It is generally held that if terrorists got hold of some nukes, they will intentionally annihilate the bulk of human population within a short span of time. However, the experts question the experience and ability of terrorists to develop nukes orto assemble nuclear warheads, if they get access of some to thosein future. Nuclear Terrorism is a new subject for nuke speakers to spread panic among the peace-loving people across the globe who do not have enough knowledge about the dichotomy between the authorized and unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.
Many experts have argued that the emerging from the chances of a nuclear exchange is more likely to involve the nuclear states rather than from terrorists using nukes to eliminate their enemies. There are no confirm reports or evidence regarding theft of an intact nuclear weapon by non-state actors or terrorists. Despite theorists knowing about the lethality of nukes, irrationality from head of states and military officers, nuclear mafia, and poor governance of nuclear weapons in some nuclear states altogether have largely supported the nuclear weapons for deterrence.
Severaltheorists have championed the deterrence theory with the support of realists and neo-realists.Hans Morgenthau, Bernard Brodie, Herman Kahn, Kenneth Waltz, Sumit Ganguly, and John Mearsheimer have largely supported nuclear weapons for deterrence or for avoiding major wars between the belligerent states. However, Vipin Narang is of the view that these theorists have undermined the nuclear postures of respective states. For instance, India and Pakistan’s nuclear doctrines are challenged by numerous experts on the grounds that both nuclear states have unclear and provocative nuclear postures that can easily culminate into a nuclear winter between the two enemy states.
The states of India and Pakistan have crossed the nuclear threshold in May 1998 by denoting 11 nuclear devices. Subsequently, both states have provided clarifications about their nuclear tests and claimed loudly to be responsible nuclear weapon states. After the nuclear explosions, optimists argued that nukes will stabilize the tensions between the two states, however, Timothy Hoyt writes that South Asia still remains a dangerous place contrary to the arguments put forward by certainanalysts that nuclear weapons would induce stability. He further arguesthat the divide between India and Pakistan hascreated a distrust owing to non-resolution of Kashmir dispute.
The studies on India-Pakistan nuclear doctrines have presented a negative message for world peace because of the several loopholes highlighted by the experts in the nuclear policies of the two countries.Scott Sagan presents a worrisome picture of about the organizational biases in the context of Indo-Pak nuclear relationship. He argues that both the states have exchanged nuclear threats during the crisisand Kargil War of 1999, and cannot be trusted to behave rationally in future. Sagan explicitly states that there are “imperfect humans inside imperfect organizations” in India-Pakistan nuclear relationship and in the nuclear deterrence might fail in the future.Similarly, Vipin Narang portrays the interest of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in India’s nuclear superiority over Pakistan the role it plays to accelerate India’s nuclear arsenal in order to dominate Pakistan and counter China. The nuclear arms race might result into the mismanagement of nuclear warheads due to organizational biases in the context of India and Pakistan as well. From Narang’s statement it is quite apparent that minimum deterrence pledge taken by both states will not be implemented because of the intense rivalry and trust deficit between the two states.
There is no official nuclear doctrine of Pakistan. However, Lt. General Khalid Kidwai identifies four thresholds for Pakistan’s use of nukes: First, Space Threshold: If India occupies a large portion of Pakistani territory. Second, Military Threshold: If India destroys a large part of Pakistan’s land or air forces. Third, Economic Threshold: If India tries to strangle Pakistan’s economy. And fourth, Political Threshold: If India destabilizes Pakistan’s domestic political system. As nuclear warheads of Pakistan are Indo-centric, it declares that it will use its nuclear weapons on its first strike against conventional attack from India.
India disclosed its nuclear doctrine with no-first use pledge and minimum deterrence posture in 1999. However, the 2003 revision of India’s nuclear doctrine diluted the no-first useclause by countenancing nuclear first use against a ‘major attack’ using the other two weapons of mass destruction – chemical and biological weapons. The other changes in 2003 revision included the shift from minimum deterrent to credible minimum deterrent posture and posture of no-first use of nukes, nukes will be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere. The word ‘anywhere’ was added to the 2003 doctrine, that underscores the possibility that Indian soldiers could be fighting a conventional war inside Pakistan.
One can easily understand why India have added the word ‘anywhere’ to the 2003 doctrine andhas disclosed the Cold Start Doctrine as a limited war option under the nuclear umbrella after the 2001-2002 stalemate between India and Pakistan. India’s nukes have failed to deter Pakistan in 1999 Kargil war and other sub-conventional conflicts. That is why a limited war doctrine was disclosed by India to warn Pakistan to halt cross-border terrorism. However, Pakistan explicitly stated it will use its Nasr Missile, a tactical nuclear weapon on its own soil against Indian troops.
