Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Iraq and Democracy

Iraq is a test case for the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum that “the central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Ironically, though, it was the conservative Bush team that argued that culture didn’t matter in Iraq, and that the prospect of democracy and self-rule would automatically bring Iraqis together to bury the past. That is, democracy can be implanted to change Iraq from what was tyranny of the few - a totalitarian regime, to the rule of the majority - a democratic regime.
Well, since the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hossein, including his hanging for the crime against his people, two major elections have taken place, the last one being held last March – all in the name of democracy. But the cherished rule of law has simply not returned. As a matter of fact, Iraq was more secure and safe under Saddam Hossein than it is today. The life expectancy and quality of life enjoyed by the former subjects of Hossein were better to the ones possible or attainable today in the U.S.-occupied Iraq.
Iraq, not known for sectarian violence during the Ba’athist rule, does not have a day without violence today when someone is not dying on its altar. Some people say that the violence is all foreign-sponsored to divide the Iraqi mosaic along sectarian or ethnic lines and fail the nascent democratic experiment there. Given the fact that in the early days of the invasion, many planners in the Anglo-U.S. alliance saw a divided Iraq along the Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish lines to be more strategically aligned than a unified Iraq, there may be some truth to their assertions. However their story may not be entirely true.
Just last Friday a coordinated series of explosions struck a party headquarters, two mosques, a market and a shop in Baghdad killing at least 58 people and wounding scores more. The culprits are assumed to be the resurgent al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group that never existed during the Saddam rule, and thought to have been defeated or crippled completely after the elimination of its Jordan-born notorious leader – Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006. We are told that in recent days, the Iraqi and American Special forces have killed two more leaders of the terrorist outfit - Al Qaeda’s military commander, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, an Egyptian known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and its top religious and ideological leader, Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi. The group continues to attract disgruntled Iraqis and outsiders, affected by the change. Their attacks, mostly against the Shi’ite majority, are clearly aimed at further polarizing the Iraqi society along the sectarian lines.
If the past is any barometer to predict the future outcome, it seems that even with the death of these two al-Qaeda leaders, the group will have new leaders to replace its fallen heroes. However, the Iraqi officials of the Maliki government believe otherwise. They claim that during the last week’s (Sunday’s) raid sixteen associates — aides, bodyguards and relatives — were also arrested. Perhaps more important, the Iraqis and Americans seized computers and other documents that detailed their communications with the group’s leaders, all now being culled for intelligence on the group’s activities in Iraq, and presumably abroad. Mr. Maliki claimed that they proved contacts with Osama bin Laden himself. Apparently, the cave man is still alive!
On Thursday night, Iraq’s interior minister, Jawad Bolani, issued a letter calling on the remaining members of Al Qaeda — estimated to number in the hundreds — to turn themselves in, promising them humane treatment and a fair trial.
As it appears al-Qaeda in Iraq is not dead yet with the recent raids and deaths of its top leaders. Like the Hashishyn of the past, it has learned to wait, regroup and find opportune moments to strike hard, terrorizing the society.
The Friday bombings exploded in rapid succession near the headquarters of the political movement led by the Shi’ite cleric Moktada al-Sadr in Sadr City, the impoverished Shi’ite neighborhood in Baghdad that bears his family’s name. Many Shi’ite Muslims had gathered there for the Friday prayer when the bombs exploded. In the latest election the Sadrists have done very well, putting them in a critical role to select the next government, unless the incumbent Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ties his knots with the former prime minister – Ayyad al-Alawi. Obviously, some people don’t like the improved political status of the Sadrists.
Iraqis are still awaiting the results of the March 7 election in which no party emerged, as was expected, with absolute majority, forcing the parties to negotiate to form a new government. How long will they wait before a new government is sworn in that brings peace and security to the lives of Iraqis? Or will Iraq remain a society where Saddam Hossein’s days will be looked upon favorably than what the Bushites ended up creating?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Connecting the dots in Sarkozy's anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Iran zeal

Two years ago, I mentioned about Sarkozy's religious heritage and family connection which makes him a very hostile person when it comes to Islam and the Muslim world. Although I was aware back then about his grandfather Aron Mallah, born in a Jewish family, who had later half-heartedly converted to Catholicism to marry a French Christian girl named Adele Bouvier, I was not aware that his grandfather had actually migrated from Salonika in today's Greece. The region was once part of the Ottoman empire and became the homeland of many Donmehs that lived there since the time of Sabbatai Zevi, a 17th-century Jewish kabbalist who claimed to be the Messiah and was eventually forced by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV to become a Muslim. After Zevi's conversion, a number of Jews followed him into Islam and became the Dönmeh. Since the 20th century, many Dönmeh have intermarried with other groups and most have assimilated into Turkish society.
Donmeh people were the pioneers of the Young Turk Movement and the CUP - the Freemasons - which toppled the Ottoman Empire. Their innate enmity to Islam is known to most serious researchers of the Ottoman history. Mustafa Kamal Ataturk also came from Donmeh background.
France's president Nicolas Sarkozy is a Freemason. He is also very close to Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. It is not difficult to understand why Sarkozy is all agog about curtailing Islamic influence in Europe, esp. in France, where he wants to ban hijab and niqab, worn by many Muslim women.
It goes without saying that Sarkozy's enthusiasm to punish Iran and deny her the legitimate right to develop nuclear energy is deeply rooted in his Jewish heritage and doing the pitching for his friend Netanyahu and the rogue state of Israel. In this regard, it is worth quoting from an article written in May 2007 by Raanan Eliaz, a former director at the Israeli National Security Council and the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. In Jewish Journal, he wrote, "Although Sarkozy's family roots will not bring France closer to Israel, the president's personal Israeli friends may. As interior minister, Sarkozy shared much common policy ground with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two started to develop a close friendship not long ago, and it is easy to observe similarities not only in their ideology and politics but also in their public image. If Netanyahu returns to Israel's chief position, it will be interesting to see whether their personal dynamic will lead to a fresh start for Israel and France and a more constructive European role in the region."
As we know, Netanyahu has been the Prime Minister of Israel for more than a year. It is not difficult to connect now the dots in Sarkozy's crusade against Islam and Iran.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Obama Needs to Dump Netanyahu

