By Zahid Hussain
The gathering in Moscow of disparate Afghan groups and regional players last week is indicative of the shifting sands of regional geopolitics. Described as the ‘Moscow format’, the Russian initiative is seen as a significant move to finding a regional solution to the protracted Afghan war. The spectacle of a former invading power hosting old foes was, indeed, remarkable.
Despite the strong reservations of Kabul and Washington on the format, 11 countries were represented in the talks. It was the first time that the Afghan Taliban were invited to an international forum. More significant was the fact that the insurgents shared the platform with Afghan delegates.
Although the Kabul government did not officially participate in the talks, the presence of members of the High Peace Council, which oversees peace efforts, and individual Afghan leaders was highly significant. The US, too, had sent observers. The conference may not have broken the stalemate but certainly melted some ice. It was, indeed, a diplomatic triumph for the Afghan Taliban.
Surely, the ‘Moscow format’ cannot be seen as a parallel peace move; it aims mainly at building greater regional understanding on the issue. This initiative signifies a certain shift in the Russian policy, beyond merely reactive patterns, to adopt the role of a more proactive player in Afghanistan and in the region. The regionalisation of Russia’s policy on Afghanistan is dictated by shifting power dynamics in the area.
Although it was the first time Moscow had officially invited the Afghan Taliban, the two sides had already established contact earlier. There have been some reports of Russia providing financial and material support to the Afghan insurgents. That has caused serious concerns in Kabul and Washington. The meeting was initially planned for August, but was postponed at the insistence of the Kabul government.
Russia has become more actively involved in Afghan affairs in the past few years. Moscow has held a series of consultations with regional countries including China, Pakistan, Iran and India. Curiously, Afghanistan was kept out of the first two meetings evoking scepticism about the process going anywhere. The last such meeting took place in 2017. The underlying reason for the initiative was the growing concern regarding the spill over effect of the Afghan crisis in the region. The move was also a manifestation of Russia’s assertion of its diplomatic power amidst growing frustration over the US failure to deliver peace in Afghanistan.
Another cause of anxiety has been the threat of the militant Islamic State group spreading its tentacles in the war-torn country. The Russian initiative to build a regional alliance to counter the IS threat points to a new alignment of forces in a changing geopolitical landscape. But those parleys could not make much headway in the absence of the main parties to the conflict. The latest ‘Moscow format’, however, seems to have had greater impact with the participation of the Taliban and some important Afghan leaders.
Pakistan shares Moscow’s concerns and sees some hope of the new regional format being in a better position to persuade the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table. But it will not be so easy given the complexities involving the problem. The participation in the Moscow meeting has certainly strengthened the Taliban’s position and provided it with greater international recognition.
As the Taliban have vastly strengthened their hand in the battlefield in recent years, there seems to be no flexibility in its position. In a statement, the insurgent group said that the participation in the Moscow meeting was not about holding negotiations ‘with any side’.
Interestingly, the Russian initiative came as the Trump administration agreed to hold direct negotiations with the Taliban. It marked a shift from the long-standing US position that any peace negotiations should be led by the Kabul government. There have already been two rounds of talks between senior US officials and representatives of the Taliban. But no significant breakthrough has been achieved that could pave the way for structured peace talks.
Although Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in principle had endorsed direct talks between the US and the Taliban, he was reportedly not informed about the latest meeting, causing anger among Afghan government officials.
A veteran US diplomat of Afghan origin, Zalmay Khalilzad, was appointed as special American envoy on Afghanistan three months ago with a mandate to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. As a former ambassador to Afghanistan, he feels he is the right man for the job largely because of his ethnicity. No public statement has been issued by Washington following last month’s talks in Doha. However, a Taliban communiqué said that the meeting focused on ending the occupation and working towards finding a peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict.
The insurgents have refused to back down from their hard-line stance of not talking to the Kabul government. They have also demanded the lifting of UN travel sanctions on Taliban leaders including the five who were freed from Guantanamo in 2014. The Taliban’s position has further hardened with their success on the battlefield.