Indian leaders warned Pakistan several times to destroy it completely by massive retaliation (unacceptable damage) after Pakistan threatened to nuke India. However, Sumit Ganguly and Devin Hagerty argue that India’s no-first use pledge is nothing but a ‘rhetorical device’. Raja Menon argues that there is inter-service rivalry in India as Indian Air Force (IAF) might not wait for Pakistan’s first strike. As per IAF planning study, Vision 2020, IAF is planning for first strike capability in future. Sagan also states that no-first strike does not mean that India doesnot have a first strike capability. He also points outthat the Indian Nuclear Air Command is working towards having a first strike capability. Similarly, Vipin Narang argues that India will not allow Pakistan to nuke it first. The pre-emptive strike option was always in the minds of Indian decision makers during the crisis situations.
The most alarming source in South Asian region is never ending nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan. The minimum deterrent posture is no longer a valid option for both states. According to the 2017 worldwide nuclear report by Hans M. Kristensen & Robert S. Norris,there are nearly fifteen thousand (15000) nuclear weapons in the world. The source of alarm is that amongst the 15, 000 nuclear weapons, 1800 are on high alert and ready for use at a short notice.The report also mentions that both India and Pakistan are qualitatively and quantitatively increasing their nuclear arsenal. The nukes have been increased to provide a boost to nuclear deterrence.
John Mearsheimer sounds confident about the success of nuclear deterrence due to mighty ocean barrier between the US and Russia. However, he is of the view that nuclear deterrence might not succeed in those belligerent states which share close borders. For instance, India and Pakistan do not have enough time to decide whether an attack is deliberate or accidental, the response will be catastrophic as a retaliation. Due to an advantage of missile defence systems, the belligerent states might opt for a nuclear war. Harmen Kahn has explicitly stated that nuclear war can be won because of missile defence systems, evacuations, shelters, and shells.
Similarly, the missile defence system might not function well in the context of India and Pakistan because massive first strike of missiles will break down the defence system easily. The missiles will travel in few minutes, there are also chances of failure of alarming system to judge the incoming missile. Rajesh Rajagopalan interestingly argues that Pakistan possesses missiles which are superior to that of India due to an assistance to Pakistan from China and North Korea in making missiles. According to experts the Nodong missiles and Ghauri missiles are same. Similarly, Narang argues that some missiles were directly received by Pakistan from North Korea.
The other source of concern is the poor accountability of nuclear weapons and nuclear mafia that is operating in both states as Pakistan’s nuclear warheads are under the strict control of military. During the Kargil Warthe then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif was told by Bill Clinton about the deployment of nukes by Pakistan military of which Sharif was totally unaware of. The head of the Strategic Plans Division is responsible for nuclear planning,command and control system in Pakistan. Itis true that political leaders had been making provocative public statements about using nukes against India. Samina Ahmed, however, clears these provocative statements that the issue of prestige is also evident in Pakistan’s equal desire to stand with India. The nuclear threats sometimes were exchanged for domestic determinism and prestige which Sagan calls a normative factor. However, Pakistan military perceives India as a potential enemy that is why nuclear weapons were seen as an object rather than a means for national security argued by Sagan.
India too has alerted its nuclear capable missiles during the Kargil War. The Chief of Indian Army Staff, General V.P. Malik has confirmed that missiles were positioned at high trigger alert during the Kargil War to annihilate Pakistan. Raj Chengappa claims that, “India [then] activated all its three types of nuclear delivery vehicles and kept at what is known as Readiness state 3-meaning that some nuclear bombs would be ready to be mated with the delivery vehicles at short notice.” He further states that, “at least four of them (Prithvi ballistic missiles) were readied for a possible strike. Even an Agni missile capable of launching a nuclear warhead was moved to the Western Indian States and kept in a state of readiness.”
It is clearly understood that both the states cannot be trusted for behaving sensibly in future. We are alarmed about the unauthorized use of nukes, however, several reports from the experts upset us with the fuzzy nuclear postures and irrationality of India and Pakistan that might trigger an authorized use of nukes. India rejects the Pakistan’s offer to explore a nuclear free-zone area in South Asia, Vajpayee clearly responded to Pakistan that “we have to keep in mind developments in other neighbouring countries as well”. Vajpayee further stated that “though we believe in a minimum credible deterrent, the size of the deterrent must be deterred from time to time on the basis of our own threat perception. This is a judgement which cannot be surrendered to anyone else.”
