End shadows of intolerance post elections

Achmat Hilmi


Jakarta   /   Fri, April 26, 2019   /  09:06 am

The simultaneous elections have ended, but they have left a frenzy and disputes. A group that claims to be the most moderate in the country is no longer able to display the tenderness and progressive spirit of Islam; it is trapped in political barriers and becoming intolerant. Many seem to be fighting for their spirit of primordialism based on political factions, rather than the spirit of nationalism.

During the presidential and legislative campaign period until polling day on April 17, security forces had managed to secure physical space but they never succeeded in reconciling virtual space.

These simultaneous elections have not managed to assert the next president, the votes for whom are still being tallied by the General Elections Commission (KPU). Whoever wins the presidential seat seems to be a vague figure amid truth claims of “quick counts” of pollsters and “internal counts” of the camps of the presidential contenders.

The elections have instead succeeded in blurring the spirit of diversity. The presidential election, in particular, has considerably affected family relations, friendship and national unity. One camp trumps up the threat of communism while the other raises threats of Indonesia turning into a caliphate, each claim intending to sink the electability of the incumbent Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his challenger Prabowo Subianto.


Social space actually reinforces differences, blurs unity.


Social space actually reinforces differences, blurs unity and increasingly converges to the bipolarization of political space with two extreme camps charging the other of being “infidels”. Political camps thus become increasingly exclusive.

It seems public space today, particularly as echoed in cyberspace, allows less discourse for equality and justice, and instead extends the space for discrimination against those who succumb to the rallying cries of each camp.

Many voices of devotees of tolerance and diversity have become silent, turned off by the dominance of partisanship.

Religious conservativism has merged into political ideological conservativism. Religious fanaticism has reached a universal definition; what it preaches is not a religion that many people understand.

Ideological space is now shifting; from religious ideology; moderate-conservative, transforming into a numerical ideology with symbols and political ideology jargon.

Digital space should contribute to expanding social space that we cannot immediately reach, so we could meet amid differences. But this cannot happen when the other is accused of being an infidel and not having common sense.

Intolerance and exclusivism are being increasingly crystallized to be more extreme than any ideology. There must be a way out.

The epidemic of political extremism must be stopped through the instilling, again, of noble values of tolerance and inclusiveness that depart from our ancestral heritage, progressive understanding of religion and based on the philosophy of the Pancasila.


The writer is program and advocacy manager at Rumah Kita Bersama.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.



Rumah KitaB and the Campaign Against Child Marriage

Kathryn Robinson
Emeritus professor in Anthropology, Australian National Univerisity

Rights in marriage have been a key issue for women’s rights activists all over the world. Age at marriage is perhaps the most significant issue, even more than the free choice of a spouse. Child marriage has been a focus for Indonesian women for nearly a century. In the colonial era, family law was left to the Islamic courts, but the women’s congresses that were held regularly from 1928 argued for secular laws that would protect women’s rights in marriage, including a ban on child marriage and the necessity of a woman’s consent. This emphasis on secular regulation as the way to protect women’s rights bore fruit in the independence period with the passage of the 1974 marriage law which, amongst other things, set a minimum age of marriage, of 16 for females (19 for males) and required that the marriage officiant ensure the woman’s consent.

As education becomes more readily available and more young women are going on to finish high school, and even tertiary education there has been a movement upwards in average age at marriage but as the work of Rumah Kitab shows us, child marriage persists. What are the strategies to address this? The session organized by Rumah KitaB at the Kongres Ulama Perempuan in April 2017 focused on the religious basis of arguments about age at marriage. The kiyai focused on textual analysis of the Qur’an and hadith to show the complexity of the definition of baliq, and the difference between a purely biological concept and a notion of aqil baligh, an idea of adult personhood. This interesting return to religious argumentation was a response to the intervention of MUI in a 2015 constitutional court court judicial review of the marriage law, in particular the regulation of age at marriage. The review had been requested by activists (including Rumah Kitab) on the basis of an argument that Indonesian law should be  harmonized with 2002 Law on Child Protection , which set 18 as the age of adulthood.. The weight given to the MUI submission by the secular court is an interesting cross over between religious and secular courts, which were unified into a single system in Indonesia during the Suharto regime. Rumah KitaB were developing a textually based  argument that could challenge the interpretation offered by MUI, which relied on a single text. Law reform is always an important part of social change. Legal reforms provide venues where people can argue for rights, but also are an important part of raising awareness and changing attitudes. For example, in a case of forced marriage that occurred in the community where I was doing research in the late 1970s, not long after the passage of the marriage law, a local official said to me that if the girl had come to him, he would have stopped the marriage. Talk is cheap’ and he was not put to the test but his comment shows the way in which changes on law begin to circulate and be spoken about, and so potentially impact on people’s behavior. What other ways can child marriage be challenged, and social practices changed? Marriage (and the subsequent state of parenthood) is in most communities the path out of a state of childhood to adulthood. Marriage resulted in the formation of a new conjugal unit and household. For those fortunate enough to pursue schooling, educational success and employment are also ‘building blocks’ of adulthood, and delayed age at marriage has no doubt contributed to the decline of marriages arranged by parents, as young people meet prospective spouses during education and in their work place.

Kathryn Robinson at KUPI

But these opportunities are unevenly spread throughout the archipelago. Especially in eastern Indonesia, schools beyond SD level can be a long way from home. And employment can be even harder to find. In such situations, marriage is the only avenue available young women to achieve adulthood, independence from their families of origin, and they often willingly enter into marriage at a young age . In such contexts, educational and employment opportunities are a critical part of solutions to early marriage. The globalized world we now live in is highly sexualized. Mass media exposes us all to narratives and images that challenge customary forms of morality. I have been shocked at the ready availability, indeed the difficulty of avoiding pornographic content in Indonesia, on social and other forms of media. There is a ‘moral panic’ in Indonesia about ‘pergaulan bebas’. In some research I  conducted few years ago, young people who themselves led innocent lives almost universally identified ‘pergaulan bebas’ as the biggest threat confronting Indonesia’s youth. In addition, prolonged education means many young people live away from home and outside the every day ‘control’ of parents, which can be of concern to parents and children alike. In this context, I understand that recent research by Rumah KitaB has shown that some parents see early marriage as the way to address this perceived risk. But it could also be argued that good sex education on schools and religious institutions, including empowering young people to make informed choices and evaluate risks associated with sexual activity—including health, emotional, social and economic risks— could counter this perceived threat in a more effective way than early marriage. But all of these strands are important legal reform and the empowerment of young women, in terms of their knowledge base but also the practical issues around alternative paths put of childhood. [Kathryn]


Gender-based Violence and Gender Knowledge: How Evidence-informed Policy Can Improve Justice for Women

By Mirisa Hasfaria

Violence against women is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights in the world, one of the least prosecuted crimes, and one of the greatest threats to lasting peace and development.”

(Speech by the Acting Head of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri, on Ending Violence against Women and Children, at the ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly on 18 June 2013 in Brussels)


Gender-based violence[1] is violence against women that occurs due to women’s subordinate social status. It includes any act or threat by men or male-dominated institutions that inflicts physical, sexual or psychological harm on a woman or girl because of her gender. In most cultures, traditional beliefs, norms and social institutions legitimize and therefore perpetuate violence against women.[2] Violence against women impacts on and impedes progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security.

