Oh the humanity

December 29, 2008

Robyn Creswell contemplates the provocations of Faisal Devji, whose fascinating new book, “The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics,” upturns conventional accounts of al Qa’eda by investigating ‘the rich inner life of jihad’. From the National:

To Faisal Devji, Gandhi is the embodiment of a kind of humanitarian sacrifice, and ‘would probably have welcomed the comparison between his methods and those of Osama bin Laden, whose practices he might have seen as the evil perversion of his own.’ Courtesy Corbis

To Faisal Devji, Gandhi is the embodiment of a kind of humanitarian sacrifice, and ‘would probably have welcomed the comparison between his methods and those of Osama bin Laden, whose practices he might have seen as the evil perversion of his own.’ Courtesy Corbis

The field of jihadi studies, situated at the crossroads of policy-making, intelligence work, journalism and academic research, sprang up almost overnight following the attacks of September 11. It now boasts all the infrastructure that comes with the discovery of a glittering new frontier, as fascinating in its way as superstrings or Martian ice. Conferences, courses and research centres are devoted to explaining the intricacies of holy war. Amidst this mushroom patch of interlocking institutions and individuals, the work of Faisal Devji – an assistant professor at the New School for Social Research in New York – sticks out like a rare flower. Devji’s studies, which focus on the doings and sayings of al Qa’eda, are so at odds with what passes for common sense in this field that one sometimes wonders if he isn’t merely thumbing his nose at received wisdom. In his latest book, The Terrorist in Search of Humanity, he suggests that al Qa’eda has in some sense inherited the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. He also argues that the ideology of jihad is a “humanitarian” one, and that the militants of al Qa’eda are “the intellectual peers” of environmentalists and pacifists. What does he mean by such provocations?

The Terrorist in Search of Humanity is in many ways a sequel to Devji’s equally provocative 2005 book, Landscapes of the Jihad. In that work, rather than concentrating on the spectacular violence that has been the focus of most experts, Devji argues that al Qa’eda’s real achievement is to have created “a new kind of Muslim”, one whose attachments to the traditions and institutions of Islam are radically unlike those of his predecessors. The new militancy cannot be understood by inserting it into a now-familiar history of Islamic extremism (Wahhabism, Sayyid Qutb, the Taliban, etc.), because what is significant about the jihadis of today is their relation to the present, or even to the future. “Al Qa’eda’s importance in the long run,” Devji writes, “lies not in its pioneering a new form of networked militancy… but instead in its fragmentation of traditional structures of Muslim authority within new global landscapes.”

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A foreign face beloved by Afghans from all sides

December 25, 2008

John F. Burns in International Herald Tribune:

Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Alberto Cairo, right, heads the orthopedic rehabilitation program of the International Committee of the Red Cross, a job dedicated to helping disabled Afghans live normally again by equipping them with artificial legs and arms. Photo: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Kabul: History has fostered a notion here that all foreign occupations of Afghanistan are ultimately doomed.

There was the catastrophic retreat of a British expeditionary force in 1842. Nearly 150 years later came the Soviet troop withdrawal of 1989. Now, with the Taliban pressing in on this city and dominating the countryside, there are fears that this occupation, too, will eventually fail.

But whatever the outcome, Afghans of all ethnic and political stripes, even the Taliban, seem likely to count Alberto Cairo as one foreigner who left the country better than he found it.

Cairo, once a debonair lawyer in his native Turin, Italy, is almost certainly the most celebrated Western relief official in Afghanistan, at least among Afghans. To the generation who have been beneficiaries of his relief work for the International Committee of the Red Cross, he is known simply as “Mr. Alberto,” a man apart among the 15,000 foreigners who live and work in this city.

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In the lair of the Taliban

December 8, 2008

They were ousted in 2001, yet across Afghanistan the Taliban are steadily regaining control. The writer Nir Rosen ventured into their heartland – and lived to tell the tale. From the Sunday Times:

talibanOn the outskirts of the capital we are stopped at a checkpoint manned by the Afghan National Army. The soldiers are suspicious of my foreign accent. My Afghan companions, Shafiq and Ibrahim, convince them that I am only a journalist. As we drive away, Ibrahim laughs. The soldiers thought I was a suicide bomber. Ibrahim did not tell them that he and Shafiq are mid-level Taliban commanders escorting me deep into Ghazni.

Until recently, Ghazni, like much of central Afghanistan, was considered reasonably safe. But now the province, 100 miles south of Kabul, has fallen to the Taliban. Foreigners who venture there often wind up kidnapped or killed. In defiance of the central government, the Taliban governor in the province issues separate ID cards and passports for the Taliban regime, or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

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Amitav Ghosh on the attack on Mumbai and the metaphor of ‘9/11’

November 30, 2008

From the Hindustan Times:

logoSince the start of the terrorist invasion of Mumbai on November 26, the metaphor of the World Trade Center attacks has been repeatedly invoked. In India and elsewhere commentators have taken to saying, over and again, ‘This is India’s 9/11.’ There can be no doubt that there are certain clear analogies between the two attacks. In both cases the terrorists were clearly at great pains to single out urban landmarks, especially those that serve as points of reference in this increasingly interconnected world.

