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(Ab)using Islam

By

Dr. Aisha Khan 

 

U.S. President Bill Clinton's desperate and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to deflect attention from his domestic crisis has once again highlighted Western attitudes to the Third World, especially Muslim countries. Just the fact that the U.S. can, with impunity and no consequences at all, act at will against any country it feels like with absolutely any method available to serve its own interests-coups, air strikes, bombings, assassinations, kidnappings-damns international opinion and law.

Having bombed Afghanistan and Sudan in the name of fighting terrorism, especially of the Islamic variety, the U.S. has characteristically declared that no other country can similarly protect its national interests. So the Indian Government, which had enthusiastically welcomed the strikes thinking it could form a bond on the basis of a common threat of "Islamic terrorism", was rapped on the knuckles by big brother."

Another interesting aspect to the brazen strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan is the raising of the Islamic bogey. Samuel P. Huntington had predicted that the West, after defeating communism, would have to now battle with the last enemy of the "free world"-Islam. This "clash of the civilizations" theory is used whenever convenient to further American strategic and material interests around the globe. So, when things began to get too hot for Bill Clinton in Washington, the best option was to bomb camps allegedly run by Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, conveniently forgetting that Afghan militants had been funded and nurtured from scratch by the U.S. in its battle against the former Soviet Union. They were also used to nip at Iran's eastern flank and distract it as it fought its protracted war with Iraq. With the Russians having fled and the Soviet Union totally disintegrated, these same militants have now lost their use and now have to be eradicated.

The ostensible reason behind the strikes was that militants from those camps were responsible for the bombing of U.S. missions in Kenya and Tanzania, though no direct evidence was provided.

Having bombed Afghanistan and Sudan in the name of fighting terrorism, especially of the Islamic variety, the U.S. has characteristically declared that no other country can similarly protect its national interests. So the Indian Government, which had enthusiastically welcomed the strikes thinking it could form a bond on the basis of a common threat of "Islamic terrorism", was rapped on the knuckles by big brother. Officials in fact lamented the fact that the U.S. had not informed or consulted India since many of the camps allegedly also trained militia which were sent to Kashmir. India was told categorically that bombing sites that one suspected of training terrorists was only the U.S. prerogative. So India's grandiose dreams of "hot pursuit" of Kashmiri militant bases into Pakistani territory were put to rest.

Ineffectual in domestic politics, the Bharatiya Janata Party Government is only busy making as much noise as possible at various international forums. Witness the manner in which India overreacted to long-time friend Nelson Mandela's call for a speedy solution to the Kashmir imbroglio. While Mr. Mandela had only called for negotiations, not even

third-party mediation, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee reacted immediately, terming the remarks "uncalled for" and generally kicking up a lot of diplomatic dust. A clarification from South Africa was tom-tommed as an apology, which deputy president Thabo Mbeki had to later deny.

Within India, of course, the Hindu nationalist-led federal government is turning a blind eye to discrimination or atrocities against Muslims. In the western State of Maharashtra, BJP ally Shiv Sena, a neo-fascist and xenophobic party that specializes in targeting Muslims, began the sudden deportation of Bengali-speaking Muslims, alleging that they were illegal Bangladeshi migrants. The fact that all those deported were actually residents of poor villages from West Bengal, which is very much part of India, had no effect on the Shiv Sena Government. The poor villagers who had come to Bombay (capital of Maharashtra) seeking a better livelihood had all kinds of documents, ranging from birth and school certificates to passports to show their nationality. But the Shiv Sena reaction was that these documents could be forged. If any document can be forged, then no one can prove citizenship. But it is clear that these kinds of statements and this kind of logic is directly aimed at Muslims, since they are, theoretically, the only large community who can belong to another nation. Muslims can be "infiltrators" from Pakistan or Bangladesh or even Afghanistan, but Hindus are, perforce, from India. Where else could they be from since their "spiritual home" is India, while Muslims have extra-territorial religious affinities.

