Thursday, June 30, 2016

Istanbul Airport: Some thoughts.

Back in 1980's a vicious circle of sectarian violence gripped Karachi, where people were shot in mosques, homes were bombed and people kidnapped and executed by miscreants who from both the Shia and the Sunni sects. The Taliban had not been invented, 9/11 was way over the horizon, the US war on terror was not coined and Gitmo did not exist. I then wrote a piece in which I called this the "Kalashnikov Culture": a deeply disturbing sense of right embedded in the dogma of misguided self styled "religious" figures and in effect stated that this had nothing to do with Islam but merely terrorists hijacking Islam.

A few weeks after the article I bumped into one of the self styled leaders of this sect at the karachi airport and he proudly told me his mission was to cleanse Pakistan. I narrated to him my view that he did not understand Islam and his beard and turban were ideal replacements for the ski mask that bank robbers in the US don during their raids. He was offended and called me an infidel amongst other colourful names.

Three decades on we have seen a lot of senseless killings have taken place around the world, and with it not only has the violence been politicised it has also been steeped into religious labels. The vernacular of the terrorist has become more pronounced and the acts of violence become more senseless. While the self styled leader thirty years back did not have the labels of Jihadist, Taliban or ISIS, his actions were simply violent based on his own self beliefs.

The attack on Istanbul airport highlight the blind nature of these attacks; killing innocent people and while no one has so far claimed responsibility yet seems to be motivated by the same misguided nonsense of the ISIS, and the Taliban. Before my American friends jump on this let it be said emphatically that more Muslims have been killed by these so called "Islamist" radicals than any people of any other faith. These attacks are not on the US, these attacks are against EVERYONE and most of all against the Muslims themselves.

However, we are making the problem worse by styling it as "Islamic Terrorism" and buying into the hysteria of Islamophobia because these attackers are not Muslims. If they follow the Quran and the teaching of Prophet Muhammed then their violent actions are contrary to the principles and teaching of Islam. We have to come up with a new word a new vernacular for these people and this should not be a religious one. If all the people who committed the school shootings were to say they did it because they were Christians we would be wrong to say that Christianity was at fault.

Here are my reasons to say that these attackers are not Muslims:

1. The act of taking the life of a person, and an innocent person at that, is essentially 'murder'. Assume that we buy into the argument of the ISIS that they are at war with the West and hence killing 'western infidels' is fine; here is the problem, even in those conditions the killing of a person who is not an instrument of war, nor a combatant is considered the killing of an innocent person and thus murder. 
Terrorism is above all murder. Qur’an 6:151 says, “and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct, save lawfully.” (i.e. murder is forbidden but the death penalty imposed by the state for a crime is permitted).  verse 5:53 states , “… who so kills a soul, unless it be for murder or for wrecking corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and he who saves a life, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.” (reference to murder in 5.53 and to corruption, which is spreading terror in the land, means that for such crimes the person committing the crime can be put to death by the 'state'.)

These verses were never abrogated or superseded and form the basic injunctions to Muslims to consider all life 'sacred'. These attackers therefore are violating the injunction of the Quran itself.

2. One common 'logic', much like the man in Karachi, of such terrorists is that they are either 'cleansing' the land of infidels or they are imposing the 'will of Islam' on the people. In Islam it is forbidden to attempt to impose it upon people through force.  The Qur’an says, “There is no compulsion in religion. The right way has become distinct from error.” (-The Cow, 2:256). This important verse was revealed in Medina in 622 AD, at the very advent of Islam and it the foundation for tolerance and the lack of coercion in religious matters. So to paint the acts of terror as a religious act is contrary to the teaching is Islam.

3. Even in a state of declared warfare, (which has to be declared by the established head of an Islamic state) the Quran is very explicit in extolling Muslims to seek peace. The Quran says, “But if the enemies incline towards peace, do you also incline towards peace. And trust in God! For He is the one who hears and knows all things.” (8:61) The Quran in the Surah, “The Cow,” 2:190, says, “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggressors.”

How can Islam extoll aggressive behaviour when even in warfare it is asking Muslims to seek peace? 

