Category Archives: Religion

Paper Mill Recycling Qur’an?

Three people were dead and 25 wounded after the protests in Parwan turned violent. Protesters started burning the shops and destroying vehicles, before they had a clash with Police. The protest was against a local Afghan paper mill that recycles paper for toilet paper and tissue-papers. Any employee of the company had seen some copies of textbooks and Quranic verses amid the pile of scrap papers for recycling. They informed the people and soon it got out of control.

Its insane to even protest against such an incident. There are security forces and police and people can file complain against such religiously outrageous and blasphemous incidents, but only if its done deliberately. Sometimes mistake can happen somewhere. And in this particular case, it is very obvious that no Afghan or Muslim will recycle the copies of Quran for toilet paper. But sometimes it happens unintentionally. The scrap paper they use can contain any kind of writings, including books sometimes. Scrap text book always goes for such recycling purpose. But no Afghan or Muslim will ever deliberately burn a copy of Quran. In the case with paper factory of Parwan, it might have happened due to some textbook might have contained verses of the Holy Book.

In an Islamic country where Islam is a state religion, why should people even bother for such incidents. There are laws and the police can always take action on complain. The proper way for those protesters would have been if they had filed a complaint against the owner of that company, who is already arrested. Burning down private property, shops and smashing vehicles is not a protest, its violence and looting. When police gets tough after such burning, then they come on media and blame police for the violence.

A cleric has been arrested. He is reportedly responsible for the call of protest and provoking speech. We believe he should be trialed for all the violence and dreadful outcome of the killings. If protest demonstrations are held, why people burn down private property? During the fiery speeches, the Mullah has said that foreigners are responsible for the burning of Quran in the paper mill. Its extreme westernophobe with such nonsense. That paper recycling company’s owner and employees are all Afghans. The Government must act on this incident and trial the Mullah who caused provocation and violence.

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Crackdown and Legislation on Hate-Speeches by Clerics

My Outlook op-ed April 11.

Last week intelligence officials arrested a Mullah in Takhar province for hate speeches against the Government. Ziauddin was the imam of Commander Pir Muhammad Mosque in Taluqan city. He was arrested on Friday while making sermon with hate messages to provoke people against the Government and foreigners in Afghanistan. This has been an exemplary move so far following the riots against Quran burning and the tragic murder of UN staff members in Mazar city. The Upper House delegation which was sent by the Senate to investigate the killings in Mazar has reported that it had been some clerics who made hyperemotional speeches using the loudspeaker of the mosque for provocation of riots. New investigations have found that those who stirred the violence and carried out the killings and beheading were ex-Taliban who had been “reintegrated” through the peace program recently. Officials including Police Chief and Governor of Balkh said some insurgents had also infiltrated the protesters, and murdered the foreign staffers of the UN. Some local Afghan staff of the UN, who witnessed the killings, have also said the murderers were with a different accent, not from Mazar.

It’s now clear that the killings and beheading were by insurgents and their ex comrades. But basic provocation for the protest rally to come to UNAMA office had been caused by the hate speeches of some clerics. They are Maulvi Abdul Rauf Tawana, Maulvi Zakirullah, Maulvi Abdul Wakeel Forqani, Maulvi Abdul Hadi and Maulvi Abdul Qahir. The “investigation” of the Senate delegation is just to identify, but not recommend or carry legal action against those who provoked the people with emotional speeches. The Government must crackdown against the hate-mongers who use mosque to misguide the people with religious sentiments. This case should be made an example for the rest of the hate-preachers to stop provoking hatred otherwise they must be punished with legal action.

Governor Ata had asked imams in Balkh not to discuss politics in mosques. He had ordered police to crackdown on audiocassettes of hate-speeches sold in shops. There are many firebrand preachers who have not only written the messages of hatred and spread it by sermons, but audio-cassettes are also available everywhere.

