Will Peshawar mark a change in Pakistan's relationship to its hardline Islamist groups, including the Taliban? For many Pakistanis, perhaps. For the state? Almost certainly not. Saba Imtiaz in the Observer:
Despite the impact of a rare protest against clerics, the basic reality is that the Pakistani state is unwilling to channel this anger into reform or action, or to address how militant networks have expanded to the point where they can besiege a school, a mosque or a neighbourhood.
It has become easier in Pakistan to go through life with blinkers on, to ignore the fundraising posters put up by groups such as the Hafiz Saeed-led Jamaat-ud-Dawa, believed to be a cover for Lashkar-e-Taiba. Easier to ignore the neighbourhood cleric railing against religious minorities, or the sight of Shia protesters refusing to bury their dead, killed in mass executions at the hands of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. And, finally, easier to ignore that the Pakistani state helped create the groups that are fighting against it today and that it still supports clerics who have helped shape irreversible divides in society.
The murder of more than 100 children may have forced many to take their blinkers off and wonder how Pakistan got into this state, but they will soon be resigned into putting them back on, because Pakistan just isn’t interested. It would rather protect hardline clerics and militant networks, even at the cost of young children’s lives.
On Friday, the Islamabad police stopped protesters from gathering at the Red Mosque and asked them to protest a short distance away, while activists of the banned anti-Shia group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat were allowed to rally in support of the mosque and its clerics. Across Karachi, mosques affiliated with Jamaat-ud-Dawa blamed India for the Peshawar massacre in their Friday sermons.
And C. Christine Fair in the NYT:
Even as the young victims of the Peshawar massacre wait to be laid to rest, Pakistan has released on bail Lashkar-e-Taiba’s notorious Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Lakhvi was the mastermind behind the multiday siege on Mumbai in November of 2008. In that assault, 10 Lashkar gunmen killed 165 people before Indian forces finally put an end to the attacks. Lakhvi’s tenure in jail was really more of a protective detention as he continued to plan and execute operations with the logical support of his jailers. He even fathered a child during his tenure, as he enjoyed extensive conjugal visits. The group’s leader, Hafiz Saeed, speaking to crowds in Urdu assembled in Lahore, denied that the Taliban were behind the murders in Peshawar; rather, he claimed that India was behind the conspiracy (sazish).
The release of Lakhvi is important. In September and October of this year, Pakistan's army began weeks of artillery fire across the line of control in the part of Kashmir controlled by India. Pakistan's army uses artillery cover to facilitate the movement of Pakistani militants who are tasked by the military with conducting terrorist attacks in and beyond Kashmir. This fall, Pakistan's military inserted record numbers of terrorists associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba and another group, the Jaish-e-Mohammad. While out on bail, Lakhvi will be even more effective in masterminding terrorist attacks in India.
Does this sound like Pakistan’s military is discontinuing a long-held policy of distinguishing between those “good militants” who operate on its behalf in Afghanistan and India, and those “bad militants” who kill Pakistanis? Of course not. Unfortunately, many tens of thousands of Pakistanis will die long before the army gives up its jihad habit. And there is absolutely no amount of American, British or other aid or forms of inducements that can change this basic truth.
Jack Fairweather's newly published history of the Afghanistan conflict, The Good War, aims to put the final nail in the coffin of Western intervention. The title is ironic. Fairweather views the Allied mission as messianic; an expression of hubris and imperial conceit. The book has generally had excellent reviews - as perhaps you'd expect, since that view has long been the commonly-held perception among journalists and pundits.
From the introduction:
This is the story of how the world's most powerful leaders plotted to build a new kind of nation in Afghanistan that was pure fantasy. It is the story of how those leaders pinned their hopes on a marginal tribal leader and failed to heed his prescient advice, and how he in turn outplayed them. It is the story of why the long-suffering Afghan people rejected salvation from a global army of would-be rescuers. And finally it is the story of how the promise of a new military doctrine was ended by the Good War in Afghanistan and what it means for the future of western military action in the developing world.
War correspondent Anthony Loyd, in a review in the Times (£), is generally positive about the book, but has some significanmt reservations:
So where did the good war go so terribly wrong? After all, it started auspiciously enough in the autumn of 2001, when US special forces and Afghan Northern Alliance fighters toppled the Taliban in the space of just a few weeks. Fairweather argues that the mission was doomed from the moment it moved beyond the limits of Donald Rumsfeld’s vision to overthrow the Taliban and smash al-Qaeda, and changed into a wider campaign to rebuild Afghanistan in the mould of a democracy. This “good war” is described by Fairweather, the Middle East editor of Bloomberg News, as “pure fantasy”, “messianic” and “conceit”.
