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International Conference on: Religion and Politics: The Changing Landscape of SEA and West Asia – Religious Extremism and Global Terrorism

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Asiawe- The International Conference on: “Religion and Politics: The Changing Landscape of SEA and West Asia – Religious Extremism and Global Terrorism” initiated by the Asiawe institute with cooperation IRF took place on January 14 and 15 of  January 2017 in Pullman Hotel in KL, Malaysia.

This conference provided a forum in which old debates can be discussed through new perspectives where fresh development and new theoretical and methodological approaches.

The speakers included: Professor Clive S. Kessler , Professor Seyed Javad Miri, Dr Mahdi Ahouie, Dr Syed Farid Alatas, Kyaw Win, Professor Dr Rashila Ramli and Dr Chandra Muzaffar in a two days conference talked about different subject in Religion and Politics and the reasons of growing extremism and the ways out for audiences.

The conference in 14 of January morning started by welcoming speech by associate Prof. Dr Noraini Md. Yusof and continued by the title “ISIS and the Religion of Peace” by Professor Clive S. Kessler.

Professor Clive S. Kessler  who is now Emeritus Professor of Sociology & Anthropology at the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia, believed, that to very general questions such as “Is Islam a religion of peace?” no general answer can plausibly be given. The only meaningful answers proceed from the detailed, circumstantial historical and social analysis of specific situations. The apologetic assertion of such vague generalities provides no useful insight into the politics and nature of the Islamic State ISIS phenomenon. The fact that most Muslims may find its measures and ideology unacceptable, and that many mainstream Islamic scholars may denounce the new caliphate’s pretensions in doctrinal terms, does not mean –- as many rush to assert — that ISIS “has nothing to do with Islam”. Here, as always, historical causation is complex. But whatever the other reasons that may have contributed to its emergence and rapid successes, there is no way to describe or analyse ISIS without reference to the moral, ideological and doctrinal force that drives it: a certain, if contested and not universally accepted, “reading” of mainstream Islamic theology, together with the worldly career of the human civilization that was built historically upon that religious foundation. Those who refuse to grasp the key to understanding ISIS, and the fearsome militant Islamism of which it is today’s leading example, will never be capable of facing the challenge that such movements pose.

The second speaker of this conference Prof Seyed Javad Miri, tried to show a clear “Revisiting the Question of Roots of Violence in the Islamicate World” by some examples of real life story.

he said, Is there anything inherent in Islam, which drives Muslims into conflict and violence? There are orientalist thinkers such as Martin Kramer and Bernard Lewis who advocate this line of argument but if we take a sociological approach to the questions of violence, conflicts and extremisms in the Islamicate societies then we could find other more feasible explanations for the mess created in our lifeworld. I have constructed a threefold model, which one could apply to the Islamicate context and through this model we may be able to revisit the question of ‘distinction’ or ‘difference’ in a more complex fashion. The model is based on three approaches, i.e. 1) the essentialist approach, 2) the political approach, 3) the anthropological approach. It is argued that in the first and second approaches the question of distinction is eschewed and the differences are viewed either as inherent or ideological and in both cases it leads us to disregard the multifarious nature of social world where Muslims live, while the last approach is able to give a more nuanced view of the ‘other’ without essentializing or reducing the other into political other (as rival or enemy). In other words, in the Islamicate world we are not equipped enough to live with the ‘other’ and when the ‘stranger’ symbolizes a distinct form of being then we do not consider it as a possibility to enrich our humanity but conceptualize it as a threat which needs to be annihilated.

