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A massacre on a dusty Iraqi plain and its poetic remembrance: Karbala is the best example of Religious Tolerance

The episode causing an irrevocable split in a new religion, unleashing further cycles of violence and still capable of raising strong emotions even 13 centuries later -due to a poetic form which recreates the victims' agony

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Representational image. Pixabay

October 10, 2016: A small band of prominent people, including women and children, refusing allegiance to the ruler, were forcibly confined on a dusty plain for over a week, refused access to water, and eventually all the men were massacred. But it didn’t end there, with the episode causing an irrevocable split in a new religion, unleashing further cycles of violence (which haven’t abated even now) and still capable of raising strong emotions even 13 centuries later — due to a poetic form which recreates the victims’ agony.

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There was no doubt about the outcome of the Battle of Karbala, outside the eponymous Iraqi town, around 100 km south of Baghdad, in 681 A.D as Hussain, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, with 70-odd men, faced a huge force sent by Umayyad Caliph Yazid. It culminated eventually with Hussain’s death on the 10th of Muharram (October 10, 681) — subsequently termed ‘ Ashura’ and sombrely marked by all Muslims, both Sunnis and Shias — though the latter have special congregations and processions — and even others. (Ashura, in India, is on October 12 this year).

There are many fascinating stories associated with Karbala, not the least about the band of Hindus involved in the conflict, or rather its aftermath — that of forebears of my own community, the Datts/Dattas, who take pride in being termed Hussaini Brahmins, and some of whom still follow Muharram traditions. More pervasive is a poetic form which keeps alive the tribulations and fate of Hussain and his followers — the Marsiya (an elegy with an element of the dirge), which derives from ancient Arabic and Persian literary traditions, but came into its own during the Safavid era (1524-1722) in Iran. In the Indian subcontinent for ages, they were first reported from the Deccan in the 17th century where they were not only composed by the penultimate Qutub Shahi ruler of Golconda, Abdullah Qutub Shah, his Adil Shahi contemporary — and also penultimate ruler Ali Adil Shah II of Bijapur, but also Ram Rao ‘Saiva’ Bijapuri, and Swami Prashad ‘Asghar’, among others. When the tradition reached the north, it was initially not thought of much.

As Lucknow’s incomparable biographer Abdul Haleem ‘Sharar’ dryly notes that “Marsiyas were so scantily valued in the world of poetry that there was a saying, ‘a down-at-heel poet turns to composing marsiyas'”. But two poets of Lucknow changed the perception and took the form to unsurpassed heights. And then the saying became, “Aan ki aan, Mir Ali marsiya-khwan.” Near contemporaries, Mir Babar Ali ‘Anis’ (1802-1874), and Mirza Salamat Ali ‘Dabir’ (1803-1875), were born outside — Faizabad and Delhi — but raised and flourished in Lucknow. But behind them were two other men: Anis’ father Mir Khaliq and Dabir’s “ustad” Mir Zameer, who developed the standard — a prolonged collection of six-line verses in an AAAABB rhyme-scheme. These two are also credited with devising the constituents – “Chehra” (or prelude, with descriptions of the night before or morning of the battle, or the hardships); “Sarapa”, a description of the hero; “Rukhsat”, the leave-taking; “Aamad”, the entry onto the battlefield; “Rajaz”, martial prowess of Hussain, or his half-brother Abbas; “Jang”, or the battle itself; “Shahdat”, the martyrdom, and finally, “Bain” or lament.

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Anis and Dabir proved to be worthy successors. Unfortunately, space doesn’t allow citing examples as a Marsiya would be twice the length of this piece and isolated couplets will not make sense. Urdu scholar Mohammad Hussain Azad, in his “Aab-e-Hayat” (1880), the first history of Urdu letters, holds Anis was distinguished by “limpidity of speech, beauty of description, and pleasure of idiom”, while Dabir displayed “grandeur of words, high flight, and newness of themes”. For Sharar, while Dabir displayed a “grandeur of language, lofty ideas and great erudition”, Anis had “fine attributes of simplicity, frankness and human allurement that cannot be learned but are obtained only from the Almighty”, and also excelled in recital. Both Anis and Dabir also gave an Indian touch, especially Anis, who freely used Persian, Hindi, Arabic, and Sanskrit words, while the heroic protagonists have the speech and appearance of Lakhnavi nobles.