In fact, Hindu Bangladeshis who come into India are treated as "refugees," while Muslims are infiltrators. Similarly, no one is concerned about the millions of Nepalese who have made India their home; again maybe the fact that they are Hindus is the reason.  

"Looking like a Muslim is in it self enough to arouse suspicion. I remember seeing 'wanted' posters for bombing suspects in which the suspects were described only as "Muslim-looking" youth." 

The fact that no one reacted to the warped logic of every document being forged is amazing, since this can easily be used against other non-Bengali speaking Muslims, too. Looking like a Muslim is in it self enough to arouse suspicion. I remember seeing "wanted" posters for bombing suspects in which the suspects were described only as "Muslim-looking" youth.

Across the border, Islam is being used in a different manner. Already an avowed theocratic State (as against the constitutional secularism in India), Pakistan is to now have all laws based on Shariah according to a new bill moved by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This announcement was made by Sharif when he too found the domestic going too tough. Faced with sharp criticism from all quarters for having had prior knowledge of the U.S. intention to bomb Afghanistan and allowing it to happen over Pakistani airspace, Nawaz Sharif decided to use Islam as the last resort, much in the same manner as former military dictator Zia-ul-Haq. It is clear that no love of Islam or the Shariah motivated Sharif.

Existing provisions in the Pakistani constitution provided more than ample scope to implement the Shariah if Sharif wished to do so. Critics point out that the real reason for the proposed amendment is that it will help Sharif usurp and concentrate more powers in his own hands in the name of Islam. The legislative bill that is to bring this decision into effect has enough portent of things to come. It states that if it is defeated in the Senate (where Sharif's Muslim League is in the minority), it will be voted on by a joint session of parliament, where Sharif is sure of a majority. Unable to combat the growing problems of unemployment, rising prices and lawlessness, all of which have been worsened by economic sanctions, this move is a crass attempt to hoodwink citizens and consolidate power in the hands of an ineffectual Prime Minister.

On the other hand, critics wonder how the logistics of such a move will be worked out. Pakistan is home to a number of Islamic sects; will there be different courts for all of them? How will cases be arbitrated?

Ironically, these complications come at a time when the Pakistani past of fratricide is reaching a new high. Already clashes between Sunnis and Shiites are escalating, and added to that are the ever-simmering local Mohajir clashes, enough to throw the country into a civil war. Instead of dealing with that, new lines of division and possible conflict are being drawn. Back to Afghanistan. Iran's decision to mass troops on its borders with Afghanistan has raised the hackles of the hypocritical U.S. regime. The deaths of two American citizens was enough to warrant multiple strikes against Afghanistan and a single strike in Sudan, but the killing of seven Irandiplomats was not enough. Iran, of course, has warned both the Taliban regime and its sponsor (Pakistan) that if things continue like this, they are headed for a "serious regional conflict." Taliban spiritual leader Mulla Mohammed Omar has, in turn, asked Iran to hold negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations.

 

This article was printed in Al-Muharer, September 1998.

 

Press Release!

 Statement by the Ministry of Information of the Republic of Iraq N.Y. August 27, 1998

The New York Times published on August 25, 1998, an article stating information leaked by the American Government claiming that Iraq had helped the Sudanese Government in producing (Vx) precursors at the Al-Shifaa Pharmaceutical Factory in Khartoum, Sudan which was destroyed last week by American missiles. First, Iraq did not produce a stable (Vx) precursor and could not weaponize suchprecursors at all. Second, as The Ministry of Information stated that this maneuver is part of an American Scenario to justify its armed aggression on brotherly Sudan, for despite the fact that the factory is only a pharmaceutical factory and there is much evidence that disputes the American false claims of the factory producing chemical weapons, yet the Americans insist on this scenario to cover-up its attack on the pharmaceutical factory.

Finally, as far as the allegations that Dr. Imad Al-Ani was cooperating with the Sudanese authorities, we categorically deny that. In fact he has never been to Sudan.