Sunday 30 April 2017

Islam; Religion of Peace

The Massacre at Chios (1824) by Eugène Delacroix
Turkish fleet under the Kapudan Pasha Nasuhzade Ali Pasha arrived on the island of Chios, Greece on 22 March 1822. They quickly pillaged and looted the town. On 31 March, orders were given to burn down the city, and over the next four months, an estimated 40,000 Turkish troops arrived. In addition to setting fires, the troops were ordered to kill all infants under three years old, all males 12 years of age and older, and all females 40 and older, except those willing to convert to Islam.  Approximately three-quarters of the population of 120,000 were killed, enslaved or died of disease. It is estimated that 2,000 people remained on the island after 21,000 managed to flee, 52,000 were enslaved and 52,000 massacred.Tens of thousands of survivors dispersed throughout Europe and became part of the Chian Diaspora. Another source says that approximately 20,000 Chians were killed or starved to death.

On Wednesday 27th of March, 2017, the Westminster terror saw the murder of 5 innocent people including PC Keith Palmer, also a father and a husband, guarding the oldest parliament in the world.  An attack on democracy met with British Prime Minister, Theresa May's defiant reply "We are not afraid, and our resolve will not waver in the face of Terrorism." On the 8th of April, we saw similar terror repeating itself on the streets of Stockholm, Sweden. The attacker this time hijacked a lorry belonging to the Swedish brewery Speedups and used it to ram pedestrians. On Sunday, Palm Sunday 9th of April we saw at least 36 people killed after blasts targeted Coptic Christians in a Church in Egypt. Not long afterwards saw the killing of a French police officer in a shooting incident on Champs-Élysées.  All events were attributed to directly to IS or Muslim terrorist splinter group sympathisers.  

Islam was never like this.  Despite the belief by some, then and now, the conquest of Jerusalem in 638, after a two-year siege, established a fact for Islam that both Christianity and Islam originate from the same tree, now there was no denying of Islam's status.  Over the following centuries up to the pre-Mongol period, Islam was well articulated, and its relaxed attitude gave room to both the rational, philosophical interpretation and spiritual understanding to both the Quran and the Hadith.  Baghdad, at the heart of the Abbassid Caliphate, and Cairo after it under the Mamluks were centres of learning and groundswell of knowledge.  Baghdad, in particular, was a multi-cultural city of Christians, Jews and Muslims lived and worked together.  Many of the greatest philosophers of the age of different faiths applied Aristotelian logic to Islam enriching the Arabic language in the process.  The teaching of a united faith accompanied the spread of the Muslim Empire, and that applied knowledge stretched more than any empire before it, from the far corners of the East to the Atlantic in the West.

Guarantees extended by Umar ibn-Al-Khattab of civil and religious liberty to Christians in exchange for 'jizya' largely turning Jerusalem into a vassal state.

With the onset of the Ottoman Empire, Islam I believe took on more of a political tool rather than had hitherto been both political and societal.  Misusing Islam for power and glory, and for domination of Christianity.  The Caliphate assumed by the Ottomans was a usurpation since none of those chosen was either from the Quraish clan nor a distant relative of the prophet or indeed from Mecca or Medina.  For manipulation and control of the Ottoman and the Millet societies, Islam became a tool under their auspices.  Strictly applying rules that more or less established the mythical beliefs and customs many Muslim believers today acknowledge as the word of God.  Ironically, these distortions diluted the practical meaning of religion instead gave rise to a more radical approach that has over the years culminated in further distancing from a real essence of the Faith.

That radicalism has in recent history taken a more malignant transformation; from Al Qaida, the world's foremost terrorist organisation to ISIS; a transnational terrorist group formed in Iraq post the 2003 American invasion.   Its proclamation of the Khalifa has enabled it to gather around its organisation Sunni followers from both Syria and Iraq who are disenchanted, disillusioned and disenfranchised but radicalised and violently militant.  Both organisations have also managed to attract young volunteers from around the world to strengthen their infrastructure while internationalising its reach in the process.  Isis, in particular, having assumed the Khalif in Mosul, though its authority remained unrecognised by most Muslim countries around the world, has nevertheless, became a fighting force spreading its ideology in Europe and elsewhere by terrorism.

