Is Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or al-Qaeda offshoot) honestly that horrific a threat and challenge that it should be treated as an individual threat needing a solution before any further assessment can be conducted? If you were to make this an inquiry of the United States State Department, they would answer in the affirmative and probably make Islamic State the sole terror threat requiring attention. Pose this same question to the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their answer would place Islamic State as the immediate threat but would follow that up with a litany of other threats hiding in the background, in the darkest of recesses. So, which assessment is the most accurate and which should be utilized to address future actions. Obviously the Pentagon assessment is more in depth while the State Department takes a mere cursory glance seeking the least invasive path and the least…
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A curtain fell on western Burma on Oct. 9, the moment after police said Islamic militants attacked three security outposts along the border with Bangladesh, killing nine officers. Since that announcement six weeks ago, more than 100 people have been killed, hundreds have been detained by the military, more than 150,000 aid-reliant people have been left without food and medical care, dozens of women claim to have been sexually assaulted, more than 1,200 buildings appear to have been razed and at least 30,000 people have fled for their lives.
Humanitarian workers and independent journalists have been banned from affected areas as the Burmese army, known locally as the Tatmadaw, carries out what it calls “clearance operations.” The government, which is headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, said that those killed were jihadists — information that was gleaned, it said, through interrogations. The government said the rape allegations were false. It said that Muslim terrorists burned down the buildings themselves in an attempt to frame the army for abuse and claim international assistance.
Counterterrorism operations are still under way in Maungdaw, the northernmost township of Arakan state, also known as Rakhine. The township is mostly populated by Rohingya Muslims, a minority that is denied citizenship and is viewed as one of the world’s most persecuted peoples. Elsewhere in the state, as in much of Burma, Buddhists are the majority. There are an estimated 1.1 million Rohingya in Burma. They are systematically denied political representation. They are demonized in the national media. They are so geographically and economically isolated that tens of thousands have fled on dangerous boat voyages, attempting to reach Malaysia.
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Grégoire Canlorbe: Could you start by reminding us of the circumstances and motives of your abandoning Islam — and of your decision to take up your pen to unravel your former religion for the public at large?
Majid Oukacha: Like all Frenchmen who were born and grew up in France in the late twentieth century, I am fortunate to belong to a peaceful nation that allowed me to enjoy rights and freedoms for which I never personally had to fight. My parents, French citizens of Algerian origin and Muslim persuasion, provided me with a religious education, which destined me to remain a devout Muslim. They also gave me a civic, social and ethical education based on respect for France and its values, as embodied in its motto, “liberty, equality, fraternity.”
I started going to the mosque at the age of eight. The first imam who taught me, and who came from a foreign country, had a perfect French accent, a big, cheerful smile, and he was careful never to give orders to his students outside the walls of the mosque. The courses I took quickly led me to see that what I thought was a blessing — to be born into a faith able to save me from Hell, which, according to the Koran, spares only Muslims — would also become a permanent burden.
When one is a Muslim, every trivial action of daily life is codified, from how to drink a glass of water upon waking to how to go to bed. I submitted to Allah to avoid the torments of His wrath in the afterlife; I obeyed codified rituals that sometimes seemed a waste of time or a nonsense. My non-Muslim friends were accustomed to hearing me tell them I had to interrupt a game of football or cards to go to the mosque. There, I essentially learned to do the salat, the Muslim five-times-a-day prayers, as well as the bottomless pit of behavioral codes established as virtues by the romanticized figure of the prophet Muhammad.
In the middle of the uniform flock — blindly imitating a distant spectrum imposing its obligations and prohibitions — I was not afraid to ask “hard” questions.
“Why in Koranic law about the need to cut off the hand of thief (Surah 5, verse 38), does Allah not say which hand is to be cut off (the right one or the left one)? Why does He specify no minimum value for the theft from which the hand of a thief can be cut off? Stealing an apple for the first time in one’s life, does it really deserve to have a hand severed? And why does Allah not say the minimum age of a thief who must have a hand cut off? Should a 12-year-old who has never stolen before really be held as responsible as a 40-year-old repeat offender?”
“Why should one walk seven circles around the Black Stone during the Hajj and not six or eight? What will happen if I walk around it eight times?”
“The Prophet Muhammad explains in his Sunnah that a woman, a black dog or a donkey passing in front of a praying Muslim can cancel his prayer; but, as usual in the Sunnah, Muhammad merely advances a judgment without explaining why it should be that way. To someone who does not believe in Islam, such a statement sounds like a superstition. Why not give the intellectual journey linked to it, instead of just a dogmatic sentence? If it is Allah Himself who gave him this knowledge, why didn’t the Hadith that mentions this prophetic story become a verse of the Koran? The Koran is supposed to represent the messages of Allah which the prophet Muhammad passes on to his contemporaries to inform them about what their creator expects of them. If a woman passes one kilometer from someone who is praying, is the prayer canceled then? What is the maximum distance from which a prayer is cancelled altogether?”
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