Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Rohingyas of Myanmar – When will their tragedy end?

The Rohingya people of Myanmar (formerly Burma) are the most oppressed people in our planet. They face elimination in the Buddhist majority country, which is rightly called the ‘den of hatred and intolerance’ in our time. Not a single day goes by when their community members don’t face repeated persecution and harassment from not only the Gestapo-like members of the government but also from the fellow Buddhists who have swallowed Hitler’s poisonous pills of xenophobia and bigotry. Not surprisingly, in today’s Myanmar Nazi swastika and similar insignia are in great demand! 
The two-year long pogrom against the Rohingya has resulted in the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of their fellow men, women and children. Many have been slaughtered by blood-thirsty Buddhists. Others have been forced to live inside squalid camps that are described by independent fact-finding observers as worse than prison camps. Many of the desperate Rohingyas have braved the stormy seas and oceans to find shelter elsewhere, and in so doing many of them continue to be preyed upon by the criminal human traffickers who engage them as slave labors.  So hopeless is their condition inside Myanmar that they think such life-threatening risks are worth-taking and better than what awaits them inside Myanmar. 
Aung San Suu Kyi – once touted as the democracy icon has shown her real ugly image. She has proven to be morally bankrupt. Being too keen in becoming the next president by any means possible, she feigns ignorance and is criminally silent on the plight of the Rohingya people.
As to the Buddhist monks – the so-called followers of Gautama Buddha – the least said the better. They ignore all the non-violent teachings of their founder showing their hideous selves. Guilty of participating in genocidal campaigns and inciting extermination campaigns against the Muslim minorities, esp. the Rohingya people, they appear spiritually more connected to Hitler’s dreaded SS than anyone else.
Under the 1982 Citizenship Law, the Myanmar authorities do not recognize Rohingya, classing them as Bengali and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite hard evidences proving that their family roots are in Myanmar. The R-word (i.e., Rohingya) is unacceptable to the genocidal regime epitomizing Myanmarism which is a toxic cocktail of ultra-nationalism, fascism and religious fanaticism. As such, those Rohingyas who have chosen to live either inside or have no wherewithal to leave the killing fields of Buddhist Myanmar are forced to register as “Bengalis”, denying their root and ancestral ties to the soil of their birth. If they refuse to register as such, they face lengthy prison terms. On December 2, eight Muslims, who identify themselves as Rohingya, were jailed in the Maungdaw Township Court in Arakan (Rakhine state of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh) for two years for their refusal to register as “Bengali” during the March-April countrywide census. During the trial, no lawyers were provided for the accused and family members were not allowed to attend as observers.
Many Rohingyas are dying of starvation and lack of healthcare services, which are denied to them by the Myanmar government and their partners-in-crime within the broader Buddhist community. Many of the Rakhine Buddhist doctors are proving to be monsters killing Rohingya patients. A two year old Rohingya boy died at Sittwe General Hospital in Arakan State’s capital, Sittwe on December 6, 2014 after he was given an injection by the doctor. Alqama, mother of Twariq Zia, took her son to the hospital on December 5th at 2:30 pm. At that time he was treated well and recovered quite well. Alqama thought her son could be discharged from the hospital on the following day. However, on the second day, December 6th at 8:00 am, a different doctor came and gave an injection. Immediately after the injection the boy lost breathing and died.
The government of nearby Muslim majority Bangladesh, seemingly more mindful of not jeopardizing its precarious relationship with Myanmar than ensuring the human rights of the Rohingya people, is, sadly, setting a new low standard in witch-hunting and harassment. Not only are the Rohingyas refused entry in this country but also their refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are put as off-limits to Muslim NGOs. Worse yet, they are imprisoned for trying to get out of Bangladesh to a third country. Last week, five Rohingya women were arrested in Pabna for just attempting to do so.
Without valid passports people risk being put behind the bar for traveling to a foreign land. The Rohingyas, being declared stateless by the Myanmar government, obviously don’t have valid passports. No matter how those refugees entered Bangladesh, they can’t travel to a third country without such passports. The arrest of those Rohingya women raises the vital question: how should the international community, especially Bangladesh, deal with such matters? What is   better and morally right – they be allowed to travel to a third country where they are welcome and prosper or restrict such travels on legal grounds while denying them the very means necessary to better their lives, thereby forcing them to a life of an unwanted refugee inside Bangladesh where the government is utterly hostile to them?  I am sure the verdict of the conscientious human beings is for the former option.
Will the tragedy of the Rohingya people ever end? The answer lies in the attitude and sincerity of the Myanmar government and her people who for decades have been fed the toxic pill ethnocentrism and bigotry to hate and eliminate the Rohingya and other Muslims in this Buddhist majority country. Thus far I haven’t found anything to believe in Thein Sein government’s sincerity to resolve the matter peacefully. What we have noticed, instead, is simply sinister. Rather than reining in the ultra-racist and bigoted monks of the fascist 969 movement it has been promoting their incendiary activities. In recent days, it has passed bigotry-ridden laws in the parliament which violates several international laws.
Through a calculated policy of starvation, forced poverty, denial of all the basic rights (enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) of the Rohingya people and inaccessibility of humanitarian aids reaching them, the Myanmar government is guilty of scripting the Rohingya genocide. It is creating forced exodus and bringing in slow death of the Rohingya people. Thus, what this pariah regime is doing is an international crime of the highest proportion which must be stopped by the UN and its member nations failing which the Rohingya people face extinction inside Myanmar.
While the violence against the Rohingya and other Muslims is mushrooming out of control, almost completing their ethnic cleansing, the international community is sending mixed messages. Sanctions by the powerful USA and the EU have long been lifted against the murderous regime. What is shocking is the mere fact, as reported in the BBC, that the last of the EU sanctions were lifted six hours after they reported this on the Burma riots: “In the sequence where policemen look on as a man rolls on the ground having been set on fire, someone in the watching crowd is heard to say: "No water for him - let him die”—a video goes on to show the police standing by as Monks participate in dragging a man from a nearby brush, and beating him to death (BBC, “Burma Riots”).
The consequences of enmification (a term coined by Professor Alan Tidwell of Georgetown University) for the Rohingya are reaching the stage of genocide. They are called kular (a derogatory term similar to niggers) as well as dogs, thieves, terrorists and various expletives. Spiteful Buddhist commentators urge the government to ‘make them disappear’ and seem particularly enraged that the international NGOs, human rights groups and the United Nations High Commission for the Refugees are highlighting their plight.
As we all know, one of the more troubling aspects of enmification is that when it is seeded deeply enough as it was in Rwanda, nominal differences between groups can be relatively perceived as existential threats. Cockroaches (inyenzi, during the Rwandan genocide), dogs, and thieves are dehumanizing epithets that make the effective parties easier to eliminate psychologically. Sadly, this is already well under way in the case of the Rohingya.
If the Rohingya people are not considered human, are enmified, and persecuted with tacit recognition from the state and the Buddhist Sangha, it is high time that the international community comes to their rescue. Through their stern actions and biting sanctions, they must play a crucial role in reversing some of the attitudes and actions of the regime—preventing further violence against the Rohingya people. They simply cannot kowtow with the murderous regime and send mixed messages that show that the political and psychological backlash from the violence against the Rohingya is not severe enough.
As noted by Samuel Feigenbaum in his thesis work – the Oppressed of the Oppressed (Georgetown University, 2013), if there is not a dramatic paradigm shift, which looks unlikely, the Rohingya will be systematically cleansed from Myanmar under the guise of communal violence, states of emergency, and national unity. This is the preemption of a genocide, which simply cannot be allowed to happen in our time. We can surely avoid this tragedy if our generation is serious.
The lessons from Rwanda and South Africa are sufficient to guide us all.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Minority Report

