they may be. Criticism of Islam or of its prophet is against the law in virtually every country with a Muslim majority or with a Muslm-controlled government. To wit, in supposedly 'moderate' Malaysia, such activities are deemed as a "national security threat", punishable with fines and/or imprisonment, with or without trial or charge [6]. These blasphemy laws permit the arrest, detention and torture of suspects of either Muslims or non Muslims on the slimmest of evidence. In some of those countries, such as Sudan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, such criticism is a capital offense [7]. Curiously, these laws have never aroused the ire or disapproval of any Muslims or Muslim groups. Rather, it is always the other way--Muslims continuously wish to shut down debate regarding Islam in their own nations and elsewhere, via censorship, blasphemy laws, lobbying, lawsuits, litigation and any other means at their disposal [8]. What kind of 'freedom' are Muslims peddling here?

Is it possible that all these Muslims, from every part of the world, over the course of decades (if not centuries) have all somehow 'misunderstood' the teachings of their prophet? This is what RPK desperately wants everyone to believe. Or rather, have these Muslims faithfully carried out the core teachings of Mohammed? The traditional Muslim view, supported by centuries of Islamic jurisprudence and enuciated by Pakistan's Federal Sharia Court, is simply this: "The penalty for contempt of the Holy Prophet...is death and nothing else." [9]

Does this sound like anything remotely resembling 'total freedom'? RPK, what planet are you living on?

References:

1. Website URL http://www.answering-islam.org/Muhammad/Enemies/kab.html. Accessed 9 March 2009
2. Robert Spencer, "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" Regnery Publishing, 2005, pg 214
3. Website URL http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4716909.stm. Accessed 9 March 2009
4. Website URL http://www.iranchamber.com/personalities/akasravi/ahmad_kasravi.php. Accessed 9 March 2009
5. Website URL http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=EF975B5C-FE43-4AD0-B748-C296AB891464. Accessed 9 March 2009
6. Website URL http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=5707. Accessed 9 March 2009
7. Website URL http://www.trosch.org/bks/islm/blasphemy.html?_ptr.html. Accessed 9 March 2009
8. Website URL http://www.americanthinker.com/2008/02/universal_islamic_blasphemy_la.html. Accessed 9 March 2009
9. Ashok K. Behuria, "It is Election Time...," Asian Affairs, October 2002

Monday, March 09, 2009

Iraqi Christians and other dhimmis face bleak future

The headline at this CNN story is about the bleak future of Christians in Iraq, but the same is equally true for all non Muslims in Muslim-controlled countries. These unfortunates, like the Christians in Iraq, or Iran, or Turkey, or virtually anywhere else in the Muslim world, face continued marginalization, persecution and oppression at the hands of Muslims. Eventually, the only choices for infidels under Islam are exile, continued servitude, or extinction.

The same fate awaits the Buddhists of Malaysia, the Hindus of Bangladesh or the Coptic Christians of Egypt...if Muslims get their way.