A European Perspective
Dr. Mozammel Haque
Lord Nazir Ahmed, one of the earliest Muslim members appointed to the Britain’s House of Lords, was invited by Universal Peace Forum (UPF)-Japan which conducted the fourth Japan-Europe Forum recently. Hundreds of citizens and experts in Kobe, Fukuoka and Tokyo listened Lord Ahmed discourse on Middle East Peace and Japan’s Role- A European Perspective.
A special leadership forum was also convened at the international conference hall affiliated to the Diet (Japan’s parliament). It was attended by some 80 individuals including a dozen Diet members, scholars, media personnel and religious figures. They heard Lord Ahmed’s discourse on Islam, analysis on ISIS and the needs for the UN reform.
Emphasizing importance of the Forum, President of the UPF-Japan, Dr. Eiji Tokuno, explained that peace and stability of the Middle East constitutes Japan’s vital national interest, as nearly 90 per cent of the country’s energy supplies come from that tension-filled region.
Appreciating decade-long support of Lord Ahmed for the UPF projects in Britain, Europe and the world including the Middle East Peace Initiative, Dr. Yong Cheon Song, Chairman of UPF’s Japan Region, introduced Lord Ahmed as a Muslim with European perspectives.
Lord Ahmed in Japan
This was the first actual visit of Lord Ahmed to Japan. While he travelled around the world; Africa, Asia or elsewhere, Lord Ahmed mentioned that he saw “numerous Japanese products such as deluxe cars, superb televisions and excellent electronics. As I am now in your beautiful country, sometimes I found even trains stations cleaner than some hospitals or schools I had visited. The virtues of cleanliness and order are essential in my religion of Islam, too.”
Lord Ahmed said, “I could come to Japan at the invitation of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF). Its Chairman of Japanese Chapter, Dr. Song has already briefed about their great works for peace, most notably in the Middle East.”
Palestinian issue and the Japan’s
peace efforts in the Middle East
Lord Ahmd begin’s his discourse by saying about the Palestinian issue and the conflicts in the Middle East. While dealing with Palestinian issue, Lord Ahmed mentioned his meeting with late Chairman Yasser Arafat together with Dr. Song. “We had the pleasure of visiting the Israeli Knesset (national parliament) and talking with its Speaker. We also spent time in Gaza and at the refugee centers there,” he said.
Concerning Japan’s roles for world peace, Lord Ahmed highly appreciated Japan’s three-pronged peace initiatives: promoting political dialogue, building confidence and financial and economic assistances for Palestinian people. “Post-war Japan has shown remarkable achievements in helping the developing countries around the world without its own geopolitical interests or military ambition. Japan is thus well qualified to apply its proactive peace-making capacity”, he encouraged the attending Ambassadors for Peace.
On this issue, beginning with thanks to the Japanese government for its efforts, Lord Ahmed said, “Japan has granted the Palestinian people with about 1.4 billion dollars over many years in accordance with its three-pronged policy: political dialogue, confidence-building and economic assistance to the Palestinians. Japan recognizes that a solution can be achieved through the two-state solution with neither side imposing its will upon the other. It also recognizes the rights of refugees to return, declaring the Jewish settlements as illegal on the basis of the 1967 borders.”
“It supports the Arab Peace Initiative. These initiatives are supported internationally, by the masses and by our parliament, which has passed a resolution with a huge majority, as well as by many European countries through resolutions for the Palestinian State.,” Lord Ahmed said.
Current Middle East complexities
Lord Ahmed lamented, “Sadly, while we tried to find a solution for the Palestinian issue, the Arab Spring started in Tunisia on 18th December 2010, then in Libya, Egypt and Yemen. Furthermore, we have seen chaos out of the civil strife in Syria, Bahrain and Iraq. There are numerous issues to be discussed.”
“Everybody wants to find out what is the ISIS. Where did they come? How do they recruit young people? Where are they getting financial and logistic supports? Who is providing arms and ammunitions? Whether has the ISIS the ability to get chemical, biological or nuclear weapons?” Lord Ahmed raised these questions and added, “Internationally, the expectation from the United Nation’s Security Council was much higher than what they had actually delivered on Afghanistan and Iraq. To be honest, the UN has not delivered much for Afghanistan and Iraq. The most powerful military might of the ISAF consisting of 42 countries of the world could not really defeat the Taliban, which still operates in the area. Even the most sophisticated arms of the United States and the NATO could not finish off the problems! And, that was more or less similar in Iraq.”
