Islamism, Iconoclasm & Idols

The practise of iconoclasm is one of the most striking features of hardline Islamism. An Egyptian Salafi Sheik by the name of Murgan Salem believes that it is necessary for the Egyptian Government to destroy all the pyramids, statues of ancient pharaohs and all other antiquities which are generally associated with universal heritage. The reasoning which this Sheikh renders is that this move will help in curbing idolatry and in destroying the remnants of Paganism in Islamic Egypt.

Murgan Salem also justifies the sacrilegious act of destruction of the Great Buddha Statue in Afghanistan by Islamist militants. He believes that by destroying the statue, the Islamists did great service to Allah and Islam because this statue was held in high reverence and worshipped by 800 million Buddhists based in different parts of the world. Since the statue has now been destroyed, people would no longer be able to insult Allah by worshipping objects other than him. It’s indeed a tragedy that Islamists view Prophet Muhammad’s cleansing of the Kaaba as an act of unilateral iconoclasm and choose to disregard the Quranic commandment of safeguarding churches, synagogues, mosques, cloisters and all those places where God’s name is invoked (22:39).

The Pyramids of Giza located on the outskirts of the Egyptian city of Cairo. (Reuters)

The Pyramids of Giza located on the outskirts of the Egyptian city of Cairo. (Reuters)

The practise of Islamism has a deep connect with the history of Muslim civilization. When the Muslim armies were shuttling between the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe; countless places of worship were razed to the ground as a result of Islamic zealotry. The worst sufferer was possibly the Indian Civilization which saw wide scale destruction of its temples by plunderers like Mahmud of Ghazni who desecrated temples and carried away all the wealth to develop his own kingdom and to utilize the loot money to sponsor raids against fellow Muslim kingdoms. The world has come a long way since then with the enactment of universal human rights and other revolutionary measures promoting egalitarianism but what continues to bind Islamism and iconoclasm are history books which are written with such bias that they carry on with their praise of desecrators.

The challenge before the Islamic civilization lies in accepting the misdeeds of its forefathers. At the turn of millennium, even the Vatican issued an apology regarding the dastardly acts which the Church carried out in the name of Christ. The secular activists in the Arab world have to take up the mantle of taming the hateful ideology of men like Murgan Salem and others who want to destroy heterogeneous character of the world and replace it with a sickening and radicalized interpretation of the Sharia where religion is more of a curse than blessing.

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Rise of Buddhist Fanaticism in Myanmar

Time Magazine has been heavily criticized for its recent cover story on Buddhist terror.

Time Magazine has been heavily criticized for its recent cover story on Buddhist terror.

It’s a matter of great shame that the pro-reform regime in Myanmar is clandestinely supporting the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims at the hands of fanatic Buddhists by not only enacting racist and community-specific birth control policies but also by justifying the preaching of radical monks like Wirathu who has been dubbed as the “Burmese Bin Laden”.

In 2003, Wirathu was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment by a Burmese court for handing out seemingly offensive and anti-Muslim literature which led to communal riots in his hometown. But the entire scenario today has taken a complete u-turn. Wirathu is out of prison and is stoking fire in the hearts and minds of young Buddhist listeners by means of his hateful speeches. His popularity is such that even Myanmar’s Minister of Religious Affairs has jumped out in the open to defend him and his 969 movement in front of the international media. The radicalization amongst a section of Burmese Buddhists has reached such an alarming level that they have now decided to boycott businesses run by Muslims in Myanmar. Their sympathizers have justified this move of theirs as ‘practising market economics’.

The fundamentalist movement of 969 in Myanmar is generating massive support at the grass root level where it is being pictured as a saviour of the Buddhist religion which is facing an onslaught at the hands of butcher Muslims. The conflict between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists has intensified over the last 12 months with both the sides engaged in a constant violent struggle for survival. So far 153,000 Rohingya Muslims have been displaced in the troubled state of Rakhine and Central Myanmar. Several countries including secular regimes in Turkey and India have sent financial support to resettle the displaced. There are fears that the sectarian violence in Myanmar might spread to neighbouring countries and ignite anti-Buddhist bigotry in response to Muslim persecution. Some weeks back Malaysia witnessed a few attacks on Buddhists which might be the beginning of a worrying trend.

The silence of Aang San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) regarding the rise of 969 movement in itself speaks volumes of the nexus which exists between these organizations and other government officials. Some conspiracy theories allege that 969 is being propped up by the erstwhile military junta regime in order to create unrest in the country and to foil the democratic elections set to take place in 2015 which might register a landslide victory for Suu Kyi’s party. Another conspiracy theory pits the 969 movement against the supposed 786 movement of Muslims. Some South Asian Muslims associate the number 786 with the Arabic word ‘Bismillah’ which literally means ‘In the name of God’ but Buddhist monks in Myanmar have said that 786 is actually a Muslim plan to dominate the world.