Minority problem is a recurrent issue in almost all parts of the world, including the more inclusive USA. On Thursday (Dec. 4) evening a 15-year-old Muslim boy of Somali descent - Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein - was struck by a SUV intentionally as he was leaving the Somali Center of Kansas City after leading a prayer service there. He was a Hafiz (one who memorized the entire Qur’an by heart). The impact of collision pinned him down and killed him. Another Muslim teenager also sustained severe but not life-threatening injuries.
Somali Center officials have said that a man has threatened the local Muslim community for months. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said the driver threatened the teen's family and other area Somali Muslims for months, even writing the anti-Islamic message "the Quran is worse than Ebola" on his own Chevrolet SUV. The driver was seen wielding a machete as he tried to flee the crash scene threatening other Somali-Americans.
As to the motive behind the crash, Sgt. Bill Mahoney of the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) said, "There's a considerable amount of evidence that leads us to believe this was an intentional act." The FBI is working jointly with KCPD on the case and is investigating it as a potential hate crime.
Interestingly, as usual, the popular media failed to mention that the victim was a Muslim and that he had come out of a mosque.
Two days earlier, on December 2, in nearby St. Louis (Missouri) 32-year-old Zemir Begic, a Bosnian-American Muslim was attacked in front of his wife and killed by youths wielding hammers. His wife Mujkanovic said, "The last thing he did before he actually died was pull me out of the way and put himself in front of me, basically giving up his life for me."
St. Louis has the largest Bosnian population in the United States. They came to the Bevo Mill neighborhood in the 1990s, escaping the Bosnian war. The St. Louis area has been the center of protests since late August over the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in the suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. These turned violent in August, and again in late November after a grand jury decided not to press charges against the police officer.
The minority problem is simply much worse in many parts of South Asia and Myanmar (formerly Burma), which at one time belonged to the British Raj. To solidify its hold on the colonial territories, the Raj played its Divide and Rule policy very tactfully tearing apart indigenous societies that had not hitherto witnessed such tensions along religious and ethnic lines. In its conquered territories, while the former dominant (and hence defeated) religious and ethnic groups were shunned other local groups were preferentially treated in all aspects creating tensions between various groups.
To fatten its coffers the Raj encouraged internal migration of cheap labor creating tensions along the ethnic lines. Similarly, to facilitate its administrative hold on its colonies, the Raj also induced migration of mammoth populations of English-educated Hindus who were more adept in the colonial system than others.  Such relocations of cheap and educated labors for the economic and administrative purposes, respectively, extended all the way to the external migrations from one part of its domain to another. For instance, Indians were brought into South Africa, the Malay Peninsula and the West Indies for assisting mostly in the administrative jobs, while the Chinese were brought into Malaysia to work in its rubber plantations.
As some of those migrants settled down in their adopted homes and were later abandoned once the Raj vacated its conquered territories they were mostly treated as remnants of the colonial past and faced discrimination under the hands of the new rulers, which came from the majority religious groups, in the post-colonial era. In South Asia and Burma, the minority problem was further exacerbated by the tit-for-tat religious riots which took place at some irregular frequency since independence of the multiple states from the belly of the so-called British India. Hindus became a majority in India and Nepal, while Muslims became a majority in Pakistan (and what is now Bangladesh) and Buddhists became a majority in Burma, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
The post-colonial experience of the minorities in South Asia and Burma has mostly been a sad story with little progress made in securing their human rights in the last sixty plus years. Nothing fares worse than the fate of the Muslim minorities in the Buddhist-majority Burma or Myanmar.  Rightly so, this country has been depicted as the den of intolerance and hatred.
Truly, in today’s Myanmar, Muslims have no rights. Most Hindus have left this den of hatred long time ago. Her indigenous Rohingya people, rightly called by the UN the most persecuted people in our planet, who mostly live in the Arakan (now called Rakhine) state are treated as stateless or unwanted people as if they are a British era implantation from the nearby Chittagong (in today’s Bangladesh). When it comes to the human rights of this unfortunate people not a single of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is honored by the Myanmar government. They are forced to a life of exodus. The incessant genocidal campaigns against them since the early 1940s have already ensured less than half the Rohingya population living in this country; the vast majority now live as unwanted refugees elsewhere. Sadly, the government of neighboring Bangladesh is also unkind to them and treats them very harshly. Even the visit of foreign NGOs to Rohingya refugee camps living in southern Cox’s Bazar is not tolerated by the Bangladesh government. On November 21, 2014, three volunteers of the Netherland-based Global Rohingya Center (GRC), a humanitarian assistance branch of the Arakan Rohingya Union (ARU), an organization which is sponsored by the OIC, were detained by the government agencies for unknown reasons. They were on a fact-finding mission to assess the plight of the refugees. They have not been released yet.
In so-called secular India, considered the largest illiberal democracy in the world, the share in government jobs for the minority Muslims who comprise roughly one-seventh of the population is only around 2 percent. They face unfathomable discrimination at every sector. In recent months, since the election win of Narendra Modi of the BJP, a Hindutvadi fundamentalist and fascist group, in the central government, the lives of minority Christians and Muslims have worsened. Many mosques and churches have been attacked and set on fire.
On November 24, 2014 the Centre for Society and Secularism (CSSS), Mumbai organized a session on the ‘Rights of Minorities’ in South Asia during the Peoples’ SAARC Regional Convergence. The primarily objectives of this session were to understand the nature of violation of rights of minorities in South Asia and create a strong network of organizations across South Asia to consolidate existing or establish new mechanisms to address such violations. While I was not able to participate, I had the privilege of reading a report, published by the Center.
Regarding Bangladesh, the report prepared by Ms. Neha Dabhade read: "Outlining the situation in Bangladesh, Mr. Moinuddin stated that there are many minorities in Bangladesh based on religion, ethnicity and sexuality. Hijra community is an important community in Bangladesh. Yet minorities are facing problems. It’s unfortunate that the Hindu population in Bangladesh has reduced from 27% in 1947 to 10% now. There are instances of forced migration. There are 45 ethnicities which form 1% of the population like Marma and Chakma communities. However some of these ethnicities are becoming extinct due to the threat of Islamization. This is starkly reflected in the case of Chittagong where 97% of the population was of other religions and nationality. Today the percentage stands at a reduced 50%. This is very unfortunate for democracy."

