Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hamas and Islamic State

Ali Mamouri has written an article on why there is no love lost between Hamas and Islamic State (of Iraq and al-Sham) (see Why Islamic State has no sympathy for Hamas?). Ali argues that there are some doctrinal reasons why IS does not support Hamas:
Salafists believe that jihad must be performed under legitimate leadership. This argument is advanced through the “banner and commander” concept, which holds that whoever undertakes jihad must follow a commander who fulfills the criteria of religious and political leadership and has raised the banner of jihad. Given that there is neither a legitimate leader nor a Salafist-approved declaration of jihad in Palestine, fighting there is forbidden.
In addition, for Salafists, if non-Muslims control Islamic countries and apostates exist in the Islamic world, the Islamic world must be cleansed of them before all else. In short, the purification of Islamic society takes priority over combat against non-Islamic societies. On this basis, Salafists see conflict with an allegedly illegitimate Hamas government as a first step toward confrontation with Israel. Should the opportunity for military action present itself in the Palestinian territories, Salafists would fight Hamas and other factions deemed in need of “cleansing” from the land and engage Israel afterward.
This approach has its roots in Islamic history, which Salafists believe confirms the validity of their position. Relevant points of historical reference include the first caliphate of Abu Bakr, which gave priority to fighting apostates over expanding Islamic conquests, which occurred later, during the second caliphate, under Umar bin al-Khattab. Likewise, Saladin fought the Shiites and suppressed them before he engaged the crusaders in the Holy Land.
Salafists today see that their priority as fighting Shiites, “munafiqin” (dissemblers, or false Muslims) and apostates, whom they call the “close enemy.” During the current war in Gaza, a number of IS fighters have burned the Palestinian flag because they consider it a symbol of the decline of the Islamic world, which succumbed to national divisions through the creation of independent political states. In Salafist doctrine, the entire Islamic world must be united under a single state, an Islamic caliphate, which IS declared in late June.
So, there are two reasons:
  • According to Islamic doctrine, jihad is only allowed under a legitimate leadership and Hamas is not the legitimate leadership because it fights for democracy and a Palestinian state (while IS fights for God and for an Islamic state)
  • IS has to fight the apostate Muslims first, before fighting the non-Muslims. Purification comes before conquest. So, fighting Shias in Iraq and Syria comes before fighting Israel.
In a recent statement, IS tried to deflect the criticism that it is not helping Palestinians in Gaza by reiterating its commitment to liberating Palestine and destroying Israel. It asked Gazans to be patient as IS is working and is not interested in issuing empty statements like many Arab governments (See Gaza crisis: ISIS vows to help Palestinians fight barbaric Jews).

IS spokesman, Nuseiri, also argued that it is following a systematic approach and has a plan (See ISIS Spokesman Explains Why 'Islamic State' Not Supporting Hamas

However, he pointed out that ISIS has been taking a systematic approach in its campaign, and outlined six specific stages it said needed to be fulfilled before taking on Israel.
Some of those "stages" - building a firm base for an Islamic state in Iraq, and using it as a springboard to wage war in Syria and Lebanon - have already been achieved. But he said a number of other criteria still needed to be fulfilled before challenging Israel directly.
Among them, Nuseiri said that the US - seen as Israel's greatest ally - needed to be weakened politically and economically via attacks on the American mainland, as well as US interests in Muslim countries. Additionally, the existing "Islamic State" needed to expand its borders to cover all of "Greater Syria" (which would include Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and possibly Gaza); such a state, he said, would then be in a position for a direct confrontation with Israel.
IS statement can be taken as few practical considerations (which every successful movement has to take into account) in the expansion of IS Caliphate and this is how IS wants others to see it. However, these doctrinal and practical considerations can also be understood as a camouflage for nationalistic concerns. 

Doctrinally, the claim of legitimacy of IS is weaker than that of Hamas. Neither IS leadership is more pious, nor it has support/baya of most of the pious Muslim leadership. Moreover, jihad needs legitimate leadership when Muslims are attacking. When Muslim lands, homes and persons are attacked (as in Gaza), all Muslims are allowed/required to defend themselves, with or without legitimate leadership.

The argument about 'purifying' and killing apostate Muslims first and non-Muslims later is also weak. When Muslim women and children are being killed in hundreds, it is preposterous (and doctrinally indefensible) to not stop this massacre and focus on killing apostates. The fact of the matter is that IS's main enemies are Shias in both Syria and Iraq so it might also be way to legitimize its own actions. Moreover, as Salafist groups are challenging Hamas in Gaza, IS might want Israel to destroy Hamas so that more radical and doctrinally closer Gazan Salafists may take over.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Head of state must be a member of a certain religion

Following is the new factank article from Pew Research  Center (See In 30 countries heads of state must belong to a certain religion). It lists the countries that require their heads of states to have specific religion.