Take Al Qaeda for instance once the driving force of Global Jihad has built a network of multinational operations across the Arab world and Northern and Central Africa. The message that comes across from this militant and violent organisation is one of terror, killing, slavery and beheading.  These brutal warnings are often accompanying Muslim slogans with excerpts taken out of the Koran justifying its actions.  Nothing there that suggests Islam's peace messages or its true essence on the contrary we see frightening figures that in Charlie Hebdo terrorist case in France 27% of British Muslims sympathise with Paris gunmen.  One wonders whether their principle message is to spread fear or their faith or both.  More often the message that is increasingly coming across is both; hence we see Islamophobia as well as sympathies on the increase.  In the absence of contrary peaceful messages from its legitimate individual leadership across the Muslim world, their discourse of Islam a "religion of peace" sounding more and more hollow.

Neither Isis nor al Qaeda will be going away anytime soon despite IS's loss of territory in Mosul, Iraq and Raqa, Syria.  The cutting of beards and tearing off face veils are only a temporary respite in false dawn of final liberation from the Islamic State menace.   A retreat is happening, but as a terrorist organisation, they are far from finished.   They are definitely on the back foot, coming on the back of a military onslaught started in October 2016 with the main thrust coming from air power of coalition forces, supported by the Iraqi Government army (Iraqi Special Forces) charged in penetrating deeper into the IS-held territory.  A generally held belief that by the end of 2017 IS would renounce their Khalifa and retreat into the desert, but that does not spell the end of the movement by any means. Though many of its fighters return to Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, etc.  it is estimated at that stage, they would still have 10,000 or so loyal hardcore fighters and mainly Sunni Muslims who believe enough in the Salafi ideology prepared to cross the bridge into Europe and cause further mayhem.  Just as the  Iraqi Army has regrouped to fight another day so will IS, supported by its sympathisers in Europe and elsewhere who will do their bidding.  It will be a beginning of a new story as an organisation moving from soldiers to insurgents.  The more they shrink militarily, the more attacks, suicide or otherwise, they will commit to civilian targets especially in countries currently engaged in offensives against it.

Since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and with it the last Khalifa in the shape of Abdulmecid II, described in 1922 as "a historic relic", Islam has lacked a universally accepted leadership and has ever since remained rudderless.  Influences of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda is spreading, and their militancy, intolerance and ideology can inspire people all over the world to carry attacks in their name.  The Social Media, a cost-effective tool serves an excellent conduit to recruit new volunteers to their cause who find comfort in its propaganda.  They may have lost territory and operatives and currently are on the run but are they likely to run out of steam? Not yet!  The third stage will be a change of tactics using a different strategy which means entry into the social fabric, a twenty-first-century strategy of networking within the Islamic societies around the world.

The brand will change, but the ideology of Salafi Jihadism remains the same hellbent to establish the Islamic States, and ultimately impose their own Khalifa and encouraging global jihadism and the Sharia Laws.  Once the enemy, the common cause infesting Mosul is eliminated the geopolitical terrain will need new cartography to define the new Mosul propagated from the new conflict that will attempt to devour it. That will leave IS, to put together new low maintenance ideological hubs, infiltrating Europe and elsewhere since ideological warfare is not a zero sum game of winning or losing. Unless there is one universally recognised Khalif, a legitimate central authority to defeat this spread, Salafi radicalism, intolerance is bound to grow. High time for a central authority to emulate Khalifa Umar humility who showed the meaning of tolerance and generosity in victory and strength. It is a challenge to the Muslim world that currently faced with a vacuum of ideas to contradict the spread of toxic fundamentalism that is doing untold damage to the Islamic character.

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