As I have noted elsewhere, in recent years, since the resurrection of the Hindutvadi forces in India, much hoopla has been made about the so-called decline of Hindu percentage in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan). For an objective study on the subject, I wish Mr. Moinuddin had read some of my well-researched articles on the demography of our region (see, e.g., All those fuss about ‘endangered demography’, New Age, March 2, 2014; Minorities in the Indian Sub-continent, Eurasia Review, March 15, 2014; Why not claim the entire Bangladesh, Mr. Swamy? New Age, Dhaka, April 23, 2014; The Question of Minorities in India and Bangladesh, Eurasia Review, March 31, 2014). The real cause of decline in Hindu percentage in Bangladesh has very little to do with so-called forced migration or persecution. For religious and other family ties, many Hindus, esp. the well-offs, prefer to retire and die in India than in the soil of Bangladesh. In a global economy we live in today, as a more educated group than the majority Muslims, many Hindus have also found better paid jobs outside Bangladesh where they have settled down.

Far from discrimination, the Hindus in Bangladesh are comparatively better placed than the fellow Muslims. Their share in government jobs is at least 3 times their proportionate ratio in Bangladesh. [See, e.g., the partial list in the bottom of the article in the link here for a list of top Hindu government officials.] In what can arguably be called a case of ‘reverse harassment’ or ‘perceived persecution’, in today’s Bangladesh, many of the majority Muslims, especially younger ones, are genuinely afraid to keep beard fearing that they will be targets of nasty harassment from government law enforcement agencies and the ruling party cadre (see e.g., Nimai Bhattacharya’s article ‘Amar Naam Nimai Bhattacharya’ in the BD Today).

Mr. Moinuddin’s claim that ethnic minorities like the Chakma and Marma once comprised 97% of the population in Chittagong is simply ludicrous. Their major influx in Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) district, and not Chittagong district, dates back to 1784 after the nearby Arakan (an independent state then bordering Bengal) was invaded by Burman king Boddawpaya, an extremely racist and bigot king. Many of the Rohingyas of Arakan were killed in that invasion while some managed to settle in southern Chittagong, who are called Rohis by the local Chittagonians. Prof. Abid Bahar’s article “Burmese Invasion of Arakan and the rise of non-Bengali settlements in Bangladesh” sheds valuable information on the ethnic minorities of CHT.

To its credit, in spite of its many shortcomings, Bangladesh government has maintained a disproportionately high quota system for the ethnic religious minorities in every government-run institutions and job sectors, which has allowed many of them to relocate to other parts of Bangladesh for higher education and/or better jobs. Some ethnic Bengalis have likewise moved to CHT for a plethora of reasons, including farming.