There are similarities too, in the unexpectedness of the attacks, the meticulousness of their planning, their shock value and the utter unpreparedness of the security services. But this is where the similarities end. Not only were the casualties far greater on September 11, 2001, but the shock of the attack was also greatly magnified by the fact that it had no real precedent in America’s historical experience.

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The future of terrorism

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri in Hindustan Times:

They may call the next several years the “Era of Mumbai Terror.” An increasing number of counterterrorism specialists say the nature of the attack is clearly different from the South Asian norm and possibly even by any global measure. And because it is was so successful – a score of armed men holding an entire country to ransom for three days – it may become a model for the next wave of jihadi fighters.

Colonel Jonathan Fighel of Israel’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism is among those who has pointed out that the Mumbai attacks are “unusual not only for India, but also on the international scale.” The subcontinental norm has been a “series of explosions undertaken simultaneously by radical Islamic organizations aiming to kill” masses of people. This was an “all-out offensive, with clear military hallmarks.”

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LeT, Al Qaeda and Global Terror Inc join hands

November 29, 2008

In Hindustan Times, Pramit Pal Chaudhuri and Haider Naqvi speak to Bruce Riedel, Barack Obama’s chief advisor on South Asia, on the global links behind the Mumbai terror strikes

US President-elect Barack Obama’s main advisor on South Asian terror said he believed that the Mumbai attack was a combined Al Qaeda-Lashkar-e-Toiba operation. Terrorism experts said this would explain the non-Indian focus of some of the terrorist teams who attacked the city.

Said Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institute and author of The Search for Al Qaeda, “This has the hallmarks of Al Qaeda: a very sophisticated attack at multiple targets. The US, the UK and Israel are global jihadist targets, not Indian Mujahedin targets. Thorough casing is an Al Qaeda trademark.”

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U.S. Intelligence Focuses on Pakistani Group

From the New York Times

American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Friday that there was mounting evidence that a Pakistani militant group based in Kashmir, most likely Lashkar-e-Taiba, was responsible for this week’s deadly attacks in Mumbai.

The officials cautioned that they had reached no firm conclusions about who was responsible for the attacks, or how they were planned and carried out. Nevertheless, they said that evidence gathered in the past two days pointed to a role for Lashkar-e-Taiba or possibly another group based in Kashmir, Jaish-e-Muhammad, which also has a track record of attacks against India.

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Ringed by foes, Pakistanis fear the US, too

November 23, 2008

There is an increasing belief among some Pakistanis that what the U.S. really wants is the breakup of Pakistan. Jane Perlez from Islamabad in the New York Times:

Above are sections of maps that opriginally accompanied a speculative June 2006 article by Ralph Peters in Armed Forces Journal that has concerned pakistanis.

A controversial imaging of borders: Above are sections of maps that opriginally accompanied a speculative June 2006 article by Ralph Peters in Armed Forces Journal that has concerned pakistanis.

A redrawn map of South Asia has been making the rounds among Pakistani elites. It shows their country truncated, reduced to an elongated sliver of land with the big bulk of India to the east, and an enlarged Afghanistan to the west.

That the map was first circulated as a theoretical exercise in some American neoconservative circles matters little here. It has fueled a belief among Pakistanis, including members of the armed forces, that what the United States really wants is the breakup of Pakistan, the only Muslim country with nuclear arms.

“One of the biggest fears of the Pakistani military planners is the collaboration between India and Afghanistan to destroy Pakistan,” said a senior Pakistani government official involved in strategic planning, who insisted on anonymity as per diplomatic custom. “Some people feel the United States is colluding in this.”

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China, India set to be leading powers by 2025: US intelligence

November 21, 2008

IANS report in the Times of India:

China and India are likely to emerge atop a multipolar international system as the US economic and political clout declines over the next two decades, according to US intelligence agencies projections.

Not only will new players – Brazil, Russia, India and China – have a seat at the international high table, they will bring new stakes and rules of the game, said the National Intelligence Council analysis “Global Trends 2025- A Transformed World” released on Thursday.

The whole international system, as constructed following the Second World War, will be revolutionised, said the report based on a global survey of experts and trends by US intelligence analysts.

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Click here to read Globa Trends 2025: The National Intelligence Council’s 2025 Project

Al Qaeda’s Appeal to Falter

From the New York Times:

A new study of the global future by American intelligence agencies suggests that Al Qaeda could soon be on the decline, having alienated Muslim supporters with indiscriminate killing and inattention to the practical problems of poverty, unemployment and education.

While not contradicting intelligence assessments suggesting that Al Qaeda remains a major threat with a strong presence in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the report says that the group “may decay sooner” than many experts have assumed because of severe weaknesses: “unachievable strategic objectives, inability to attract broad-based support and self-destructive actions.”

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