If there is one flaw with this carefully crafted book, it lies in this analysis. Though a generation of war reporters and aid workers might agree with Fairweather — among them Rory Stewart, the former diplomat turned Tory MP, who describes the allure of the “good war” as “the irresistible illusion” — many others, me included, would challenge his easy dismissal of the vision behind intervention in Afghanistan. When the Taliban were overthrown in 2001, most Afghans, tired of the Taliban’s Pakistani links, their ignorance and puritanism, were delighted. They may not have aspired to a western-style democracy, but they hoped for much more than the Taliban ever offered them. The hopes of these people cannot be written off as a neocon pipedream....
Whether the Afghan intervention was doomed from the start, or lost through a catalogue of dreadful errors along the way, can be debated ad infinitum. What is certain though, as Fairweather says, is that the terrible costs of the 13-year-campaign described so well in this book have ended any desire for intervention elsewhere. The opaque western response to Syria and Iraq are already symptomatic of the post-Afghan era of US recoil. Special forces raids, drone strikes, and proxy conflicts rather than armies on the ground will be the shape of future operations for the next generation. Do not be too quick to delight in the passing of visionary intervention though. The good war may be dead, but a thousand bad wars might spring from its carcass.
We're already seeing the effects in Syria, of course, as the costs of our non-intervention continue to rise....as Anthony Loyd himself knows only too well.
Sheik Ahmad Al-Ghamdi was at one point the head of the Saudi religious police - aka the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice - in Mecca. Unfortunately he proved too liberal: not a difficult achievement perhaps in one of the world's most reactionary organisations, but unusual nevertheless. In 2008 he controversially issued a fatwa permitting unmarried men and women to mix; something the religious police are supposed to stamp out. He was forced into early retirement.
Last week he appeared in an interview on national television together with his wife, who - shockingly - was unveiled:
TV host Badria Al-Bishr: Sheik Ahmed Al-Ghamdi has provoked much controversy. Recently, Twitter has been boiling with a special hashtag devoted to his tweet where he wrote that women may reveal their faces. What does this man want? Sheik Ahmed Al-Ghamdi is my guest tonight to answer this question. […]
Voice of reporter: Sheik Al-Ghamdi has some daring opinions on Islamic jurisprudence, which often contravene conventional notions. His entire family sometimes has to pay a price for this.
Jawaher bint Al-Sheikh Ali Sheik Al-Ghamdi's wife: This definitely affects us, positively and negatively at the same time. Our children sometimes complain that their fellow students, and even their teachers, challenge them: Why did your father rule this way or the other? Sometimes this affects them psychologically, especially the little ones, who do not understand. They ask our advice: How should we respond to them? Thank God, they got used to it, and by now, they share their father's opinions.
Voice of reporter: In one fatwa, he allowed women to reveal their faces and wear makeup. This stirred a new controversy in Saudi Arabia, especially as the opposing views are still quite prevalent. […]
TV host Badria Al-Bishr: Some of your opponents say: How can he claim that women were not commanded to wear the hijab, when the hijabi was mentioned in the Quran.
Ahmad Al-Ghamdi: A great deal of confusion exists when describing the khimar [head scarf] and the jilbab [robe] which Allah commanded women to wear. […]
The books of the ancient scholars never referred to the khimar and the jilbab as hijab. Later, however, people confused the hijab, which was imposed only on the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, with what Allah imposed on Muslim women in general.
Fair enough, you may think. But, as the Times reports (£), the show caused uproar:
Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamedi has been receiving death threats since his wife, Jawaher, accompanied him on a popular chat show earlier this week, delighting reformists and scandalising conservatives.
One hardline cleric has called for the sheikh — once a former head of the religious police in Mecca and now a leading liberal voice — to be tortured as punishment. But many Saudis have flocked to the couple’s defence as the controversy brings the simmering debate on women’s rights in the kingdom back to the boil. Wearing light make-up and painted nails with her traditional black abaya dress, Jawaher sat composed beside her husband as he explained his view that Muslim women should dress modestly but need not wear the niqab, or face veil....
