By Sarath de Alwis –
“Muslim fundamentalists are those who feel that the troubles of the Muslim world at the present time are the result not of insufficient modernization but of excessive modernization”~ (P144 Crisis of Islam -Bernard Lewis)
Terror takes tolerance hostage. The purpose of terror is to undermine our tolerant way of life. What motivates the perpetrators of terror?
To fight an idea, we must understand the idea. A comparatively small, disproportionately dynamic, unbelievably influential group that calls themselves ISIS are seeking to impose a totalitarian version of Islam on us and all other nations of the world.
The commonsense approach to solve the problem is to define who we are and accurately ascertain who they are.
First things first. Fighting ‘Velupillai Prabhakaran’ and fighting ‘Abubaker al Baghdadi’ are two different ball games.
We defeated a terrorist, call him the world’s worst and the most vicious or whatever. But he subscribed to the notion of the ‘modern nation state’. That is why he wanted and fought for a piece of the post-colonial nation state.
This new guy is different and drastically so. He rejects the notion of the modern state, the role of citizen in the polity and individual human rights. He has found fertile soil to sow his seeds of mindless butchery in Arabized towns and villages in our Eastern province.
We ended a thirty-year war. As Dr. Jayadeva Uyangoda noted at a recent event – the first anniversary of the weekly Sinhala broadsheet apocalyptically called ‘Anidda” the war did not result in a positive productive peace. Instead we had a negative peace. The good professor called it a ‘Nissheda Saamayak”.
More than a negative peace it is an impotent, confused directionless peace. The fault lines are further sharpened in the military imposed peace.
The most venerable Galagoda Atte Gnanasara thero is in prison for contempt of court. Now we learn that the venerable monk has correctly identified some perpetrators of the recent savagery. He has unmistakably warned about the danger they presented.
Now, his foresight is cited as a good reason to validate his dancing the merry jig before a judge presiding over the inquiry in to the disappearance of a cartoonist and imploring the distraught wife seeking closure to go beg on the streets instead of litigating to find out her husband’s fate.
As I said earlier, we have chaos and that in abundance. The Chaos we are in, is very real and thriving.
A former FBI operative Ali Soufan who spent eight years deeply embedded in counter terrorism in his book “Anatomy of Terror, points out that rounding up the terrorists alone does not address the problem. We must find out what these people believe in. “Ideology is the cornerstone of these organisations. That’s why we should not be distracted by different names, different groups – this is al-Qaida, this is Daesh etc, etc. We have to go into the glue that pulls these things together. It is ideology that we have to deal with If we don’t, we will continue to suffer for years to come.”
The shape and the shaping of the monster is not only important but is the single imperative before us. Yet a mild digression is called for.
Our well-known history scholar of Sri Lanka, Lorna Dewaraja in 1994 published a book ‘The Muslims of Sri Lanka – One Thousand Years of Ethnic Harmony 900-1915’
Her book narrates the trajectory of the relationship between the Sinhalese-majority community and the Muslim minority over a period of thousand years- from the time of Sri Lanka’s first known contacts with Islamic world in the eighth and ninth centuries till the beginnings of the British rule.
She examines the evolving mutually beneficial relationship between the migrant Muslim traders and the agricultural Sinhalese culminating in the structural assimilation of Muslims into the Kandyan body politic.
She provides a lucid account of how this process precluded or prevented the natural process of cultural assimilation where the migrant culture is totally submerged in the host culture.
The Muslims were loyal subjects of Sinhala kings who remained a distinct and cohesive group in the Kandyan Kingdom devoutly adhering to Islam and cultural attributes that survived their relocation.
This process of structural assimilation while insulating the migrant community from any erosion of their cultural distinctiveness was a unique process.
The Eastern province was a part of the Kandyan kingdom. The Eastern province that had the largest concentration of Muslims in the country was frozen in time and in their comfortable antiquity until M.H.M Ashraff discovered the value and the promise of Sri Lanka Muslim ethnoreligious identity under proportional representation and in the context of the 13th amendment. That is another story for another day.
Let us return to Global Islam. The legendary Islamic conqueror Khalid ibn Walid also known as the ‘Unbroken sword of God arrived on the border of Persia in the 7th century. He told the Persians “A people is already upon you who love death as you love life”.
The inexorable march of those who loved death over life crossed the Indus river and settled in the Gangetic plains. The world reconciled to the spread of Islam on Khalid ibn Walid’s haughty disdain for life and arrogant love of death in taking the message of the prophet to lands far from Arabia.
In 1854 Karl Marx wrote an essay – ‘History of the Eastern Question’ to the New York Herald Tribune. It was a discourse on the diplomatic horse trading by France and Britain with the Ottoman empire the last Caliphate to frustrate Russian expansion south.
