Wednesday, August 22, 2018

PH Reforms: We’ll Be Watching You

PH Reforms: We’ll Be Watching You

“There is many a slip between the cup and lip”
Ancient Asian proverb

1. The impetus that mobilized thousands of Malaysians onto the streets and millions to cast their votes for Pakatan Harapan is the yearning for reform. With the full cabinet in place and  the 14th Parliament first sitting repealing the Goods and Services Tax Act and the Anti-Fake News Act and enacting the Sales and Service Tax, Malaysians look forward to the implementation of the other long-awaited policy changes. The abovementioned ancient Asian proverb reminds us, in the short time gap between the two events that is, obtaining the electoral mandate to implementation of the reforms, certain forces can intervene and things can go wrong.

2. It has been a long and difficult road to elect PH into government. Many sacrificed not only their time and efforts but also their careers, faced baton charges, tear gas, suffered physical injury and loss of personal liberty to secure the historical change in government. However, the journey for reform is far from over. In fact, it is only the beginning. Winning the election is merely the first phase - obtaining the electoral mandate. We are now at the second phase - the design and formulation of the detailed reform policies. The third and most challenging phase is their implementation to secure and consolidate public acceptance of these reforms.

3. Vigilance is needed to ensure the electoral mandate given to PH is translated into the desired reforms and successfully implemented. Public opinion and public support are important both to prevail upon the PH Government to keep its promises and ensure the final form of the policy changes are in line with the voters’ aspirations as well as to guard against intervening forces blocking and snatching away the reforms from the jaws of victory.

4. The obvious parties who will seek to block the reforms are: 
a. First, the new opposition, UMNO and what is left of BN together with PAS; 
b. Second, economic elites whose business interests are intertwined with the previous regime, these are the rent-seekers; and 
c. Third, due to the politicization of the civil service and system of political patronage, those civil servants whose sympathies remain with the previous regime or whose personal interests lie against these reforms.

5. The PH Government faces its own difficulties in implementing the reforms in the PH Manifesto. This is because the government debt and financial position are worse than reported or have not been disclosed. The Government debt and liabilities including contingent liabilities and off-balance sheet financing exceeds RM 1.087 Trillion. There is a total shortfall of RM19.248 billion for GST refund from 2015 to 2018. The Prime Minister has said that the PH Manifesto should not be taken to be followed like a bible. PH must now do its best to fulfill the promises and find justifications for pledges that cannot be met.     

6. One of the reasons the PH Government finds it difficult to implement its promised reforms is the crucial Malay/Muslim vote. UMNO/ BN and PAS have continued unabated their rhetoric of “Race, Religion and Royalty.” The organizers of the “Himpunan Kebangkitan Ummah” (Gathering for Muslim Revival) held on 28 July 2018 at Kampong Baru, claim the interest of the Malay-Muslim majority are being eroded after PH led by Tun Mahathir won the elections.  UMNO/PAS naturally aim not only to retain the support of the 50% who voted for them (36% for BN and 14% for PAS) but also to win back the voters they lost to PH. Merdeka Center reports that only 25-30% of the Malays voted for PH while 34-40% voted BN and 30-33% supported PAS. The “swing voters” in this group is a significant intervening force to the successful implementation of reforms because of their capacity to determine electoral success or defeat in future elections.  

7. In the circumstances it must thus be acknowledged, the PH Government must tread carefully in framing issues deemed sensitive to Malays if they are to gain their trust. However, the PH Government must at the same time demonstrate its courage and leadership to chart a new trajectory for the nation. This is where the previous government failed. It was unable to muster the political will to push through the New Economic Model. When the going got tough, the then government quit. The PH Government must demonstrate it has the courage to act in the best interest of the nation. It will need much intestinal fortitude to carry out public engagement to explain the reforms and correct the misleading argument that inclusive economic policies are a zero-sum game. It is not true that what is good for one group means it must be bad for the other. Public engagement and public discourse are thus important to provide the people with the necessary information and explanation of the issues involved. Public opinion and public support are therefore important to sustain our policy makers in addressing the issues raised by the opposition political parties in their efforts to block the reforms.       

8. The second group, the rent-seeking entities, still have substantial commercial influence although their principals no longer hold the reins of political power. They have much to lose if these reforms are implemented. They will seek to obstruct and engage in a war of attrition to block the reforms in the hope for their mentors to be returned to political power. 

9. Public discourse will  reveal the difference between the interests of genuine businesses and the narrow interests of the “rent-seeking elites.” Public discussion will also expose the fallacies of the arguments by these “rent-seeking elites.” Public discussion will help channel public opinion towards policies that are in the interests of the greater good. It will show that policies valued by the public are consistent with the interests of responsible corporations and good business practice such as good governance, economic stability, welfare of all citizens and provision of assistance to all in need regardless of race and religion.         

10. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have repeatedly warned and reminded the third group, the civil servants, to  carry out their duties professionally. They are bound to ensure  the policies of the government of the day are successfully implemented. Despite such warnings and reminders, it appears certain civil servants may have abused their position to block the reformsThe situation has reached a level where the Attorney General, himself, has to issue a warning that those who leaked information to the previous regime in contravention of their obligations of confidentiality will be investigated and charged.

11. In order to deal with this third group, the PH Government may have to seriously consider implementing a policy of lustration and vetting. Lustration (from the Latin verb “lustrare”, to ceremonially purify) refers to a policy that seeks to cleanse a new regime from the remnants of the past.   

12. Until recently some scholars and practitioners believe transitional justice and its mechanisms of truth seeking, prosecution, reparations and institutional reform are meant to apply only to violations of civil and political rights involving physical injuries, killings or loss of personal freedom. There is now a growing number of advocates who believe that transitional justice mechanisms must apply also to violations of economic and social rights including crimes such as large-scale corruption and despoliation. Otherwise by leaving large scale corruption and plundering to ineffective domestic institutions and ordinary criminal trials, there is perpetuated an impunity gap with no accountability for economic crimes.      

13. Ukraine is among the first to include corruption in its lustration and vetting policy. Lustration is a policy that was put in place by post-conflict or post-authoritarian governments such as Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, the Baltics and Georgia to remove from public institutions personnel who have been implicated in activities that call into question their integrity and professionalism, such as human rights violations or abuses or corruption, as a way to build confidence in the public sector. Vetting is the process by which a lustration policy is put into effect. Vetting is a form of administrative, rather than criminal accountability. Lustration and vetting help to reform public institutions from being instruments of repression and corruption into entities dedicated to public service and marked by integrity and accountability. Criminal investigations and prosecutions take time, while a truth and reconciliation commission will not offer the people a proper catharsis when culprits may not seize the opportunity to tell the truth. A lustration and vetting policy will ensure those who have violated the trust repost in them by engaging in large scale corruption and massive embezzlement of state funds are not allowed to act with impunity and continue in office totally absent of accountability. Public discussion on the need and viability of a lustration and vetting policy will assist the policy makers in their deliberations.

14. The successful implementation of reforms is dependent on countering the first, second and third groups and winning the hearts and minds of the swing voters. Public opinion will remind the PH Government that taking care of its core supporters, especially on salient issues in the PH Manifesto are of critical importance. Where the people care about the issue, have meaningful opinions on it and support the political party and its candidates based on it then the politicians have to pay attention and respond to the public opinion on it. 

15. The point is a simple one. The Government of the day has to honour its election promises, be responsive to public opinion and the wishes of their constituents or face defeat in the next election. It will be highly irrational for policy makers seeking re-election to respond to pressure from the three groups; the opposition political parties, the rent-seekers and civil servants in a manner inconsistent with public opinion and wishes of the constituents who put them into government. 

16. The corollary to this is the public must pay attention to what the PH Government does or does not do with regard to implementation of the reform policies. Without such public scrutiny and responsiveness, policy makers may become complacent. They may have little incentive to carry out what the public wants or are lulled into believing there is no real cost for not doing so. For this reason the majority cannot afford to remain silent. Public opinion must reflect the voice of the majority, otherwise a vociferous minority may be wrongly taken as representing the opinion of the public when it is not so. All Malaysians have a duty to be watchful of the reforms and a right to express his or her opinion.