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While Anis’ fame has outlasted that of Dabir, both, right from their times, had their own devoted adherents. And not only was the tradition continued in their own families for generations, but inspired many others including the likes of Munshi Channoo Lal, Raja Balwan Singh, son of ousted Maharaja of Benares, Chait Singh, Lala Ram Prasad “Basha”, who is even buried in Karbala, and Lala Har Prashad who didn’t write, but had recited Marsiyas passionately. Closer to our time was Kalidas Gupta “Raza”, an authority on Ghalib but also on Marsiyas and its Hindu exponents. Karbala is perhaps the best example of how religious martyrs can unite, not divide. (IANS)

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Pakistani Militant Group Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) Now Targeting Women as New Jihad Recruits through their Magazine

Pakistan's first women's magazine, urging potential female jihadists to join the ranks of the Pakistani militant group and to devote themselves to the cause of jihad

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Pakistani Militants
Pakistani women offer prayers at a shrine in Islamabad. VOA
  • TTP magazine published its first ever edition for women, urging them to join as Pakistani militants and fight for Jihad
  • Pakistan’s counter-terrorism unit thinks of this development as a dangerous move
  • Its extensive reach on social media is powerful and deemed dangerous for the youth

Pakistan, August 06, 2017: Pakistan’s Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) has recently published its first women’s magazine, urging potential female jihadists to join the ranks of the Pakistani militant group and to devote themselves to the cause of jihad.

The magazine, Sunnat-e-Khaula (The Way of Khaula), is named after a young female fighter during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, according to local media accounts in Pakistan. The magazine is another effort on part of the country’s Taliban to renew their efforts to reach out to millions of Pakistani women and recruit them to their militant cause.

In an advice column for the magazine, the militant group urges women to “distribute literature reflecting on the obligation of jihad, arrange physical training classes for sisters. Learn how to operate simple weapons. Learn the use of grenades.”

While the magazine is accessible to only a handful of people, the news of its launch has been widely circulated on social media platforms in Pakistan, amplifying its reach and making its core content available online to a vast number of Pakistani youth.

Power of digital media

Some experts warn that, contrary to popular belief, middle-class students with access to digital media are more prone to radicalization than those of the madrasas.

The Pakistani Taliban, which is losing territory because of various Pakistani military operations, are increasingly resorting to using varied media platforms to promote and propagate their ideology.

“Social media is an effective tool in the hands of extremists. TTP launching of a magazine for women is important in many ways,” professor Khadim Hussain, an expert on militancy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region, told VOA.

“They are using an effective model used by Islamist political party Jamate Islami and extremist outfit Hizbut Tehrir to reach out to the new generation,” said Hussain, author of The Militant Discourse: Religious Militancy in Pakistan.

Influence of women

Hussain said he thought TTP’s magazine wanted to capitalize on the influence that women have in their households, which he argued is something that is not easily visible.

“It provides an expanded reach without tracing the jihadi footprints easily,” he said.

Maria Sultan, a defense analyst in Pakistan, agreed with Hussain’s analysis, adding that the Taliban have a reason to target the country’s female population.

“Taliban believe by capturing women’s attention they can re-establish their network that has been destroyed by the Pakistan army through several military operations in the Northwest region in recent years,” Sultan said.

“Pakistan will have to implement [its] National Action Plan fully to stop Taliban’s’ reach to the masses,” she added.

Pakistan’s National Action Plan, a comprehensive 20-point strategy devised in 2015 to fight extremism, calls for “strict action to be taken against literature, newspapers, and magazines promoting hatred, extremism, sectarianism and intolerance” in the country.