Pakistan is also not in a mood to roll back its nuclear programme. Pervez Musharrafargues that “only a traitor would think of rolling back.” Similarly, Abdul Satar argues “…in order to ensure the survivability and credibility of the deterrent, Pakistan will have to maintain, preserve and upgrade its capability”.
Due to the poor management of nuclear weapons, the international community is concerned about the Jihadi networks in Pakistan who might steal the nukes for their own purposes. Stephen Cohen is worried about the zeal of Jihad against Unbelievers that Pakistani military always encourages the Jihadi’s to target India. Cohen argues that the nuclear attack on non-combatants in urban areas in India is one of the aim of Jihadi organizations in Pakistan. Similarly, India’s nuclear doctrine also talks about the ‘unacceptable damage’ that means a nuclear attack on civilian areas.
Surprisingly, anIndian army officer suggested George Fernandes, Defence Minister of India, to denote a nuclear device in Siachen to drown Pakistan completely to settle the Kashmir dispute once for all. The Indian Chief of Army Staff, General S. Padmanabhan’s statement on January 11, 2002 to nuke Pakistan was a surprising statement that uproar the Indian Prime Minister Office.Nobody can deny the fact that there is possibility of irrational behaviour (nuclear exchange) between the two belligerent states.
Thus, it is clear with the help of several studies on India-Pakistan nuclear brinkmanship that there is possibility of nuclear omnicide in South Asia. The organizational biases, blurry nuclear doctrines of no-first use and first-use of nukes, poor accountability of nukes, advantage of missile defence systems, intense rivalry, unresolved Kashmir dispute, and close borders might become the reasons for the failure of nuclear deterrence in South Asia.
The Not-So-Missing Case of Indian Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Hitendra Singh and Gauri Noolkar-Oak*
Recently, an article published in Modern Diplomacy caught our attention. The author has cited Mr. Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and found his famous statement on Indians lacking enterprise and innovation to be ‘music to his ears’. He has then gone on to paint Indians in broad strokes – ironic, for it is something he has accused Indians of doing – and labelled them as a nation lacking entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. While his reasoning certainly has an element of truth and an instant appeal, our response looks to add nuances to his argument and provide a more realistic and complete picture of enterprise and innovation in India.
To begin with, the terms ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ cannot be used interchangeably; not all entrepreneurs are innovators, and vice versa. There are more than 50 million medium and small businesses operating in India which contribute 37% of India’s GDP and employ around 117 million people. These numbers sufficiently prove that entrepreneurship is alive and kicking in the Indian society; Indians are running businesses not only in India but are leading and successful entrepreneurs in many countries of Asia, Africa and rest of the world. Hence, an argument that Indians lack entrepreneurship does not hold much strength.
In the case of innovation and creativity, a different story is emerging. It is slow but is happening and it is solving some of the largest social and developmental challenges in India – from grassroots, to research labs, to top-tier institutions such as ISRO and various DRDO labs. At a global level, India has not only moved up six places in its GII ranking in 2017, but is also ranked second in innovation quality. India has also won international acclaim for its innovative and cost-effective technology; such as its first mission to Mars in 2014, the Mangalyaan, was successful in the first attempt, made entirely with domestic technology, and cost less than the Hollywood movies ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Martian’. It is surprising that the author spots lack of innovation in a household broom but does not see innovation in a nation that sends a successful Mars mission on a budget that is less than that of a Hollywood movie about Mars.
At the national level, grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship are gaining more and more institutional recognition; the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and the annual Festival of Innovation at the Rashtrapati Bhavan are perhaps the only high-level government initiatives supporting and celebrating innovation in the world. Additionally, many universities and educational institutes across the country host innovation competitions, festivals and incubators.
Several remarkable individuals are nurturing India’s growing innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.Prof. Anil K. Gupta founded SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions) in 1993 and the Honey Bee Network in 1997 to connect innovators from all sections of the society to entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors. For more than 12 years, he has walked around 6000 kilometres across the country, discovering extraordinary grassroots innovations on the way. Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, an eminent chemical scientist, has led multiple scientific and technological innovations in the country, earlier as the Director-General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and now as the President of the National Innovation Foundation.