Such internal migrations in a densely populated and developing country like Bangladesh are nothing new and have been going on for centuries changing the demography continually. A demographic survey of many of the major cities like Dhaka and Chittagong would suffice to reveal that original locals have now become a minority in those cities. That is, there are more non-Chittagonians living today in the port city of Chittagong than the Chittagonians (Chatgaiyas), and the same holds true for the capital city of Dhaka where non-locals form a vast majority over original Dhakaiyas (or locals of Dhaka).

It would be simply irresponsible of anyone to claim that such changes in demography had anything to do with forced migration of one group over another, let alone Islamization. Economics has much to do with internal migration within many of the South Asian countries where millions of people are still very poor. When it comes to proselytization in Bangladesh, no restriction has ever been put on any given religion to practice and propagate its beliefs. As such, many people have changed their faiths, including Muslims converting Christianity or other faiths.

While Bangladesh has her share of minority problems, its record on such matters is far superior to any of the South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, let alone bigotry-ridden Myanmar of SE Asia.

To put succinctly: Mr. Mainuddin’s claims about Bangladesh are factually wrong and simply irresponsible, bordering on emotive outburst. I wish before presenting his paper on the Rights of Minorities in South Asia in the (CSSS) conference in Mumbai (Nov. 2014), he had done the necessary homework to prepare well and shared facts and not myths. Such silly presentations belittle the very noble objectives of a conference on the minorities.

As I have repeatedly mentioned elsewhere minorities face major problems across the globe. Many are forced to assimilate and others alienate themselves succumbing to the dominant pressure. None of these are healthy alternatives for integration within a society. What our increasingly diverse world needs is pluralism where the minorities feel welcome to maintain their way of life and live safely and securely without feeling any fear on their life and property.

Surely, the SAARC countries have a long way to march to achieve such lofty objectives. Modi’s ascension to power in India shows that the polarizing forces are winning in India. Who knows Bangladesh may show the way for the rest to follow!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reflections on my latest trip to Bangladesh

I was in Bangladesh recently visiting my relatives and friends. The air flight from Philadelphia was long via the Qatar Airways. Previously, like many airlines Qatar Airways did not have a direct flight out of Philadelphia. Now it does, which allowed me to avoid traveling to nearby JFK airport in NY or Dulles airport in Washington D.C. to catch the flight.  

The flight from Philadelphia to Doha in late October was half-full and I was able to quickly spot some open row seats, and took advantage of one such row in the middle to rest better there than the seat I was assigned to. The flight entertainment system with access to many latest movies was great, and so were the foods served. The flight attendants were highly professional and very courteous. The toilets were clean and tidy.

I had bought the ticket on-line. Unfortunately, it required a stop-over at Qatar’s capital Doha for more than 12 hours. Per rules established by the airlines industry, I assumed that the Qatar Airways would provide a hotel to take rest, and that was the impression given to me by the Qatar Airways counter lady while checking in Philadelphia airport. However, after nearly 14 hours of non-stop flight to Doha, at the transfer deck I was informed that I had a promotional ticket and as such no such hotel accommodation would be provided to me. I felt cheated. But what to do other than pass the time in the airport lounge given the fact that one needs a visa to get out and then pay a hefty hotel fee for less than half a day of stay! No food voucher was issued either by the airlines, which meant one has to buy food from any of the restaurants. As expected, the prices there were unusually expensive.

Doha airport is one of the most modern airports in the world. It is top of the class in terms of cleanliness and ample of facilities it provides for its passengers. There are many Quiet Family Rooms for passengers to relax comfortably with feet stretched out as if in a business class. If need be, after prayer or between prayer times, one could lie down on the carpeted floor of some of the prayer rooms.

The flight from Doha to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, was a much shorter one, nearly five hours long. The flight was full with hundreds of Bangladeshi laborers returning home from their jobs in the Middle East.

After arriving late in Dhaka by nearly an hour, past the midnight, it was a grueling waiting for more than an hour before the luggage eventually arrived on the carousel belts. My childhood friend Siddiqur Rahman who was waiting since about 10:30 p.m. at the airport received me with a big hug. I reached his home in the chic Gulshan area around 2 a.m. His wife had left some food for us to eat, which we devoured quickly and then went to sleep.

The next morning after eating a hefty breakfast, Siddiq and I went to visit some of our friends from BUET and ORCA. I was glad to attend a meeting of the ORCA and see all the good works it has been doing, including blood-drive inside Bangladesh. The next day, Siddiq dropped me at Mosharraf’s office. The latter is a foremost expert on tea industry. He informed me that Bangladesh, thanks to an ill-fated government decision, has become a net tea importer, threatening the lives of tens of thousands of families who solely rely on the industry to make a living. Many such decisions by the ruling government seemed to be wrong and short-sighted, harming the interests of local growers and businessmen.

Without any real opposition inside the parliament, such issues that are directly related to people’s bread and butter (or dal-bhat) are hardly discussed.

The road communication within and between towns and cities is so bad that it takes at least twice the time for any trip. The highways are full of ditches due mostly to heavy locomotive uses from India carrying goods. It seemed that Bangladesh government is more interested in expanding roads and rail tracks than repairing (or sustaining) such. Most of the major construction jobs in the transport communication sector have been taken over by the Chinese contractors who instead of doing the job firsthand have learned the easy way of making money by sub-contracting all such jobs. As a result, less than half the money is truly getting spent in such infrastructure developmental projects, the remainder lost to the greedy Chinese businessmen and other middlemen. The Bangladesh Army Engineering Corps, on the other hand, have done some outstanding jobs in the construction front and are widely respected for their workmanship and quality of job delivered. Rather than giving jobs to the Chinese and outside contractors who are in the business of drying out the hard-earned foreign currency and savings of Bangladesh the government would be better advised to give priority to its local engineering groups who are more mindful of their obligations and ties to the soil.