4. There are many other examples of traditions from the life of Prophet Muhammed where aggression and violence were not the norm, so much so that he frowned upon surprise attacks even when war was declared and in one instance warned the adversary four months before an attack. In the conduct of war specific rules were made for his forces which included not harming women and children and non combatants and not destroying the land and trees and crops. 

Indeed in Arabia there was the tradition of 'Ghazu', which were raids on caravans and other tribes to acquire livestock and food, but these 'acquisition raids' had rules that insisted that no one must be killed in these raids. This was a tradition before the advent of Islam and during the Prophet's lifetime such raids were carried out. But the raids were not about aggression to kill the other party but merely to acquire goods and livestock. Western commentators often refer to these raids as a testimony to the violent nature of Islam; in the first place Ghazu was a pre Islamic tradition, and second, very rarely did they result in the taking of a life. 

The events in Istanbul highlight all my arguments that the people who sanction such attacks and carry them out are not Muslims. This was also the very point the Turkish Prime Minister made, all the more when we see that all the people killed in the raid were non combatants and innocent people. The insistence by these terror groups that they are killing infidels is completely wrong because in the first place they kill more Muslims than any other people, and then I must emphasise that Christians and Jews are people of the Book and are not considered infidels by Islam. Jesus and Mary are both highly revered in the Quran, so much so there is a whole chapter on Mary and extolls her virtues and role.

On a broader front two things, both very disturbing are going on in the world; on the one hand politicians like Donald Trump are playing the Islamophobia card with virtually no understanding of the religion or the issues, and on the other hand Muslims themselves lack the understanding to realise that Islam is being hijacked by these terror groups who claim and evangelical purity of their cause. It is time people on both sides of the fence realise that is a battle for the minds of the young people and tolerance, understanding and a common stance to assert that these terrorists are NOT Muslims and we should not label them as such. In such labels lie the damage of labelling all Muslims (ala Trump style) as terrorists.  

In my eyes all that this is an extension of the Kalashnikov Culture of the 1980's  and all that has happened is that these violent people have adopted for themselves a religious label; a label that everyone else has bought into and hence the word 'radical Islam'. My argument is simply that if one is a true Muslim there cannot be a radical Islam it can only be a tolerant and understanding Islam. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit and its impact.

In a close vote the Britons have spoken; they want out of the EU, want to take charge of their own country and its destiny and in the process have created a scenario where the possibilities are endless and the outcomes less than certain. The outcome of leaving the European Union while now inevitable has shown that Britain is a very divided country, surprising many who knew it would be a close vote but the outcome was not entirely expected. So what happens next.

Britain has two years to negotiate an exit deal from the EU, and if there is extension granted to this process then leaving without a deal would spell its own set of problems. This is much like a possible lengthy divorce proceeding, trade agreements to be unwound, new agreements to be made with partners like the US and Japan without the EU umbrella and the key aspects of preparing the financial disengagement costs between Britain and the rest of the EU. Most likely two years is not enough to hammer out the divorce agreement after a 43 year marriage and some EU members might well simply say that you elected to leave the marriage then do so without a favourable exit deal or an extension.

The effect of Brexit is wide ranging, one the one hand there is a strong possibility of a Nexit (Netherlands seeking an exit), and the right wing in France will push for a similar referendum with other members testing the mood for their electorate. In a sense politically the EU will feel stronger as a partner who was not entirely on board with the long term vision of the EU is now out. The flip side is that Germany may remain the only strong EU member wanting a stronger united Europe, while France, Netherlands and Denmark leading the charge for a looser Union arrangement. In essence the main problem for Britain was immigration law and they had wished a more Australia type point system on immigration rather than the current policy. EU leaderships stubborn stance on revising the policy then opened the pandoras box to a plethora of other issues resulting in Brexit.

The key question is will Britain benefit from this decision. There cannot be a serious sensible answer to this because a great deal will depend on the moving parts of the business environment. Yes emotionally the idea of 'winning back the country' has its own charm; but does this put bread on the table and create a strong economy? Personally, I believe till the exit deal is not worked out and new partnership agreements worked out over the next two years the British economy will remain depressed and the economic environment uncertain. A strong British economy will fundamentally rest upon two things:

1. Will the private sector in Britain take advantage of the lesser legislation (from EU) to invest heavily into the economy?