In a country where the state religion is Islam, Government should have control on the religious affairs and stop provocation of religious hatred. The Senate delegation cannot implement their investigation, but they should discuss the issue in parliament and recommend legislations with limitation of the topics a Mullah can talk about in Friday sermons at mosques across the country. In a situation like ours, where extremism has plagued the whole society, we are in dire need of definition for the roles of Mullah on the chair of Friday-after-prayers-sermons in mosque. There should be regulations and for this. The Government and parliament committees can seriously engage moderate scholars and Ulema Council of Afghanistan for a debate on and recommendations on legislation.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs should deal with the speeches in the mosques and give guidelines to imams. This issue should not be controversial in a country where over 95 percent population is Muslim, the state religion is Islam and all in the Government are Muslims. Many of these imams get their salary from the Ministry, thus they can control them.

It’s ridiculous that our Government is making laws about marriage parties, what to eat, how to dress and how many to invite on ones marriage day, but hate-mongers of the mosque are given ultimate freedom in spreading the word of hatred. We need much more than legislation about hate-speech by loud speaker of the mosque. All the mosques should be registered to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and qualified preachers be allowed to lead the prayers. There are over 160,000 mosques across the country, but only 3000 are registered with the Government. Of course it’s very difficult to register all, and monitor them. But if there is a will, it will be possible with the cooperation of the Ulema Council. These people should realize the dreadful situation our society has reached today. If a mosque speech can provoke normal citizens to murder innocent people, then it needs ultimate and very serious attention.

If you attend a Friday sermon of the most-visited mosque in Kabul, you will understand why our society is so reactionary on religious sentiments based on false provocation and ignorance of hate-monger clerics. For instance, Enayatullah Balegh every Friday calls on the Muslims, who attend his sermon in the central mosque of Kabul, for Jihad against foreigners who desecrate Islam. For such nutty saviors of Islam, some stupid in Florida represents the entire America and all “foreigners” and infidels. Balegh calls for “holy war” against “foreigners”. If any emotional empty-head takes his words for serious and it provokes him to incite violence or hatred against “foreigners”, shouldn’t Balegh be held responsible?

It’s not only about Terry Jones. The hate-speech is a phenomenon as old as preaching of Mullah. I remember the Religious Studies subject taught in childhood at schools that “Jews will never be friends of Muslims.” This is the most common sentence of hatred poisoned in the minds of children from early age. And it is still part of every Friday prayers sermon. A Reuters journalist reporting a Friday sermon of Habibullah Asaam in northwest Kabul quotes the Mullah, “the Jews and crusaders can never be friends of Muslims, they are the despoilers of our society and culture. Those who want them here are cowardly Muslims. Women avoid wearing veils, men chase fashion and show off, it’s all because of the foreigners.”

In volatile parts of the country where Taliban influence is stronger, imams either fearing their life by threats from insurgents, or due to sympathy with them, always make provoking speeches against foreign troops and the Afghan Government. It has strong influence on the “hearts and minds” of the innocent heads.

The Government, MPs and religious scholars should pay serious attention to the hate-mongers. They have rooted the culture of violence in our society.

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On Qur’an Burning and Violence

I wrote two op-eds on Outlook the past week about the riots against Quran burning and brutal murder of UN staff in Mazar. Below is merger and excerpts of those op-eds.

The horrors of killing UN staff terrified everyone, particularly the expat community of aid workers living in Afghanistan. As an aid worker wrote “it was different than previous fatal attacks” because of the violence against a civilian organization in such a brutal way by angry civilians. Initially it was perceived that the civilian protesters have killed. Later on reports suggested that insurgents had infiltrated the protest rally. It was confrimed by the UNAMA Chief Staffen De Mitsura.

Every other day there is a protest demonstration against some issue in different cities, but rarely it turns violent. In Kandahar, where about 20 people died in two days of violence, the rioters burnt girls’ school, and those “protesting” had a white-flag of the Taliban. While the demonstrations in Herat, Jalalabad and other cities went peaceful.

Some American journalists said President Karzai is responsible for the riots because his condemnation statement brought public attention to the burning, as the international media had ignored Terry Jones. For instance, Fareed Zakaria in his GPS program on CNN criticized Karzai for his statement, saying that “Karzai despite having lived in America and knowing about freedom of expression” made such statement.  I think it’s nonsense to blame Karzai. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and Mullahs there had already made it an infamous news in AfPak region and there were condemnations from Government officials in Iran and some other countries before Karzai spoke about it.