As I have witnessed before, traffic jam remains a major problem faced in most big cities. I was reminded by my friends that Dhaka has a capacity to handle some 200,000 cars on its roads, but it has more than a million cars frequenting its roads now. And if one were to add another half a million rickshaws, it is not difficult to understand the daily pains suffered by commuters in cities like Dhaka. The traffic police force is poorly prepared to handle such congestion problems. With lack of underpasses and overpasses for the pedestrians to cross streets it is simply a nightmare to tackle such issues. And add to that problem, the attitude of pedestrians who would rather not use such alternatives considered longer than the riskier short-cuts that they had gotten used to. Only the imposition of hefty fines by the traffic police can probably remedy such chronic problems.

Trash collection remains a big problem in some of the major cities, esp. the port city of Chittagong where I spent nearly 3 weeks of my vacation time. I am told that while the city mayor is an honest guy he is less effective as a city administrator than his highly corrupt predecessor; less than 15% of the municipal job gets done now while under the former mayor who would pocket 5 to 10 percent of such contract jobs, at least 80% of the assigned money would be spent on the job.

So, here is a dilemma that many city dwellers like the Chittagonians routinely face: what is preferred – an incompetent or ineffectual administrator who is miserably failing in delivering the basic needs to his residents or a competent and highly corrupt administrator who delivers results. It is a sad, morally reprehensible choice, which many are forced to choose!

Bangladesh is now in the midst of its dry seasons with hardly any rainfalls. Because of the open sewerage system in many cities, mosquitoes breed abundantly and can be found almost everywhere even during daytimes. There is nothing like mosquito extermination campaigns anymore to relieve people’s sufferings.

A reading of any major newspaper in the country would give one the overwhelming impression that the law and order situation is deteriorating badly. More than half the news is about who got killed where and how. It is really depressing!

The government has recently cracked down on vehicle owners to check fitness. Such measures however are widely perceived as easy ways to make some money for the government agencies and those involved. An ambassador friend of mine told me that his car had to pay more than 55,000 Taka for the fitness permit! Apparently, the permit is for all road-users, including rickshaws, taxis and Tom-toms.

What struck me most was one such report about a tom-tom wala’s death. The family-owned tom-tom was the only source of income for this person who had to support a large family. When he was told that his tom-tom did not meet fitness required by the government and that he could not use it any more to earn his living, he suffered a heart attack and died on the spot.

I have since then pondered on this sad demise a number of times. In the eyes of her many critics, the government in Bangladesh has miserably failed to guarantee the basic necessities of life to most of its citizens. It is wide perceived as a usurper who knows only to take and nothing to give away. Its government agencies are full of corruption, and nothing gets done without paying bribes. A building permit from CDA or RAJUK which cost Tk. 300 some three decades ago now costs at least Tk. 300,000. Is that the progress Bangladesh is craving for?

Let me share a story to make the case here. A couple of months ago, a police officer visited an elderly person in Chittagong who has been wrongfully accused in a criminal case lodged by a land-grabber. When talking with the elderly gentleman, the police officer presented a very gloomy picture of corruption within the government sectors stating that corruption had spread so widely that only less than half a percent of the people working in the government sectors are not corrupt, i.e., a hefty 99.5% of the government employees are utterly corrupt.  So, this elderly gentleman assumed that the police officer in charge of the inquiry was one such rare (i.e., honest) individual who belonged to that 0.5% good-guy category. It did not take too long for him to get a rude awakening when before leaving the premise the officer demanded that for him to write a police report of his innocence, the elderly gentleman must pay him a bribe of Taka 20,000. The sad thing is even after the payment was made the police report did not surface since the officer in-charge of that inquiry had transferred to another city. A new officer came in who had to be paid bribe likewise.

Innocent citizens in Bangladesh are easy preys to such government vultures and wolves who know no mercy and have no fear of their accountability to people, or anyone including God!

In the economic ladder Bangladesh is considered a success story with an emerging, vibrant and booming economy. However, the government has very little, if any, to take credit for her success. It is the hard-working people like that tom-tom wala who are making that difference in Bangladesh against all the odds. It is the Bangladeshi entrepreneurs – males and females – who put up long hours seven days a week who are behind the Bangladeshi economic miracle. They refuse to be cowed down, defeated and fatigued by government bureaucracy, which come in their way to rob and dispossess them.

What right does a government have to take the life of that tom-tom wala who was making an honest living by driving his tom-tom on the streets when the government has not done anything for him since he was born?



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Religion and Violence - an analysis by Prof. Juan Cole

Prof. Juan Cole is one of the best authorities on comparative religion. He teaches at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In recent weeks since the bigotry-ridden comments by Bill Maher and Sam Harris (in the HBO), who are open bigots and racists, much debate has surface in the media on the subject of Muslim violence. Are they prone to more violence than other religious faiths?
Here below is an article by Prof. Juan Cole which is a must-reading for anyone interested to get the real picture on religion and its connection to violence. It appeared under the title: 

