Sufis need to be involved in peacebuilding

ADI’s Zahid Ahmed is Peace Direct’s Pakistan Local Peacebuilding Expert.  In this piece first published for Insight on Conflict he argues it is important that peacebuilding organisations working on addressing social divisions, such as through inter- and intra-faith (Shia-Sunni) dialogue, also engage Sufis and their devotees in peacebuilding processes. Sufis have a large following in Pakistan and their involvement in peacebuilding activities could strengthen CVE/PVE efforts.

Picture: By Saqib Qayyum (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pakistan faces the dual threats of terrorism and violent extremism. While the number of terrorist attacks has decreased significantly in the past couple of years, the rising trend in violent extremism is alarming, because it feeds terrorism in Pakistan. To these interlinked challenges, the government’s response has been reactionary. This has been particularly evidenced during the period covered in this report.

In February 2017, an attack on the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Sehwan Sharif, Sindh, provided a stark reminder of the extremist threat to Sufism. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 75 and injured 200 people.

Sidra Rafique has been involved in CVE work for several years. She viewed the shrine attack as an attack on the peace loving people of Pakistan. “Sufi Islam not only preaches love, but also practices a message of spiritual devotion and love for all regardless of their creed, caste, gender or religion,” she says.

Sufism has a strong following in Pakistan, but religious fundamentalists and extremists, especially the ones influenced by Wahhabism, perceive it as un-Islamic. This widespread perception is a major cause of attacks on Sufi shrines in Pakistan.

The government response

In response to the February attack, Pakistan’s armed forces launched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. This is similar to Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which was initiated after the terrorist attack on the Army public school in Peshawar, in 2014.

The new operation specifically targets the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, TTP, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terror groups – supporters of ISIS in Pakistan. In the first week of its launch, Radd-ul-Fasaad led to the killing of over 100 militants across the country.

While the government measures its success against terrorism through the decrease in number of terrorism-related casualties, it is important to underline that its National Action Plan (NAP) on terrorism has been largely ineffective in countering the influence of home-grown extremist organisations. This is a reason for which many local scholars claim that intolerance and extremism are on the rise – something that deserves greater attention from the government in relation to countering violent extremism (CVE).

Perspectives from Pakistan

The international community has focused on CVE since the start of the ‘War on Terror’ in 2001. This shift in policy at global levels has led to an increasing focus on peace education interventions in Pakistani madaris (Islamic seminaries). But there is ongoing controversy in Pakistan over when and how to engage with former members of extremism and militant organisations.

While most of the attention of CVE and peacebuilding programmes has been focused on the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area, it is important to note that violent extremism is a serious problem in many parts of the country.

According to a Pakistani peace scholar, Dr Saeed Ahmed Rid, “the attack on Sehwan Sharif is another proof of the fact that extremism and terrorism are now rising in rural Sindh.”

A Sindh-based peace activist, Sanam Noor, blamed the February attack on the “non-serious attitude of security agencies of the country.”

Noor’s point is valid because the phenomenon of threats to Sufi shrines is not new, and the government could have provided better security, especially at the time of ceremonies like Urs.

Raheel Sharoon of the Diocese of Raiwind – Church of Pakistan has been engaged in interfaith dialogues for many years. He shared feelings of sadness at the Sehwan Sharif attack: “I was not shocked. There has been feeding and nurturing of this of hatred and violence in the name of religion to our populace for almost 35 years. So when we experience this hatred in action, unfortunately it does not ‘shock and awe’ me anymore.”

Another scholar, Abdul Basit said that “Not just the Sehwan Sharif attack, but the assault on Maulana Abdul Ghafood Haideri in Mastung, as well as the attack on Shah Hurani shrine in Khuzdar, clearly indicate that the extremist worldview of ISIS not only ex-communicates Shias, but also apostatises other Sunni groups, which do not subscribe to its extremist ideology.”