And then, there are thousands of common men and women, hailing from various walks of life, innovating continuously and creatively to solve pressing everyday problems in the Indian society. There are the famous Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a cost-effective way of manufacturing sanitary napkins, and Mansukhbhai Prajapati, who invented a clay refrigerator which runs without electricity. Then there are Mallesham from Andhra Pradesh, who sped up the process of weaving Kochampalli sarees and reduced the physical pains of the weavers, and Shri Sundaram from Rajasthan, who found a way to grow a whole tree in a dry region with just a litre of water. Raghav Gowda from Karnataka designed a cost-effective and painless machine to milk cows, while Mathew K Mathews from Kerala designed a solar mosquito destroyer. Dr. Pawan Mehrotra of Haryana has developed a cost-effective version of breast prosthesis for breast cancer survivors while Harsh Songra of Madhya Pradesh has developed a mobile app to detect developmental disorders among children.
Three women from Manipur, OinamIbetombi Devi, SarangthenDasumati Devi and Nameirakpam Sanahambi Devi invented an herbal medicine that is proven to promote poultry health. Priyanka Sharma from Punjab developed a low-cost biochip to detect environmental pollutants, while Dr. Seema Prakash from Karnataka revolutionised eco-agriculture by inventing a cost-effective plant cloning technique. AshniBiyani, the daughter of Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani, leads the Khoj Lab, which collaborates with the NIF to help commercialise grassroots innovations and ideas.
These and thousands of such examples present a very encouraging picture of the creativity and innovation of Indians. The innovation that the author admires are rooted in a context. Apple and Google (or Lyft or Uber or Spotify) could be created because there was an end consumer who was looking to pay for their products. There are many India innovator-entrepreneurs, such as those mentioned above, who have created products for a necessarily less glamorous but useful India context. Products like brooms and packaged food add convenience to the time-stretched urban and middle and upper middle classes; with a large unskilled and semiskilled workforce competing vigorously for such jobs, does the Indian society have an incentive to invest in innovating them?
Having said that, it is true that upsurge of innovation in India is relatively recent, i.e. about two to three decades old. It is also true that the Indian society has been experiencing socio-economic affluence on such a broad scale only for the past three decades, since the market reforms of 1991. It has been 70 years since Indians have gained sovereignty and control over their resources. The top five innovative countries according to the GII – Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, USA and UK – have been sovereign states for about at least two and a half centuries. It would perhaps then be more accurate to compare India’s current innovation scenario with, for instance, the USA’s innovation scenario in the mid-19th century.
Further, given the economic and resource drain faced by the Indian society over centuries, Indian innovation was geared more towards surviving rather than thriving. This explains the ‘group mentality’ strongly rooted in mainstream Indian society; staying and cooperating in a group increased one’s capacity to cope with and survive through all kinds of adversity. Individualistic aspirations, beliefs and actions were then a price to be paid for the security blanket it offered. And yet, once relative stability and affluence began to set in, the innovative and creative instincts of Indians lost no time in bursting forth.
Long story short, both innovation and entrepreneurship are thriving in India. They might not be as “macro” or glamourous as Apple or Uber, but they are solving fundamental problems for the Indian masses. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of room for improvement and growth – India has a long way to go to be recognised as a global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the scenario is not by any means bleak, as these many examples point out. The trajectory of enterprises and innovation in India is only upward. The future is promising.
* Gauri Noolkar-Oak is Policy Research Analyst at Pune International Centre, a liberal think tank based in Pune, India.
Views expressed by the authors are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation.
Changing Perceptions: How Pakistan should use Public Diplomacy
Traditionally in International Relations the concept of “hard power” remained the basic focus for states so as to achieve power and dominance in international anarchic system but with the changing scenarios in the age of globalization, economic interdependency and rapid spreading of information through various tools, “Soft Power” concept emerged which had great impact on states’ foreign policies. This term of soft power was first coined by Joseph Nye in mid-1960’s which could be defined as the ability of the state to influence others without coercion and this soft power technique basically revolves around three major instruments such as Culture, political values, and foreign policies. Apart from soft power concept, there is another basic concept called as “Public Diplomacy”. This could be described as the further dimension of soft power because by practicing Public Diplomacy state can initiate their soft power policies and can achieve the desired outcomes by winning the hearts and minds of foreign audience and non-governmental entities because by doing so it will enable government and decision making bodies of foreign states to act accordingly.
In context of South Asia particularly taking into consideration the important developing state Pakistan whose basic concern is to maintain friendly and neutral relations with other states Public diplomacy could, however, help it to maintain its relations in the regional complex structure where India is seen as the dominant power and alongside India the powerful rise of China as an external actor in South Asia. By efficient usage of Public diplomacy, Pakistan can improve its bilateral ties with the neighboring states.