Terrorism and the other Religions

Contrary to what is alleged by bigots like Bill Maher, Muslims are not more violent than people of other religions. Murder rates in most of the Muslim world are very low compared to the United States.
As for political violence, people of Christian heritage in the twentieth century polished off tens of millions of people in the two world wars and colonial repression. This massive carnage did not occur because European Christians are worse than or different from other human beings, but because they were the first to industrialize war and pursue a national model. Sometimes it is argued that they did not act in the name of religion but of nationalism. But, really, how naive. Religion and nationalism are closely intertwined. The British monarch is the head of the Church of England, and that still meant something in the first half of the twentieth century, at least. The Swedish church is a national church. Spain? Was it really unconnected to Catholicism? Did the Church and Francisco Franco’s feelings toward it play no role in the Civil War? And what’s sauce for the goose: much Muslim violence is driven by forms of modern nationalism, too.
I don’t figure that Muslims killed more than a 2 million people or so in political violence in the entire twentieth century, and that mainly in the Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988 and the Soviet and post-Soviet wars in Afghanistan, for which Europeans bear some blame.
Compare that to the Christian European tally of, oh, lets say 100 million (16 million in WW I, 60 million in WW II– though some of those were attributable to Buddhists in Asia– and millions more in colonial wars.)
Belgium– yes, the Belgium of strawberry beer and quaint Gravensteen castle– conquered the Congo and is estimated to have killed off half of its inhabitants over time, some 8 million people at least.
Or, between 1916-1930 Tsarist Russian and then Soviet forces — facing the revolt of Central Asians trying to throw off Christian (and then Marxist), European rule — Russian forces killed an estimated 1.5 million people. Two boys brought up in or born in one of those territories (Kyrgyzstan) just killed 4 people and wounded others critically. That is horrible, but no one, whether in Russia or in Europe or in North America has the slightest idea that Central Asians were mass-murdered during WW I and before and after, and looted of much of their wealth. Russia when it brutally conquered and ruled the Caucasus and Central Asia was an Eastern Orthodox, Christian empire (and seems to be reemerging as one!).
Then, between half a million and a million Algerians died in that country’s war of independence from France, 1954-1962, at a time when the population was only 11 million!
I could go on and on. Everywhere you dig in European colonialism in Afro-Asia, there are bodies. Lots of bodies.
Now that I think of it, maybe 100 million people killed by people of European Christian heritage in the twentieth century is an underestimate.
As for religious terrorism, that too is universal. Admittedly, some groups deploy terrorism as a tactic more at some times than others. Zionists in British Mandate Palestine were active terrorists in the 1940s, from a British point of view, and in the period 1965-1980, the FBI considered the Jewish Defense League among the most active US terrorist groups. (Members at one point plotted to assassinate Rep. Dareell Issa (R-CA) because of his Lebanese heritage.) Now that Jewish nationalsts are largely getting their way, terrorism has declined among them. But it would likely reemerge if they stopped getting their way. In fact, one of the arguments Israeli politicians give for allowing Israeli squatters to keep the Palestinian land in the West Bank that they have usurped is that attempting to move them back out would produce violence. I.e., the settlers not only actually terrorize the Palestinians, but they form a terrorism threat for Israel proper (as the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin discovered).
Even more recently, it is difficult for me to see much of a difference between Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Baruch Goldstein, perpetrator of the Hebron massacre.
Or there was the cold-blooded bombing of the Ajmer shrine in India by Bhavesh Patel and a gang of Hindu nationalists. Chillingly, they were disturbed when a second bomb they had set did not go off, so that they did not wreak as much havoc as they would have liked. Ajmer is an ecumenical Sufi shrine also visited by Hindus, and these bigots wanted to stop such open-minded sharing of spiritual spaces because they hate Muslims.
Buddhists have committed a lot of terrorism and other violence as well. Many in the Zen orders in Japan supported militarism in the first half of the twentieth century, for which their leaders later apologized. And, you had Inoue Shiro’s assassination campaign in 1930s Japan. Nowadays militant Buddhist monks in Burma/ Myanmar are urging on an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya.
As for Christianity, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda initiated hostilitiesthat displaced two million people. Although it is an African cult, it is Christian in origin and the result of Western Christian missionaries preaching in Africa. If Saudi Wahhabi preachers can be in part blamed for the Taliban, why do Christian missionaries skate when we consider the blowback from their pupils?
Terrorism is a tactic of extremists within each religion, and within secular religions of Marxism or nationalism. No religion, including Islam, preaches indiscriminate violence against innocents.
It takes a peculiar sort of blindness to see Christians of European heritage as “nice” and Muslims and inherently violent, given the twentieth century death toll I mentioned above. 

