Pakistan is sliding toward extremism
October 16th, 2014
06:27 PM ET

Pakistan is sliding toward extremism

By Farahnaz Ispahani and Nina Shea, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center 2013-2014. Her forthcoming book is 'Waiting to Die: Pakistan's religious minorities'. Nina Shea is a senior fellow, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and co- author of 'Silenced; How apostasy and blasphemy codes are choking freedom worldwide'. The views expressed are their own.

The decision to award Malala Yousafzai the Nobel Peace Prize last week was a good one. After all, the 17 year-old, who was named a joint winner with along with Kailash Satyarthi, personifies the struggle for modernity, women’s equality and individual rights to religious freedom against the threat of Islamic extremism. But while Malala’s award is a triumph for her determination, it is far from clear that the cause she champions will meet as much success.

The reality is that Pakistan is facing a serious problem, with the mushrooming of Islamist appeal within Pakistani society reminding us that we risk seeing the Talibanization not simply of a small minority of ordinary citizens, but large swathes of the populace of the world’s second largest – and only nuclear-armed – Muslim country.

Pakistan abounds with violent sectarian and Islamist groups headquartered in semiautonomous tribal areas. Foreign jihadists, including Westerners like American David Headley, flock to areas such as North Waziristan. Yet although Islamabad devotes a full third of its armed forces to the northwest of the country, it is also pursuing policies that encourage a mainstream slide toward extremism. FULL POST

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Topics: Islam • Pakistan
September 26th, 2014
03:58 PM ET

From the archive: Interviewing activist radical Anjem Choudary

Have you ever met a jihadi? It's easier to find them in London than in New York. Indeed, earlier last decade, London was sometimes dubbed Londonistan, the origins of which were obvious. Fareed met activist radical Anjem Choudary when he was filming in London in July 2010. Choudary was reported by The Guardian to have been detained on Friday by British law enforcement for allegedly "encouraging terrorism".

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Topics: GPS Show • Islam
September 25th, 2014
01:32 PM ET

Zakaria: To beat ISIS, it's the politics stupid

CNN's New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about U.S.-led military strikes against ISIS, the Obama administration's strategy, and why the politics are so complicated. This is an edited version of the transcript.

This morning, a new round of U.S.-led air strikes targeted about a dozen oil refineries to try and cut off the money that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria makes through the black market. But we don't know how successful these bombings will be, and we're not really going to know because the coalition isn't on the ground in a meaningful way. And even if they achieve every objective they want to, it's far from over. Explain the complexity of this situation in terms of how you make real change.

Well, you're exactly right. Think about the initial air campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, brilliantly successful in Iraq, brilliantly successful in Libya. And then what you have is the ground operation, and most importantly the political operation as it were – who is going to govern these areas? Who is going to take charge? And the problem we face in Iraq – we have an answer, and we have a strategy. The Iraqi army tries to move in, the Kurds move in, you're trying to create a more inclusive Iraqi government. Not there yet, but at least that is the strategy.

In Syria, it is a mess because once you start striking at ISIS, who is going to replace it? Well, the al-Assad government, the Syrian government, wants to be that person. We want the Free Syrian Army, the rebels, the moderate rebels as we call them, to take over. And, guess what? This is a 12-cornered contest. It's going to be very messy.

So, imagine the two-step race here. We have a one-step campaign to defeat ISIS. Then we need to, in our minds, help the Free Syrian army defeat the al-Assad government.

Meanwhile, just to complicate things further, the Iranian government, which has been backing the Syrian regime, is going to fight those free Syrian rebels. I had the opportunity to interview President Rouhani of Iran yesterday, and he said flatly, the Free Syrian Army are terrorists. From Iran's point of view, they really don't make that much distinction between ISIS and the Free Syrian Army. They're going to fight both. FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • ISIS • Islam • Middle East
Repression no cure for challenge of political Islam
July 2nd, 2014
12:28 PM ET

Repression no cure for challenge of political Islam

By Dalibor Rohac, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Dalibor Rohac is a policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute. You can follow him @daliborrohac. The views expressed are his own.

The events in Iraq, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been mounting an offensive against the ill-prepared Iraqi army, raises important questions about political Islam and about the response to it by both Middle Eastern governments and the West.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the increased perception of political Islam as a major security threat led Western governments to boost support to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East as long as they were secular and therefore seen as superior to their theocratic alternatives. When the Egyptian military brought down President Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013, there was a sense of relief among many observers in Washington.