Hardliners condemned sheikh al-Ghamedi on Twitter as a “filthy pimp” and a “cuckold” for allowing strangers to see his wife’s face. Others threatened to kill him. Even Saudi Arabia’s most senior cleric weighed in. The Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, urged sheikh al-Ghamedi to withdraw his remarks and repent.
“Some of our Muslim brothers embarrass their wives in front of the public,” he said. “This act reflects stubbornness on their part. It’s a dangerous thing.”
Howard Jacobson, in discussion with Tim Black at Spiked, on the left's obsession with Israel:
A lot of the left were saying this year that Israel is shit, but that doesn’t mean there is anti-Semitism in Europe. And that’s a very naive view, because that view of Israel as shit is already anti-Semitic. And they’ll say “just because I’m critical of Israel, that doesn’t mean to say I’m an anti-Semite” (if I hear that one more time I’ll scream). Of course it doesn’t. But they’re not being critical of Israel. They’re being hysterical about Israel.
The left hasn’t always been so anti-Israel, but, according to Jacobson, the Arab-Israeli War in 1967 changed things. ‘Israel won. And the minute Israel won - and I’m not saying Israel did everything right when they won, I’m sure they didn’t - everything changed towards it. It was now a power.’
The turn against Israel wasn’t instantaneous, of course. Jacobson says it took the fall of Communism and the subsequent disorientation of the left for Israel to emerge as an international bete noir. ‘After 1989, the left had nowhere to go. It had no cause. And then it found this cause. And it was perfect. It’s got a power, an oppressor and an oppressed. (The Palestinians are oppressed - no doubt about it - but they play into this narrative.)
‘The power is Jewish. No left-winger is going to admit what he feels about Jews, but nonetheless you see the language of money, of influence, and you even get quite sophisticated people, who know they can’t talk of a world conspiracy any more, talking about lobbies. “Israel has lobbies”, they’ll say. But everybody has lobbies. Every organisation has a lobby. But an Israeli lobby… The language is so reminiscent of those old-world conspiracies. And this conspiratorial group is supported by America.
‘So you can get anti-power, anti-America, anti-colonialism, anti-money all in one hit, and you’ve got an oppressed people. It’s perfect. The left have found something to gather around.’
One of the great songs in Rock'n'Roll history, and the birth of Soul Music:
Live in Sao Paulo, 1963.
Originally recorded in 1959, though it all started in 1958:
According to Charles' autobiography, "What'd I Say" was accidental when he improvised it to fill time at the end of a concert in December 1958. He asserts that he never tested songs on audiences before recording them, but "What'd I Say" is an exception. Charles himself does not recall where the concert took place, but Mike Evans in Ray Charles: The Birth of Soul places the show in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. Shows were played at "meal dances" which typically ran four hours with a half hour break, and would end around 1 or 2 in the morning. Charles and his orchestra had exhausted their set list after midnight, but had 12 minutes left to fill. He told the Raelettes, "Listen, I'm going to fool around and y'all just follow me".
Starting on the electric piano, Charles played what felt right: a series of riffs, switching then to a regular piano for four choruses backed up by a unique Latin conga tumbao rhythm on drums. The song changed when Charles began singing simple, improvised unconnected verses ("Hey Mama don't you treat me wrong / Come and love your daddy all night long / All right now / Hey hey / All right"). Charles used gospel elements in a twelve-bar blues structure. Some of the first lines ("See the gal with the red dress on / She can do the Birdland all night long") are influenced by a boogie-woogie style that Ahmet Ertegun attributes to Clarence "Pinetop" Smith who used to call out to dancers on the dance floor instructing what to do through his lyrics. In the middle of the song, however, Charles indicated that the Raelettes should repeat what he was doing, and the song transformed into a call and response between Charles, the Raelettes, and the horn section in the orchestra as they called out to each other in ecstatic shouts and moans and blasts from the horns.
The audience reacted immediately; Charles could feel the room shaking and bouncing as the crowd was dancing. Many audience members approached Charles at the end of the show to ask where they could purchase the record. Charles and the orchestra performed it again several nights in a row with the same reaction at each show. He called Jerry Wexler to say he had something new to record, later writing, "I don't believe in giving myself advance notices, but I figured this song merited it"
Just another tale in the life of the city:
The husband of a mother of four who has the mind of a child has been banned from having sex with her by a High Court judge because she does not know she has the right to refuse.
The Bangladeshi man claims he has the right under his culture to have sex with her whenever he pleases and she has no right to refuse.
He has already taken his wife's cousin as a second "wife" and had two children with her, but still demands the right to have sex with the woman he married first.