Meanwhile, it has been pointed out that the assassination of Gen Abdul Raziq, the dreaded police chief of Kandahar, and two other top officials may cast a shadow over the future round of talks between the US and Taliban representatives. The audacious attack on a security conference — also attended by America’s top military commander — came days after Khalilzad met senior Taliban leaders in Doha. The Taliban, while claiming responsibility for the attack, said that they had intended to target Gen Scott Miller, the commander of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.
However, there is no indication that Gen Raziq’s assassination will cause any change in the US administration’s policy to engage with the Taliban
While the Moscow meeting has delivered some positive results by bringing together the Taliban representatives, Afghan leaders and regional countries, no political settlement of the Afghan crisis is possible without US support. The American decision to hold direct talks with the Taliban is certainly a step forward, but there is still no plan that could lead to a set of structured negotiations.
While the Dust is settling in New Zealand
By SPAHIC OMER
While the dust is settling in the aftermath of shootings at two mosques in New Zealand, some rather bigger and more consequential truths and dimensions start emerging. Undoubtedly, the killed brothers and sisters are global heroes. They are also martyrs and Jannah (Paradise)-bound (Insha’Allah we most sincerely hope and pray for them).
Whereas the murderer will spend the rest of his miserable life in jail languishing therein (given that New Zealand since 1961 does not have the death penalty for murder), will die smaller and less significant than when he was born, and, ultimately, is Jahannam(Hell)-bound. Truly, the victims have been given a new and far better life, and so, have been in a certain way set free, while the killer and his agenda have perished as soon as they came to the fore of reality and started rearing their ugly heads.
What matters at the end of the day is to live and die with honour and dignity, irrespective of circumstances. What lies between and around those parameters is part of a bigger and to us incomprehensible ontological picture.
In the meantime, virtually the whole world – regardless of the level of many individuals’ and groups’ honesty, or otherwise – is propagating what the true Islam is and who the true Muslims are. In reality, everyone is promoting and preaching Islam, one way or another: from mosques and parliaments, to coffee-shops, homes and media. Debates about Islam, Muslims, the Qur’an, the Prophet (pbuh) and mosques continue – and will for a long time – unabated.
The situation is rivalled perhaps only by what transpired after 9/11.
The phenomenon is positively contributing to silencing the isolated pockets of perpetual hate, bigotry and bona fide terror, and is extinguishing the fading flames of their meaning, purpose and appeal. Despite the tragic and regrettable side of the events, the opportunity that such events presented should be leveraged and sustained. It is not always that most of the world is favourably disposed to the affairs of Islam and Muslims. Overtures are being received from all sides including such as were hardly imaginable before.
By making the most of the presented opportunities, the innocent lives would not be seen as lost in vain. The losses will thus become yet more meaningful as well as impactful. The victims’ rewards will also be greatly amplified thereby.
Hence, Muslims should become braver and more proactive in convincing the world as to who exactly they are, what their Islam is, and what they are living for and how. They should go on the offensive, rather than being perennially on the defensive. There should be no more place for excessive apologetic tendencies.
Such a strategy did not bring much sense, nor benefit, to anybody: neither to Muslims in advancing their Islamic civilizational cause, nor to non-Muslims in coming to terms with the same. Muslims should not unduly worry or be afraid, for a truthful person on an extraordinary mission fears nobody and nothing. Indeed, nothing but truth, light, and clarity of existential mission and purpose are identifiable with courage and gallantry, just as falsehood, darkness, and evil are identifiable with cowardice and its associates. Hence, the New Zealand murderer thought he was brave and would become a hero if he killed innocent and unarmed civilians (worshipers).
However, that is exactly what his victims are, and he, on the other hand, has already become a symbol of gutlessness, idiocy, and villainy. He is furthermore met with universal condemnation, disgust, and cursing for his cruel, inhumane, and barbarous acts that targeted defenceless and harmless civilians.
Moreover, Muslims have nothing to be ashamed of, nor hide. On the contrary, they have everything to cherish, be proud of, and share with the world. Muslims always were, and thus should remain, chief protagonists in generating universal civilizational and cultural goodness and beauty. Muslims should use the unfortunate New Zealand episode and its aftermath to come closer to one another and get united at all levels of their ummatic (collective) existence.