17. In the final analysis, it has been often said but it bears repeating that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. It is worthwhile for Malaysians to remind both the PH Government and BN/PAS opposition the following words written by Sting in the 1983  album “Synchronicity” :
“Every breath you take
  Every move you make
  Every bond you break 
  Every step you take 
  I’ll be watching you”   

William Leong Jee Keen
Member of Parliament Selayang
17 August 2018

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Taking on Religious Fundamentalism and Terrorism: Geostrategic Interest and Rise of Populism

William JK Leong Malaysian MP Selayang

Terrorism must be condemned without exception

Nothing justifies terrorism. It is criminal, inhuman, immoral and repulsive. It must be condemned unequivocally in the strongest terms. An act of violence designed to induce terror and fear on non-combatants for the purpose of a political goal must be condemned without qualification irrespective of its cause or whether perpetrated by friend or foe.

Where superpowers describe those who use violence to achieve political ends as “freedom fighters” when they are fighting the enemies of the superpowers but they are described as “terrorists” when fighting friends of the superpowers they encourage the illusion that victory or the validity of their cause would justify the brutality of their crime[1]. It can never be. History may be written by the victors but the wrongs will never be forgotten or forgiven.

Nelson Mandela and Menachem Begin are examples of Western Governments and media labelling them as terrorist and when they became the leaders of their liberated nations they were called “freedom fighters” and “statesmen.”[2] Osama bin Laden and the Afghan Mujahidin were hailed by the Saudi and US governments as heroes when they fought to rid the Soviets from Afghanistan but became terrorists when they attacked US interests to force the US military out of Saudi Arabia after the First Gulf War. Yesterday’s villains can be today’s heroes, today’s heroes may be tomorrow’s enemies but right and wrong cannot be based on which side you are on.   

The indiscriminate use of the word “terrorism” as a pejorative term to label one’s opponent and enemies has distorted its meaning. An act of terrorism cannot depend on one’s point of view or subjective moral judgment or whether one sympathizes with the victim or the perpetrator. The saying “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” is grossly misleading. A terrorist act is terrorism regardless of the validity of the cause.[3] Such gloss on the use of the term dilutes the force of the condemnation.

The United Nations failed to conclude a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that incorporates a single all-encompassing, legally binding, criminal definition of terrorism.  Noam Chomsky explains that in December 1987 the member states at the United Nations General Assembly passed a very strong resolution against terrorism, condemning it in the strongest terms, calling on every state to fight against it in every possible way. All approved, one abstained, Honduras. Two voted against, the United States and Israel. The reason, there was a paragraph which states nothing in the resolution infringes on the rights of people struggling against racists and colonialist regimes or foreign military occupation to continue resistance in their just cause. The United States could not agree because its official ally, South Africa had denounced the African National Congress struggling against a racist regime as a terrorist group. And of course Israel supported by the United States was at that time occupying Southern Lebanon. A US vote against is a veto. It also vetoes it from history.  None of this was ever reported and none appear in the annals of terrorism.[4]

There is also no international legal consensus that the definition of “terrorism” should include “state terrorism.”  There are arguments for and against that terrorism is not committed by states. It is contended that when states abuse their powers they should be judged against international conventions dealing with war crimes and international human rights law. However, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said that it is “time to set aside debates on so-called ‘state terrorism’. The use of force by states is already regulated under international law”. Annan said “…regardless of the differences between governments on the question of definition of terrorism, what is clear and what we can all agree on is any deliberate attack on innocent civilians, regardless of one’s cause, is unacceptable and fits into the definition of terrorism”[5]       

Therefore ISIS, Boko Haram and all other terrorist organizations that resort to killing innocent people, raping, kidnapping and forced conversions have no legitimacy whatsoever and the term Islam or Islamic whether fundamentalist or any kind cannot be ascribed to them. Terror in the name of Islam is not Islam. It is not in Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism or any religion to kill. Terrorism is not a Holy War. It is unholy, it is evil.     

Thus the ulema, Muslim clerics, influential Muslim organizations and all eminent Muslim Democrats must condemn not just these extreme and violent groups but also the dictatorships and autocratic regimes in the Muslim world that have persistently denied democratic rights to their citizens and violated their human rights.

By the same token we cannot stay silent and must condemn with equal vigour those who support dictatorships and autocratic regimes, be political and economic partners with states who support literalist Salafi doctrine, be silent when civilians are massacred in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Palestine.