The Codification of Women’ Rights

For a long time, international human rights law did not recognize gender-based violence as a problem. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, but the international bill of rights for women, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), was not adopted until 31 years later. In the 1980s, violence against women was still considered a private, domestic matter not requiring state intervention, so it was unsurprising that CEDAW contained no provision on violence against women. The gap was closed in 1992 when the CEDAW Committee adopted General Recommendation No. 19 (CEDAW GR 19) on violence against women, which clarified that gender-based violence against women was a form of discrimination and therefore covered by the scope of CEDAW.

The women’s movement made another remarkable achievement during the Second World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna on 14 to 25 June 1993, which culminated in the concept of violence against women and girls as a violation of human rights (see Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action). The two events led to the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW)[3] in 1993. Both CEDAW GR 19 and DEVAW explicitly encompassed violence perpetrated by either state officials or private persons such as family members, acquaintances or employers. Furthermore, they closed an important gap under international human rights law that originally excluded the private sphere from the human rights agenda, the sphere in which many women’s rights violations occur. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted in 1995 and further expanded the definition of DEVAW to include violations of the rights of women in situations of: armed conflict; forced sterilization, forced abortion, coerced or forced use of contraceptives; prenatal sex selection; and female infanticide. The inclusion of gender equality as Goal 5 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development made ending violence against women and girls a part of the global development agenda.

The State of Gender-Based Violence in Indonesia

The Government of Indonesia ratified CEDAW through Law No. 7 1984. The National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) was established in 1998 as a mechanism for the protection and promotion of women’s human rights and was recognized by the CEDAW Committee[4]. Concerns about gender-based violence in the private sphere were addressed in the Law on the Elimination of Domestic Violence in 2004. As part of its reporting tasks, Komnas Perempuan produces an annual report (commonly referred to as Catatan Tahunan or CATAHU) every March 8 to commemorate International Women’s Day. The report is a compilation of data on cases of violence against women handled by civil society and state agencies around the country, including women’s crisis centers, hospitals, police stations and courts. CATAHU 2016 reported 321,752 cases of violence against women. Over the years of national data compilation, domestic violence[5] is consistently the most-frequently occurring form of violence against women. This evidence highlights the urgent need for action as well as legislation if it is to achieve any real effect.

Child marriage is another form of violence that remains prevalent in Indonesia. Indonesia is among the ten countries with the highest absolute numbers of child brides – 14 percent of women aged between 20 and 24 years are married before they were 18 years old. In figures, this equates to 1,408,000 child brides annually.[6] Child marriage is a harmful practice and a fundamental violation of human rights. It limits girls’ opportunities for education and development and exposes them to greater risk of domestic violence and social isolation. Research confirms that girls who marry in childhood are at greater risk of intimate partner violence than girls of the same age who marry later.[7]

Nevertheless, Indonesia has made some progress towards reducing gender inequality. It was ranked 88 out of 144 in the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report.[8] The report examined four areas of inequality between women and men, namely economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival.


The Availability of Data


Levels of violence against women are not the same in all places and at all times. By identifying the social, cultural, legal and economic factors that influence such violence, it is possible to predict its occurrence and to understand how to prevent it. Equally important are relevant, reliable and timely gender statistics to understand the differences between women and men in a given society. Such information is critical to policy and decision makers and to advancing progress towards gender equality.

However, the use of disaggregated gender and social inclusion data and analyses is not commonplace in Indonesia. This is due to the fact that the prevailing development ideology in Indonesia is economic growth, in which equity is enforced as a form of security control, not in the context of the fulfillments of equal rights among citizens. Researchers, policy analysts and policy makers therefore tend to focus on economic issues rather than those which impact on equality and inclusion. This further limits the type of knowledge available to other policy stakeholders (such as civil society organizations and various media outlets) who rely on robust knowledge to lobby for change and to inform the broader community.


Proposed Actions


Three things are required to ensure that gender equality and gender-based violence are addressed when designing and implementing policies. First, the availability of gender, and gender-based violence knowledge should be improved. It can be in the form of research results, quantitative and qualitative data (including sex-disaggregated data), analysis and reflection of research/studies related to gender inequality, gender-based violence, development of gender mainstreaming and other relevant policies.


Secondly, the effectiveness of gender knowledge for policy making also requires intermediaries to carry out intensive communication and advocacy. Activists, NGOs, gender focal points at government institutions, and centers for women’s studies at universities can manage data in a way that can provide practical recommendations.


And finally, for gender equality to be improved and gender-based violence to be reduced, these ideas need to be embedded in the ethical principles of legislation and justice. This is unlikely to be fulfilled unless there is equal participation of women and men in politics, and these politicians have a deep understanding of the importance of gender knowledge. The World’s Women 2015: Trends and Statistics cited a study conducted between 2006 and 2008 among parliamentarians from 110 countries and reported that women in parliament were more likely than men to prioritize gender and social issues such as childcare, equal pay, parental leave, pensions, reproductive rights, and protection against gender-based violence. Thus, equal participation of women and men in politics is central to more inclusive and democratic governance. [Mirisa Hasfaria]



[1] The term, along with violence against women, is often used interchangeably, as most violence against women is gender-based, and most gender-based violence is inflicted by men on women and girls.

[2] Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (2003), Handout of What is Gender-based Violence, accessible through https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.stopvaw.org/sites/3f6d15f4-c12d-4515-8544-26b7a3a5a41e/uploads/what_is_GBV_5-19-2003.doc&sa=U&ved=0ahUKEwiR75HK8aHVAhWETrwKHeBKAns4ChAWCAwwBA&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNG8iJ1uTXyirV1E1XTfPRkyGC6l9w

[3] DEVAW is currently the main international document addressing the problem of gender-based violence. Each year, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women–which is on 25 November–marks the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, calling for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls, and promoting the rights and principles of the declaration.

[4] Article 18 of CEDAW required national reports to the CEDAW Committee, stating that: “1. State parties undertake to submit to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, for consideration by the Committee, a report on the legislative, judicial, administrative or other measures which they have adopted to give effect to the provisions of the present Convention and on the progress made in this respect: (a) within one year after the entry into force for the State concerned; (b) thereafter at least every four years and further whenever the Committee so requests. 2. Reports may indicate factors and difficulties affecting the degree of fulfillment of obligations under the present Convention.” The existence of Komnas Perempuan is in accordance with Article 2c of the Convention.

[5] Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence, dating abuse, and intimate partner violence (IPV), is a pattern of behavior which involves the abuse by one partner against another in an intimate relationship such as marriage, cohabitation, dating or within the family. Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical aggression or assault (hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, restraining, slapping, throwing objects, battery), or threats thereof; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; controlling or domineering; intimidation; stalking; passive/covert abuse (e.g., neglect); and economic deprivation (TEARS Foundation, accessible through: http://www.tears.co.za/)

[6] UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 2016: A Fair Chance for Every Child, accessible through: https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/UNICEF_SOWC_2016.pdf

[7] Gene B. Sperling, Rebecca Winthrop and Christina Kwauk (2016), What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence for the World’ Best Investment, accessible through: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/whatworksingirlseducation1.pdf

[8] Compare this to the previous rankings: 97 out of 142 in 2014 and 92 out of 145 in 2015.


Mirisa is a social scientist with 11 years working experience in evidence informed policy making, good governance, political education and conflict resolution; 3 years of which in post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction. Area of expertise includes management and support to policy research and communication, knowledge production and publication, policy research and analysis, human development and gender equality, good governance and advocacy, international relations/political science with a focus on human rights as it relates to gender, poverty alleviation and conflict resolution.


