Sufis

Podcast: Somalia in the Great Game

In Episode 122 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg examines the ongoing conflict in Somalia in light of both climate change and Great Power politics. Despite a pseudo-withdrawal of US forces, the Pentagon continues drone strikes against the Shaabab insurgents—as the Horn of Africa faces it worst drought in a generation, with millions on the brink of extreme hunger and possible starvation. A paradox of the situation is that "government-controlled" Somalia (the southern third of the country) is not controlled by any government, but wracked by insurgency. In contrast, the unrecognized de facto independent state of Somaliland in the north is a bastion of comparative stability and even social progress. Reports of Russian designs on Somaliland as a potential site for a naval base threaten to draw it into the imperial contest for control of the strategic Horn. Progressives in the West can demand international recognition for an independent and non-aligned Somaliland. We can also loan solidarity to the Sufi resistance now fighting both the Shaabab and the "recognized" Mogadishu quasi-government. Most importantly, we can support the secular and pro-democratic voices of civil society that are standing up for human rights and basic freedoms at great risk to themselves, and in spite of everything. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.

Afghanistan: Taliban repress women's protest

Taliban fighters—now acting as the security forces of the self-declared "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan"—used tear-gas to break up a protest by women in Kabul on Jan. 16, called under the banner of "Rights and Freedom Now." The small demonstration in the vicinity of Kabul University especially called attention to two incidents in recent days—the detention of three women activists at a protest in the northern city of Balkh, in Mazar province, who have yet to be released; and the slaying of two young women of the Hazara ethnic minority by Taliban gunmen at a checkpoint in Kabul. Taliban authorities are calling the Jan. 14 killings at the checkpoint an "accident," and have reportedly arrested one of the fighters involved. In the continuing protests since the Taliban seizure of power, women have been in the vanguard. (TOLO News, Kabul. Times of India, The Independent)

Somalia: Sufi militia takes up arms against regime

Fighting in Somalia's central Galmudug state has killed 120 people and displaced 100,000 in recent days. Two hospitals were shelled, presumably by government forces, in the town of Guri-El, causing aid groups to suspend operations in the area. The conflict pits government forces against the regional militia group Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ)–former allies in the fight against the jihadist al-Shaabab insurgency. A moderate Sufi sect, ASWJ has been fighting the Shaabab since 2008, and forged a pact with the government two years later. But Mogadishu is now denying the group's bid for a regional power-sharing deal, and demanding that the militia be integrated into the national armed forces. (TNH, ReliefWeb, VOA)

Pakistan: crackdown on internet 'blasphemy'

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has issued notices to Google and Wikipedia censuring them for "disseminating sacrilegious content" through their platforms. The notices, issued Dec, 24, accused these sites of hosting "misleading" content referencing the present khalifa (spiritual head) of Islam. The PTA specifically cited articles and search results allegedly portraying Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the current leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, as the "present khalifa of Islam." Additionally, the PTA demanded the platforms remove an "unauthentic" version of the Quran published by the Ahmadiyya community from the Google Play Store. The PTA warned the platforms "to remove the sacrilegious content to avoid any legal action" under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act.

Iran on edge following death of Sufi leader

The Dec. 24 death of 92-year-old Noor-Ali Tabandeh, also known as Majzoub Ali Shah, leader of Iran's Gonabadi Sufi order, apparently prompted the regime to take pre-emptive measures against a fresh outbreak of protests. Radio Farda (linked to the US State Department) noted than a local activist reported on Twitter after the passing of the Sufi leader, that "riot police in armor who are equipped with batons, firearms and tear-gas have completely taken over all the streets leading to Zartosht Street," where the hospital he was held is located. Tabandeh was a harsh critic of Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of Islamic Jurists), the system by which Iran's orthodox Shi'ite religious establishment has final say over all laws. He had been under effective house arrest since February 2018, when a wave of protests by Gonabadi dervishes against persecution of their Order (including blocking of its websites) led to hundreds of arrests. Since Tabandeh's death, his followers on social media have been speculating that he was poisoned by the authorities.

Afghanistan: pilgrims slain in Kandahar attack

In the latest of mounting attacks across Afghanistan, a bomb blast near Kabul University left eight people dead and some 30 wounded July 19. Four days earlier, a roadside bomb killed at least 11 pilgrims riding a truck in the southern province of Kandahar, headed for the shrine that houses the tomb of Sufi Shah Agha, a companion and relative of the Prophet Mohammad. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Kandahar authorities blamed the Taliban, which often uses roadside bombs to target security forces in the province. Days before that, on July 12, at least six people were killed and 14 wounded when a suicide bomber targeted a wedding celebration in Nangarhar province.

Pakistan: Taliban target Sufi shrine —again

At least 10 people were killed and 25 others injured in a suicide blast that targeted security forces guarding a famous Sufi shrine in the Pakistani city of Lahore May 8. The attack, which came during the holy month of Ramadan, was apparently aimed at a police vehicle, and five officers are among the dead. The Data Darbar shrine, where Sufi saint Ali Hajveri is buried, was the target of a 2010 suicide attack that killed more than 40 worshipers, and has since been under heavy security. The new attack was claimed by Hizbul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban. (RFE/RL, Pakistan Today) Hizbul Ahrar appears to itself be an offshoot of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction, which has particularly targeted Sufis. (TRT World)

Iran: Sufi bus driver executed after 'unfair trial'

Amnesty International issued a statement protesting the execution of Mohammad Salas, a 51-year-old man from Iran’s largest Sufi order, the Gonabadi Dervish religious minority, on June 18, saying it "was carried out despite serious unfair trial concerns." Salas was arrested on Feb. 19 outside a police station where thousands of Gonabadi followers had gathered to protest the persecution of the dervish community. Salas, a bus driver by trade, reported that he was repeatedly beaten in the police station where he was held for several hours. He said he heard one officer order the others to "beat him until he dies." He was eventually taken unconscious to a hospital to be treated for his injuries, which included cuts to the head requiring stitches, broken teeth, broken ribs, a broken nose, and a partial loss of vision.

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