Violence, terror and death have become commonplace in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, in Africa and Asia with the unilateral declaration of the “War on Terror”, the non-existent weapons of mass destruction for the invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein and his regime. It begins with European and American foreign policy and loss of civilian lives a footnote under acceptable collateral damage. The US in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, Yemen, has repeatedly attacked civilian facilities such as hospitals and schools. A US airstrike on 6 July 2008 killed civilians in a wedding party including the bride in Afghanistan. On October 9 2016 US-armed Saudi coalition bombed a Yemen funeral killing 140 and wounding 525. The 2014 Israeli military operation in Gaza to stop Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel resulted in the death of thousands, the vast majority of whom were Gaza residents. Various human rights groups contended both sides violated international laws and committed war crimes. The United States Congress expressed vigorous support for Israel and passed legislation providing Israel with an additional USD225 million in military aid for missile defense. While nothing can justify terrorist attacks, the condemnable action should not blind us to the root causes. Is it right to declare war when citizens are killed at home but consider themselves at peace when they kill the citizens of other countries far away?[6]

Salafism and Geostrategic interests

The Saudi Arabian oil reserves are an important reason for US support of the Saudi Kingdom. Every US President since President Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama has worked with the Saudi monarchy.

Saudi Arabia has spent an estimated US100 billion over decades to promote its Salafism Islam in building mosques, madrasas, schools and Sunni cultural centres across the Muslim world. ISIS’s ideology has its roots in Salafism.[7]

Wikileaks email reveals that Hillary Clinton acknowledged to colleagues that Saudi Arabia and Qatar sponsor ISIS. The leaked August 17, 2014 email by Hillary Clinton said “…we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”[8]

The West cannot be driven solely by their own geostrategic and economic interests they risk paying a heavy human price in response to the injustice and humiliation they have provoked.

Condemnation of those who commit terrorism, violence, violation of international laws, war crimes cannot be qualified by subjective moral judgment or dependent on whether they are committed by friend or foe. Terrorism must be condemned without exception. We grieve with those who held thousands of candle lights for the victims of the terrorists, but was there even one candle for the thousands killed in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Africa and Asia?

Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood

The lack of an accepted meaning for “terrorism” continues to create problems. Once again, a former military official turned dictator rules Egypt. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime is an even harsher authoritarian regime than Hosni Mubarak’s. Sisi wants to crush the Muslim Brotherhood. Many Egyptians have good reason to be angry with the Muslim Brotherhood who, in their brief time, proved incompetent, authoritarian and sectarian. Yet the Brotherhood has deep roots in Egyptian society. The Muslim Brotherhood has for decades sought political power through elections and non-violent means, US Congress is currently considering Sisi’s request to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation. US declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization will improve ties with Sisi but it would be condoning his brutal repression[9]. It would be history repeating itself.

A Rigorous Religious Counter-Narrative

The use of military force in Iraq and Syria is not enough to end Jihadist terrorism. There must be a counter-narrative to challenge the narrative of ISIS and Jihadist groups. Such a counter-narrative is needed to stop the flow of misled young people joining ISIS and Jihadist groups as fighters. Jihadi recruiters prey on frustrated youth, radicalizing and indoctrinating them by painting tales of glory to right the wrongs of history and mankind against Muslims to justify violence.

ISIS has brought terrorist propaganda to a new level. ISIS recruits its fighters from all over the world turning them into brutal killers of both Muslims and non-Muslims, programming them to make the ultimate sacrifice as suicide bombers. ISIS is able to convince young women and girls to leave their homes from Europe, South East Asia and Australia to perform their Jihad by becoming comfort women to the ISIS fighters.

ISIS is able to do this because it is very much in cyberspace. It is on the internet where its claims often go unchallenged. With its propaganda in the social media and with some of its video footage also broadcast in mainstream media, ISIS has caught the imagination of a considerable number of young Muslims all over the world. They are attracted by its violent messages and catchy slogans. Its apparent success has also led to a number of instant conversions to Islam among marginalized non-Muslim youth in Western countries. The media campaign of ISIS is very professional by any standards with high quality visual footage and well-crafted ideological statements attracting young Muslims and some recent converts to Islam to join its ranks. Per day, ISIS produces up to 90,000 tweets and other social media responses – a volume of activity unmatched by government messaging. According to the American FBI Director, James Comey, ISIS has been issuing statements in almost 2 dozen languages. It is estimated more than 20,000 fighters from more than 100 countries joined ISIS and other Jihadis organizations.[10]

In the United Kingdom, its Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit has secured the removal of more than 120,000 pieces of terror-related content between 2010 and 2016. On average about 100 removal requests per day contain Syria-related content, which would amount to 36,500 requests per year. The EU Internet Referral Unit made over 500 referrals in the first 16 weeks after it was established in July 2015 of which 90% were successfully removed. Between mid-2015 and February 2016, Twitter had suspended over 125,000 accounts globally that were linked to terrorists. Google removed over 14 million videos globally in 2014 which related to all kinds of abuses.[11]

Despite these efforts, 800 UK-linked fighters are estimated to have travelled to Syria and Iraq since the conflicts began in those countries, 50% of these are thought to have returned. Terrorism-related arrests in UK were 35% higher in 2015 than in 2010.

Countering terrorist cyber propaganda is not achieved just by setting up more websites or having more tweets than them. Ideology and religion are crucial and central for legitimising jihadist violence. There must be a counter-narrative based on facts, rational reasoning and rigorous religious arguments by Muslim scholars and leaders that have the necessary credibility and standing in the eyes of the young Muslims. Only then can they be made to see ISIS is a death cult that kills mainly Muslims and discredits rather than defends Islam.    

It is also necessary to develop credible alternative narratives that Islam is not the answer to their political, economic and social problems and to give a new sense of purpose, meaning and hope to those who feel they have no future in their societies.

The Politics of Fear

The terror attacks are just “mad”, “irrational” and “inhuman”. If we wipe away the tears, the smoke and see through the blind emotional reaction stoked by fear and terror, there is method to the madness. In fact it makes perfect logical sense. It is about provoking fractures between Muslims and the citizens of the West. It is about making Muslims feel they will never be welcome in European, American or any Western society. Their goal is to use Muslims to feed fear of Islam; for the West to associate Islam with danger and violence. It is to spread insecurity and social instability along religious fault lines.

As terrorist attacks continue, Islamophobia is spreading all around the world. As a consequence, bona fide Muslim organizations and Muslim democrats become targets even as ordinary Muslims fall prey to “hate crimes.”

In responding to the terrorist attacks, it is important to keep in mind that jihadists and extremists do not represent Muslims. There is a growing body of literature that claims that over-reaction to terrorism causes more terrorism. It appears that many acts of terrorism is motivated by revenge for acts of repression, injustice and humiliation. The democratic, rule of law-based states have to find a balance between freedom and security. Although there cannot be freedom without security and people generally opts for security first over liberty, if the state overreacts to terrorist provocations and become very repressive and aggressive, it often produces additional mobilization on the other side. It is now widely accepted the invasion of Iraq, the Abu Ghraib prison atrocities have contributed to both radicalization and recruitment to al-Qaeda.[12]

So intense is the demonizing of Muslim extremists today that, in dealing with individual suspects, everything seems to be permitted. While it is normal to detain persons who are acting suspiciously in order to forestall terrorist actions, the arrest and indefinite preventive detention of individuals without respecting their right to a legal defense cannot be considered legitimate. Men have been imprisoned under anti-terrorist security laws who do not know what they are accused of and without judgment. What we observe today as a result of the politics of fear is a danger, above all for the West itself, the abandoning of its principles: extraordinary renditions, detention without trial, torture, incarceration and solitary confinement, degrading treatment incompatible with the professed values of human rights and dignity. UK programmes like PREVENT have been under heavy criticisms for their discriminatory approach.[13] In the fight against terrorists the West have transformed into monsters violating the very rules that the West claim to protect, the system based on the rule of law and human rights.[14]

Kofi Annan had warned “…compromising human rights cannot serve the struggle against terrorism. On the contrary, it facilitates achievement of the terrorist’s objective. By ceding him the moral high ground, and provoking tension, hatred and mistrust of government among precisely those parts of the population where it is most likely to find recruits. Upholding human rights is not merely compatible with a successful counter-terrorism strategy. It is an essential element in it.”[15]

We have to be mindful that the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist’s objective is to provoke mistrust of government and society against Muslims.  As Anwar Ibrahim said Islamic terror groups, the self-righteous and self-proclaimed defenders of the faith, are stabbing the religion in the back by preaching intolerance and animosity. These groups are using jihad as an excuse to justify their violence, trying to outdo one another in their demonstration of faith. He said these groups went against what Prophet Muhammad had done, who despite facing many difficulties and obstacles during the spread of Islam, had shown compassion, tolerance and commitment to dakwah, not violence.[16] He asked:
“Where does it say that Muslims should avenge the prophet by attacking and going on a killing spree?”

Terrorists and murderers are and will continue to kill and maim to do battle against the whole world including Muslims, it is to ferment Islamophobia.

Knowing that groups like Boko Haram, ISIS and terrorist groups want to instill fear and deepen divisions on an international level, we must guard against a natural reaction to the terrorist acts which is defining ourselves as Muslims and non-Muslims, “Us” against “Them.”

Tariq Ramadan issues the same reminder against turning to populism that narrowly defines the “Other” and holds him responsible for all society’s ills because of what he is: precisely the definition of racism and of the politics of fear. It will drive the West so powerful and yet so fearful, so far from its ideals, so near to its demons.

Unfortunately, after the US Presidential elections, Barack Obama noted the world is entering a new illiberal era. Populism is on the march. Immigration is an explosive issue for whom populists from US to Europe strongly oppose. Among the reasons are political entrepreneurs fanning fear and latent prejudice. This has given rise to fear, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. There is no substitute for political will and enlightened leadership, the kind that, instead of pandering to people’s worst instincts, appeals to their better judgment. 

Fundamentalist Islam

To counter Jihadist ideology and use of religion, we need to know more of the precepts of Fundamentalist Islam. Fundamentalist Islam is a contemporary phenomenon of approximately only 100 years. The movement was a reaction to the frailty and weakness of Islamic countries compared with their glorious pasts. Fundamentalism emerged not out of conservative circles but rather reformist movements which were aiming for an “Islamic Awakening.”[17]

The goal of fundamentalism in fact is to return to the “sacred texts” carefully executing what it says, without interpretations, and rejecting the official and more conservative, historical interpretations of it. For the fundamentalists, a return to the original and primary reading and avoiding any latter interpretations is the solution to all current problems.

The idea of an Islamic state characterized by the implementation of sharia is a modern phenomenon developed by Abul A’la Maududi in the context of British colonial rule and the identity politics of the Indian Subcontinental. In response to the Muslim League’s calls for a Muslim state of Pakistan, Hindu calls for a secular India and communist calls for a socialist state, Maududi called for the establishment of an Islamic state. Maududi’s concept found support among influential Islamic thinkers and leaders. Sayyid Qutb built on Maududi’s works in his book, “Milestones”. He took the core concepts of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and Maududi, reshaped and sharpened them to exhort Muslims to radical action.[18]

Like Hassan al-Banna and Maududi, Qutb regarded the West as the historic enemy of Islam and Muslims as demonstrated by the Crusades, European colonialism and the Cold War. The Western threat was political, economic and religio-cultural. Equally insidious were the elites of the Muslim world who rule and govern according to Western secular principles and values that threaten the faith, identity, and values of their own Islamic societies. Qutb denounced governments and Western secular-oriented elites as atheist against whom all true believers must wage Holy war.

Fundamentalist Islam seeks to establish an Islamic state ruled by sharia. They apply a literal interpretation of the primary sources of Islam and harken back to earlier times to return to the fundamentals of the religion which is out of line with modern times. They apply the teachings of Sayyid Qutb in his book “Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (Milestones) or guiding markers along the road that will lead to the revival of Islam from its current extinction. According to Qutb the Muslim community has been extinct for a few centuries and reverted to “Jahilyyah” (the state of ignorance of the guidance of God) because those who call themselves Muslims failed to follow the laws of God or sharia. When God’s law is established on earth, it will lead to blessings on all mankind. What is non-Muslim or “jahiliyyah” is evil and corrupt and its existence anywhere is intolerable to true Muslims. To restore Islam on earth and free Muslims from jahli society, jahili concepts, jahili traditions and jahili leadership, Qutb teaches that a vanguard (tali’a) is to be formed modelling itself after the original Muslims, the companions (Sahaba) of Muhammad. Qutb believes these Muslims to successfully vanquish Jahiliyyah have to do carry out two duties:
·                They have to cut themselves off from Jahiliyyah- they have to ignore the learning and culture of non-Muslim groups; (Greeks, Romans, Persians, Christians or Jews) and separate themselves from their old non-Muslim friends and family;
·                They have look to the Quran, not as learning and information or solution to problems but for orders to obey.

Following these principles the vanguard will fight Jahiliyyah; by preaching and through the “the movement.” Preaching will persuade people to become true Muslims while the movement will abolish the organizations and authority of the jahili system by physical power and Jihad. Force is necessary, Qutb explains, because it is naïve to expect those who have usurped the authority of God to give up their power without a fight.

Remaining aloof from Jahiliyyah, the vanguard will travel the road growing from a cell of three individuals to ten and ten to hundred until there are thousands and blossom into a truly Islamic community. The community may start in the homeland of Islam but its objective must be to carry Islam throughout the earth to the whole of mankind.  

This is the ideology and narrative the Al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Jihadists use. An alternative to this fundamentalist approach is critical to counter terrorism and also to re-think the religion to bring it to be compatible with modernity.

Maqasid al-Sharia

Since Jihadi recruiters use religion as a political tool, to defeat them there must be a response with solid and rigorous religious arguments. Religion is use as a tool to disguise political aspirations, lust for power. It is Machiavellian and inhuman.

Who can be the messengers of the counter-narrative and what is the content? There are those re-thinking Islam applying maqasid al-sharia and ijtihad. There is an increasing number of Muslim scholars and political leaders who utilize rigorous, historical and texture analysis to re-examine, reconcile and re-think the role of Islam in a secular state and related issues to bring modern concepts of democracy, human rights, inclusivity, tolerance, pluralism and religious freedom to be comparable to Islam’s universal concepts. They assert good governance, economic development, inclusiveness, protecting basic rights and freedoms are Islamic objectives adopting a maqasid approach and ijtihad.   

The content must satisfy rigorous conditions. The road to Islamic re-thinking despite its twists and turns cannot reach its destination without passing through the gates of Islamic authoritative traditions. Those re-thinking Islam have to frame the narrative and discourse to engage Muslims in accordance with the practices and authority of Islamic traditions. This is a critical problem that all religious scholars or leaders of whatever faith face. They need to demonstrate a relationship between the re-thinking and the authority of tradition. The re-thinkers must show some form of continuity between tradition and change. For Muslims, the interpretations and practices sanctioned by the ijma of the past, the classic Islamic traditions, consensus of religious scholars or ijma represents the source of religious authority. If the re-thinkers are unable to establish the necessary link or continuity between the authoritative ijma of the past and modernity, their effort to effect change will fail.[19]

These Islamic intellectuals such as Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Tariq Ramadan, Dr Nurcholish Majid, Abdullah Ahmed An-Naim, Abdul Aziz Sachedina and Islamic political leaders such as Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim and Tunisia’s Rachid Ghanouchi have striven to demonstrate Islam’s compatibility with modernity, democracy, human rights, gender equality, pluralism and peaceful co-existence with non-Muslims.

Islamic political parties have struggled for decades to find the appropriate balance between Islam and modernity. Ijtihad and the maqasid al-sharia approach enables these parties to maintain Islamic legitimacy while evolving from ideology-oriented to policy-oriented parties and thereby responding to the needs and aspirations of broad constituencies.

Maqasid provides an alternative to the generally anti-Western, ideology-oriented, focused on moralistic discourse and defined by their commitment to establishing an Islamic state based on the implementation of sharia law.

Anwar Ibrahim has explained that: “The maqasid-al-sharia (higher objectives of the sharia) sanctify the preservation of religion, life, intellect, family, and wealth, objectives that bear striking resemblance to Lockean ideals that would be expounded centuries later. Many scholars have explained that laws which contravene the maqasid must be revised or amended to bring them in line with the higher objectives and to ensure that they contribute to the safety and development of the individual and society. Notwithstanding the current malaise of authoritarianism plaguing the Muslim world, there can be no question that several crucial elements of constitutional democracy and civil society are also moral imperatives in Islam- freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, and the sanctity of life and property-as demonstrated very clearly by the Koran, as well as by the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad” [20]

Rachid al-Ghannouchi, Anwar Ibrahim and others are teaching that there is an alternative to the fundamentalist approach that democracy is not compatible with Islam. These Muslim Democrats show that the principles of Islam can be compatible with modern democracy. Ghannouchi’s party, Ennada in May this year announced a historic transition from an Islamist party to a party of Muslim democrats.

We need to support and give these re-thinkers the room and opportunity to provide the Counter-Narrative. Unfortunately, many obstacles are placed in their paths to prevent the Counter-Narrative from being told, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim lost his teaching position in Al Azhar, his teacher Mahmoud Mohamed Taha was hanged by the Gafaar Numeiri government for apostasy, these re-thinkers face harassment, threats, arrests and some like Anwar Ibrahim are put into prison.


While we see light with the emergence of Muslim Democrats calling for inclusiveness and democratic values, the rise of populism with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States who said he would “bomb the s---- out of them” creates great concern. Hopefully as Obama seeks to reassure the rest of the world: “How you campaign isn’t always how you govern” otherwise Islamist terrorists may find Donald Trump to be a Godsend for their cause, just as one photo of the atrocities in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay recruited more impressionable minds to join the terrorists than a hundred Jihadist recruiters could have done.

21 November 2016

[1] Eqbal Ahmad, Terrorism: theirs and Ours
[2] Theodure P. Seto, The Morality of Terrorism, The Times published on July 23 1946 described Irgun as Jewish terrorist of which Menachem Begin was a leading member; Lord Desai Hansard house of Lords September 3 1998; Jomo Kenyatta, nelson Mandela and Menachem Begin-to give just three examples- were all denounced as terrorists but all proved to be successful political leaders of their countries and good friends of the United Kingdom.
[3]Adrian Humphreys, One Official’s ‘refugee’ is another’s ‘terrorist’
[4] Noam Chomsky, What is Terrorism?
[5] Press conference with Kofi Annan and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, United nations 2009-03-25
[6] Tariq Ramadan March 25, 2016 “Terror isn’t just ‘mad,’ ‘irrational’ and ‘inhuman’
[7] The Week August 8, 2015: How Saudi Arabia exports radical Islam
[8] Your October 12, 2016 Wikileaks: Hillary Confirms Saudi Arabia Sponsor ISIS
[9] Steven Cook, Egypt’s Nightmare, Foreign Affairs November/December 2016
[10] Dr Alex P. Schmid: Challenging the Narrative of the “Islamic State” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism
[11] House of Commons, Home Affairs Committee; Radicalisation: the counter-narrative and identifying the tipping point July 19 2016
[12] Dr Alex P. Schmid: Radicalisation, de-Radicalisation, Counter-Radicalisation: A Conceptual Discussion and Literature Review ICCT  March 2013
[13] Tariq Ramadan The Politics of fear: how Britain’s anti-extremism strategy has failed; The Guardian October 19, 2016 UK’s Prevent counter-radicalisation policy ‘badly flawed’; House of Commons, Radicalisation: The counter-narrative and identifying the tipping point.
[14] Tariq Ramadan, Salafi jihadism and the West
[15] Kofi Annan March 10, 2005 “A Global Strategy for Fighting Terrorism”
[16] Anwar Ibrahim June 2, 2015: “Extremists Stabbing Islam in the Back” International Youth Gathering 2015
[17] Ali Mamouri, “The Roots of Radicalism in Political Islam” Al-Monitor
[18] Halim Rane, The Relevance of a Maqasid Approach for political islam Post Arab Revolutions, Journal of law & Religion Vol XXVIII page 489 
[19] John L Esposito, Rethinking Islam and Secularism, Association of Religion Data Archives 
[20] Anwar Ibrahim, Universal Values and Muslim Democracy 17 J. Democracy 7 July 2006