Turkey was wiling but its mullahs and muftis were being difficult. The incisive mind of Marx makes a characteristically Marxian prognosis. He writes “The Koran and the Mussulman legislation emanating from it reduce the geography and ethnography of the various people to the simple and convenient distinction of two nations and of two countries; those of the Faithful and of the Infidels.”
To the clinical mind of Karl Marx, every Arab setting out of Arabia in a corsair ship was a portable empire builder!
Islam had its tryst with democracy and a pluralist democracy at that, when Mohamed Ali Jinnah persuaded the departing British to carve out Pakistan a Muslim majority state in the subcontinent.
When Pakistan was created in 1947 Jinnah who was doctrinaire secularist declared that non-Muslims would be equal citizens in the new country. Rest is history.
Pakistan is the first post-colonial modern nation state that embraced the terrifying tenor of the 7th century Muslim conqueror Khaled ibn Walid and his notion of religious purity.
Pakistan is not the subject of this essay. Today the Pakistani jurists who are outstanding legal scholars are in a deadly struggle to bring the anachronistic theocracy in to the 21st century.
Therein lies a way forward to our Muslim community now feeling trapped orphaned, insecure and yearning for the days of ethnic harmony described by Professor Lorna Dewaraja
Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani is a member of the Pakistan Supreme Court and the author of paper appropriately titled “Democracy and Islam: An Odyssey in Braving the Twenty-First Century.”
According to Justice Jillani, ‘Tauheed’ is “the foremost principle on which the political system in Islam is based.” Tauheed stipulates that sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty and requires that all authority exercised by people fall within limits prescribed by Him”
The concept of divine sovereignty according to Justice Jilani may “appear to be the antithesis of the concept of popular sovereignty” and therefore requires a careful interpretation that goes beyond a literal adoption. He points out that the more pragmatic interpretation of God’s sovereignty would be to regard man as the deputy of divine authority.
I do not wish to tread on grounds that angels avoid. The purpose of this missive is to point out the need for orthodoxy to reconcile with the essential paradigms of a modern democratic society.
Justice Jillani does not say it. But it must be stated and reiterated. That man is the true deputy exercising divine sovereignty is the principle the French discovered by storming the Bastille and putting God’s anointed monarch to the guillotine.
We adopted the principle tentatively courtesy Sir Ivor Jennings and more pronouncedly courtesy Dr. Colvin R de Silva and the 1972 republican constitution with one tiny fly in the ointment – Buddhism given the foremost place while guaranteeing religious freedom to all faiths.
In the tenth Parliament the Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress got up to congratulate the speaker on his election. The deputy speaker Anil Moonesinghe Trotskyite, Grand Nephew of Anagarika Dharmapala and later President of the Sri Lanka Mahabodhi society was presiding. The man who gave voice to the voiceless Muslims of the Eastern Province commenced his peroration recorded in Hansard.
“Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, La-ilaha Illallahu Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar Walillahil Hamdu … Hon Speaker, I have great pleasure in conveying our congratulations and felicitations on behalf of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress.
Some members interrupted. The Deputy Speaker called for order and let the SLMC leader proceed with his speech.
“Sir, this is the first time in the history of Parliament that a Muslim Member in his capacity as Leader of the Political Party has been given the opportunity of felicitating the Speaker. I am proud and thankful to Allahu Th’ala’ that I have been given this opportunity.”
Had our constitution been a strictly secular constitution the SLMC’s founder leader would not have been permitted to turn his perch in parliament in to a pulpit. What goes around comes around.
The identity politics of the SLMC served the narrow purpose of serving the short-term objectives of competitive electoral politics. I am not suggesting that the SLMC knowingly encouraged extremist jihadists.
The Eastern Province Muslims were our equivalent of the Russian peasantry who did not know of an electric bulb before the revolution. The 19th Century and the first two decades of the 20th Century skipped past them. They represented the classic post-colonial marginalized under the hegemony of Macan Markar, Faleel Gafoor type Muslim elite who dominated Muslim politics.
They were so dumb that they rejected Badi-ud-din Mahmud who made trained teachers out of Muslim girls who had hardly reached the eighth grade in secondary school. The SLMC opened the pandoras box. The Jihadists captured its contents.
In 2004, Abu Bakr Naji, a suspected al-Qaeda strategist, published an online manuscript entitled, The Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through Which the Umma Will Pass. It was translated into English in 2006 by William McCants, a fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center and published by John M Olins Institute of Strategic Studies of the Harvard University. (Any reference to it must carry this acknowledgement)
It is a must read for those who need to understand the minds of those unleashing mindless terror. Management of Savagery is a manual on how to create regions of savagery, how to exploit media attention and how to increase the number of jihadist recruits arising from the control of these regions. The strikes against economic targets are intended to undermine the self-determination of the nation-state controlling the region under attack. So, the ISIS threat is real, global and unmitigated trouble in an election year.