The rise of Buddhist fanaticism in Myanmar is set to further entangle the geopolitics in the region. With Pakistan immersed in sectarian bloodshed, India fighting the rise of Islamist terrorism and Hindutva extremism, the last thing which this region wanted was a sectarian struggle in a country which is still new to democracy.

History shows how much RSS hated the Indian Constitution and loved Manusmriti

During the year 1949, when the Constitution of India was being formulated by the Drafting Assembly under the able-leadership of Babasaheb Ambedkar, an editorial appeared in RSS mouthpiece Organiser which expressed dismay over the Constitution containing nothing “Bhartiya” and that it had hardly borrowed anything from the staggering work of Manu ie “Manusmriti”. On 25th January 1950, a day before India was declared a republic, a retired high court judge by the name of Sankar Subbha Aiyar wrote an article in the Organizer titled “Manu Rules Our Hearts” in which he demanded on behalf of the RSS the enactment of the Manumsriti as the law of the land.

Manusmriti is an ancient text which glorifies caste oppression like no other book. For thousands of years, the book was used as a law code to systematically oppress and suppress the lower castes. When Babasaheb Ambedkar initiated the Dalit uprising, thousands of Dalits burned several copies of the Manusmiriti as a depiction of their empowerment and freedom from the clutches of religious orthodoxy.

Volunteers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. (PTI)

Volunteers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. (PTI)

Even the pioneers of the Hindutva movement ie Savarkar and Golwalkar were not left far behind in their praise of the Manusmriti. Savarkar, the man responsible for coining the term Hindutva, saw the Manusmriti “as the scripture that is most worshippable after the Vedas” and “basis of the spiritual and divine march of the nation”. MS Golwalkar disparaged democracy as alien to Hindu ethos and glorified Manu by calling him “the first, greatest and the wisest lawgiver of mankind.”

Today, the RSS claims itself to be a socio-political organization. Is it not the responsibility of the Sangh to come out and clarify its position regarding the Indian Constitution? Does the RSS still consider it a glamorous idea to enact laws as given in the Manusmriti? Narendra Modi has written a book dedicated to Golwalkar titled “Shree Guruji: Ek Swayamsevak”. It is time that the mainstream media asks the man whom it is projecting as the next prime minister as to how come could he write such words of praise for a communal and anti-constitution person. Believe me, the RSS and Mr Modi will find it very tough to answer these questions.

The Sectarian Strife of Sunnis-Shiites in Bashar al-Assad led Syria

According to the United Nations, the civil war in Syria has claimed the lives of no less than 90,000 innocent people. The United Nations has also expressed concerns regarding the actual figure being higher and possible chances of the damage spreading to other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. The appalling magnitude of the sectarian strife in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria has opened the eyes of the supposed ‘Islamic World’ or Arab World as I prefer to call it, to one of its biggest concerns: the deep divide between Shiites’ and Sunnis.

The fact that many of the major Sunni-Islam aligned countries namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar are backing the rebels in Syria along with strong support for Assad’s regime by the political class in Shiite Iran shows how deeply polarizing is the effect of this crisis. The aligning of countries on sectarian lines might not appear surprising to many but the fact that America-bashing countries in this part of the world are now calling upon Washington to intervene in Damascus proves the complicity of Arab leaders in political opportunism.

What is happening in Syria is an ideological culmination of propagation of hatred by radical Sunni-Shiite clerics against one another. It’s common to see some label Shiites as “bigger enemies of Islam than Jews and Christians” and so is the age old rhetoric of the Sunnis being “the enemy within who is a denier of the Prophet’s progeny and will”. In such a volatile environment, the Arab world would soon be (and I doubt is) abuzz with hilarious fatwa’s based on conspiracy theories involving the Jewish angle into the debate.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs to the Alawite sect of Shiite Islam. The rebels opposing his regime in Syria have a Sunni background. (AP)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs to the Alawite sect of Shiite Islam. The rebels opposing his regime in Syria have a Sunni background. (AP)

The solution to this problem lies in the realization that Islam-perverting Islamists are supportive of a kind of petrodollar-sponsored puritanical Islam where veiling of women and keeping of beards is mandatory, listening to music, singing or dancing is haram and so is watching television. The Islamist belief is that it is not only belief in the faith of his choice which would earn people mercy but faith in his ‘form’ of the faith. While the basic tenets of the different sects might be the same but the overall theological perspective involving statecraft and political power is diabolically different. In such a situation, the Islamist argument of the Sharia being the solution to all sorts of problems becomes redundant as even the Sharia can’t have one uniform interpretation.

