The Deobandi Movement

August 31, 2009

In my post on the Taliban last week, I explained that the Taliban’s brand of Islamic radicalism has been significantly influenced by the Deobandi movement. Since that post, I have received several requests asking me to explicate on the history of the Deobandi movement itself. 

The Deobandi movement has evolved out of a Sunni reformist movement. It began in the Indian subcontinent, but it’s political expression and ideology were co-opted by Pakistan’s Jamiyyat-i-Ulama-i-Islam (JUI). The JUI are a religious party with a strict, militant, anti-West, and anti-American culture. The JUI also hate anyone who is a non-Muslim. The JUI trained many members of the Taliban in their madrasas (seminaries). These schools were first set up for Afghan refugees in the Pashtun heavy areas of Pakistan during the Afghan-Soviet war.

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Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is defending his choices for his new cabinet. The men, and surprisingly women, chosen by Mr. Ahmadinejad appear to be chosen for their loyalty, and not necessarily for their skills. However, conservative hardliners, who normally back the president, have come out against his female picks. This would be the first time in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic that the government included women. 

Mr. Ahmadinejad is publicly defending his choices at the start of a three-day vetting process by parliament. Under the president’s proposed list, women would head the ministries of health, education, and social welfare. Opposition to Ahmadinejad’s picks is not only coming from his conservative allies who dominate the parliamentary assembly, but also moderates who say his government is illegitimate. 

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Today, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for the leaders of the opposition to be prosecuted for post-election unrest. 

“Those who have organized, provoked, and implemented the desires (protests) of the enemy should be dealt with decisively,” he said in a speech before thousands of people at Tehran University. 

During its first decade in power, the Islamic Republic of Iran was authoritarian in nature: it had strict limits on political participation. But the political system has experienced a loosening of restrictions since the 1990s. Societal pressure from women and younger voters has renewed emphasis on civil society, conforming to laws, and democracy. But even with those democratic demands, there was still a fair amount of uniformity in the state’s government. 

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The House of Saud (royal family of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia) has been at overt odds with Osama bin Laden since 1994. At that time, the Kingdom revoked his citizenship and froze his assets within the country. This was due to bin Laden’s support for militant movements within the country. Once this happened, bin Laden was moved to the fringes of Saudi society and became more outspoken against the royal family. Bin Laden and dissident activists have called for the removal of the House of Saud ever since. 

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The Taliban

August 27, 2009

With the war in Afghanistan all over the news, people keep asking me “Who are the Taliban?” 

The Taliban were originally a band of madrasa (seminary) students (taliban) who were living as refugees in Pakistan. Many of the men who made up the Taliban were veterans of the Afghan-Soviet war. They had returned to Afghanistan after the Soviets departed. They spent their first couple of post-Soviet years pushing their ideology and cultural moral codes across the country. The group was primarily made up of Pashtuns (ethnic Afghans), but quickly overwhelmed the Northern Alliance of non-Pashtun minorities.

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Not Theology

August 27, 2009

The terror attacks of September 11 caused millions of internet users to search online for their concerns and issues involving religion. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org), 23% of users used internet sources to get information about Islam. No doubt, these people wanted to educate themselves on what they were hearing in the media. And since that tragic time in American history, people have continued to use the web as an enormous sacrosanct library. Not only searching for Islam, but a myriad of religions. In doing so, they travel from site to site like virtual pilgrims, they read articles which claim intellectual authority, and they interact with strangers as they swap guidance. In this way, the internet has become a medium for religious communication. However, there is a danger of obtaining inaccurate information on the web. In a world where anyone can post, credentials have become increasingly important. 

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