The image of Pakistan in foreign media is portrayed as the state which is full of many internal and external challenges and it is also not portrayed as the safe country to travel into. In order to improve the image, Pakistan firstly needs to improve its relations with states within the region and for that India which is considered as hostile neighbor Pakistan should effectively use its public diplomacy tool it should introduce exchange programs because by educating youth and by deploying positive image in their minds Pakistan can influence them which could bring change in the coming years and also by increasing tourism activities. This would make foreigners aware of the fact that Pakistan is a secure state. Similarly, cultural activities, sports diplomacy, literature, art, and media could also have a great impact so as to change the perceptions.
Hence it could be suggested that for the development of state it is important for Pakistan to improve its public diplomacy by changing perceptions of public and elite of neighboring states it should take basic steps which could change the negative image which is in limelight since 9/11. Pakistan by enhancing the public diplomacy in other states as the tool to implement its soft power policies would, however, be able to economically, culturally and politically improve its stance in the International arena.
Rolling back militancy: Bangladesh looks to Saudi Arabia in a twist of irony
Bangladesh, in a twist of irony, is looking to Saudi Arabia to fund a $ 1 billion plan to build hundreds of mosques and religious centres to counter militant Islam that for much of the past decade traced its roots to ultra-conservative strands of the faith promoted by a multi-billion dollar Saudi campaign.
The Bangladeshi plan constitutes the first effort by a Muslim country to enlist the kingdom whose crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return Saudi Arabia to an undefined form of ‘moderate Islam,’ in reverse engineering.
The plan would attempt to roll back the fallout of Saudi Arabia’s global investment of up to $100 billion over a period of four decades in support of ultra-conservative mosques, religious centres, and groups as an antidote to post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal.
Cooperation with Saudi Arabia and various countries, including Malaysia, has focused until now on countering extremism in cooperation with defense and security authorities rather than as a religious initiative.
Saudi religious authorities and Islamic scholars have long issued fatwas or religious opinions condemning political violence and extremism and accused jihadists of deviating from the true path of Islam.
The Saudi campaign, the largest public diplomacy effort in history, was, nevertheless, long abetted by opportunistic governments who played politics with religion as well as widespread discontent fuelled by the failure of governments to deliver public goods and services.
The Bangladeshi plan raises multiple questions, including whether the counter-narrative industry can produce results in the absence of effective government policies that address social, economic and political grievances.
It also begs the question whether change in Saudi Arabia has advanced to a stage in which the kingdom can claim that it has put its ultra-conservative and militant roots truly behind it. The answer to both questions is probably no.
In many ways, Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism and militancy, violent and non-violent, despite sharing common roots with the kingdom’s long-standing theological thinking and benefitting directly or indirectly from Saudi financial largess, has created a life of its own that no longer looks to the kingdom for guidance and support and is critical of the path on which Prince Mohammed has embarked.
The fallout of the Saudi campaign is evident in Asia not only in the rise of militancy in Bangladesh but also the degree to which concepts of supremacism and intolerance have taken root in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan. Those concepts are often expressed in discrimination, if not persecution of minorities like Shia Muslims and Ahmadis, and draconic anti-blasphemy measures by authorities, militants and vigilantes.
Bangladesh in past years witnessed a series of brutal killings of bloggers and intellectuals whom jihadists accused of atheism.
Moreover, basic freedoms in Bangladesh are being officially and unofficially curtailed in various forms as a result of domestic struggles originally enabled by successful Saudi pressure to amend the country’s secular constitution in 1975 to recognize Islam as its official religion. Saudi Arabia withheld recognition of the new state as well as financial support until the amendment was adopted four years after Bangladeshi independence.
In Indonesia, hard-line Islamic groups, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), earlier this month filed a blasphemy complaint against politician Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, a daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno and the younger sister of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who leads President Joko Widodo’s ruling party. The hardliners accuse Ms. Sukarnoputri of reciting a poem that allegedly insults Islam.
The groups last year accused Basuki Tjahaja Purnama aka Ahok, Jakarta’s former Christian governor, of blasphemy and spearheaded mass rallies that led to his ouster and jailing, a ruling that many believed was politicized and unjust.
Pakistan’s draconic anti-blasphemy law has created an environment that has allowed Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatives and powerful political forces to whip up popular emotion in pursuit of political objectives. The environment is symbolized by graffiti in the corridor of a courthouse In Islamabad that demanded that blasphemers be beheaded.