2. How successful will Britain be in negotiating new agreements with the US, Japan and the EU that cover trade, taxes and investments.

The best bet for Britain is that private sector investment will offset the effect of big business moving out of Britain as Brexit takes away the advantage for these manufacturers, like Nissan, to produce cars in Britain. Job losses from these closures will not be the only negative as such measures will effect the secondary and tertiary manufacturing sectors that support the factors supply chain. Can the private sector be strong enough to negate some of this effect is still questionable.

The question of negotiating new trade deals and investment and tax agreements is a more tricky matter. Britain, while the worlds fifth largest economy, now will negotiate from a weaker platform. These agreements are tedious and in some cases require multi level approvals, like in the US, and therefore a three to five year period is not unreasonable before this is sorted out. Britain might want to have a loose partnership agreement with the EU so as to not upset the existing relationship with EU too much, but I suspect that the European leadership may not be that accommodating on accepting such a partnership on terms too favourable to Britain.

If and only if, Britain can over come these two challenges that I have mentioned than perhaps in a period of five years from now Britain may well emerge from the this decision more stable and perhaps stronger. However, one must speculate that stronger does not mean stronger than the EU, but stronger from the position the country has been thrown into now.

In the interim what this means for business and the common man in Britain is that there will be a period of three to five years of uncertainty, higher consumer prices, more unemployment, lower investment into new businesses and the financial markets being in turmoil. While Britain will over haul their own immigration law and perhaps reduce the impact on the large number of EU citizens currently working in UK, there will be shrinking of the financial sector with job losses, manufacturing industry slow down. Yes a weaker pound will mean competitive exports but will this be substantial remains to be seen.

To me at a very personal level it is surprising that the issue of introducing a point system immigration system has been blown up to the extent that Brexit became a reality. In a sense this is a failure of intellect to emotion, a stubborn EU leaderships success over the voice of reason and this lack of flexibility will be the test for the EU in how it handle discontent in its own camp.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Orlando Tragedy and American Politics.

At the outset let me state emphatically that I am against ALL forms of violence and any loss of life under any circumstances is a deplorable act. The tragic events in Orlando where 49 people senselessly lost their lives to a deranged man who attacked a night club armed with guns and the intent to take lives. The tragedy speaks for itself in overtones of grief that cannot be cured by words alone. In the same breath the shooting has been become a political tool for both Republicans and Democrats camps and centres around two crucial issues; the role of radical Muslim militants in this shooting and the issue of gun control.

In essence there is no difference between this attack, in its intent and ferocity, from other attacks in schools and public places all over the United States. What makes this a political issue is that the attacker was a Muslim and purported to call 911 during the attack and pledge his support for ISIS. In sincerity the attacker does not fit the profile of a Muslim radical; yes at times he attended prayers at the local mosque and claimed he had friends in ISIS and in Hezbollah, (which is very unlikely as both those organisations are sworn enemies). What is more likely is that this deranged man had an issue with gay people and exacted his anger by killing people. He was not someone fired up with ISIS ideology looking to carry out their promised attacks on America. In essence his actions in acquiring guns and entering a public place and randomly shot people no different from the actions of the shooters in the cases of Sandy Hook Elementary School and Columbine High school.

Since Jan 1, 2015 there have been 27 school shooting, (SCHOOL not public shooting) in the US, in which 23 people were killed and 52 people were seriously wounded. It may be pointed out that not one of these 27 shootings was carried out by a Muslim attacker or by a recent immigrant. In most of the cases the shooters had either easy access to guns or had no problems in acquiring the guns, and one can say that none of the shootings were politically motivated. No one has come and claimed that there is some form of Christian radical movement behind the killings only because the attackers in each case was a Christian. The fact that Omar Mateen who was the killer in Orlando was a Muslim does not make the act more radical other than giving ammunition to people to play the Muslim terrorism card. There is just as much a chance of a fundamentalist Christian angry about gay rights to carry out such an attack as it was for Omar Mateen to carry out this attack.

Using a paint brush to call all Muslims radical and to assume every immigrant to the US comes with the intent to carry out attack is ludicrous. From an international perspective lets get something very clear, that radical Muslims are attacking more Muslims around the world than targeting Americans. Yes there have been some attacks by them in Europe and the West, but these are minuscule attacks compared to what is happening in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Pakistan just to name a few countries.