It’s ridiculous that our people react out of extreme anger all because an idiot hate-monger pastor in America, who has mental problem seeking attention, has burnt the holy book. Why such a reaction only in Afghanistan, while the rest of the Muslim countries ignored the pastor? We are always first in reaction whenever some idiot do bigotry in any faraway corner of the world.  Actually religion has been exploited for all political agendas during the last 4 decades of war in Afghanistan. Therefore, Afghans are the most responsive and sensitive when it comes to religion. Taliban and other insurgents use such incidents to justify their violence.  They issued a public statement calling for further uprising. On the other hand, the attention-seeking Terry Jones is defiant of his act and determined to go further with such actions. His inflammatory acts of bigotry and the misuse of religious sentiments by Taliban to justify their violence, is very beautifully summed up by the NYTimes columnist Nick Kristof in a comment on Twitter saying “The tragedy of the Koran burning and riots in Afghanistan is the way extremists from Florida to Kandahar feed each other.”

While the protest demonstration continued for a week across Afghanistan, Terry Jones’ Quran burning was being defended for “freedom of expression” in some western media outlets. Though I completely believe on “freedom of expression and speech” and burning a book should be one’s private issue. But Terry Jones’ is not a mere act to be defended under the notion of “freedom of expression”. Quran is not just a simple religious book for over a billion Muslims who take it as part of their identity and life.

Burning Quran, which resembles the identity of its believers, is different than criticizing it, which has been done by many previously-Muslim atheists. What Terry Jones does is a senseless act of religious-hatred with purposeful intention of provocation. Burning a book that resembles message of God for its believers is against the notion of “freedom of speech”. If humiliation on the basis of one’s color of skin, language and appearance is considered racism and condemned by majority, why religious-hatred be defended in the guise of “freedom of expression”. People here take religious symbols more important than lives. There was no reaction on the photos of Kill Team, but the country was on fire due to an idiot burning a copy of Quran.

Knowing all this, when someone burns the Quran, we have to see it from different perspective, not just the notion of freedom of speech. Evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber wrote, “knowing the likely consequence means that burning Qurans in Gainesville, or anywhere else, is an act of criminal mischief.” And it was a good move when UK Police arrested senior member of BNP on burning a copy of Quran.

Afghans are the worst reactionary among the people of over 50 Muslim countries. Actually the people here are very fool to be offended with the attention-seeking bigotry of a stupid mental-case pastor Jones. Why to bother with someone who is rejected by majority of his own town? I am sure people here don’t know that locals of Gainesville, Florida, have started kind of a social boycott with Terry Jones. He is being asked to leave the area, for the nonsense and bigotry he has been doing. Many Christian organizations have condemned Terry Jones for burning the Holy Quran. But our folks want him “to be tried”. Protesters chant slogans like “Death to America”. This kind of nonsense here makes me to forget arguing against the misuse of “freedom of expression and speech” in defense of Terry Jones.

The hypocrisy of our society is that we are reactionary to such issues just because they come from the West, though only mental cases like Terry Jones does such bigotry there, while majority are decent people against it. If it is not the Westernophobia, why there is not a protest against insurgents who blow up schools and copies of Quran are burnt. Suicide bombers blowing up in the name of Allah, and reciting the name of Prophet Muhammad before the blast, taking innocent lives, is the worst blasphemy to Islam, but it’s the hypocrisy or fear of our religious clerics and society at large that there is never a mass protest against the insurgents.

But all such hypocrisy and ignorance in our part of the world does not mean western media should defend extremists like Terry Jones. He is not practicing freedom, but provoking religious hatred and should be condemned.

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Our Moral Corruption

Some Internet cafes have been shut down in Kabul by Govt.

I am always amused and impressed by the cartoons of famous Afghan caricaturist Alizada, who is affiliated with the Afghanistan Group of Newspapers–which publishes the English-language daily Outlook Afghanistan and Dari, Daily Afghanistan. He has experience of over 20 years in this field. I am also impressed by his working style. Most of the times I see him working in office for hours, on one caricature. The other day I saw a cartoon of him about the recent crackdown on internet cafes in Kabul. In the above cartoon, the hand with a lock reflects Government and the comment on left side reads ‘Government crackdown for Internet-censorship’.