Has Indonesia forgotten contraception?

Contraception is not simply a method to prevent pregnancy. Given the suspicion – if not outright hostility – toward contraception that is common to most religions, debates over its regulation are often deeply political and value-laden.


The problem is that suspicion does not solve problems. In Indonesia, adolescents cannot legally access birth control unless they are married. Yet many adolescents are sexually active, whatever their marital status. In fact, according to Unicef, one in nine Indonesian adolescents are sexually active. The Indonesian Demographic and Health Survey (SDKI) puts the figure even higher, at one in four. They have an urgent need for contraception.


There are more than 45 million 10-19 year olds in Indonesia. In 2017, the Indonesian Demographic and Health Survey (SDKI) found that only 45 per cent of married or sexually active adolescents aged 15 to 19 said they used contraception. This means the other 55 per cent either had no plans to use contraception or had limited exposure to knowledge about their bodies, sexuality, reproductive health, and contraceptives. These are concerning findings.


A 2016 study by Rumah KitaB found that from 52 female adolescents who married in childhood, 36 (about 70 per cent) got married because of unwanted pregnancies. Nearly all admitted that they never used contraception when they had sex, either because they didn’t know how to obtain the pill or didn’t have the courage to ask their partners to use a condom.


Only one tenth of the child brides surveyed had access to contraception. They usually acquired it from private midwives, not state-run community health centres (puskesmas), with the help of their mothers or mothers-in-law.


On World Contraception Day on 26 September, Indonesia received the distinction of being the country with the greatest unmet need for contraception. Lack of legally available contraception for adolescents contributed to this result. Indonesia was once a leader in family planning but it is fast becoming one of the worst performers in the region.


How did we get to this point? The main problem lies in flawed population policies. Grounded in the ideology of “developmentalism”, which held that the nation would become prosperous if population growth could be controlled, the New Order regime strictly applied a Family Planning project called Keluarga Berencana, or KB.


Using a wide range of methods and approaches, Indonesia’s population policy was deemed successful. But the program’s occasionally coercive methods, in which those who did not practice KB were treated as “the other”, alienated many. This included sections of the Muslim community, which was under the most suspicion when the program was first applied. Any effort to question, let alone oppose, the assertion that families would become prosperous through the KB program was simply crushed by the state.


Islamic mass-based organisations – first Nahdlatul Ulama, and later Muhammadiyah – tried to assuage Muslim anxieties about New Order enforcement of the KB policy. These two organisations agreed to support the New Order government’s population program, relying on interpretation and exploration of Islamic arguments. They justified support for KB in the name of both darurat (emergency) and maslahat (the greater good) to avoid even greater mudharat (harm) if the size of the population were not controlled.


However, this theological discourse from NU and Muhammadiyah certainly did not comfort everyone in the Muslim community. Even today, many Muslims are suspicious of family planning as a “western project” to reduce the size of the Muslim population.


This is not simply because the religious arguments are insufficient to convince them, for example because of differences in interpretation or exploration of Islamic law. Rather, narratives about “genocide of the Islamic community” have taken root, and are now considered truth by many people.


Those who reject family planning point to the fact that promises about family planning delivering prosperity were never truly realised, but it did reduce the size of many Muslim families.


Another problem is that there was never any theological debate or discussion of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) on the use of contraception by young people during the New Order era. The state seemingly sought to increase the moral acceptance of the KB program by guaranteeing that it would not be accessed by adolescents.


The Criminal Code (KUHP) (under Article 283) and the 2009 Population Growth and Family Development Law (under Article 26) still explicitly prohibit provision of contraception services to adolescents and unmarried couples, apart from information, and even that is restricted, with punishments of fines and imprisonment if violated. These prohibitions on serving the needs of adolescents were clearly a “band-aid” strategy to contain the anxiety and suspicions of the religious community.


Ignoring adolescents’ need for contraception has created a huge gap in addressing the problems of reproductive health in Indonesia. Adolescents are now a quarter of the population and among those who most need information on reproductive health and contraception services.


Indonesians cannot simply shut their eyes to the reality that the age at which girls are menstruating and becoming sexually active is steadily decreasing. At the same time, underage marriage is also becoming more common – on the grounds of fear of committing the “sin of premarital sex”, or if pregnancy has already occurred.


As long as the government remains closed to discussion on reproductive health education for adolescents, and the law remains unchanged, young people will remain shut off from accurate information.


The government’s reluctance to address adolescent sexual and reproductive health also provides room for conservative religious groups to push their position. And their solution is worryingly simplistic: Just marry them off!


Now is the time for the state, assisted by NU and Muhammadiyah, to come down from the mountaintop, and take a frank and pragmatic look at adolescent sexuality. Gaps in information and reproductive health services, including contraception services for adolescents, must be addressed.


If not, Indonesia can look forward to a grim future of more and more child brides and unwanted pregnancies.

Source: http://indonesiaatmelbourne.unimelb.edu.au/has-indonesia-forgotten-contraception/

Is there room for critical thinking in Islam?

To be Muslim is not to be politically asleep, but rather to be in a permanent state of critique.

Nothing is more satisfying than the conviction that your enemy lacks the ability to think critically. What could be more gratifying than the idea that the person you are fighting is trapped in an airlock of unreflection? It blesses your struggle, redeems your cruelty, legitimises your violence. If a definition of humanity is the ability to think for oneself, then what could be wrong with fighting the unfree?

The modern pairing of Islam with the incapacity for critical thought is a fairly old gesture – the Enlightenment philosopher Leibniz said Muslims were so fatalistic they wouldn’t even jump out of the way of carts. Over the past fifteen years, however, the internet has enabled and amplified a panoply of voices with this view.

From the digital rooftops, a thousand voices are shouting down Islam as a space inimical to any form of rational reflection: millionaire right-wingers masquerading as free-thinkers such as Bill Maher, Eton-educated “voices of the people” such as Douglas Murray, sophisticated hate-distillers such as Ann Coulter and her not-so-bright British version, Katie Hopkins … even Greek classics professors-turned-Islam experts such as Tom Holland have joined the fray.

Some of the historical acrobatics involved in this gesture are awe-inspiring. Any academic would be laughed out of the room if they suggested St Augustine was somehow complicit in the bombing of abortion clinics, or that the medieval Hohenstaufen culminated in the Third Reich, or that the Renaissance never happened. Almost on a daily basis, however, confident, context-defying lines of continuity are drawn for Islam across centuries and continents, monocausally linking the Ottomans to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), or seventh century theology to attacks on shopping malls. In these re-writings of history, contrary or problematic episodes (such as the vast contribution of the Islamic world to geometry, astronomy and the vocabulary of science in general) are not just left out – anyone even trying to mention them is mocked as a naive, idiot liberal. It’s a wonderful age to be alive.

I often wonder what can be done against this collective dumbing-down of an entire faith. Patiently repeating points and examples from history – in the manner of explaining something difficult but obvious to an eight-year old child – does not seem to go very far in combatting a million views on Youtube. Raising consciousness is not enough – there almost seems to be a will not to know here, a decision to remain in the foetal warmth of a particular narrative. When a Western, best-selling public intellectual openly laughs at the idea of “Islamic inventions”, and garners online 10,000 likes in doing so, it is difficult to see what benefit the provision of empirical facts can provide. Large sections of our society seem to be locked into certain fantasies about Islam and the West – and how we are going to unlock those fantasies remains as unclear as ever.