Some of them may be willing to give Egypt's current military regime a pass even after its judiciary convicted three Al-Jazeera journalists for seven years for "aiding terrorists" – not to mention recently upholding death sentences for 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who allegedly organized an attack on a Cairo police station last year. Yet the repression of Islamic political movements, such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, often backfires, with consequences that could be as dire as the current bloodbath in Iraq.


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Topics: Egypt • Iraq • Islam • Middle East • Syria
May 14th, 2014
06:24 PM ET

Kristof: There's a misperception the great divide is between different faiths

Fareed speaks with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof about the recent abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram.

You talk about this in your last book. How do you make sense of – would it be fair to call this Islamic fundamentalism? What is behind this?

You know, I think we have this misperception that the great divide is between different faiths, between Christianity and Islam, for example. And I think actually Eliza [Griswold] was one of the first people I know to really make the point that it's not so much between different faiths – it's between moderates and extremists generally. And, you know, moderate Muslims and moderate Christians have a great deal in common. Extremist Muslims and extremist Christians have in common the willingness to resort to violence, oppression. And that is what we're seeing with Boko Haram.

But this does seem specifically Muslim these days, which is whenever you see these young men, they always have this incredibly brutal attitude towards women. And it does seem like it's across many parts – though, of course, a minority – of the Islamic world.

It's true that if you look at places where women and girls are least likely to get educated, where they're most likely to be oppressed, then those are disproportionately countries with conservative Muslim populations. But they're also places where the culture itself, quite aside from religion, is deeply oppressive of women. I mean, Afghanistan, for example.

And I think that what we're seeing here is, unfortunately, a spiral. So in northern Nigeria, there’s very little education. Women are marginalized, partly for cultural and historic reasons.  Often, people cite Islam as the reason. Female literacy in this region is less than 50 percent. And then that leads people to think girls shouldn't get educated... FULL POST

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Topics: GPS Show • Islam • Nigeria • Terrorism
Is Asia facing a new wave of religious extremism?
March 28th, 2014
04:50 PM ET

Is Asia facing a new wave of religious extremism?

By Maha Hosain Aziz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Maha Hosain Aziz is a professor of politics (adjunct) in NYU's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, a senior analyst at geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat and advisory board chairwoman of Afghanistan’s first university e-mentoring program (New Silk Road Generation). The views expressed are her own.

Asked to name organizations tied to extremism, most people would likely list the usual suspects – Islamist militant groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban. But a spate of recent attacks has highlighted a growing problem that is threatening to destabilize parts of Asia, and it hails from what might seem to many a surprising source – a militant strain of Buddhism.

In Sri Lanka, for example, reports surfaced in January that eight Buddhist monks were involved in an attack on two churches in the southern town of Hikkaduwa. Another group, the Buddhist Power Force, is said to have been targeting Muslim minorities, and has pushed to ban headscarves, halal foods and other Muslim businesses. In July 2013, Buddhist mobs reportedly attacked a mosque in the north-central town of Dambulla; in August that year, a mosque was attacked in Colombo, sparking clashes between Buddhists and Muslims that left at least a dozen people injured. Sadly, the response from the Sri Lankan government, distracted as it is by the ongoing fallout since the end of the civil war with the Tamil Tigers, has been muted at best.


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Topics: Asia • Islam • Myanmar • Religion
September 24th, 2013
09:49 AM ET

Zakaria: Jihadi ideology one of great cancers at heart of Muslim world

CNN speaks with Fareed about the Nairobi attack, reports that attackers singled out non-Muslims as infidels for slaughter, and a suicide bombing at a church in Pakistan that killed 81 people.

What's going on here with these attacks on Christians? Now, there are reports in Kenya, a slaughter of Christians in Pakistan. We know Coptic Christians in Egypt have been targeted, including at their church. Give us some perspective.

It’s a very serious and tragic situation. Remember, many of these groups have always had this kind of very strong, violent attitude towards what they regard as heretics, any non-Muslims. What's interesting here is in most cases, these terror groups are now attacking locals because they have despaired of the prospect of doing the kind of large attacks on Americans, on American military installations.

In al-Shabaab’s case, they have been driven back in Somalia very effectively. But it’s always possible to attack civilians. It’s always possible to do terrorism. So, where they are failing to advance politically and even militarily in places like Somalia, in Pakistan, they then turn to these more spectacular acts of terrorism as a way of getting attention.


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Topics: Islam • Terrorism
Muslim Brotherhood ripe for re-radicalization
August 15th, 2013
09:09 AM ET

Muslim Brotherhood ripe for re-radicalization

By Mohammed Ayoob, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University, and Adjunct Scholar at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is author of the upcoming bookWill the Middle East Implode?' The views expressed are his own.