Now onto the issue of gun control; why would a man want to buy an semi automatic high powered rifle to shoot rabbits? Why are these guns so freely available to the average man in America? Can we assume a proper sense of responsibility about using guns on the part of each owner? If this was the case then how come we have thousands of gun deaths in the US each year. Simply put the guns need to be controlled and ideally should only be in the hands of the law enforcement people and hunting guns should be better defined and better controlled. Yes a radical or deranged man will still try and get illegal guns but then the access will be more difficult.

I live in the UAE, we do not have guns in the hands of people. We have Muslims, Christians, Hindus and people of other beliefs living here, to the extent that one can argue the non Muslims are over 50% of the population. We have not had one public shooting, not one school shooting, not one attack based on religious hate and to the extent that any religious or ethnic hate talk is immediately dealt with by the law.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

American Politics at the crossroads.

For the first time in US history there seems a probability to elect either a woman, a Jew or an idiot as the President of United States of America. This puts the country at the crossroad of choices that are not going to be easy. Hilary Clinton carries the advantage of holding official roles in Government, even though some of her record may be open to judgmental issues, she does bring a higher degree of acceptability for being in the White House than Bernie Sanders or indeed Donald Trump.

Bernie Sanders, to me, is more an egalitarian than a 'communist' or 'socialist', appealing to the young voters who carry strong feelings of having been disfranchised by the political machinery that runs Washington. Sanders scores favorably for his passionate sense of care over the others in the race, but in reality his political ethos is a few decades before its time for an electorate that misunderstands him more than bothers to be patient about his politics. 

Donald Trump started out as the joker in the race; few bothered to take him seriously enough to even imagine he would survive the scrutiny of the political process. His appeal is, in the words of Stephen Hawkings, to the 'lowest common denominator' of US society. This does not speak volumes for the large number of people who form the platform of his support amongst the rank and file of the Republican Party. His somersaults on various issues where he has made forceful statements are not political sidesteps but outright lying; at times even insisting he never made the statements. While one may find his remarks and sparing with the press funny, underlying all this are symptoms of a seriously bipolar man. Add a large dose of intolerance to criticism and a garnish of arrogance and you get a man with an unstable character that is frightening. So far one can sit back and say "Okay this is all fine but he will become Presidential once elected."

Sadly the streak that is most worrying about the man is his position on Muslims, Mexicans, and most of all foreign policy. His knowledge of the world is limited to the size of a postage stamp, which is surprising for a man who has travelled to many countries but still says he knows Russia very well because he held a beauty pageant there is just one testimony of his idiocy. He wants to bar Muslims from entering the US, (now trying to tone down his position) ignoring that he endorsed a real estate project in Dubai bearing his name and charged a nice hefty fee for lending his name to the project. So Mr. Trump you can take Muslim money but you can't let the people who paid you into the country? 

The crossroads that we stand at are clearly such that by default Trump being close to a fascist alternate to democracy makes both Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders all the more suitable. He wants South Korea and Japan to have nuclear weapons opening the door to perhaps another 20 odd countries saying well if they can have them then why not us. He wants to build a wall, expel people and close borders to Muslims. He wants an all out trade war with most of the world not realizing that wars, whether through the barrel of a gun or through trade tariffs have the same result of chaos of the common man in the street. 

Does this make him an idiot? Yes and more, it makes him a fascist idiot who is on an overdose of xenophobia and laced with a propensity to be a pathological liar. The simple test of this is position of mine is that you watch a speech by President Obama, then close your eyes and imagine Donald Trump in the same situation making a speech; yes a nightmare. Mr. Trump being Presidential does not mean you use words like 'loser' or say 'get him out of here' (to a heckler) or calling people names based on their physical appearance (comments about Rubio). While I may not know much of the domestic politics in the US, I know that Mr. Trump does not know much about the world outside (perhaps he did not enroll in his own scam university), and to prove this Mr. Donald Trump I challenge you to a debate of Foreign Policy and specifically on why Muslims should be banned from the US? Anytime, anywhere!