The other speaker Dr. Mahdi Ahouie, from University of Tehran, with a political approach talked about Wahhabism issue and said, The Middle East region can confidently be called the “spiritual center” of the Muslim world. The birthplace of all the three Abrahamic religions, and the home of several thousand years of human civilization, this region is now burning in the flames of unprecedented violence and extremism, much of which is happening in the name of Islam. The existing sectarian conflicts in the Middle East have become more dirty and more destructive than anything seen before in this part of the world. What we see today is an “anti-civilizational” terror machine, which makes a mockery of Islamic faith, and portrays a “Hobbesian” picture of Muslim societies in the eyes of the people of the world. Much has been said about the socio-cultural and historical roots of the current extremism in the Muslim world. The role of Western colonialism and interventions, and lack of good governance in most parts of the Middle East, have become most noticed. These important factors notwithstanding, this papers focuses on the role of current state-centered power politics in polarization and sectarianization of the Islamic ummah, and on the critical task of the Muslim intellectuals and leaders of religious communities and civil society actors to stand against this process. For instance, Wahhabism is a state-driven ideology of hate and exclusiveness, which is polarizing the Muslims, including in SEA. However, most Muslim intellectuals have unfortunately become quietist and passive, falling into politically-inspired divisive discourses.

The last speaker of the first day of this conference Prof Syed Farid Alatas from National University of Singapore, talked about:”Moderation through Music: Arabic Zafin as an Antedote to Extremism in the Malay World”.

He said, Muslim extremism is often related to modernist orientations such Salafism. To the extent that Salafism involves the rejection of Muslim tradition, it can be said that rootedness in tradition is one means of minimizing the spread of extremism. This talk explores the cultural and musical practices of the minority Hadhrami Arab community in the Malay world of Southeast Asia as an example of tradition. Its music and dance form such as the Zafin is widely practiced across the Malay world of Southeast Asia and had even spread among the local communities of the region. Music is traditionally understood in terms of its secular and sacred genres. To some extent this distinction is valid as it accords with the different ways in which people understand and experience music. Nevertheless, it is necessary to avoid the assumption that all genres of music can be classified as either secular or sacred. The Arabic Zafin as a music and dance form provides us with an example of the merging of the secular and the sacred or, rather, the non-existence of the distinction. I hope to demonstrate this through a systematic presentation that covers the meaning of Islam and the role of music and dance in the worship of Muslims. Music plays a pivotal cultural role in shaping the Hadhrami Arab community. Multipart interlocking rhythms, played on the Marwas (hand-held drums) and Gambus (pear-shaped lute), is the most important element in its musical practices. As an Islamic form, Zafin with interlocking rhythms reflects the merging of the esoteric and the exoteric, the sacred and the profane, and the this-worldly and other-worldly which is significant to the Hadhrami Arab community in Singapore. With the current wave of religious extremism that is sweeping across the Malay world of Southeast Asia, also Zafin is a manifestation of a more balanced and just understanding and practice of Islam.

The second day started by Kyaw Win speech from Burma Human Rights Network by the title of: “The Trend of Anti-Muslim Persecution in Burma”.

He discussed about the increasing trend of anti-Muslim persecution under different governments of Burma (Myanmar) from the era of British Colonialism up until today. Anti-Muslim persecution has increased gradually over the years and has been implemented periodically against the Muslims in the country.  Before 1974 Muslims were appointed as ministers and held top positions in the government but now in 2017 Muslims cannot even get a citizenship card easily. The time between these periods has been an unwanted journey riddled with tragedy and pain for the Muslims of Burma. He by a historical approach continued his speech and at the end said, Under the current democratic government, Muslims are barred from the Parliament. The current de facto head of state, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, ordered Muslim members of her party not to run for parliamentary representatives. She appealed to Muslims to vote for her party because she needed a great enough mandate in order to bring significant changes to Burma. Consequently, Muslims in Burma have no voice in the Parliament and life for Muslims in the country is only getting worse as a result. The Government is preparing to introduce National Verification Cards (NVC), which appear to be a direct threat to the Muslims in Burma that could ultimately take citizenship away from the Muslim community indefinitely. The promises, which were made by the NLD to the Muslim community in Burma, have so far proven empty.