A new Pew Research analysis finds that 30 of the world’s countries (15%) belong to a unique group of nations that call for their heads of state to have a particular religious affiliation. From monarchies to republics, candidates (including descendants of royal monarchies) in these countries must belong to a specific religious group.
This list includes Lebanon, which requires its president to be a member of the Maronite Christian Church. On Wednesday, Lebanon’s parliament will make a ninth attempt since May at filling the office.
List of countries where the law requires a head of state to be of a certain religion.More than half of the countries with religion-related restrictions on their heads of state (17) maintain that the office must be held by a Muslim. In Jordan, for example, the heir to the throne must be a Muslim child of Muslim parents. In Tunisia, any Muslim male or female voter born in the country may qualify as a candidate for president. Malaysia, Pakistan and Mauritania also restrict their heads of state to Muslim citizens.
Two countries, Lebanon and Andorra, require their heads of state to have a Christian affiliation. Lebanon also has a religious requirement of its prime minister, who must be a Sunni Muslim.
Two other countries require the heads of their monarchies be Buddhist: Bhutan and Thailand. And one country, Indonesia, requires the official state belief in Pancasila to be upheld by its head of state. Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country; Pancasila is a summation of “common cultural elements” of Indonesia, including belief in God.
A handful of countries do not require a particular religious affiliation for heads of state, but do limit candidates for the office to laypersons. Eight countries, including Bolivia, Mexico and El Salvador, specifically prohibit clergy from running in presidential elections. In Burma (Myanmar), the president is prohibited from being a member of a religious order.
Countries where the head of state is a ceremonial monarch.In addition to the 30 countries in this analysis, another 19 nations have religious requirements for ceremonial monarchs who serve as their heads of state. Sixteen of these, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, are members of the Commonwealth of Nations with Queen Elizabeth II – also known as the Defender of the Faith – as their head of state. The other countries in this category are Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
Most of the world’s countries (85%) allow citizens of any religious affiliation to be head of state. In the United States, the Constitution specifically prohibits any kind of “religious test” as a qualification for holding federal or state public office. At the same time, a number of states still have laws on the books prohibiting nonbelievers from holding office. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that First Amendment’s prohibition on the establishment of religion clearly prohibits states from requiring office-holders to profess a belief in God.

Several comments questioned the analysis. For example, Pew's coding of Pancasila (nationalist philosophy of Indonesia) as a religion was considered strange. Others commented on the absence of Vatican state. I also found the analysis problematic and posted the following comments:

If the focus of the article is whether the position of head of state is restricted to members of a specific religion, then all countries that have such restrictions should be listed first. The distinction between the ‘ceremonial monarchs’ and other heads of state, if need be, should have been made later. The way article is organized, it gives a distorted picture.
The headline says, ‘In 30 countries, heads of state must belong to a certain religion’ and these 30 countries are listed and shown on the graph. This gives the impression that other countries do not have such restrictions. It is only later that the author remembers that there are some other countries that also restrict head of state to a certain religion. The obvious question is why these countries are not included in the headline count or the first list? The answer is not clearly given but the implicit suggestion is that these heads of state do not have real power.
This distinction is false as many countries included in the first list also have heads of state that do not have real power. One pertinent example is that of Malaysia. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, just like Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc. The Malaysian king (head of state) does not have real power, like the British monarch. But still Malaysia is not in the same list as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Similarly, Pakistan’s presidency (though not a monarchy) is also a ceremonial position with no real powers but still Pakistan is in the first list.
The issue discussed in the article was whether head of state has to be a member of a certain religion. Unfortunately, from the very start, this specificity was lost and other factors like power and type of political system influenced the choices/results of analysis.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Multivocality of Islam and Iranian population policies

Recent news reports point toward a major change in Iran’s population policy in near future. Worried about the falling birth rate and its consequences for country’s future, Iranian policy planners are reversing the population policy once again and hoping that the population will listen to them as it did twice before in the 1980s and 1990s.

While many Muslim ulema (traditionally trained scholars) would claim family planning is not allowed, Quran and Sunnah, the two main sources of Islamic law, are ambiguous on this issue. Family planning has been approved, partially approved and rejected using the same two sources. This multi-vocality of Islam has given the Muslim-majority states more leeway in designing population policies than the Catholic-majority states, though most of the Muslim-majority states have not used this leeway to the fullest extent. Iran is an exception in this regard. Though not giving full reproductive rights, Iran has managed to first convince its population to increase the birth rate and then decrease it to close to replacement levels, all in three decades. Let’s look at Iran’s population policies in a little more detail.

Rest of the blogpost can be read at Calgary Centre of Global Community who invited me to write on their blog here.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Modi, Prabowo and the threat to Indian and Indonesian civic nationalism

It is fascinating to compare India and Indonesia, two nations at critical junctures of their history. Narendra Modi, the current Indian Prime Minister and Prabowo Subianto, leading contender in the Indonesian presidential elections, are similar in promoting a strong nationalistic cum religious agenda. Despite lingering doubts about Modi and Prabowo's leadership qualities, they seemed to have captured the minds and hearts of many of their countrymen (and women). Can these strongly (religiously) nationalist leaders succeed in very diverse societies that are based on civic nationalism?