Death of an intellectual giant - Ali Mazrui

Professor Ali Al-Amin Mazrui died last week on 13 October 2014, at Binghamton, New York, in the United States after being ill for several months. He was 81. I first learned about this great scholar when I was preparing a talk on Africa in the early 1980s in California. My search on the topic took me to the university library where I found some two dozen books on Africa written by this renowned Kenyan academic.  He was simply the best authority on Africa, consulted by heads of states and governments, international media and research institutions for political strategies and alternative thoughts.
It was no accident, therefore, that the professor would be contacted by both the BBC of the UK and PBS to write and present a ground-breaking 9-part television series in the 1980s entitled “The Africans - a Triple Heritage” that talked of the indigenous African, Islamic and Western, influences on the continent. I remember watching that series multiple times, taking notes and audio-taping it.
In 1979, Mr Mazrui also delivered the BBC's Reith Lecture, entitled The African Condition.
Ali Mazrui was born on February 24, 1933 in Mombasa, Kenya, nearly 30 years before the colonial British rule ended, into a prominent Muslim family. His father was the Chief Qadi of Kenya, the highest legal authority on Islamic law. He studied at some of the world's most prestigious universities, including Oxford, from where he obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1966.  He earned a B.A. from the University of Manchester in the UK, and an M.A. from Columbia University in New York. Upon completing his education at Oxford University, Mazrui joined Makerere University (Kampala, Uganda), where he served as head of the Department of Political Science and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. He served at Makerere University until 1973, when he was forced into exile in the USA for his sharp criticism of the then Ugandan and Kenyan regimes - led by Idi Amin and Daniel Arap Moi, respectively.
In 1974, he joined the faculty of the University of Michigan as professor and later was appointed the Director of the Center for Afro-American and African Studies (1978–1981). In 1989, he was appointed to the faculty of Binghamton University, State University of New York as the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and the Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies (IGCS) – positions he held until his death.
In addition to his appointments as the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities, Professor in Political Science, African Studies, Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture and the Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies (IGCS), Professor Mazrui also held three concurrent faculty appointments as Albert Luthuli Professor-at-Large in the Humanities and Development Studies at the University of Jos in Nigeria, Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large Emeritus and Senior Scholar in Africana Studies at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York and Chancellor of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Nairobi, Kenya.
Professor Mazrui was also a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, The University of Chicago, Colgate University, McGill University, National University of Singapore, Oxford University, Harvard University, Bridgewater State College, Ohio State University, and at other institutions in Cairo, Australia, Leeds, Nairobi, Tehran, Denver, London, Baghdad, and Sussex, amongst others.
In 2005, Professor Ali Mazrui was selected as the 73rd topmost intellectual person in the world on the list of Top 100 Public Intellectuals by Prospect Magazine (UK) and Foreign Policy (United States).
In addition to his academic appointments, Professor Mazrui also served as President of the African Studies Association (USA) and as Vice-President of the International Political Science Association. He served as Special Advisor to the World Bank, and also served on the Board of the American Muslim Council, Washington, D.C.
Professor Mazrui's research interests included African politics, international political culture, political Islam and North-South relations. He was a brilliant writer and wrote extensively of colonialism and the harm it had caused to Africa. He championed freedom for his people.
He was author or co-author of more than forty books, numerous book chapters, and hundreds of scholarly articles in major scholastic journals, magazine and newspaper commentaries. His books include the classics "Towards a Pax Africana" (1967) and "The Political Sociology of the English Language" (1975), along with a utopian novel set in heaven entitled, "The Trial of Christopher Okigbo" (1971). His research interests, which ranged from African politics to international political culture, as well as North-South relations, are reflected in his works "Africa's International Relations" (1977), "Political Values and the Educated Class in Africa" (1978) and "The Political Culture of Language: Swahili, Society, and the State", co-authored with Alamin M. Mazrui. Two additional influential books were "A World Federation of Cultures: An African Perspective" (1976) and "Cultural Forces in World Politics" (1990). He also served on the editorial boards of more than twenty international scholarly journals.
He first rose to prominence as a critic of some of the accepted orthodoxies of African intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s who by and large were all Marxists. He was critical of African socialism and all strains of Marxism. He argued that communism was a western import, which was just as unsuited for Africa as the earlier colonial attempts to install European style governments. He argued that a revised liberalism could help the African continent and described himself as a proponent of a unique ideology of African liberalism.
In his series of essays On Heroes and Uhuru-Worship, he wrote as an African scholar deeply involved in the fight for the freedom of his people, expressing empathy with those on the front line of the battle against colonialists. "What about blaming the freedom fighter for the atrocities committed by the security forces contending him?" he asked.
Professor Mazrui was also a stern critic of the current world order, led by the USA. He believed that the current capitalist system was deeply exploitative of Africa and developing nations, and that the West rarely if ever lived up to their liberal ideals that they promoted. He wrote very early about the racism and discrimination that existed in the capitalist world and was one of the first to write on Global Apartheid.
Prof. Mazrui became most outspoken against all forms of oppression. Because of his unflinching advocacy for the anti-apartheid movement, and his active role within the African Studies Association (ASA) in the USA, many of his liberal colleagues who once admired him for his anti-Marxist stance started distancing from him. He was no longer held up and he was no longer gracing the pages of the mainstream political science journals. Oddly, in the academic world, his status as a political scientist was being questioned by the mainstream departments of political science. This questioning of his scholarship intensified after Prof. Mazrui became a clear advocate of reparations for the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade.
He opposed Western interventions in the developing nations, such as the Iraq War. He was not afraid to speak out about the degrading conditions of the occupation of Palestine and wrote and spoke out against the conditions of the Palestinian Peoples. In his book Cultural Forces in World Politics, Mazrui was one of the first intellectuals who compared the logic of Zionism with the logic of South Africa's apartheid.
It was no surprise that prior to taking up the appointment at Binghamton there were demonstrations by those supporters of the rogue state of Israel who believed that Mazrui was unworthy of being chosen as a distinguished Professor.
Professor Mazrui lamented the growing influence of the West on societies across the world. "Even the very vices of Western culture are acquiring worldwide prestige. Muslim societies which once refrained from alcohol are now manifesting increasing alcoholism," he said in a speech in 2000 at an event hosted by the Royal African Society and the BBC in London.
"Chinese elites are capitulating to Kentucky Fried Chicken and MacDonald hamburgers. And Mahatma Gandhi's country has decided to go nuclear."
In one of his books, Islam between Globalization and Counter Terrorism, he explained how the religion was entrapped in the danger of rising extremism.
Professor Mazrui like most Muslims felt the deep persecution and harassment of the USA after the Islamophobia craze was fuelled by the neo-cons in the post-9/11 era. He was stopped and held at the airport in Miami and questioned about his connections to international terrorism. The Kenyan-born academic, long tenured in the United States, was treated politely but nevertheless as an undefined felon who had to be watched constantly and escorted to the lavatory. He was asked about the meaning of Jihad and what madhab or denomination he belonged to. "When I said Sunni, they said why not Shia?"