Sometimes I think our society is a complex amalgam of double-standards, corrupt and highly sensitive culture with the so-called sense of honor. The Government sometimes take steps that apparently seem funny to make us laugh, but actually we should cry on the state of our collective conscience. While talking about the honor (ghairat) and morality, we burst out of pride, but actually we are very corrupt morally. I have seen people doing all corrupt things, but when it comes to honor, and the false pride rather extremism towards faith, they are ready to die. While thinking of the strictly religious society of ours, one should assume our strong faith must make us morally good. But the facts are opposite.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority has shut down 17 internet cafes in the heart of capital Kabul. These cybercafes are alleged to have allowed access to ‘immoral websites’, or in clear words pornographic and ‘un-Islamic’ web-pages. Pornography has a clear definition–though yet controversial in Afghanistan when I see the blur on a sleeveless lady’s  arm, or shoulders in TV serials–but one does not understand the limit of what can be Islamic and un-Islamic when it comes to reading material and surfing on the internet. According to the law and constitution, ‘un-Islamic’ websites are not allowed. But the Government can shut down anything with an excuse of Islamic/Unislamic.

As a society, it shows the mental problems of people when Mullahs preach about it days and nights, reminding them the horrifying punishments for such sins, but still people defy the laws, their moral conscience and call of faith by surfing hours on pornographic websites. It shows the collective moral corruption of a so-called faithful society. If statistics come out about what percentage of internet users excessively visit the porn websites, it would be an explosion of the honor-balloon of this society.

The Government cannot control it. There are thousands of such pornographic websites and pages. The Telecommunications Authority can only ban some prominent websites known by everyone, but there are thousands of such pages out there. Even the internet cafe owners cannot control the customers through their blocking-softwares. By shutting down the internet cafes, it’s no solution. Internet users in Afghanistan are very few, mostly in capital Kabul. People don’t have access to internet connectivity at homes through broadband or other services widely, thus most go to the net cafes. A crackdown on cafes will cause problems for the little number of people who need surfing for study and other needs, but the graph of pornographic surfing won’t decrease.

With a large number of people, the apparent religious extremism and fundamentalism is just fake. I have seen such people doing all-out sins, but still getting fiery when there is a discussion about infidels and such. It is a collective psychological problem that we related our fake-extremism towards faith with morality. Being one of the most conservative Muslim societies, there should be none of the sins forbidden by our religion. But actually the more we are religiously conservative and extreme, the more there are social crimes and corruption. And our sick mentality is that we are in a continued state of self-denial about it, in our own minds. We don’t admit the facts. We know the moral corruption in our society, but deny them as strongly as it does not exist at all. For instance, homosexuality is considered religiously and morally a sin in our culture. But studies show the facts about homosexuality in the heart of militant extremism Kandahar, and boy-keeping culture in North. Everyone knows about it, but still the practices are common, with a continued self-denial. The problems lie deep into the foundations of our social system, lifestyle, society and cultural sensitivity.

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When I Keep Silent…

Have you ever imagined how horrifying it is to kill someone to death by stoning? ‘Sangsaar’ is the term for stoning someone to death after its been proved she/he is ‘guilty’ of adultery. Here I brought ‘she’ intentionally before ‘he’, because women are the easier victim of this barbaric act of Stone Age. Despite living in this region, where everyday someone is being stoned to death, I have not seen such a terrible punishment live. Once watching the Persepolis movie—which is about the story of a woman in Iran who is stoned to death through a Mullah in a plot by her husband who wants to get rid of his wife for marrying another young girl—it made me cry despite feeling very little of the real pain that one goes through. And I bet that scene will bring tears of any heart with a little feeling. Death with a shot or in a bomb blast is, as we say in local slang, ‘easy death’, because one does not go through all the horrific pain for longer time in a ‘painless death’. But being stoned to death till your last breath is as horrible that even one cannot think of.  It starts with people around a helpless woman take stones and throw by all out force towards the ‘guilty’ and it hits anywhere on her body, from head, forehead, eyes, cheeks, shoulder, breast to toe. First the hands of the ‘guilty’ is tied back and the person put in a small hole. Guilty is not a suitable word, there should be some of the most horrific-sounding words for this. People gather with stones in their hands. Then the Mullah calls “Allah o Akbar” (God Is Great) and people start throwing stones. It’s the most horrible, sick and barbaric punishment for an innocent guilt. But it’s very common in countries like Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, it was one of the most common punishments to women in Afghanistan.