There is no political, social, or sectarian issue that can supersede in importance the above. Everything must be in the service of the former.
Why must Muslims wait for tragic events, such as this one, to come out together as one? Why don’t they do so as soon as possible as a sign of a drastic paradigm shift, whereby many future yet more tragic events could be thwarted, or at least significantly mitigated? Once united, Muslims’ performances in such critical fields as education, politics, economic development, science and technology, as a consequence, would dramatically improve as well. They will not then have to harangue the world on how Islam is the religion of truth, peace, progress, enlightenment and justice. Such will be embodied in concrete deeds, policies, and civilizational initiatives and achievements, and will be there for all to see and benefit from.
It goes without saying that Muslim unity and the unity of their ontological mission and purpose denote a precursor, yet a cause, of any remarkable civilizational consciousness and growth of theirs. The relationship between the two realms is causal, the former always being the cause and the latter the effect. Even though the whole world is sympathetic now, if Muslims do not take the matter into their own hands – and by the scruff of the neck – the sentiment will quickly cool down and subside, and we will be back to square one. Nobody will help Muslims if they do not help themselves. The roles of others can only be secondary in nature, playing second fiddle to what Muslims actually do. Likewise, nobody will respect Muslims unless they respect themselves. That is the root cause of all good – and evil – associated with Muslims.
Muslim civilizational destiny ought to be their own and nobody else’s business and concern. It is therefore only them who is answerable to the Almighty for it.
And as a bit of not-so-coincidental symbolism, since the New Zealand tragedy took place in mosques, it might be just appropriate that a Muslim change of fortune should start exactly in relation to the mosque as a concept and sensory reality. Reviving the mosque institution as a community development center and as a symbol as well as locus of Islam’s and Muslims’ spiritual and physical being will definitely go a long way in successfully charting future development courses not only in the Muslim world, but also elsewhere. Mosques should be turned into sources of and facilities for practicing and disseminating the authentic truth, peace, harmony, equality, and justice. They should be beacons of hope, optimism, cooperation, tolerance, and dialogue. Especially in the West, mosques and the infinite universe of messages and values that they typify, should be promoted via most appropriate means and channels as much to non-Muslims as Muslims. That way, there will be no better, friendlier, and more effective ways of da’wah (inviting people to Islam). Nobody will be able to accuse anyone of proselytizing, or any other perceived wrongdoing. Rather, the efforts will regularly be praised and encouraged by all relevant parties. For the sake of fostering peace, harmony and dialogue, to Muslims through the mosque phenomenon, the sky is surely the limit. That could likewise be a reason why the New Zealand criminal targeted precisely mosques and the day, occasion as well as the time synonymous with mosques’ dynamism and multidimensionality.
And finally, Muslims must actualize and live up to the implications of the Qur’anic archetype according to which only believers and everything they epitomize will in the end be successful, despite numerous trials and challenges along the way. On the other hand, the opponents of truth, oppressors of all kinds and criminals, and everything they characterize, will in the end fail and be dire losers, notwithstanding some ostensible temporary triumphs along the way.
What matters most is a true happy ending primarily in the metaphysical sense of the word, and that life does not turn out to be merely nihilistic, hedonistic, and anticlimactic an affair.
The Roots of the Christchurch Massacre
By WAJAHAT ALI
For Muslims, Friday Prayer is like Sunday Mass for Christians. It’s the day of community prayer. We travel to our local mosques, our religious sanctuary. Our families gather in the early afternoon to pray as a community. Kids run through the halls as the imam recites the Quran in Arabic. We eat together and mingle outside.
This week, as those of us in the United States attend Friday Prayer, the Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, are preparing for funerals.
People around the world are praying for the dead in Christchurch after terrorist attacks at two mosques. The authorities say a 28-year-old Australian walked into two mosques with assault rifles and killed at least 49 people. New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, called it “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”
Thoughts and prayers are not enough. These attacks are the latest manifestation of a growing and globalized ideology of white nationalism that must be addressed at its source — which includes the mainstream politicians and media personalities who nurture, promote and excuse it.