Not that scholars have given up. Irfan Ahmad’s latest book, Religion As Critique: Islamic Critical Thinking from Mecca to the Marketplace (2017), offers an interesting opposition to the West-and-the-rest narratives of an European Enlightenment radiating outwards from Greece and Germany into the backward corners of a darker world. Positing the Prophet Mohammed as “a critic of the Meccan social order”, Ahmad constructs an alternative genealogy of the verb to critique (tanqid/naqd), one which is not by any means dismissive of Greek/pre-Islamic/Western traditions, “but which at the same time can’t be subsumed within them”. It is a welcome move that intelligently and articulately condenses the work of previous scholars (Talal Asad, Gayatri Spivak, J G A Pocock) on two important points.

First of all, it demonstrates the extent to which the Enlightenment was an “ethnic project” – an ethnic project, moreover, which was in constant need of an enemy. When Kant spoke about the space of philosophy to be defined, he often alluded to the space of Europe, whose boundaries needed to be patrolled. Secondly, the tired linking of the critical with the secular – and “uncritical” with the religious – is something Ahmad’s book goes on to rigorously deconstruct. Perhaps a touch controversially for some, he declares: “Against the reigning doxa, which views Islam and critique as mutually exclusive domains … I propose we begin to think of Islam as critique; indeed, Islam as permanent critique.”

To be Muslim, in other words, is not to be politically asleep, or passively receptive to a divine will, but rather to be in a permanent state of critique. Not everyone will be politically comfortable with some of the choices Ahmad has as examples of this critical tradition (Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami, is given a central chapter), but the gesture he makes – developing an alternative genealogy of critical thought in the Urdu Islamicate traditions of South Asia – is a valuable one.

To be fair, there is another aspect to this issue we have not yet touched upon. The critical tradition of Islam might well be compared with a city which is under attack on two fronts – from without, and from within. In addition to a certain relentless Western reduction of Islam to an unreflective cult, there are those within the Muslim world would wholly reject some of its most famous philosophers and critical thinkers as un-Islamic. The late Shahab Ahmed’s monograph What Is Islam?: The Importance of Being Islamic (2015), in this respect, stands interestingly alongside Irfan Ahmad’s book as a parallel attempt to re-define the parameters of the Islamic world – and, implicitly, its relationship to both the Western and the secular. Although Shahab Ahmed’s focus on activities such as wine drinking lends it a different tone from Religion As Critique, both books share a frustration with narrow definitions of the Islamic tradition. In Shahab Ahmed’s case, this is a desire to expand the idea of being Islamic well beyond the “putative centrality” of jurisprudence which most convention seems to define the religion by; in Irfan Ahmad’s book, a similar belief in the value of everyday experience – “the practice … of the nonscholarly and commoners” as Ahmad puts it – is given as much weight as the pronouncements of the ulema in deciding what an Islamic critical tradition might be.

These debates will go on. In closing, it might be worth ending with the words an Arab philosopher wrote in the city of Damascus, just over 800 years ago. Words which demonstrate (if you’ll forgive my anachronism) a remarkable pre-psychological awareness of the extent to which we personally construct the God we worship:

“… you will see no one who worships an unmade God, since man creates in himself that which he worships and judges. When a person sees something of the [divine] Real, he never sees anything but himself.”

The writer is Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), and the extracts are two lines taken from his Futuhat, written at some point during the 1220s. Of course I am ripping these words out of context, and yet the sentiment they express – the God we pray to always reflects us, even comes out of us, in some way or another – is a suspicion to be found across Jewish and Christian traditions too (Maimonides, Meister Eckhart). Eight hundred years ago, a keen epistemological querying of religious experience was already at work. Admittedly, the goal of this querying was not a secular demolition of God, but a purer experience of the divine; not the exposure of God as a psychological illusion, but a clearer demarcation between what we imagine God to be, and the thing that lies beyond it. Some might call this a deferred critical thinking: critical thought put to the ultimate service of the uncritical. It’s a fair charge – people are entitled to their opinion. But there must be something valuable in trying to remember that lines like these were being written in Damascus, and Cairo, and Cordoba, centuries before Gramsci, Marx and Descartes. And certainly 800 years before Youtube.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

Source: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/room-critical-thinking-islam-180406080925909.html

Could Aung San Suu Kyi face Rohingya genocide charges?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, is determined that the perpetrators of the horrors committed against the Rohingya face justice.

He’s the head of the UN’s watchdog for human rights across the world, so his opinions carry weight.

It could go right to the top – he doesn’t rule out the possibility that civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the armed forces Gen Aung Min Hlaing, could find themselves in the dock on genocide charges some time in the future.

Earlier this month, Mr Zeid told the UN Human Rights Council that the widespread and systematic nature of the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar (also called Burma) meant that genocide could not be ruled out.

“Given the scale of the military operation, clearly these would have to be decisions taken at a high level,” said the high commissioner, when we met at the UN headquarters in Geneva for BBC Panorama.

That said, genocide is one of those words that gets bandied about a lot. It sounds terrible – the so-called “crime of crimes”. Very few people have ever been convicted of it.

The crime was defined after the Holocaust. Member countries of the newly founded United Nations signed a convention, defining genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy a particular group.

It is not Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s job to prove acts of genocide have been committed – only a court can do that. But he has called for an international criminal investigation into the perpetrators of what he has called the “shockingly brutal attacks” against the Muslim ethnic group who are mainly from northern Rakhine in Myanmar.

But the high commissioner recognised it would be a tough case to make: “For obvious reasons, if you’re planning to commit genocide you don’t commit it to paper and you don’t provide instructions.”

“The thresholds for proof are high,” he said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me in the future if a court were to make such a finding on the basis of what we see.”

By the beginning of December, nearly 650,000 Rohingya – around two thirds of the entire population – had fled Myanmar after a wave of attacks led by the army that began in late August.

Hundreds of villages were burned and thousands are reported to have been killed.

There is evidence of terrible atrocities being committed: massacres, murders and mass rapes – as I heard myself when I was in the refugee camps as this crisis began.

What clearly rankles the UN human rights chief is that he had urged Ms Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, to take action to protect the Rohingya six months before the explosion of violence in August.

He said he spoke to her on the telephone when his office published a report in February documenting appalling atrocities committed during an episode of violence that began in October 2016.

“I appealed to her to bring these military operations to an end,” he told me. “I appealed to her emotional standing… to do whatever she could to bring this to a close, and to my great regret it did not seem to happen.”












Rohingya Muslims displaced from Tula Toli village in Rakhine State gave disturbing accounts

Ms Suu Kyi’s power over the army is limited, but Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein believes she should have done more to try and stop the military campaign.

He criticised her for failing to use the term “Rohingya”. “To strip their name from them is dehumanising to the point where you begin to believe that anything is possible,” he said – powerful language for a top UN official.

He thought Myanmar’s military was emboldened when the international community took no action against them after the violence in 2016. “I suppose that they then drew a conclusion that they could continue without fear,” he said.

“What we began to sense was that this was really well thought out and planned,” he told me.

The Myanmar government has said the military action was a response to terrorist attacks in August which killed 12 members of the security forces.

But BBC Panorama has gathered evidence that shows that preparations for the continued assault on the Rohingya began well before that.

We show that Myanmar had been training and arming local Buddhists. Within weeks of last year’s violence the government made an offer: “Every Rakhine national wishing to protect their state will have the chance to become part of the local armed police.”