However, with a mental age of between four and eight, the 39-year old wife - identified only by the initials TB - has been taken into care under the Mental Health Act by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where the family lived.
All their four children have also been taken into care because the woman does not have the ability to care for them....
Her husband wanted her to come home so he could have sex with his two wives on alternate days, said the judge.
The liberal left has found itself unable to criticise radical Islam - and now the state is having to step in. A powerful piece by Nick Cohen at Standpoint:
Like our supposedly alternative comedians, the middle-class left will satirise Christianity, as any Islamist would. Like the newspapers and television stations, it will not allow any satire of Islam even if the satire is as toothless as a cartoon of Jesus saying "Hey" and Muhammad saying "How ya doin'?" It will ignore the crimes against humanity of Islamic State while condemning every Israeli crime. (Goldsmiths College, London, is now so lost in anti-Semitism that it recently decided that commemorating the Jewish victims of the Nazi death camps was "Eurocentric" and "colonialist".) For all its supposed feminism, it will behave as any Islamist would, and allow religious speakers to segregate audiences with men at the front and the seductive women who might drive them from the path of purity at the back.
As with the schools, it was easy to think that the dominant left-wing culture would take decades to shift. As with the schools, those who thought that their little world would never change failed to see themselves as others saw them. The state, and the rest of society, could see the hypocrisy and the dangers of giving extremism a ride so easy extremists did not even need to argue their case.
Last year, in the first sign of new times coming, Labour and Conservative politicians slapped down Universities UK, the quango that represents all institutions of higher education. It had ruled, without a blush, that it was a breach of an Islamist cleric's human rights to deny him the power to segregate women at public meetings. This year, as young British men flood overseas to commit crimes against humanity, the state has gone much further, and already you see institutions scrambling to fall in behind the new party line. Last month, a London university banned an Islamist speaker, who had blamed "Western culture" for allowing "obscene, filthy, and shameless" homosexual impulses. On the same day, the Law Society withdrew its staggeringly sexist guidance that solicitors must tell their Muslim clients that women should receive only half as much as men in sharia-compliant wills.
I am sure the government has overwhelming public support, but fear that an oppressive culture imposed from above is no substitute for a genuine anti-fascist culture bubbling up from below. But then I must face the fact that there is a vast woozy mass of liberal-leftists who will never change, and would not fight back even if a bomb exploded in their own back yard.
I will oppose the state's attempts to restrict freedom of speech, as I hope you will too. But I will not let supposed liberals forget that, by their own cowardice and lack of conviction, they have brought this dismal moment on themselves.
Sony's decision to cancel the release of The Interview was perhaps inevitable given the threats made, but it's still hugely depressing:
Sony Pictures has cancelled the planned US release on 25 December of the film The Interview, after major cinema chains decided not to screen it.
The film is about a fictional plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Hackers have already carried out a cyber attack on Sony and warned the public to stay away from cinemas screening the film.
The US government said it was considering a "range of options" on how to respond to the attack.
"We know that criminals and foreign countries regularly seek to gain access to government and private sector networks - both in the United States and elsewhere," a National Security Council statement said, adding that the FBI was leading the investigation.
"We take very seriously any attempt to threaten or limit artists' freedom of speech or of expression."
The statement came after US media quoted anonymous officials as saying that the FBI had linked North Korea to the attacks.
The Sony attackers didn’t just siphon data from the studio’s networks, they also used a wiper component to destroy data. To do the wiping, they used a driver from a commercially-available product that had been used by other attackers before. The product, called RawDisk, uses drivers that allow administrators to securely delete data from hard drives or for forensic purposes to access memory.
The same product was used in similarly destructive attacks that hit Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Since some people have claimed those were both nation-state attacks—U.S. officials blamed Iran for the Saudi Arabia attack; South Korea blamed China and North Korea for its attack—people assume the Sony hack is also a nation-state attack. But the evidence pointing to those other attacks as nation-state attacks is also flimsy....
Regardless of whether the Sony, Saudi Aramco and South Korea attacks are related, the evidence indicating they’re nation-state attacks is circumstantial. And all of the same evidence could easily point to hacktivists. Our money is on the latter.
This is likely a group of various actors who coalesce and disperse, as the Anonymous hackers did, based on their common interests. But even with that said, there is another possibility with regard to the Sony hack: that the studio’s networks weren’t invaded by a single group but by many, some with political interests at heart and others bent on extortion. Therefore, we can’t rule out the possibility that nation-state attackers were also in Sony’s network or that a nation like North Korea was supportive of some of these hackers, since they shared similar anger over Sony.
Anyway US officials, according to the NYT, believe they have evidence enough to detect the hand of Pyongyang:
American officials have concluded that North Korea was “centrally involved” in the hacking of Sony Pictures computers, even as the studio canceled the release of a far-fetched comedy about the assassination of the North’s leader that is believed to have led to the cyberattack.
Senior administration officials, who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings, said the White House was debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of what amounts to a cyberterrorism attack.....
Officials said it was not clear how the White House would respond. Some within the Obama administration argue that the government of Kim Jong-un must be confronted directly. But that raises questions of what actions the administration could credibly threaten, or how much evidence to make public without revealing details of how it determined North Korea’s culpability, including the possible penetration of the North’s computer networks.
We shall see.
In the meantime, Justin Moyer in the Washington Post produces what may well be the worst piece yet on the whole sorry business - well, at least until someone at the Guardian gets their act together: Why North Korea has every reason to be upset about Sony’s ‘The Interview’.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Man Haron Monis, the Sydney gunman:
Monis’ message to the world—emblazoned in Arabic on a black flag held to the window of the Lindt café—was a classic one: “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger.” This is the shahada, the Muslim profession of faith, and it is the most important of the five pillars of Islam.
An umbrella organization of Muslim groups in Australia was not slow to disavow Monis’ action: “We remind everyone,” they declared, “that the Arabic inscription on the black flag is not representative of a political statement but reaffirms a testimony of faith that has been misappropriated by misguided individuals that represent nobody but themselves.”
To those who recognized the black flag as closely related to the adopted standard of Islamic State, the murderous organization that now controls large tracts of Syria and Iraq—an organization to which Monis claimed to belong—this “reminder” will not quite do....
The shahada may seem a declaration of faith no different from any other to Westerners used to individual freedom of conscience and religion. But as a former Muslim who would dearly love to see Islam reform itself (as Christianity began to do five centuries ago), I disagree. The reality is that the shahadais both a religious and a political symbol.
In the early days of Islam, when Muhammad was going from door to door trying to persuade the polytheists to abandon their idols of worship, he was inviting them to accept that there was no god but Allah and that he was Allah’s messenger, much as Christ had asked the Jews to accept that he was the son of God.
However, after 10 years of trying this kind of persuasion, Muhammad and his small band of believers went to Medina and from that moment, Muhammad’s mission took on a political dimension. Unbelievers were still invited to submit to Allah, but after Medina, they were attacked if they refused. If defeated, they were given the option to either convert or die. (This was the option given to polytheist fellow Arabs. For Christians and Jews—regarded as the people of Holy Scripture, People of the Book—there was a third option: pay a poll tax.)
No symbol represents the soul of Islam more than the shahada. But today there is a contest within Islam for the ownership of that symbol. Who owns the shahada? Is it those Muslims who want to emphasize Muhammad’s years in Mecca or those who are inspired by his conquests after Medina? There are millions upon millions of Muslims who identify themselves with the former. Increasingly, however, they are challenged by fellow believers who want to revive and re-enact the political version of Islam born in Medina. And unfortunately, Western democracies have been all too ready to act as safe havens for the preachers of political Islam....
This latest act of terror will prompt the usual claims that Islam is a religion of peace and the usual denunciations—as “Islamophobes”—of those, like me, who disagree. The reality is that Islam is both a religion and a political ideology, and its latter form is anything but peaceful. In political Islam, the assertion that there is no god but Allah is full of menace for those who worship another god or no god at all. I well remember my last visit to Australia, just last year, when I was greeted by a pack of baying Islamists carrying signs that read: “Message to INFIDEL Ayaan Hirsi Ali. BURN IN HELL FOREVER.” Those same thugs were also carrying a flag inscribed with the shahada.
Even when they themselves do not commit acts of violence, radical preachers are very often the instigators of terrorist acts that their perpetrators glorify as jihad—holy war, as waged by Muhammad after Medina.
To the extent that sincerely peace-loving Muslims wish to combat this trend, they need to do more than utter platitudes. They need to disown the likes of Man Haron Monis before they resort to violence, when they are preaching it. Unless this political dimension of Islam is acknowledged and repudiated, we will see no end to this type of terror, and no city—not even Sydney, more than 8,000 miles removed from Medina—will be safe.