Datu Prof. Rashila Ramli from IKMAS, UKM who was the other speaker of the second day of this conference in a speech by the title:”Rethinking Human Security in Asia: Strategies of Desecuritization and Economic Diplomacy” said, When the ASEAN Vision 2025 Forging Ahead Document was signed in 2015, there was an expectation that the Community can provide prosperity and peace in the region. Generally, there has been relative peace in the region, but it has been marred by the Rohingya massacre, the bombing in Thailand and Indonesia, the abduction of tourists in the Malaysia- Sulawesi waters, and the escalation of conflict in the South China Sea. Many strategies and approaches are used to address the issues. Usually, issues pertaining to security will be addressed through the ASEAN Political Security Pillar, utilizing mostly the realist approach. This presentation argues that by taking a human security approach and by applying the strategy of Desecuritization and Economic Diplomacy, there is a greater probability of resolving immediate problems and minimizing conflict. Human Security as framework, as opposed to Traditional Security is a people-centric approach that can be useful in providing a more constructive and sustainable solution to present and impending societal problems. There are short term and long term strategies that can be applied within all three pillars of the ASEAN Community. First, it is necessary to see the interconnectedness between the three pillars. Second, activities taking place in the other two pillars can offer solutions to problems that are being addressed by the APSC.

Prof. Chandra Muzaffar from JUST in his speech about: “Terrorism and the Politics of Hegemony ” said, There is a complex nexus between Hegemony and Terrorism. In its pursuit of hegemonic power, the Washington elite has resorted to acts of terror. From Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Baghdad and Tripoli, this is the evidence that stares at our face. More than any other part of the world, it is the US’s neighbourhood — South and Central America and the Caribbean —that has borne the brunt of hegemonic terror. Sometimes, there is no direct involvement on the part of the hegemon. Through collusion with an ally or an agent, Washington pursues its hegemonic agenda resulting in the death of thousands of innocent people, the victims of terror. The most infamous of such links is the Washington- Tel Aviv bond. Terrorism is not only a consequence of hegemony; it is also a reaction to hegemony. Since hegemony tramples upon the dignity of people and the sovereignty of nations, and causes so much pain and misery, it is understandable — though not justifiable — that individuals and groups emerge from time to time to avenge the suffering they have had to bear, directly or indirectly. The desire for revenge is fuelled by their contempt for their own leaders who are perceived not only as servile servants of the hegemon but also as corrupt and cruel rulers who oppress their people. There is another dimension to terrorism and hegemony. There is enough evidence to show that in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) the hegemon and its allies also finance, train, and equip terrorist outfits, apart from supplying them with intelligence, in order to achieve their nefarious agenda. Ousting the Bashar al-Assad government in Damascus, emasculating the Lebanese- based Hezbollah and curbing Iran — all three are opponents of US-Israeli hegemony in WANA — have been integral to the hegemon’s goal of re-shaping the region with the aim of reinforcing its grip on WANA’s oil and strategic routes and enhancing Israeli security. The hegemon’s allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have their own objectives. It should be noted that spawning terrorist groups to overthrow governments or weaken certain forces in society is what the hegemon has done before, on numerous occasions, notably in Latin America. It is because of this track-record that Noam Chomsky describes the US as the world’s leading terrorist state. Its pursuit of global hegemony has played a big role in bestowing the US with this epithet. The question is: how do we tame this terrorist state? The US’s decline as a hegemonic power so obvious in the last 10 years or so will be a key factor in its decline as a terrorist state. This decline is due to a variety of economic, political, social and cultural factors within its own borders compounded by the rise of other centres of power in the global arena such as China with its economic dynamism and Russia with its military assertiveness. The decline of US and Western dominance and control paralleled by the ascendancy of new global forces represents one of the greatest shifts in power in history. The US and the West in general will not allow this shift to happen peacefully. They will employ every weapon in their arsenal to ensure that they remain at the apex of the planet ad infinitum. Creating and/or sustaining terror groups that serve their agenda is one of those weapons. This is why it is imperative that concerned citizens everywhere, individually and collectively, help to raise the awareness of people in all walks of life about the situation we are in globally. This is one of the most important tasks facing humanity today. To put it differently, if we the people of the world fail to realize who the real terrorist is and how the terrorist’s goals are linked to hegemony, we are doomed to perish!

 

 

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