Speaking about Afghanistan, Lord Ahmed said, “In the case of Afghanistan, you have at least a working government, enjoying popular supports from all sides. Though external politics affected the presidential elections, an agreement has been reached between President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.”
Iraq’s sectarian politics
About Iraq, Lord Ahmed observed that Iraq is much more complicated. He mentioned, “You have the Kurdish region in the north, whose interest is represented by the president of the republic. The majority of the population belongs to Shia sect of Islam and is represented by the Prime Minister, formerly Mr. Al-Maliki, recently replaced by a new prime minister. The Sunni Muslims are represented by the Speaker of the Parliament. Such a breakdown of leadership between the Sunnis, the Shias and the Kurds is responsible for what is happening today in Iraq. Of course, in Syria you have the similar problem.”
Lord Ahmed touched upon three things: He mentioned, “One is the overall divide in the Muslim world between Shia and Sunni sects of Islam, right from Afghanistan, Pakistan to Lebanon through Syria, Iraq, Iran and Yemen. There is a real issue of poverty and youth unemployment, which is over 50% under the age of 30. That is one of the core issues motivating the uprising with the cry for change owing to the failures of dictatorship, the sheikdom or the kingdom in solving those problems. You see the acute divide between the super-rich and the poor in these countries.”
“Second, resources in this region are another issue. Of course, I am talking about oil. Those countries which have oil have billions or trillions of dollars in cash, which could not provide jobs, though. In Libya, whilst late Colonel Gaddafi spent 20 billion dollars 15 years ago in the biggest man-made river project, bringing water through deserts into Tripoli, Misurata and other areas, he could not provide jobs nor prosperity for his people. Thus, resentment and frustration prevailed within his country,” Lord Ahmed mentioned.
.Lord Ahmed continued, “Third point is the regional conflict over borders. No matter whether they are natural frontiers or the legacy from the Ottoman rule or demarcations made by the western colonial powers; whether it was right or not, fabricating some of these areas and putting them together by force, these borders are not working effectively today.”
Crisis in Syria
Speaking about Syrian crisis, Lord Ahmed said, “When the uprising started, a lot of people in the west very simplistically thought that, by supporting Al-Nusra Front or the Syrian Resistance Army or other opposition groups, you can overthrow the Assad regime fairly easily. Unfortunately, it did not happen, because the international players themselves played politics. Russia has a vital military base in this region. Their naval fleet would not be able to operate if the current Syrian regime falls. China had played politics, too. Had you seen some measure of unity at the UN Security Council, things would have been different. But, it was too weak to be effective. Since the problems of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Security Council became weak because the real decisions were taken outside this international body.”
UN reform a must
As for an international response, Lord Ahmed expressed hope for the United Nations as a viable mediator between various parties of conflict in the Middle East. However, the five, nuclear-powered permanent members of its Security Council abuse their veto powers, making this international body paralyzed. “The UN has become so outdated that its reform is indispensable. If the UN advocates democracy to its member states, why doesn’t it apply democracy in its own system?” he said.
Lord Ahmed argued in favour of UN reform. He said, “the so-called P5, namely; the five permanent members of the Security Council including my country of UK, needs to be reformed. I think the basis of just having nuclear weapons back from 60 years before should not be the basis of the Security Council today. Otherwise, the nuclear club should include India and Pakistan as these two nations have nuclear weapons. Also, it could include Iran and South Africa.”
“Japan does not possess a nuclear weapon but retains the nuclear technology. Why not Japan, which is the third strongest economy in the world? Why cannot Japan have a permanent seat at the Security Council?” Lord Ahmed questioned.
Lord Ahmed also maintained, “there are many arguments you can adopt to reform the Security Council. More importantly, even the UN’s General Assembly and the role of the UN itself, in terms of policing some of these horrible conflicts, need to be reformed. In connection with my country of birth, the issue of Kashmir needs to be resolved. While the UN maintains the oldest observers along the separation between India and Pakistan, it has not been able to resolve the issue.”
Lord Ahmed also argued, “There are many other disputes on which the UN could facilitate dialogues and discussions between countries concerned. I have been involved in such discussions at the highest level. Even the UN’s Deputy Secretary General visited the parliament very recently, and I discussed in a very open forum. He said that, in order to bring two sides to a table, you need two sides to agree on something.”