ALSO READ: Pakistan’s Northwest Province Struggles To Fight Against Terror Financing

Dangerous to youth

Qibla Ayaz, the former dean of the faculty of Islamic and Oriental Studies at the University of Peshawar, called the TTP magazine launch a dangerous development for the youth of the region, “since the new generation is all there on the social media. [The Islamic State] militant outfit has adopted the same social media strategy for its recruitment, and it seems to be a problem here, too.”

He said he thought the problem was not limited to Pakistan and called for a counter-extremism narrative across the Muslim world to counter it.

“We have not developed a well-constructed counter-extremism narrative,” he said. “I think all the leading voices around the Muslim world need to come together and come up with a joint strategy against it [extremism].”

The magazine reportedly has articles about prominent Muslim women from the early era of the emergence of Islam, sharing their experiences and advising women of faith to fully implement the code of Islam in their lives.

The magazine interviewed a woman who said she was the wife of TPP leader Fazlullah Khorasani. She advocated for the benefits of early-age marriage and defended her own at age 14 to Khorasani.

Pakistani claims

Since 2014, Pakistan has conducted large-scale counterterrorism operations in its restive Northwest region in an attempt to eradicate Taliban influence and militancy. It claims its troops have successfully eliminated and dismantled terrorism and militant infrastructure in the region.

U.S. and Afghanistan officials, however, have long accused Pakistan of being selective in its crackdown on militants. They claim Islamabad targets only groups, including TTP, that pose a threat to Pakistan’s interests and overlook other militants who are using the country’s territory to plan attacks on Afghanistan and India. Pakistan has denied those allegations.

In the 2016 edition of its annual Country Reports on Terrorism, the U.S. State Department criticized Pakistan for failing to take action against the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban. (VOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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India’s Textile and Fashion Heritage now part of Google project

Google's project 'We Wear Culture' is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

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Google's new art project 'We wear Culture' digitizes fashion, Wikimedia
  • Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India
  • It intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures
  • Its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

June 15, 2017: To a certain extent, a culture is defined by what is worn by its people. In a country as diverse as India, vast and varied spectrum of cultures and clothes is one of the specialties. Google’s latest virtual exhibition project now provides us the opportunity to explore and know more about it.

Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago, from the ancient Silk Road to the unmatched elegance of the Indian Saree,  from the courtly fashion of Versailles, to the Victorian ballgowns with intricate thread work.

According to Amit Sood, director of Google Arts and Culture,”We invite everyone to browse the exhibition on their phones or laptops and learn about the stories behind what you wear. You might be surprised to find out that your Saree, jeans or the black dress in your wardrobe have a centuries-old story. What you wear is true culture and more often than not a piece of art.”

Culture is defined by what is worn by its people. Click To Tweet

The company also mentioned that noteworthy collections from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) and varied weaves from across India, from Gharchola to Patola to Temple to Ikat sarees will be included in the online project, as it intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures.

ALSO READ: New Google Project Digitizes World’s Top Fashion Archives.

According to PTI reports, the world fashion exhibit also includes designs from north-eastern India including the weaves of tribes such as the Nagas, Meitis. it will showcase the traditional attire from Meghalaya called ‘Dhara’ or ‘Nara’ worn by the Khasi women as well.

As a part of the exhibit, Sewa Hansiba Museum has brought the unique colorful and rich embroidery arts, applique and mirror work from different communities such as the Ahir, Rabari, Chaudhury Patel and many others from the western part of India online.

The exhibition conducted by Salar Jung Museum brings to light the Sherwani and its journey of becoming the royal fashion statement of the Nizams from 19th century Hyderabad. Fashion and textiles enthusiasts can revisit Colonial Indian attires with Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum. Over 400 online exhibitions and stories sharing a total of 50,000 photos, videos and other documents on world fashion are open to exploration as well.

The ‘We wear Culture’ initiative highlights significant events in the growth of the world fashion industry; the icons, the movements, the game changers and the trendsetters like Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Audrey Hepburn and many more.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang