The Current Affairs Forum conducted an event titled “Daesh and The 34 Nation Alliance” on Friday, 22 April 2016, at the International Islamic University Malaysia It featured one of the most well-known Malaysian experts on the subject, human rights activist and President of International Movement for a Just World (JUST), Chandra Muzaffar. In the panel was Maszlee Malik, a faculty member in the Department of Fiqh and Usul Fiqh, IIUM and an acclaimed expert on the subject of terrorism. The forum was moderated by Khairil Izamin Ahmad, who introduced the topic and the speakers, and presided over a lively Q&A session that ensued afterwards.
The first speaker, Chandra Muzaffar, began his speech by painting a dark picture of events unfolding in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. According to him, the rise of Daesh, an extremist militant organization espousing violent ideals in the name of Islam, is seen to be the greatest threat to human civilization today. Understandably, the world has not remained silent, and several political and military efforts have been put together to fight the Daesh, which presently controls significant areas in Syria, Iraq and Libya, imposing a harsh interpretation of the Shari’a law within these areas. In addition to military coalitions led by the United States and Russia, a coalition of 34 Muslim nations was established by Saudi Arabia (Chandra Muzaffar pointed out that the number of coalition members has reached 39). He pointed out, however, that the use of military force hasn’t managed to eliminate Daesh, and asked why this was still the case. Contemplating on the issue, Chandra believed that the main reason behind this was hypocrisy on the part of those nations fighting Daesh, among other reasons.
To substantiate this argument, Chandra began by listing a few individual member nations and their track records their handling of issues related to terrorism. Beginning with Saudi Arabia, he mentioned that although the kingdom is playing a leading role in the 39 nation coalition, it itself has a record of cultivating terror activities. For example, he reminded the audience that 15 of the 19 hijackers involved with the 9/11 attack were alleged to have been Saudi nationals. He also cited what he believes as an unwelcome regional war led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen recently. Similarly, Chandra pointed out that Turkey had allowed terrorists to cross its borders, while Pakistan has had a long history of actively supporting extremist and terrorist elements in Afghanistan. He argued that such hypocrisy could also be seen inothers, including Central Asian Muslim countries, India, China, Russia and the US, alongside Israel, which he identified as being the greatest terrorist entity in the Middle East. In effect, the reality was that all actors, whether big and small, had supported terrorism at one time or another.
In addition, Chandra stated that he disagrees with the prevalent narrative that the distortion of Islam was the real cause of terrorism. Citing a study by the well-known political scientist Robert Pape, he said that the root cause of terrorism was the occupation of other people’s lands. The rise of terrorism is also linked to the threat that communities see against their identity, which have often been caused by foreign occupation of their lands or authoritarian rule. Further, Chandra pointed out that terrorist acts such as suicide bombing is a relatively new phenomenon amongst so called Islamic extremists. He cited a study by Robert Pape which shows that until 2003, the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), a socialist secessionist group in Sri Lanka, were world leaders in suicide bombing.
Speaking of plausible solutions, Chandra stressed upon the need to pursue peaceful means to meaningfully combat and end terrorism. Highlighting the importance of human rights and dignity, Chandra said that those in power need to be persuaded not to employ violence, while those with grievances and wanting change need to pursue legitimate and peaceful means towards that end. He proposed that governments could respect demands of self-determination through exploring options such as provision of autonomous rule, such as in Aceh in Indonesia. Overall, he spoke of the need of activism to combat extremism and distortion of facts for vested interests.
In ending his speech, Chandra reiterated that Daesh is being used as an excuse to malign Islam and Muslim societies, culminating in Islamophobia. He expressed his hope that the current alliance of Muslim states against Daesh and terrorism would not turn into a disguise leading towards infighting amongst Muslims themselves, specifically along the lines of the Shia-Sunni divide, considering the fact that all 39 countries of the coalition are Sunni (Iran, a major player in Middle Eastern politics, is not a member of the coalition). In this regard, Chandra also criticized the recently published OIC communique for being biased, which he identified as reflecting regional self-interests.
After a rousing applause from the audience, the moderator summarised Chandra’s speech and handed over the microphone to the next speaker, Maszlee Malik. Praising Chandrafor his erudite analysis, Maszlee began his speech by identifying the reasons behind the phenomenon of the rise of Daesh. In this regard, he particularly drew upon his extensive experience while interviewing detainees alleged to be Daesh sympathisers in the custody of the Malaysian police. One of the integral problems which he identified among the detainees was that there is a profound lack of happiness amongst them, fuelled by their view that worldly happiness was of a fleeting nature, and hence insignificant. This perception is fuelled by the perceived persecution of the Muslims in different countries of the world, and the fact that the Muslim countries and rulers seemed to have done nothing to change the situation.
Speaking of the religious basis claims of such extremist movements, Maszlee pointed out that such movements feed on the insecurities and grievances of Muslims, but are firmly rooted in a negative tradition of takfir, or the practice of excommunication of other Muslims. For example, he stated that the practice was started by Ayman Al Zawahiri of Al Qaeda, when he blamed and carried out takfir on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, instead of the secular autocratic ruler Gamal Nasser. Further, Maszlee pointed out that democratic practices are being undermined in the Muslim world, and as long as injustice and corruption prevail, the military solution to tackle extremist organisations such as Daesh will not prevent such phenomena from recurring in the future. He pointed out that some blame the rise of Wahhabism for the rise of Daesh, which he thought was not correct. He believed that the main problem is the education system within Muslim societies, which he believes is making people much more materialistic and uncaring for the world around them, thus failing to develop them into respectful human beings. He reiterated that the problem is also prevalent in the present day religious establishments and scholars, who have forgotten their true role in educating people in basic etiquette, love and respect for fellow human beings.
After the end of the session, the floor was opened for questions and comments from the audience by the moderator. A number of valuable comments and searching questions were put forward to the panellists, namely the worrying nature of the growing Shia-Sunni divide in the Muslim world, the role of the OIC and its member states, the spread of fundamentalism in Muslim societies, and the role of human rights in the current world. The discussion was enriched by the comments of Abdullah Al Ahsan, the Chairperson of Current Affairs Forum, who shared his views and expertise on the discussion at hand. The moderator closed the forum discussion with comments thanking the panellists, the faculty and the students who had attended the event, and invited all to attend the upcoming event of the forum on 27 May 2016 in memory of the assassination of the Faruqis, to explore their legacy and impact.