Wednesday’s massacre by the security forces in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt has left hundreds dead and perhaps thousands more injured. The old order is lashing out with ferocity against those who dared challenge it. What is worse, a substantial segment of the Egyptian public – mesmerized by the rhetoric of the military brass and its civilian henchmen – consider this a “restoration of democracy” to use John Kerry’s Orwellian term to describe the July 3 military coup.

It is becoming increasingly clear that history is repeating itself as tragedy in Egypt, although with its own peculiar twist. This year reminds me of 1954, when Colonel Nasser, who had led the Egyptian military coup against the then corrupt monarchy in 1952 with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood, turned against his Islamist allies, banned the party, threw its leaders in jail and ultimately executed several of them. The Brotherhood, which had emerged into the open after years of clandestine activity against the monarchy, was forced underground once again.


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Topics: Egypt • Islam • Middle East • Terrorism
July 27th, 2013
12:33 PM ET

'Burka Avenger' to take fight to extremists

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Remember Malala Yousafzai? She's the 16-year-old Pakistani who was shot by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education. But she bravely recovered to continue her fight. Well, she has another ally now – another super girl, like her.

Meet “The Burka Avenger,” a new animated series that debuts on Pakistani TV next month.

The hero is a young girl. She wears the burka not as a sign of oppression, but as a ninja-style costume to keep her identity secret. Each episode has a moral payoff as she uses her karate skills to fight off corrupt politicians and evil magicians (or, the Taliban, it seems).

The series has the backing of top Pakistani singers, who perform in each episode.

It is said that women are the stealth reformers of Islam. In Pakistan, now they have the help of the Burka Avenger.

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Topics: Islam • Pakistan • Taliban
How Muslims should respond to terror
May 25th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

How Muslims should respond to terror

"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

The sheer barbarism of the attack on a British soldier in Woolwich is really beyond comprehension – the alleged murderers are said to have hacked the victim to death, waited for the police to arrive, and seemed to encourage people to videotape their brutality.

And yet, we have to search for some way to think about what appears to be our future.

Terrorism used to be about something big and dramatic. But perhaps because groups like al Qaeda are on the run, their people hunted, their money tracked, their hideouts bombed, Woolwich and Boston have become the new faces of terror – a few people, disturbed or fanatical, radicalized by things they have read or watched, decide to commit evil.


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Topics: Islam • Terrorism • United Kingdom
Why Obama needs to act in Syria
May 22nd, 2013
09:39 AM ET

Why Obama needs to act in Syria

By Mark N. Katz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mark N. Katz is professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University, and the author of ‘Leaving without Losing:  The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan.’ The views expressed are his own.

The ongoing civil war that is devastating Syria is increasingly threatening to spill over and engulf neighboring countries. Indeed, all the ingredients are there for what would be a disastrous region-wide Sunni-Shiite conflict.

Just look at what has been going on. Turkey is hard pressed to deal with the growing number of Syrian refugees flooding into its territory, while tiny Jordan may soon be overwhelmed by them. In addition, the conflict between Syria’s Alawite minority regime and its Sunni majority opposition is spilling over and re-invigorating Sunni-Shiite conflict both in Iraq to the east and Lebanon to the west. Meanwhile, Shiite-dominated governments in Iran and Iraq, as well as the radical Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement, are all actively assisting Syria’s Alawite regime, while Sunni-dominated governments in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan are helping the Sunni opposition.

And what has been the Obama administration’s response to all this? Surprising – and troubling – restraint.


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Topics: Islam • Israel • Middle East • Syria • Turkey
Muslims to Tea Party: Welcome to our world
May 15th, 2013
12:02 PM ET

Muslims to Tea Party: Welcome to our world

By Sahar Aziz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sahar Aziz is an associate professor at Texas Wesleyan School of Law where she teaches national security and civil right law. She previously served as a senior policy advisor at the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The views expressed are her own.

Reports that the Internal revenue Service has been targeting Tea Party-affiliated nonprofit organizations has grabbed headlines, but should come as no surprise. In part because of ten years of expanding government powers, much of it under the guise of national security, selective enforcement of the law has increasingly become a norm rather than an aberration.

But some in the Muslim community might have a question – why are conservatives so surprised (and outraged) by this news when Muslim nonprofits and their leaders have been under intense scrutiny for over a decade? And when so many Muslim groups and individuals have faced scrutiny simply for the religion they follow?


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Topics: Human Rights • Intelligence • Islam • Terrorism • United States
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