Basit added that the Islamic State is deliberately hitting the sectarian and communal fault-lines in Pakistan, which will negatively affect the ongoing CVE efforts. Since its creation, Pakistan has been a divided society, based on ethnic, religious, and sectarian lines, and these dynamics help internal and external terrorist factions operating here. The divisions create challenges for peacebuilding work, which has become more difficult with the increasing presence of ISIS. But this also provides peacebuilders with the opportunity to address such social divisions.

Countering violent extremism

The government and its local and international partners need to devote greater attention to improving the National Action Plan. There need to be more discussions on the scope of the policy and its implementation across the country. The policy should move beyond CVE to preventing violent extremism (PVE), which is as important as having a long-term plan on CVE. Structural issues, such as social divisions based on ethnic, sectarian, and religious lines, need to be addressed to prevent violent extremism.

In this context, it is vital to deal with confusion relating to sectarian organisations, especially the ones that promote violent extremism, by treating them as terrorist groups. The government’s confusion in this matter acts as an encouraging factor for groups promoting violent religious extremism.

It is also important that peacebuilding organisations working on addressing social divisions, such as through inter- and intra-faith (Shia-Sunni) dialogue, also engage Sufis and their devotees in peacebuilding processes. Sufis have a large following in Pakistan and their involvement in peacebuilding activities could strengthen CVE/PVE efforts.

Above all, the relevant government authorities must work side-by-side with civil society groups, local, and international NGOs, to develop a comprehensive plan on CVE/PVE.

Source: Peace and conflict report: June 2017 | Insight on Conflict

Counter-terrorism measures permanently reduce international trade: new study

Enhanced counter-terrorism measures help to protect lives, but unfortunately also reduce trade, argue ADI’s Chris Doucouliagos and Cong Pham from Deakin University. The costs of increased security measures are also not shared equally. While some costs are passed onto consumers, exporters and importers often bear the higher costs.

Counter-terrorism measures permanently reduce international trade: new study

The Qatar Blockade: The Story So Far – AIIA

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has flown back to the US from the Persian Gulf after the most concerted effort yet to resolve the Saudi-Qatar dispute. He says he is optimistic, but a closer look at the background to the crisis suggests meaningful compromise may be hard to achieve argues ADI’s Shahram Akbarzadeh. 

The Qatar Blockade: The Story So Far – AIIA

Philosophy communication is a two-way street: we learn from our publics, rather than simply teaching them

ADI’s Patrick Stokes argues that philosophers and researchers rather than seeing writing for or speaking to the public as a post-research activity, an optional extra they can indulge in once the core work of publishing papers in journals is taken care of, we should treat some of this work as part of the research process itself – and not the final part either.: Impact of Social Sciences – Philosophy communication is a two-way street: we learn from our publics, rather than simply teaching them

Destroying Mosul’s Great Mosque: Islamic State’s symbolic war to the end

Image

Picture: Wikimedia – Faisal Jeber CC BY-SA 4.0

The recent destruction of the Great Mosque of Al-Nuri in Mosul in northern Iraq and its iconic leaning minaret is part of a deliberate strategy to discourage the millions of refugees and displaced from returning and re-building their fragile and cosmopolitan communities argue ADI’s Associate Professor Benjamin Isakhan and rising scholar Dr Antonio Gonzalez Zarandona and

Destroying Mosul’s Great Mosque: Islamic State’s symbolic war to the end

10 years after the intervention, it’s time to admit it has destroyed Aboriginal communities

In this opinion piece which first appeared in Arena Magazine‘s focus on the 10 year anniversary of the Northern Territory Intervention, ADI’s Future Fellow, Associate Professor Melinda Hinkson argues economic and environmental precarity means that we all now share the experience of being Aboriginal.

These equally alarming visions shield from view the particular experiences of creative destruction and the distinctive cultural orders that are at stake. Attention to both is vital if those communities, as well as our own, are to envisage viable futures, she says.

Read the Guardian article: 10 years after the intervention, it’s time to admit it has destroyed Aboriginal communities | Melinda Hinkson | Opinion | The Guardian

Read the original article in Arena here