“This was a decision made to effectively perpetrate atrocity crimes against the civilian population,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive of the human rights organisation Fortify Rights which has been investigating the build-up to this year’s violence.

That view is borne out by refugees in the vast camps in Myanmar who saw these volunteers in action, attacking their Rohingya neighbours and burning down their homes.

“They were just like the army, they had the same kind of weapons”, said Mohammed Rafique, who ran a successful business in Myanmar. “They were local boys, we knew them. When the army was burning our houses, torturing us, they were there.”












Who is burning down Rohingya villages?

Meanwhile the Rohingya were getting more vulnerable in other ways.

By the summer food shortages were widespread in north Rakhine – and the government tightened the screws. The programme has learnt that from mid-August the authorities had cut off virtually all food and other aid to north Rakhine.

And the army brought in reinforcements. On 10 August, two weeks before the militant attacks, it was reported that a battalion had been flown in.

The UN human rights representative for Myanmar was so concerned she issued a public warning, urging restraint from the Myanmar authorities.

But when Rohingya militants launched attacks on 30 police posts and an army base, the military response was huge, systematic and devastating.












Rohingya refugees tell the BBC of “house by house” killings

The BBC asked Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the Myanmar armed forces for a response. But neither of them has replied.

Almost four months on from those attacks and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is concerned the repercussions of the violence are not yet over. He fears this “could just be the opening phases of something much worse”.

He worries jihadi groups could form in the huge refugee camps in Bangladesh and launch attacks in Myanmar, perhaps even targeting Buddhist temples. The result could be what he called a “confessional confrontation” – between Buddhists and Muslims.

It is a frightening thought, as the high commissioner acknowledged, but one he believes Myanmar isn’t taking seriously enough.

“I mean the stakes are so enormous,” he said. “This sort of flippant manner by which they respond to the serious concerns of the international community is really alarming.”

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42335018

The Religion and Cultural Fundamentalist Issues in BERDAYA Program

One of the challenges of BERDAYA program is that the purpose of this activity can contradict with religious and cultural fundamentalists who consider child marriage to be their domain.

Religious fundamentalism is both a religious as well as an ideology that believes that the best way to save people from destruction on earth is to “return to the basic dogma.” Methodologically they invite to return to the understanding of the text of Scripture (Qur’an and hadith). But its way of understanding uses the literalist basis. This literalist argumentation rejects the results of ijtihad and the classical law argumentation that have been codified by scholars who develop Islamic thought contextually for centuries through the process of culture-civilization to Islam in accordance with the times. This reinvigorated effort of textual teaching eliminates the essence of humanity within it. This literalist view makes the religious view stalled, static and consequently Islam evolving backward so that religious views become rigid and incapable of adapting to the modern age, this condition creates an antipathic view of the modern civilization itself.

Ideologically, this view of fundamentalism is one level below radicalism, while radicalism is a belief or action with the imposition of views and attitudes through violence and terrorism. Fundamentalism is the embryo of the birth of radicalism even to the level of terrorism if there is no process that prevents it. Cultural fundamentalism is also similar to the condition of religious fundamentalism, both of them refers to the basic guidelines of an ideology, one a religious ideology, while another is a cultural ideology. Cultural fundamentalism will give rise to a rigid and absolute view of treating traditions. Religious and cultural fundamentalism are equally harmful to women because they consider the existence of women to be a measure of change, so control over the women is important to keep their ideology. Child marriage is one of the things that they maintain because it is in accordance with the religious fundamentalism that is believed.

Child marriage is happening at an alarming rate across the US

By Fraidy Reiss

Fraidy Reiss is the founder/executive director of Unchained At Last, a nonprofit that helps women and girls in the United States to escape forced marriages, and works to end forced and child marriage in America. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)People are looking in shocked disgust at the defenders of Roy Moore. How can so many Alabamans throw their support behind Moore, the Republican nominee for a United States Senate seat there, who is accused of pursuing or sexually abusing teens — including a 14 year-old — back when he was in his 30s? Moore denies the allegations, and is threatening to sue the Washington Post, where the report appeared last week.

Americans are appalled, unable to account for the bizarre responses of, for example, the state auditor, who likened Moore’s situation to the biblical story of Joseph and Mary, or the parade of citizen supporters defending Moore and doubting his accusers, or even an elementary school principal, who seemed to dismiss the allegations: “This all happened many years ago, correct? I honestly think we’re paying too much attention to it.” (She later said she didn’t mean for her comment to come out that way.)

How can such thinking persist anywhere in America in 2017? How can anyone not be horrified that a grown man could allegedly attempt sexual relations with a minor?

I must point out an awkward truth.

Child marriage — which often is legalized child rape — is happening at an alarming rate across the United States today. Clerks and judges openly give marriage licenses to adult men who are marrying young girls, granting the men a “get out of jail free” card that in many cases allows what would otherwise be against the law.


Moore’s alleged sexual encounters more than 30 years ago, as described by his accusers, were surreptitious, the actions of a man who knew he might get punished if he were caught. These adult husbands’ sexual encounters with child wives, on the other hand, are brazen, the actions of men who know they will not get punished because the government has sanctioned their misconduct and is complicit in it.

While most states set 18 as the marriage age, legal loopholes — such as judicial approval — in all 50 states allow marriage before 18. Laws in 25 states do not specify any minimum age for marriage.

Ironically, though Alabama’s child marriage laws are on their face abysmal, as they permit marriage before 18, they are relatively “strong” compared with other states across the nation: At least Alabama specifies that no child under 16 may marry.


In 2015, Unchained At Last — a nonprofit I founded in 2011 to fight forced marriage — collected marriage license data in the United States from 2000 to 2010, the time period for which the highest number of states had marriage age data available.

In just the 38 US states that track marriage ages, according to the available data, more than 167,000 children, some as young as 10, were married between 2000 and 2010. In all 50 states, Unchained At Last estimated that 248,000 children — or those under age 18 — were married in America in that decade. (Twelve states and Washington, DC, could not provide sufficient data on child marriage. For them, Unchained used a statistical model to estimate the number of children wed, based on the strong correlation Unchained identified between population and child marriage.)

Almost all the children married were girls wed to adult men, according to the data. In many cases, because of the age of the child or the spousal age difference, sex between the two would constitute statutory rape under that state’s laws.

This is happening in state after state, not only in Alabama. Since 1995, judges in my home state of New Jersey, for example, have handed marriage licenses to more than 105 men who instead should have been investigated for statutory rape under state law: The men were four or more years older than their child bride, who was between the ages of 13 and 15.

Horrifyingly, statutory rape within marriage is not considered a crime in many states. New Jersey is not one of those states. Thus, while those 105+ marriages are legal, every time those couples have sex, the husband could theoretically be charged with sexual assault.

Child marriage is an outrage not only when it legalizes or ignores statutory rape. Child marriage also is often forced marriage — imposed on minors who have little recourse. Before children become adults, which typically happens at age 18, they cannot easily leave home, enter a domestic violence shelter, retain an attorney or bring a legal action. They are nearly powerless to protect themselves if their parents or others try to force them into marriage.

I see the horrors of forced child marriage regularly through Unchained At Last. It means rape for the child on the wedding night and thereafter. It usually means the child is pulled out of middle school or high school, with all her or his hopes for the future destroyed. It means lifelong trauma.

