Monday, March 30, 2015

The ISIS report card, an already failed state

ISIS, or to use its real moniker – DA’ISH – claims to have established an “Islamic State” in parts of war-torn Iraq and Syria to await the final days. However, genuine Islamic sovereignty can only be established if the state ascribes to the true spirit of the Shari’ah, which is governed by mercy.

For ISIS, it seems Sacred Law has meant the misappropriation of hudud, or legal chastisement, to enforce martial rule signified by brutal application.

We should realise that mass killings justified by declaring unbelief on those opposing you, and the YouTube performances of Jihadi John, are not the true face of Islam. An authentic reading of history will reveal that Islam has traditionally been hallmarked by diversity and tolerance.

From the plains of Mongolia to the skyscrapers of New York, and from the Sahara to Anatolia, Islam has never been a homogenous whole marching to one drummer. The classical scholars of Islam have never called for mass migrations to the Middle East as the neo-Wahhabi ISIS has done.

Ironically, it was Ibn Taimiyya – an iconic figure of ISIS – who ruled in his famous 12th century Mardin fatwa that Muslims could live peacefully under non-Muslim rulers who were not hostile to them.  

Diversity has been the footprint of the Muslim community for over 1,400 years.  Sustained by differing interpretations of Shari’ah by four imams of legal thought, Islam has been driven by ijtihād – the inductive reasoning – of qualified men and women who’ve applied their minds to questions of the day.

Shari’ah, the human interpretation of Qur’an and Sunnah, has been subjected to rigorous research. Fiqh, the juridicial application of Shari’ah, has been evolving for centuries. Had it not, Islam would have been fixed in a time warp of mud houses, palm fibre beds and sandals.

To understand Shari’ah we have to look at its definition. “Shari’ah”, we learn, is the pathway to a watering hole. The pathway is the following of God. The water is the Sacred Law’s intellectual nourishment and its life-giving qualities.

Shari’ah is governed by principles or goals, which are called maqasid.  The first scholar to identify the maqasid as a separate discipline was Imam al-Juwaini, who wrote about it in the fourth century after the Prophet’s (SAW) demise. Some of the prominent scholars who built on his writings, and further codified the maqasid, were Al-Shatibi, Al-Razi, Imam Ghazali and Al-Qarafi.

According to the final consensus, Shari’ah had to be grounded in six principles: the protection of Religion, Life, Mind, Family, Wealth and Character. Some jurists felt that Life took priority over Religion, but essentially, all agreed to the categories.

Basically, the above six classifications (Hifdh ul-Deen, Nafs, ‘Aql, Nasab, Mal and Ird in Arabic) are the yardstick to measure the Shari’ah-centric direction of a society – where, ironically, non- Muslim countries such as New Zealand score higher than so-called “Islamic” ones.

So, the big ask: how does ISIS – the Islamic state of all Islamic states according to its massive propaganda machine – measure up to the above?

Protection of Religion: ISIS has killed anyone not taking an oath of allegiance to its leader, Al-Baghdadi and persistently insults Judaism and Christianity. Shi’ah and Sufis (who are Muslim) enjoy no protection from ISIS, let alone Yazidis, Christians or ‘Alawites, who have all been killed for their views. ISIS scores zero in this category, as the Qur’an classifies Jews, Christians and Sabians as “people of the book”.

Protection of Life: Dabiq, ISIS’s magazine says: “Every Muslim should get out of his house, find a crusader (a Christian or Jew), and kill him. It is important that the killing becomes attributed to patrons of the Islamic State who have obeyed its leadership...” Given ISIS’s roadside executions, YouTube shenanigans and massacres, this proves that ISIS does not preserve or protect life.

Protection of the Mind: this classification has been interpreted as academic endeavour and civic freedom. ISIS’s misinterpretations of Islam and its highly selective use of a few errant scholars, is not reassuring. It readiness to declare takfir (unbelief and death) on anyone disagreeing with it, gives ISIS a zero here. It’s the Caliph’s word, or off with your head.

Protection of Family: ISIS’s mediaeval worldview with regards to slavery and the capturing of non-Muslim women (after having killed their husbands) for sexual exploitation thoroughly degrades family life. ISIS gets a zero for protecting family life for its murderous chauvinism and for the marginalisation of the mother.

Protection of Wealth: ISIS has plundered Iraq’s banks. ISIS has destroyed the homes of civilians, a violation of this principle tied to the respect of property. ISIS has smashed religious shrines, priceless archaeological artefacts and ancient churches. ISIS has extinguished the cultural, social and fiscal wealth of Syria and Iraq. A fat zero here.

Protection of Character: the character or honour of any person not seen to be embracing the ISIS brand has been besmirched, being called an unbeliever, a hypocrite, a Crusader or a polytheist. Al-Baghdadi’s concept of ird is reflected in his statement (in Dabiq) that anyone insulting a Muslim should have his arm chopped off. Another profound zero.

Of course, many of us will recognise that the above maqasid – designed for the benefit of humanity in the mercy of the Shari’ah – have as equally been violated by other leaders and major powers of the day, who professing an undying sympathy for human rights, have killed millions in wars on abstract nouns.

However, the point here is that ISIS claims to aspire to something nobler than the hegemonic powers it says it is fighting in the name of Allah. It begs the question – the ancient cliché naturally– of whether the means can ever justify the ends, or whether two wrongs ever will coalesce into being a right.