No doubt, India and Indonesia are different. Though both are very populous countries, India is much larger. In terms of nominal GDP, again Indian economy is more than double the size of Indonesian economy, although Indonesians are richer. Their political systems and history is also different. While India is a stable parliamentary democracy, Indonesia is a military-dominated state, still trying to find its feet as a fragile democracy. Moreover, majority religion of India is Hinduism whereas majority of Indonesians are Muslims.  

However, Indonesia and India also share many characteristics which makes their comparison compelling. Both Indonesia and India were successor states of colonial empires. As there was almost no history of a united India or a united Indonesia before colonial times, nationalist elites of both countries had to perform an exhausting balancing act. They had to fight against the colonial state but also try to preserve it. Preservation of the colonial state was difficult as not only the boundaries of the colonial state were new (similar to many other colonial states), but these states also had mind-boggling diversity. To deal with the ethnic/linguistic/religious/caste/tribal diversity, nationalist elites of both India and Indonesia adopted civil nationalism so that all communities can identify with the new state, ignoring the demands of many Hindus in India and many Muslims in Indonesia. This decision was one of the main reasons why both these states have not only managed to stay intact for the last sixty years but also showed impressive progress.          

Another similarity between Indonesia and India is the recent rise of new elites; elites quite different from the leaders that had governed both these countries since independence. For more than half a century, the civic nationalism imposed by the founding fathers of both states was not under threat. There was some criticism but it lacked broad popular support. Nineteen nineties brought a big change in both countries. Economic crisis in both countries (India in 1990-91 and Indonesia in 1997-98) jolted people out of their slumber and the spell that founding fathers' ideas had on the nation was broken. Suharto and aged Congress leadership, defenders of the old ideas, lost their grip on the country and were thrown out. New elites were 'outsiders'. Never before they had held power collectively. Their defining characteristics were overt religiosity and aggressive nationalism. This combination posed a threat to the civic and secular nationalism, both nations had adhered too since independence.  

While economic crisis was the immediate cause of changes in both countries, two long-term developments helped the cause of the new elite. First, inhabitants of these countries were socialized, using public education system and national print media, into myths of (inherent) national greatness and threats to this 'manifest destiny' from outsiders and insiders. This socialization process was not very different from what happens in other countries but, due to the huge size of these two countries, these myths became more real. Socialized on these myths of national greatness, public supported the strong nationalistic stance of the new elite. Second, the opening of large number of private TV channels in both these countries around the start of 21st century gave an enormous fillip to religious nationalism. To win the rating war, TV channels mass-produced programs on two themes which the majority of public can understand and appreciate i.e. religion and nationalism. These large doses of religion and nationalism fed to the public for the last fifteen years are now showing results. Modi's spectacular win is one such result and Prabowo's success in presidential election might be another.  

Though both are using religious nationalism to win support, Modi and Prabowo have very different backgrounds. Modi is a man with whom most poor Indians can relate to. He belongs to a low-caste and poor household and didn't had much education. Starting from the lowest rung of the political ladder, he rose to become the chief minister of Gujarat state of India in 2001 and then Prime Minister of India in 2014. 

Prabowo's background cannot be more different. One can argue, he was born into Indonesian royalty and married a princess. Prabowo's grandfather was one of the founding fathers of Indonesia and his father was a cabinet minister under President Suharto. Prabowo joined military and then married President Suharto's daughter. As a princeling, Prabowo got the most prized assignments and rose in military quickly. In 1998, he was serving as Lieutenant General, commanding the the key garrison near Jakarta. After his retirement for military, Prabowo became a successful businessman. More recently, he led the newly formed Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) that came third in 2014 legislative elections and now, according to some polls, he is leading the Indonesia's presidential race.

However, what unites Modi and Prabowo is their use of religious nationalism and the threat they pose to civic nationalism. They have been criticized for abetting or allowing massacre of religious minorities. While one can argue Modi really believes in Hindutva and Prabowo's attachment to religious nationalism is more instrumental, but we really do not know. Prabowo has strong support of the religious right and they obviously would demand more religion-based laws, if Prabowo won the presidential election. Prabowo's supporters, however, point to his brother and the major financier of his campaign (who is a Christian) and argue that Prabowo belief in civic nationalism (Pancasila ideology) is paramount.

Another factor that will effect the rise of religious nationalism under Modi and Prabowo is economy. Both of them are very pragmatic and know that economy is the make-or-break criterion for their success as leaders. Therefore, it is hoped that they will try to unite the nation and move ahead, rather then dividing the nation on religious lines. However, if the economy falters, it is not difficult to see them using religion to win again.