Further, whether it is forced or not, child marriage devastates girls’ health, education and economic opportunities and significantly increases their risk of being beaten by their spouse. The US State Department considers marriage before 18 a “human rights abuse.”

Solving America’s child marriage problem should be simple. Every state can start by passing commonsense legislation I have helped to write to eliminate the archaic loopholes that permit marriage before 18, or before the age of adulthood, whichever is higher. Strong legislation to this effect is pending in Florida, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

But the same legislation has failed recently in other states. Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the bill that passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in New Jersey. New Hampshire legislators voted no, and Maryland legislators let the bill die, twice. Legislators in New York, Virginia, Texas and Connecticut passed weaker bills that still allow marriage before 18.

Sure, let’s be outraged about Moore’s alleged actions to prey on five teenage girls.

But let’s not forget the ongoing outrage of child marriage, happening legally right now in courthouses and clerks’ offices across America.


Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/15/opinions/moore-case-spotlights-risk-to-young-girls-reiss/index.html


The Art of Making a Jihadist

By: Andrew Anthony

We know about jihadists’ dedication to violence, but that’s not the whole story, says expert Thomas Hegghammer. There’s a hidden culture of poetry, music and storytelling that sustains their ideology

WHEN Jihadi John, the Islamist terrorist who gloried in decapitating hostages, was exposed as Mohammed Emwazi, a spokesman from Cage recalled the west Londoner bringing “posh baklava” to the advocacy group’s offices. He described the knife-wielding murderer and gloating torturer as “a beautiful young man… extremely kind, gentle and soft-spoken, the most humble young person I knew”.

One of the people who inspired Emwazi was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, renowned for leading the group that beheaded and tortured many western hostages in Iraq, including the British engineer Kenneth Bigley. Zarqawi was known as the Sheikh of the Slaughterers, but he was also referred to as He Who Weeps A Lot, for his habit of crying during prayer.

A baklava-dispensing gentleman and lachrymose devotee who both happen to be sadistic killers? There’s something jarring about these portraits, because with good reason we tend to think of jihadists like Emwazi and al-Zarqawi as murderous automatons, singularly dedicated to the most terrifying violence. But as the Norwegian academic Thomas Hegghammer, an expert on jihadism, argues, that’s not the whole story. Even jihadists have their downtime. The question is, what do they do in it?

After a decade of studying the subject, around 2010 Hegghammer came to a realisation. Jihadists did a lot of things seemingly at odds with their brutal image: weeping, writing and reciting poetry, singing, recalling and interpreting dreams, perfecting their manners and taking an inordinate interest in their appearance.

In the language of behavioural economics, they weren’t rational actors because they were acting in ways that often ran counter to their stated interests. That may not seem like a profound insight about people whose military USP is a pronounced willingness to blow themselves up. Still, Hegghammer thought it was one worth exploring and, given the ongoing draw of jihadism, it’s perhaps one that the authorities should also consider.

Jihadism, in the sense that Hegghammer is concerned with, is a relatively new phenomenon. He dates it to the Afghan war against the USSR in the 1980s. Since then it has taken many forms in places as diverse as Chechnya, Bosnia, Nigeria and Somalia.

Most recently hundreds of young men, and some young women too, have gone to Syria from the UK, and thousands from across Europe as a whole. With the attacks in London and Manchester, and the vicious battles to retake the cities of Mosul and Raqqa from Isis in Iraq and Syria, the bloody reality of global jihad has been a prominent news story for some time. Yet we know little of jihadists’ lives beyond their obsession with death.

What Hegghammer came to see in looking closer at the background activities that gained little attention was a pattern of behaviour that amounted to a distinct and living culture. The result is a book Hegghammer has edited entitled “Jihadi Culture: The Art and Social Practices of Militant Islamists.

I meet Hegghammer at a pub on the banks of the river Cherwell, not far from the spot where the city of Oxford surrendered to Oliver Cromwell, that English religious Puritan who, like the jihadists, believed God guided his military campaigns.

Hegghammer is senior research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment in Oslo. In 2001, having left Oxford with degrees in Middle East Studies, he got a summer internship at the establishment working on a tiny unit that was then known as the “Bin Laden network”. A couple of months later 9/11 happened and he became completely absorbed in a phenomenon that, he says, has been “a passion” ever since.

A youthful-looking 40-year-old, Hegghammer is quietly spoken and carefully reflective. I ask him if he was worried that his book might be misconceived as an apology for, or even glorification of, jihadism.

“To be perfectly honest it didn’t occur to me in the beginning, perhaps because I and the people I work with take it for granted that there’s no need to normatively condemn jihadism in every sentence.” However, after he published an op-ed piece in the New York Times, the comments section “exploded” with outrage. “So I think some people see it as a little controversial,” he acknowledges, “but once I can explain what it’s about, people understand.”

Militancy, Hegghammer writes, “is about more than bombs and doctrines. It is also about rituals, customs and dress codes. It is about music, films and storytelling. It is about sports, jokes, and food.”

The book argues that jihadis have a “rich aesthetic culture that is essential for understanding their mindset and worldview”. “Rich” is an unusual choice of word to describe a culture that is primarily concerned with prohibition: of expression, imagery, literature, sexuality, sensuality, and a huge range of human activities that fall outside a very strict interpretation of the seventh-century religious guide to living a pious life that is the Qur’an.

Perhaps a more fitting word is “kitsch”, for much of jihadi poetry and artwork presented in the book is sentimental and self-glorifying. Indeed the imagery displayed in a chapter called The Visual Culture of Jihad is replete with heavenly representations that wouldn’t look out of place hanging on the fence of Kensington Gardens, alongside paintings of cute cats and doe-eyed children.

“It’s a very romantic culture,” says Hegghammer, “insofar as they see themselves as historical heroes, knights in shining armour, every one of them. And they can be very pompous. Humour is unevenly distributed in the movement – some of them can be quite funny and self-ironic, but the average level of self-irony is very low. It’s a movement that takes itself very seriously.”

But aesthetic judgments about rich or kitsch are beside the point. What really matters, from a sociological viewpoint, is the time jihadists devote to pastimes that do not appear to tally with their central preoccupation.

“We should expect them to spend all their time honing their bomb-making skills, raising funds, or studying the enemy’s weakness,” Hegghammer writes. “Yet they ‘waste’ time on poetry recitation, hymn singing, and other activities that serve no apparent strategic purpose.”

Except, as Hegghammer argues, what initially seems superfluous to the cause is in fact all part of its dissemination. New recruits, for example, tend to listen to jihadi music and watch jihadi videos long before they understand the doctrine or take part in any fighting. This suggests that the culture underpinning Islamist militancy acts as a kind of gateway to the ideology, rather than vice versa.

If this is so, then it’s a significant finding in terms of shaping counterterrorism initiatives. The problem, though, is that jihadi culture shares a great deal with Salafi (fundamentalist Islam) culture and even mainstream Islamic culture.

“The culture the jihadis offer is recognisable to many,” Hegghammer explains. “It’s not a break aesthetically speaking, especially compared to non-jihad radicalism. If you take skinhead culture, it’s a radical break with the mainstream. They’re not claiming that people were using Dr Martens with red shoelaces 1,300 years ago. Whereas the jihadis are presenting something with an aura of authenticity in which each element has some historical precedent.”

Hence, of course, the style of dress and behaviour that jihadists believe to be modelled on the prophet and his companions. But this emphasis on the past is one of the areas in which jihadism must encounter a strange kind of cognitive dissonance because it’s a movement that, in several other respects, is also rushing to embrace modernity.