Yesterday the terrifying news of a couple being stoned to death by Taliban in Kunduz hit the headlines. According to the half-reported story, the man was married to someone and the woman was engaged. They had an affair. Its not known, how Taliban knew it and arrested the couple? According to the reports, a local Taliban commander brought the couple in the evening in front of a gathering of around 100 people mostly Taliban. He read aloud that the couple has confessed their ‘guilt’. He added, they had eloped and now will be punished. The people started throwing stones and the couple died. I hope the terrifying cries the couple may have screamed out become the punishment for all those to never have sleep in their eyes. But unfortunately, it’s only my hope and wish. The truth is otherwise. Those present at the scene might have felt being ‘blessed’ to have taken part in such a ‘blissful’ event. They think they have earned Sawab (credit or reward) for even witnessing it, and later conveying the ‘lesson’ to others.

A question comes in my mind, why did an engaged woman eloped with a married man? If it was for sex, she was already engaged, or the man was already married to enjoy the natural pleasure. Why did she, despite knowing about a horrible future if caught, preferred to elope? In most such cases, it’s because the girl has been forced to marry someone her parents want, or better to say her father and the male guardian of the family want, because mothers have generally less say in decisions of their daughters. Even in many cases, males too are not independent for their choice of a fiancée, mostly in rural parts of the abovementioned countries. Taliban members can never ever imagine to allow their daughters have a say in their marriage decisions. Though if looking at the religious texts, a girl has the complete right to chose her husband, but only those religious implementations that suit the Taliban are acted upon. When they are not allowed to marry a person they like or are forced to marry an old man against their will, stories such as the couple stoned to death yesterday would be common. Secondly, it’s one of the very few cases of stoning that I have heard the man was also punished. Otherwise generally it’s different. Mostly man manages it to escape the punishment and the doomed woman is punished.

Just last week, there was another such horrible story. Taliban flogged a pregnant woman to death. Bibi Sanauber, whose husband had died years back, was accused of having affair. Some locals had reported about her to the Taliban saying she was without a husband at home for last couple of years, how she could become pregnant. It proves her adultery. She was flogged and then shot dead. For a married one to have extramarital affairs, the punishment is less than that of Sangsaar for adultery. A married gets 100 lashes as per the religious rules. But Taliban, reportedly, gave 200 lashes and then shot dead the woman. And as common, the man was not punished. Maybe because he might have been a close friend of any Talib or might be that he was son of any influential local warlord or could manage to escape.

Just in the past week, there have been several cases of adultery punishment in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. A couple was again blamed of adultery in Pakhtunkhwa (former NWFP) province of Pakistan and the girl was killed, while the man managed to escape. Recently the cover of Time magazine of this month had a photo of an Afghan girl. It started a debate about Afghanistan in media. The story was that the girl was married to an old man as a result of a deal ending the Badi (family animosity) between two families. Girls have always to sacrifice, or must keep silent in such cases. They are never asked for their will. The girl had tried to ‘escape’, but her husband, the Taliban fighter, caught her and brought back. Then cut off her nose and ears. That girl is lucky enough to have gotten the attention of ‘news-hungry’ media and went to the United States for treatment, but there are hundreds of such cases.

And for those of you who are unaware, it might be surprising that  it’s all according to the Sharia codes that Taliban are implementing. According to a narration of a Hadith, “A married man and woman, if they commit adultery, stone them to death. This is a punishment from Allah.” And when it comes to such sensitive topics, it has already been declared not-debatable by the Fatwa-issuing ‘authorities’ of religion. And it’s when I keep silent, burning from inside. I know I can’t challenge it, nor can I oppose and prove it. Thinking so, reminds me the fate of Parvez Kambakhsh or Abdul Rehman, who were announced punishment to death by the legal court of the state! By the way, if adultery is proved, a civic court will also announce the same punishment, that Taliban does. I can only observe silence, perhaps waiting for the time people realize it themselves.

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