Pakistan last month designated Islamabad as a pilot project to regulate Friday prayer sermons in the city’s 1,003 mosques, of which only 86 are state-controlled, in a bid to curb hate speech, extremism and demonization of religions and communities.
The government has drafted a list of subjects that should be the focus of weekly Friday prayer sermons in a bid to prevent mosques being abused “to stir up sectarian hatred, demonise other religions and communities and promote extremism.” The subjects include women rights; Islamic principles of trade, cleanliness and health; and the importance of hard work, tolerance, and honesty.
However, they do not address legally enshrined discrimination of minorities like Ahmadis, who are viewed as heretics by orthodox Muslims. The list risked reinforcing supremacist and intolerant militancy by including the concept of the finality of the Prophet Mohammed that is often used as a whip to discriminate against minorities.
Raising questions about the degree of moderation that Saudi-funded mosques and religious centres in Bangladesh would propagate, Prince Mohammed, in his effort to saw off the rough edges of Saudi ultra-conservatism, has given no indication that he intends to repeal a law that defines atheists as terrorists.
A Saudi court last year condemned a man to death on charges of blasphemy and atheism. Another Saudi was a year earlier sentenced to ten years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing atheist sentiments on social media.
Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations have long lobbied for the criminalization of blasphemy in international law in moves that would legitimize curbs on free speech and growing Muslim intolerance towards any open discussion of their faith.
To be sure, Saudi Arabia cannot be held directly liable for much of the expression of supremacism, intolerance and anti-pluralism in the Muslim world. Yet, by the same token there is little doubt that Saudi propagation of ultra-conservatism frequently contributed to an enabling environment.
Prince Mohammed is at the beginning of his effort to moderate Saudi Islam and has yet to spell out in detail his vision of religious change. Beyond the issue of defining atheism as terrorism, Saudi Arabia also has yet to put an end to multiple ultra-conservative practices, including the principle of male guardianship that forces women to get the approval of a male relative for major decisions in their life.
Prince Mohammed has so far forced the country’s ultra-conservative religious establishment into subservience. That raises the question whether there has been real change in the establishment’s thinking or whether it is kowtowing to an autocratic leader.
In December, King Salman fired a government official for organizing a mixed gender fashion show after ultra-conservatives criticized the event on Twitter. The kingdom this week hosted its first ever Arab Fashion Week, for women only. Designers were obliged to adhere to strict dress codes banning transparent fabrics and the display of cleavages or clothing that bared knees.
In February, Saudi Arabia agreed to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels after its efforts to install a more moderate administration failed to counter mounting Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism propagated by mosque executives.
Efforts to moderate Islam in Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar, the world’s only other Wahhabi state that traces its ultra-conservatism to the teachings of 18th century preacher Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, but has long interpreted them more liberally than the kingdom, have proven to be easier said than done.
Saudi King Abdullah, King Salman’s predecessor, positioned himself as a champion of interfaith dialogue and reached out to various groups in society including Shiites and women.
Yet, more than a decade of Saudi efforts to cleanse textbooks used at home and abroad have made significant progress but have yet to completely erase descriptions of alternative strands of Islam such as Shiism and Sufism in derogatory terms or eliminate advise to Muslims not to associate with Jews and Christians who are labelled kaffirs or unbelievers.
Raising questions about Saudi involvement in the Bangladeshi plan, a Human Rights Watch survey of religion textbooks produced by the Saudi education ministry for the 2016-2017 school year concluded that “as early as first grade, students in Saudi schools are being taught hatred toward all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought.”
Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle noted that Prince Mohammed has remained conspicuously silent about hate speech in textbooks as well as its use by officials and Islamic scholars connected to the government.
The New York-based Anti-Defamation League last year documented hate speech in Qatari mosques that was disseminated in Qatari media despite Qatar’s propagation of religious tolerance and outreach to American Jews as part of its effort to counter a United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state.
In one instance in December, Qatari preacher Muhammed al-Muraikhi described Jews in a sermon in Doha’s Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque as “your deceitful, lying, treacherous, fornicating, intransigent enemy” who have “despoiled, corrupted, ruined, and killed, and will not stop.”
No doubt, Saudi Arabia, like Qatar, which much earlier moved away from puritan and literal Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, is sincere in its intention to adopt more tolerant and pluralistic worldviews.
Getting from A to B, however, is a lengthy process. The question remains whether the kingdom has progressed to a degree that it can credibly help countries like Bangladesh deal with their demons even before having successfully put its own house in order.
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