One of the great successes of jihadism has been its use of social media and online applications such as YouTube and chatrooms. Rather than worry about whether Twitter is haram or halal, the jihadis have rushed to embrace all forms of new media for its international propaganda capability, with Isis producing a series of slick online magazines and videos.

“They’ve become more pragmatic in their cultural appropriation,” explains Hegghammer. “In the 80s you had a bunch of jihadi magazines being published in Peshawar in Pakistan and about half of them had images in them and half did not, because some believed that photography should be banned. And you’ve gone from that to this big light and sound show that is jihadi propaganda today.”

But perhaps the area of jihadist culture that’s most fraught with contradiction is that which speaks of human suffering, a recurring theme in its poetry, song, and cinematography. Simply put, jihadists are prone to romanticise their own adversity and overlook that which they bring to others. That’s a trait shared with many other fighting forces, of course, but it’s a particularly conspicuous one in this case.

One of the main creative forms – one of the few acceptable creative forms – in jihadist culture is what’s called nashid, a kind of sung poem that often focuses on the pain and suffering of the occupied and the oppressed. Typically it lists grievances and calls upon righteous Muslims to overthrow the oppressor. The style is grandiose and sentimental and, as Hegghammer’s book documents, jihadists often weep at the tales told in various anashid (the plural form). Yet the thought of killing Yazidis, enslaving their women, and running people off their land inspires nothing but celebration. In other words, for all their readiness to get in touch with their sensitive sides and have a good sob, jihadists are not upset by oppression or suffering, unless it’s their own.

There are no anashid from the point of view of jihadists’ victims. When Isis issued a ruling permitting fighters to have sex with prepubescent prisoners, it occasioned no tear-soaked poems or hymns.

I ask Hegghammer what makes it possible to show empathy in communal crying jags and yet remain indifferent to the pain inflicted on defenceless victims.

“I think these processes don’t always happen in the brain, but in the heart,” he says. “And they are often about the short term, the immediate emotional rewards they’re getting, the enjoyment of the situation there and then. They don’t stop and think about what’s going on. They go with the flow, and the flow is strong and deep.”

That flow, like it or not, is religious in nature. One of the most important aspects of Hegghammer’s and his co-authors’ research is that it establishes just how much religion plays a part in the jihadist’s worldview.

It has become common practice to dismiss terrorists’ pretensions to religiosity. “They’re not real Muslims” is now a set response to any atrocity committed in Islam’s name. It’s an understandable, perhaps even commendable impulse, but it suffers from the great disadvantage of being factually wrong.

“I think their religiosity needs to be taken very seriously,” says Hegghammer. “There’s a big and ongoing debate about how knowledgeable jihadis are about religion, which is not very helpful because you have to distinguish between depth of knowledge and intensity of belief.”

The signs are that the large majority of jihadists pray a lot, fast, don’t drink, and closely follow the rules of Islam, at least in their own interpretation.

If belief in the afterlife is one of several aspects of faith common to most Muslims (and indeed practising Christians) it is critical to jihadism. If the jihadist credo could be condensed into one sentence, it would be the often quoted statement: “We love death as you love life”. After all, suicide bombing, that jihadist speciality, trades on a desire to relinquish life for the eternal paradise of heaven.

“Where the jihadists will disagree with other afterlife-believing Muslims is about who gets there,” says Hegghammer. “The jihadists say that if you don’t fight you go to hell.”

Whereas those who fight and are killed are reserved a special place – famously filled with compliant virgins – in heaven.

This picture of religious conviction has been serially undermined by the backstories of many European jihadists, who have spent years drinking, taking drugs and having casual sexual relationships. It has created what Hegghammer calls a “tabloid narrative”, in which non-religious types have a religious awakening and atone for their sins with jihad.

“There’s an unspoken assumption there that they were more or less atheist before. I think that’s wrong. Even when they were in youth gangs, drinking and taking drugs, they defined themselves as Muslim and were aware of the ethical system.”

So the attempts to dismiss jihadists as just misguided criminal delinquents are, believes Hegghammer, misconceived. They may be confused, a mess of contradictions and conflicting identities, but they are often seeking to reconnect with a latent sense of religious belief.

Within that belief system, dream interpretation enjoys a history that far predates Freudianism. As the prophet Muhammad is thought to have received his divine revelations in “visions”, dreams occupy a special place in Islamic theology. In a fascinating chapter on The Islamic Dream Tradition and Jihadi Militancy, Iain Edgar and Gwynned de Looijer examine how jihadists search for meaning in their dreams.

Mullah Omar, the former head of the Taliban, was said to get his strategic warfare guidance in his dreams. And Osama bin Laden is on record as deriving reassurance the same way. When, a year before 9/11, one of his factotums mentioned a dream he had in which jihadists dressed as pilots played football against Americans, Bin Laden decided that as the dreamer was ignorant of the terror plot, it had to be an omen for its eventual success.

Robert Fowler, a Canadian hostage of jihadists in Africa, wrote about one of his captors who constantly inquired of his dreams “to exercise his training in interpretation”. And many jihadists in Syria report joining the cause as a consequence of a dream.

So much for the sleeping dreams, what of their waking ones? What world do jihadists want to create? It’s notable that so much of the descriptive work of jihadi films, poetry and artwork is fixated on two things: the base evil of the enemy and the sensual indulgence of heaven. What it seldom attempts to do is to describe the idyll of jihadi life on Earth.

I recall speaking to Anjem Choudary, the now imprisoned militant activist who is thought to have inspired scores of jihadists at home and abroad. I asked him to describe how he wanted life to be in his ideal world. He painted a bleak picture of crucifixions, no freedom of expression, enforced segregation, gay people and apostates put to death, no alcohol, no theatre, no concerts, and countless other prohibitions.

Is that it? I asked.

“We have a laugh,” he protested. “I could sing an Islamic song to you.”

No doubt many of the jihadists who set out for Syria with visions of a promised land encountered instead a harsh way of life for which no amount of poetry, dream interpretation and Islamic song could compensate.

But now that Mosul is once more under Iraqi control and Isis looks set to be ejected from Raqqa, the caliphate, of which Choudary strongly approved, appears to be nearing collapse. Will that destroy the allure of jihadism?

No, says Hegghammer, firmly.

“We’ll see IS flip into a lost caliphate narrative. They will say we had this amazing society and they came along and broke it again. You’ll get caliphate nostalgia just like you get communism nostalgia in eastern Europe. In five or 10 years’ time 17-year-olds will look at pictures of the Islamic State and want to fight against the people who destroyed it.

“I think that’s a very powerful narrative. And the culture is a glue that has kept lots of different groups together in the past and I see no reason why it shouldn’t in the future.”

But now that Mosul is once more under Iraqi control and Isis looks set to be ejected from Raqqa, the caliphate, of which Choudary strongly approved, appears to be nearing collapse. Will that destroy the allure of jihadism?

No, says Hegghammer, firmly.

“We’ll see IS flip into a lost caliphate narrative. They will say we had this amazing society and they came along and broke it again. You’ll get caliphate nostalgia just like you get communism nostalgia in eastern Europe. In five or 10 years’ time 17-year-olds will look at pictures of the Islamic State and want to fight against the people who destroyed it.

“I think that’s a very powerful narrative. And the culture is a glue that has kept lots of different groups together in the past and I see no reason why it shouldn’t in the future.”