Lord Ahmed observed, “In case we have a powerful Security Council which would not veto on the Palestinian issue, or would not veto because of their own interests, even on Syria, then you could have a better outcome through a fair and equitable way of dealing with these problems. The failure at the Security Council in finding solutions for some of these problems, as well as disintegration of the states concerned, are very big factors.”
Lord Ahmed on Islam
Lord Ahmed explained that Islamic teaching forbids the killing of the innocent including children and women, even in a war situation. He said that Qur’an advises “Make peace among brothers!”, indicating mediation between conflicting parties and peacemaking as essential duties of Islam. Quoting a Qur’anic verse “There should be no compulsion in religion!” he suggested not to argue on faith but respect others’ belief.
Given these Islamic tenets, ISIS which threatens the world with its rampant atrocities has nothing to do with Islam, he declared. He even pointed out that ISIS abuses religious sentiments and dogma to justify their political objectives.
Genesis of ISIS
Speaking about the ISIS, Lord Ahmed mentioned, “You have the ISIS that had actually started in Syria, gaining small victories and taking over certain areas and tribes. These ruthless people have nothing to do with Islam nor Muslims. I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of one and a half billion Muslims do not endorse the ISIS. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, set out rules of engagement in a war. The worriors cannot touch women or children nor can they kill innocent persons. You cannot even cut trees!”
“These terrorists kill people. In Peshawar of Pakistan, for example, 143 children without any weapons in their hands were attacked by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Some said they had come from the Tribal Area near the border. Wherever they came from, these people killed the innocent children. Just this Friday in Peshawar, they went into a mosque and killed Shia Muslims who were praying,” Lord Ahmed mentioned.
Radicalism in religions
Lord Ahmed said religion was used as a pretext of their oppression and domination. He asked the questions, “Who on earth could think, even if they claim they are Muslims, that they would go into a mosque where people were praying, cold-bloodedly murdering or shooting or blowing them up? Likewise, who would even think of killing these innocent Coptic Christians, who had come from Egypt for jobs in Libya? The ISIS does not yet control Libya, but this shows a sort of mental condition of these twisted people, who use religion as a pretext of their oppression and domination.”
They capture these minorities, these poor people from Egypt. The cold-blooded murder took place yesterday and they played its video on internet of slaughtering them and cutting their throats!
Lord Ahmed said, “These are evil people. I want great Japanese people to understand that Islam does not condone this type of horrific, or any type of terrorist attacks, for that matter. The Qur’an is very clear on this. A Qur’anic verse says: “There is no compulsion in religion.” Another verse says: “You are to your religion, I am to mine”, meaning I have to respect you, whether you are a Buddhist, a Christian, a Jewish or a Hindu. Whatever religion you have, I have to respect you.”
“You see, because of the lack of knowledge, when two innocent Japanese men were slaughtered by the evil ISIS, Japanese people may think whether this religion of Islam had motivated the evil people to kill.” Lord Ahmed mentioned.
Lord Ahmed also said, “I do not blame the religion of Christianity, which is a great, beautiful religion. Nor do I blame Judaism, Buddhism or Islam. It is the perverted minds of certain individuals who want to control people by force and violence.”
“Whether it is Taliban, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Al-Qaeda, ISIS or the Lord’s Army in Africa, they are not Muslims in truth. Some people say this is a new challenge of terrorism. Well, ask the Ukraine Prime Minister, and he will tell you that those who are fighting in the eastern region of Ukraine are ‘terrorists’. Are they Christian terrorists? Are these people politically motivated?” Lord Ahmed maintained.
Lord Ahmed also expressed his sympathy, thoughts and prayers for the families of the two victims of the ISIS. He mentioned, “I do not think a nation should change its policy just because of the murder incidents. Those evil people responsible for doing that should be punished and, I am sure, they will be punished.”
Japan’s roles in peace-building
Referring to peace-building role of Japan, Lord Ahmed said, “I think, Japan has a very important role in building peace around the world, playing an important role in peace-building in the Middle East, just like the UPF doing an important work at the United Nations in bringing interfaith communities together, whether it is in London or New York.”
Lord Ahmed concluded by saying, “I guess Japan is trusted around the world. I believe the main ingredient for any peace-making efforts is trust. People trust those who are doing something to build peace. I love American people, but I have to say that I do not think many people could actually trust the US administration in peace-building.”