After four hours the mistake was discovered and he was apologetically released. He was booked for an onward flight to replace the one he missed, put up at a hotel and given five dollars in case he got hungry waiting for the next plane out.
Throughout his career, Prof. Mazrui expressed strong opinions on a plethora of issues. As a true intellectual, he never shied away from saying what he believed to be the truth.
In one of his speeches he said, "In the last three years, at least a million Muslims have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, Palestine, (and) Chechnya." He said a million more could be added since the 1992 Gulf War from the killing fields of the Balkans, the West Bank and Gaza, and the United Nations sanctions on Iraq. "Counting the number of dead in the world as a whole since 1990, Muslims are a people more sinned against than sinning."
Prof. Mazrui was an outspoken critic of extremism and fundamentalism of all sorts and he was critical of both the US imperial war on terror and those extremists such as Boko Haram and other misguided folks.
He was a friend of world-famous figures like Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X and Muhammd Ali. His death will be mourned by millions of people in our world who looked up to him for guidance.
In his tribute to Prof. Mazrui, Horace Campbell, Professor of African American Studies and Political Science, Syracuse University, remembered him as a great humanist who had dedicated his soul to the cause of Africa. He wrote, “Ali Mazrui stood on the crucial issues of the fight for social justice and the anti-imperialist struggles. For this, those who justified the oppression of the Palestinian peoples vilified him and sought to diminish him, but Mazrui was not afraid of these forces that stood against academic freedom in the United States. I want to salute the courage and humanism of Ali Mazrui. By humanism, I mean the philosophical and ethical stance that he took which emphasized the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively. Importantly, this humanism of Mazrui was based on the dignity of all human beings regardless of race, religion, region, sexuality or gender. The humanism of Mazrui was linked to the quest for reparative justice, peace, self-determination, the rights of women, secularism and prosperity for all.”
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has offered his condolences on Monday to the family of Mazrui by saying: "His efforts towards overcoming current problems, especially on the African continent, will always be remembered with appreciation."
The head of the Turkish government described Mazrui as a "personality who prospered in our intellectual world with his ideas and works, and who had a high sensitivity towards resolving the problems encountered by humanity today.
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta described him as "towering" academic whose "intellectual contributions played a major role in shaping African scholarship".
"Indeed, death has robbed us of one of Kenya's greatest scholars," Mr Kenyatta said.
Tanzania's Deputy Minister of Communication, Science and Technology, January Makamba, paid a more personal tribute, saying Mr Mazrui "taught me to appreciate and value Africa's complex identity and multiple heritages".
At the prayers for Mazrui on Monday at Binghamton, N.Y., one of the Imams leading the prayers described him as someone whose support for diversity was also his support for unity. It is this ability to work across all peoples that will distinguish Professor Ali Mazrui for generations to come.
As noted by others who knew him closely, they loved him for his character and personal qualities. His warmth was enveloping and his laughter was infectious. He was endlessly generous toward family, close and extended, and to people in less fortunate circumstances. He was gracious to all, including strangers and intellectual adversaries. He enjoyed learning from people from all walks of life and cultures. An egalitarian and humanitarian, he endeavored to treat all people with respect, dignity and fairness. At the same time, he valued spirited debate about political, economic and philosophical ideas. Dr. Mazrui modeled integrity and decency.
Like many of his admirers in this world, I shall miss him greatly. May Allah enter him in Paradise!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Prof. Ali Mazrui - Dead

Renowned academic, Africa's foremost political thinker, Prof. Ali Mazrui has died. Inna lillahi wa innahi wa raji'oon.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Review of Bertil Lintner's Article "Muslims of Myanmar"


It is good to read Bertil Lintner’s latest article “The Muslims of Myanmar” in the Irrawaddy. For years, his misconstrued article in the Far Eastern Economy has been the only staple for pseudo-experts on terrorism watch in south and south-east Asia. It was a flawed article on several points. The most striking assertion being the so-called link of al-Qaeda with some Rohingya groups that have been vocal about human rights of their people. Based on my own research on this sensitive subject I found out that there was absolutely no truth to the myth propagated by him, which was based on secondary and tertiary sources. We can probably guess who were feeding him such mis- or dis-information at the expense of the Rohingya people and their legitimate rights. The fascist, hatemongers within the Rakhine and Buddhist community inside Burma exploited his half-baked flawed thesis towards fear-mongering against the Rohingya people as if the mythical Mujahids were a reality in Burma. To them, if they were to survive, they must eliminate the Rohingya people.
Interestingly, Lintner never met any of the leaders of those Rohingya groups he cited in his FEER article. And yet, as a self-promoting or perceived western “expert” who had settled in South East Asia, he was believed by many to be an expert and many would-be experts voraciously quoted his flawed FEER article to prove that there was connection with militant groups like al-Qaeda with Rohingya activists.
It is, therefore, good to see that Lintner is correcting his old flawed claims by stating that “purported RSO fighters were militants from the Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of the fundamentalist Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami. The activities at the now closed Ukhia camp had more to do with Bangladeshi politics than any ethnic or religious conflict in Myanmar.”
As I have maintained, truth is never too late, and so is correcting one’s wrong thesis. My thanks to Lintner for correcting his views on the Rohingya people, and sharing how the Muslims of Burma, in general, had fought side by side fellow Burmese for the same rights, including independence of their motherland. Denying now such basic rights as citizenship to this religious/ethnic minority is a crime of highest proportion, and is highly reprehensible.
Let the people of Myanmar break the wall of exclusion, hatred and apartheid and accept the Rohingya and other minorities as equals with same rights to live in dignity and peace.
No one truly gains from xenophobia and intolerance. The sooner this lesson is learned the better it is for all of us and our posterity.