It’s a perfect English summer’s evening when we finish talking, with children playing on the lawn and people arriving for a cold glass of something, one of those scenes of bucolic peacefulness in which it’s hard to imagine a more pleasant way of life.

But that’s just a particular perspective, a cultural disposition, even, perhaps, a subjective illusion. For jihadists, as Hegghammer’s and his co-writers’ compelling book makes clear, the struggle for a very different kind of world is set to continue.

Extract: Poetry in Jihadi Culture

Poetry is central to the self-fashioning and self-presentation of the jihadis; it lies at the core of their identity as well as their ideology, and it represents their most sophisticated cultural product. Most militant leaders and ideologues, including Osama bin Laden, have written poems of their own and make a point of reciting these, as well as verse by others, in social settings and in propaganda communiques. The jihadis’ poetry is not aesthetically innovative, and it does not try to be. Instead, it highlights the poets’ rootedness in tradition, presenting itself as an “authentic” expression of Muslim identity in a world that has perverted true Islamic principles.

Analysts have generally ignored these texts, as if poetry were a colourful but ultimately distracting by-product of jihad. Perhaps this is because they are linguistically difficult or because their purpose appears both alien and obscure. But this dismissal is a mistake. It is impossible to understand jihadism – its aims, its appeal to outsiders, and its durability – without looking into its culture. This culture comes in a number of forms, including anthems, documentary videos, and polemical essays, but poetry is arguably at its centre. And unlike the slickly produced videos of beheadings and burnings, which are made primarily for foreign consumption, poetry provides a window on to the movement talking to itself, as well as to potential recruits. It is in their verse that militants most clearly articulate the fantasy life of jihad.

When the militants’ literary interests are noted, the result is often amused incomprehension. The raid in May 2011 on the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden also uncovered a trove of correspondence. In one letter, written on 6 August 2010, Bin Laden asks a key lieutenant to recommend someone to lead “a big operation inside America”. In the following sentence he writes: “If there are any brothers with you who know about poetic metre, please inform me, and if you have any books on classical prosody, please send them to me.” Commentating for Foreign Affairs on this exchange, an analyst remarked: “Because after a long day of planning to strike fear into the hearts of the infidels, sometimes a guy just wants to take a relaxing bubble bath and read some Emily Dickinson.”

It is indeed curious that so many militants, who are some of the most wanted men in the world, should take the time to study prosody and write poems in monorhyme – one rhyme for what is sometimes many dozens of lines of verse. This is far easier to do in Arabic than in English, but it still takes practice. And it is not only jihadi leaders who engage in such activities. On the contrary, poetry is widely practised in militant circles, and judging by the posts in discussion forums it is also widely appreciated. Certain members of the rank-and-file have been recognised for their literary abilities, earning sobriquets such as “the Poet of al-Quaida” or “the Poet of Jihad”. One of these is a young woman whose verse has made her a cultural celebrity among the militants.

The above is extracted from an essay by Robyn Cresswell and Bernard Haykel in Jihadi Culture

Reference: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/23/the-culture-that-makes-a-jihadi-thomas-hegghammer-interview-poetry-militancy#img-1

Ignoring Women Jihadis in The Ranks of Asia’s Islamic State a Fatal Mistake

By: Ardi Wirdana

Despite a clear willingness by radical groups to use women for their terrorist goals, authorities still do not see them as an important threat, experts say

When the local media reported the story of eight Indonesian women who managed to flee Syria last month having decided to join the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria just over a year earlier, the public was yet again served a gentle reminder of the powerful appeal the radical group has for women in Indonesia.

Just a few months earlier, the Indonesian police foiled IS-inspired suicide bomb attacks by Dian Yulia Novi in Jakarta on December 10, 2016, and Ika Puspitasari in Bali just a few days after. Before their arrests, the two had been set to become Indonesia’s first female suicide bombers.

In neighbouring Singapore, a woman has been detained recently for allegedly attempting to fly to Syria to join IS.

While the presence of women in radical groups is not something new, there has been a notable change in their roles and level of involvement. This change, according to women’s rights activist and gender researcher Lies Marcoes, is “frightening”.

When it comes to women and radicalisation, her words are to be noted. Through an organisation she leads called Rumah Kita Bersama, Lies has followed and interviewed 20 women who are or have been involved with “clear-cut” fundamentalist groups. “Independent”, “educated” and “well-referenced” are just some of the words she uses to describe these “new generations of women jihadis”.

“They want to be visible. They want to be seen. It is clear that they want to take part in the movements,” Lies told This Week in Asia.

She explained that traditionally female jihadis were content with performing “soft jihad”, which was limited to carrying out their reproductive functions such as bearing and rearing children, especially boys, to grow up to become fighters. A prime example of this is Farhana Maute, the mother of the Maute family in the Philippines, whose six sons are all involved in the firefights to seize a number of Philippine towns and cities on behalf of IS.

Some of the younger generation, however, want to break free from the gender stereotype. Lies says that they carry some feminist ideas that look to challenge the patriarchal nature of the jihadist movement and its organisations. The best way of doing this is by duplicating how men show courage by carrying out acts like bank robberies, bomb-making and bomb attacks.

Online engagement

According to the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac), the increase in women activists is linked to the rise of IS in Iraq in Syria and its global appeal as a “pure” Islamic state which has been facilitated by the use of social media platforms.

A recent report by Ipac titled “Mothers to Bombers: The Evolution of Indonesian Women Extremists” suggests that the prevalence of social media and encrypted chat apps has led to a small but growing number of professional women and Indonesian maids working overseas to become interested in IS.

Dian Yulia, Indonesia’s first would-be suicide bomber, was working as a maid in Taiwan when she first became connected with an IS sympathiser on Facebook who later led her to being acquainted with Indonesia’s leading IS recruiter Bahrun Naim. Likewise, 22 year-old Syaikhah Izzah Al Ansari who became the first Singaporean woman to be detained for suspected Islamic radicalism, was radicalised by online propaganda. She also shared pro-IS material on social media.

In Izzah’s case, the information she received on social media did not only sell her the idea of salvation, but also the prospect of getting married to a militant husband. This idea of a better life presented on social media clearly sells, with women often willing buyers.

Leefa and Nur, two out of the eight Indonesian women that fled from ISIS soon after joining them, said that they had been promised ticket reimbursements, free health treatment and jobs by an IS representative over the internet. But upon their arrival, they found that the situation was different than they had expected, leaving them disappointed and wanting to leave.

Heedless authorities

As a women’s rights activist, Lies said that she was obviously concerned. But the source of her worries is not so much the development of women jihadis, but rather how little is being done to combat the problem.

“There are government institutions and academicians that deal with this issue, but they do not see women as an important part of radical movements,” she said.

Lies says that radicalised women have been the “victims and agents” of Islamic fundamentalism, and a failure to deal with them using a gender analysis approach could prove costly.

Terror analyst Sidney Jones agrees. She believes that the Indonesian intelligence agencies have not paid particular attention to women, despite the fact that women have played key roles.

Continuing to overlook the threat of women jihadis as main actors of terrorist attacks can prove fatal, Sidney said, as extremist groups are turning to women to carry out their big attacks.

“Bahrun Naim wanted female operatives because he saw women carrying backpacks as less likely to be suspected than men. Women suicide bombers are no different than men in the damage they can inflict, as cases in Palestine, Iraq and Chechnya have shown,” she said.[]