If the gunman’s 74-page manifesto and social media posts are to be believed, he was inspired by a thriving online ideological structure that recruits and radicalizes mostly men to save “Western civilization” from a foreign “invasion.”
We’ve seen this before. The gunman’s justifications for his act of terrorism were similar to those in the 1,500-page manifesto that the Norwegian Anders Breivik posted before he killed 77 people in 2011. Mr. Breivik wanted to punish Europe for its multiculturalism and welcome of Muslim immigrants. His manifesto and attacks are said to have inspired the white nationalist Christopher Hasson, who was recently arrested on charges of stockpiling weapons with the desire to commit mass murder, especially against Muslims.
If the idea that Muslims are a threat sounds familiar, it’s in part because it was used by President Trump to argue for a wall to protect America from a “caravan” of Central American migrants seeking asylum. He asserted that “Middle Easterners” were in the caravan, a claim he admitted he could not back up. During a summer trip to England, Mr. Trump warned that Britain was losing its “culture” and that immigration had “changed the fabric of Europe — and unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was.”
Arguing for his travel ban aimed at mostly Muslim countries, Mr. Trump said, “I think Islam hates us,” lied about seeing Muslims celebrate the Sept. 11 attacks, and retweeted a fringe anti-Muslim group’s fake videos of Muslim refugees committing violence. No wonder the Christchurch manifesto praised Mr. Trump as “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
It’s clear that the dangers of white nationalism aren’t limited to the United States. This attack is a reminder that this dangerous ideology also threatens immigrant communities worldwide, and that it’s fuelled by leaders around the world.
Australia, where the gunman is said to be from, has plenty of its own anti-Muslim, xenophobic rhetoric.
In 2015, a movement called Reclaim Australia organized protests against the “enforcing of Shariah law in Australia” and “the teaching of Islam in government schools.” The Conversation reported that placards displayed by the group at a rally read “Islam is an enemy of the West.” A key policy goal of the far-right political party Australian Liberty Alliance is to “stop the Islamization of Australia.” Its website warns, “Islam is not merely a religion, it is a totalitarian ideology with global aspirations.”
While Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, described the suspect as “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist,” an Australian senator, Fraser Anning, responded to the Christchurch attack by blaming “the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”
It seems the senator shares similar sentiments with mass murderers.
In his manifesto, the gunman, who referred to himself as a “regular white man,” wrote that he was carrying out the attack to “directly reduce immigration rates to European lands by intimidating and physically removing the invaders themselves.”
The manifesto reveals an obsession with white supremacy, discussing the Battle of Vienna in 1683, which is glorified by white nationalists and Mr. Breivik as the critical moment when Europe staved off the Ottoman Empire’s advance and protected itself from Islam. Text scrawled on the gunman’s weapons appears to refer to military battles such as the 1189 Siege of Acre, a victory for the Christian Crusaders seeking to retake Jerusalem from Muslims. He mentioned Alexandre Bissonnette, who shot and killed six people in a Quebec mosque in 2017 and was a known white nationalist with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim resentment.
His ideas — and their sources and supporters — were familiar to me. As a researcher for the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s 2011 investigation “Fear Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” I connected fringe anti-Muslim conspiracies — such as the made-up threat of Shariah law in America — to the funding sources, think tanks, media personalities, grass-roots groups and politicians who created and promoted them.
These entities have worked together to reinforce the message that Muslims Americans are inherently radical and represent a “demographic time bomb” that will overtake the white population. Mr. Breivik repeatedly cited these groups and people, many of them now closely linked to the Trump administration. Although they should not be blamed for Mr. Breivik’s violence, Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer and a consultant on terrorism, said Mr. Breivik nonetheless emerges from the same ideological network.
Among white nationalists’ major motivators is “the great replacement” conspiracy theory. They fear that Jews, blacks and Muslims will replace white people and eventually subordinate them. Jews are often viewed as the diabolical head of the cabal, the nerve center, who use their infinite wealth and power to reduce and weaken the white man.
In October, Robert Bowers walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 Jewish worshipers. He posted on the right-wing social network Gab that the Jewish refugee resettlement agency HIAS “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people” and “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.” He also re-shared a post about punishing “filthy evil Jews” for bringing “filthy evil Muslims into the country.” This echoed the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jewish billionaire George Soros funded the migrant “caravan” — a lie that was promoted by President Trump and other prominent conservatives.