For the Arab world to safeguard its peaceful future, it needs to first of all embrace the concept of nationhood. Islamists have bred in the Muslims a strange kind of thinking whereby they recognize the concept of nation-states as anti Islam. They reason that since nations and territorial boundaries are man-made, they are natural barriers in the way of the Islamic Ummah, they foster divisions and are hence against the will of God. It is precisely this idea which has to be sent packing into the annals of history. Being a nation, when you don’t recognize the concept of nationhood, you can’t be expected to solve problems of a nation-state. We need to realize that nations face similar problems be it in regards to poverty, hunger or development. It is only when you validate your existence as a nation state that you can strive to address these concerns. Denial of democracy and enactment of a semi-theocratic, semi-democratic and semi-sectarian regime leads one to nowhere except an ambiguous web of identity struggle and theological problems.

Countries have to be based on the plank of democracy and universal human rights. When religion becomes the dominant ideology in terms of public administration, as it has, then it is bound to throw up more problems rather than giving solutions. Why? This is because dissent in matters of faith in the 21st century is greater than ever before. I know that some might argue that the Islamic golden age was when things were apparently done as per divine revelation but that time has come to pass. The levels of dissent are so severe and space for free thinking so less that it is totally unjustified to compare the two ages. There are evidences of the latter society being far more liberal than the contemporary one where there is no space for heretics and dhimmis. Challenges are many but solutions are still to be searched for. 

Iran Presidential Elections: Profile of New Iranian President Hasan Rowhani

Hasan Rowhani is an Iranian politician who was born in 1948 in Sorkheh during the days of the Shah of Iran.

As a child not only did Rowhani achieve mastery in Islamic studies but he also expressed great interest in modern western education. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Judicial Law from the University of Tehran and then went to the West for pursuing further education.

Hasan Rowhani has sealed his victory in the Iranian Presidential Elections by grabbing more than 50% of the total votes polled. (Reuters)

Hasan Rowhani has sealed his victory in the Iranian Presidential Elections by grabbing more than 50% of the total votes polled. (Reuters)

Rowhani’s political career began during the days of the Islamic Revoution in Iran. He was deeply influenced by Ruholla Khomeini’s ideas and thoughts. Taking a cue from him, Rowhani travelled across Iran giving fiery speeches against the Shah. This defiant attitude of his led to him being arrested several times.

After the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Rowhani became engaged in further strengthening the nation. He was elected to the Islamic Consultative Assembly in 1980 and went on to serve five terms in varying capacities for the Assembly.

Rowhani served as the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran for 16 years. A post he resigned from after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s President. He was also Tehran’s nuclear negotiator for some time. He held negotiations with three member states of EU regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

The biggest challenge before new Iranian Preisdent Hasan Rowhani would be to win over the West by means of his image of a moderate and reformist cleric. The country of Iran has been crippled financially due to the economic sanctions imposed on it by the Western powers because of its controversial nuclear program. Centrist Rowhani needs to make use of his past experience as Iran’s nuclear negotiator to bring about an end to the impasse surrounding this issue by consulting and deliberating upon the same with the UN Security Council and IAEA. Internally, Rowhani would have to resist opposition from the Revolutionary Guard and Iran’s Supreme Leader and hardline cleric Ayatollah Ali Khameini. (AFP)

The biggest challenge before new Iranian President Hasan Rowhani would be to win over the West by means of his image of a moderate and reformist cleric. The country of Iran has been crippled financially due to the economic sanctions imposed on it by the Western powers because of its controversial nuclear program. Centrist Rowhani needs to make use of his past experience as Iran’s nuclear negotiator to bring about an end to the impasse surrounding this issue by consulting and deliberating upon the same with the UN Security Council and IAEA. Internally, Rowhani would have to resist opposition from the Revolutionary Guard and Iran’s Supreme Leader and hardline cleric Ayatollah Ali Khameini. (AFP)

Hasan Rowhani launched his Presidential campaign in March 2013. He was backed by reformists and liberals because of his record as a centrist cleric. Early election results on June 15th showed that Rowhani had garnered a solid lead in the Presidential elections and looked set to become Ahmadinejad’s successor. Later in the day, Iranian Press TV declared that Rowhani had won the Presidential elections.

Note: This article was originally written by the author for The Indian Express