This is because the maqasid are all about the means, first and foremost. In this case, if there are no positive means there can be no fruitful end. This is something that ISIS has spectacularly failed to understand, and because of this, the so-called “Islamic Caliphate” in Iraq and Syria is already a failed state.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Xenophobia: our official-unofficial policy?

Xenophobia includes racism.
Photo Copyright Shafiq Morton
THE letter “x’’ doesn’t feature prominently in the English dictionary as the opening letter for a word. Mostly, the “x” precedes borrowed expressions, mainly from Greek. In this case the word “xenos” means “strange” or “foreign”. “Phobia”, as we all know, denotes fear.

Xenophobia is a “deep-rooted, irrational hatred towards foreigners” intones the Oxford Dictionary, whose definition I prefer over a wordier Webster. This is because my encounters with xenophobia tend to agree with the Oxford version, whose definition I would expand to embracing racism and Orientalism.

What the dictionaries can’t define, though, are the horrific outcomes – violent mob behaviour directed against those who have become figures of national resentment. Xenophobia, which targets migrant African minorities, is our great shame.

The picture of Mozambican national, Ernesto Nhamuave, clinging to life after being set alight by a mob in the Ramaphosa informal settlement during Gauteng’s xenophobic riots in 2008, is a harrowing image that has come to characterise the disturbing savagery of South African xenophobia.

Please note that I deliberately haven’t used the term “post-apartheid” to frame the discussion here; our historical human rights shortcomings did not become new ones after Madiba. Three centuries of colonialism and 46 years of apartheid are not the kind of things that disappear overnight because of a different rule book.

Culturally, we are the heirs of an entrenched, violent racial irrationality that has constantly hallmarked our turbulent history. For instance, how many of us know that the first recorded xenophobes were the early Cape settlers who used to hunt the San, or that the Adderley Street Slave Lodge was used as a whorehouse by the Dutch?

Gabiba Baderoon in her book Regarding Muslims explains that the obsession with the p-word on the Cape Flats is a direct result of black women being debased. The term “Maasbekers”, once referring to Mozambicans in our community, is as loaded as “makwerekwere”, the derogatory term for foreigners today.

Even in the stormy 1980’s, when thousands of Congolese and Mozambicans sought shelter in South Africa from regional conflict, some of our Bantustans – to which they were confined by the government – deigned not to accept them. So should it be a complete surprise that in the 1990’s foreigners would unfairly bear the brunt of socio-economic frustration?  

Due to our mining industry we have always been an economically migrant society. In the pecking order that governs being a newcomer, our recent migrants fleeing war, famine and poverty have always been the most vulnerable in the most insecure and most impoverished sectors of our society – a place where competition for scarce jobs and resources is at its most intense.

Let me provide an anecdotal example of why I would say the above. A few years ago I was teaching a journalism course at a local tertiary institution. When the topic of xenophobia came up in a discussion forum, things got very heated.           

Some students were adamant that the foreign migrants should go home. Foreign migrants took their jobs, sold drugs and unfairly occupied RDP houses. Other students argued that foreign migrants were hard-working, law-abiding and that the RDP houses had been sold to them by the very same locals who wanted them out.

As I sat watching these talented young minds let loose on each other, I began to observe a pattern emerging. It was a small class and I knew my students well.

Those who were the most “xenophobic” in debate usually came from township environments, whilst those who were more tolerant generally hailed more from the middle-class ones. It wasn’t scientific, but there was an observable trend.

It reminded me that apartheid’s group areas had been designed to confine people of colour to the outskirts of cities. The poorer you were, the more you were pushed to the edges. With populations forcibly moved, they were suppressed by a psychology of state violence that, I feel, still festers angrily within our DNA.

I tried the same discussion on xenophobia with another class, and exactly the same thing happened. I tried it the following year, and again, exactly the same thing happened. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds always expressed the most antagonism towards foreign migrants.

Fascinated, I turned to a 2004 study on xenophobia by the SA Migratory Project that told me 21% of its respondents had felt that foreign migrants should be repatriated; 64% had felt there should be restrictions. It tied up with my findings number-wise, but I didn’t encounter too much about setting – for instance, foreign migrants are not traditionally targeted in economically stable areas.

Given apartheid’s stark geography, this lack of attention to socio-political ecology surprised me. I’m no expert, but wouldn’t the institutional memory of our privilege-divided landscape be the key to addressing the challenges of xenophobia?

When you’ve been down in the dumps for so long, and your hopes have been extinguished by decades of municipal neglect, unemployment and corruption, perceiving a newcomer to be ahead of you in the queue is going to fuel resentment – justified or not.

However, what struck me further was another statistic. It showed that 87% of law enforcement officials believed 10 years ago – without any proof – that foreign migrants were involved in crime. This explained the bureaucratic disdain that is the bane of every migrant’s life in South Africa. Xenophobia – I’m afraid to say – is our official, if not unofficial, policy.

Comparisons are unmistakably odious, but it does remind me of a mentality during apartheid that a black man walking through a white area was always regarded as a potential burglar.  Even the dogs were xenophobic, and picking up their master’s vibes, would snap and snarl at any person of colour.

Of course, in trying to understand xenophobia we are certainly not condoning the rank lawlessness and ugly victimisation occurring across the country. But surely the time is ripe for our leaders, who appear to pay little more than lip service to the rights of foreign migrants, to rid themselves of the subliminal xenophobe that still lingers within us?