Massacre in Christchurch Mosques
By ASLAM ABDULLAH
In what the Prime Minister of New Zealand described the darkest day in the history of the country, and the worst terrorist attack in the country so far 49 Muslims belonging to different nationalities and ethnic groups praying together in mosques were massacred by white supremacist terrorists. The Queen of Commonwealth, Pope and many other world leaders have sent notes of sympathy to the government.
This is what we know so far:
A white supremacist entered a mosque on Deans Avenue, Christchurch where Muslims had gathered to pray. He was carrying a semi-automatic weapon. He opened fire indiscriminately as there were so many targets busy praying. He was streaming the attack live. Another white supremacist entered a mosque in Linwood.
49 Muslims are dead as of now. 41 at the Central mosque, 7 at Linwood mosque and one in Christchurch hospital. 48 people have been admitted to the hospital with gunshot wounds as of now. Others have been sent to medical centers. The terrorist has been charged and would appear in the Christchurch District Court on Saturday morning.
He was arrested in a city street in a car with explosives and more guns inside. The terrorist described himself as 28-year old Australian Brenton Tarrant. The terrorists were not on the watch list of police either in Australia or New Zealand.
Tarrant had issued a manifesto glorifying white supremacy and had asked the people of the US and Europe to oust immigrants and build a pure white society. Police arrested four people initially, three including Tarrant are in custody. The fourth person was not related to the events, police said.
There was a chaotic scene at Christchurch hospital that has only 12 operating theatres in use for people requiring multiple surgeries. Families of the victims and others came to hospitals and at the mosques looking for their loved ones.
Families have shown up at the hospital and at the Deans Ave cordon seeking news of family members. The police have set up a missing people’s register. Witnesses have given detailed accounts of the horror of their co-coreligionists being killed. Victim support has launched an official fund to support the families of the victims.
Leaders from around the world have condemned this terrorist act. Pope Francis has denounced the “senseless acts of violence” in the Christchurch mosque shootings and said he was praying for the Muslim community and all New Zealanders.
In a telegram of condolences Friday, Francis offered his solidarity and prayers to the injured and those who are mourning lost loved ones and noted that it was a particularly difficult time for security and emergency personnel.
He said he was “deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life caused by the senseless acts of violence at two mosques in Christchurch, and he assures all New Zealanders, and in particular the Muslim community, of his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks.”
The message sent by the Vatican secretary of state ended by saying, “Commending those who have died to the loving mercy of Almighty God, Pope Francis invokes the divine blessings of comfort and strength upon the nation.”
Meanwhile, Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizations in the USA have issued press releases mourning the deaths of more than 40 worshipers gunned down in terror attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during prayers on Friday, and condemned the apparent anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate that motivated the attacks and urged mosques in the United States and worldwide to step up security measures.
The white supremacist author of the manifesto called himself a supporter of President Donald Trump, who he sees “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
There has been an unprecedented spike in bigotry targeting American Muslims, immigrants, and members of other minority groups since the election of Donald Trump as president and has repeatedly expressed concern about Islamophobic, white supremacist and racist Trump administration policies and appointments.
Mosques and other Islamic institutions should take measures to protect the safety of people visiting places of worship. This is applicable to all institutions, regardless of the organizational mission. (See: What to do during an active shooting)
The white supremacist terrorist issued a 73 page manifesto justifying his massacre. In this he praised President Donald Trump. The manifesto published in a question and answer form asked the following:
“Were/are you a supporter of Donald Trump? The response: Sure, as a symbol of renewed white identify and common purpose? As a policymaker and leader? Dear God no.”
The manifesto has been removed from the website. The terrorist in 73 pages talked about American conservative commentator Candace Owens and says, “Yes the person that had influenced me above all is Candace Owens. Each time she spoke I was stunned by her insights and her own views helped me further and further into the belief of violence over weakness. Thus, I will have to disavow some of her beliefs, the extreme actions she calls for are too much even for my tastes.”