At the end of President Obama’s news conference on April 13, President Obama said something that we hardly heard before. He declared that resolving the long-running Middle East dispute was a “vital national security interest of the United States.” This shift in White House’s apparent urgency to help broker a Middle East peace deal should not come as a surprise. Mr. Obama’s words echoed those of General David H. Petraeus, the military commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East, including America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recent Congressional testimony, the general said that the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States.

It is worth recalling here that when on January 16 a team of senior military officers from the CENTCOM arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen the briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that president’s point man for resolving Palestine-Israel crisis – ex-Senator George Mitchell himself was “too old, too slow ... and too late.” The briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus’s instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders. A Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing said, “Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling; America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding.”

General Petraeus did not leave the matter there: two days after the Mullen briefing, Petraeus sent a paper to the White House requesting that the West Bank and Gaza (which, with Israel, is a part of the European Command -- or EUCOM), be made a part of his area of operations. Petraeus’s reason was straightforward: with U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military had to be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged in the region’s most troublesome conflict.

As noted on April 1 by author Mark Perry in the Foreign Policy magazine, Petraeus was not the first general to object to Israeli interest. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Gen. George Marshall advised President Truman not to recognize the state of Israel. In the period between the end of World War Two and Marshall’s meeting with Truman, the JCS had issued no less than sixteen papers on the Palestine issue. The most important of these was issued on March 31, 1948 and entitled “Force Requirements for Palestine.” In that paper, the JCS predicted that “the Zionist strategy will seek to involve [the United States] in a continuously widening and deepening series of operations intended to secure maximum Jewish objectives.” The JCS speculated that these objectives included: initial Jewish sovereignty over a portion of Palestine, acceptance by the Great powers of the right to unlimited immigration, the extension of Jewish sovereignty over all of Palestine and the expansion of “Eretz Israel” into Transjordan and into portions of Lebanon and Syria. This was not the only time the JCS expressed this worry. In late 1947, the JCS had written that “A decision to partition Palestine, if the decision were supported by the United States, would prejudice United States strategic interests in the Near and Middle East” to the point that “United States influence in the area would be curtailed to that which could be maintained by military force.” That is to say, the concern of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was not with the security of Israel- but with the security of American lives.

Such legitimate concerns shared by top military commanders, now and then, once again show that many within the Pentagon and the White House are not all that stupid. While many folks in the upper echelon of power and authority may not have the guts to spell out what is required for a real change, a few do. Even Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s secretary of state, known more for her unabashed support of Israel and promotion of war than diplomacy and conflict resolution, was neither unaware nor naive to Israel’s long history of undermining of American vital national security interest in the Middle East. During a speech in Jerusalem in 2007, she was heard saying, “The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation [of the Palestinian people] can radicalize even normal people.” But we are not sure if she discussed her concerns with Bush. As we all know, President George W. Bush never challenged Israeli governments on repeated violations of human rights in the Occupied Territories.

As a matter of fact decades of American complacency, funding and attempts to whiten Israeli war crimes have only emboldened the rogue regime to feel haughty and untouchable like a mafia don. Since the time of Johnson administration the bonding between the two countries has only become stronger. Every Israeli leader knew about the hypocritical face of the U.S. public diplomacy, and thus, exploited it to the hilt to extract further concessions and advantages, thus allowing Israel to retain a military edge over its neighbors.

Thus, we were not surprised when Netanyahu’s ultra-racist and expansionist government decided to ignore President Obama’s request to stop all settlement activities in the Occupied Territories, and announce further construction of 1600 housing units during vice president Biden’s fence-mending visit to Israel. Nor were we surprised when just before Mr. Obama hosted Mr. Netanyahu at the White House last month during the latter’s trip to Washington D.C. to speak at this year’s AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) annual conference — Israeli officials revealed plans to build 20 units in the Shepherd Hotel compound of West Bank.
Attended by Zionists – Jewish and non-Jewish, and cheered by the ‘Amen Corner’ – the U.S. lawmakers whose allegiance is more to the state of Israel than to the USA, Netanyahu delivered a defiant speech before an AIPAC conference. There Netanyahu vowed to continue expanding settlements in occupied East Jerusalem despite criticism from the Obama White House. He said, “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It’s our capital.” He refused to budge on an American demand that he reverse a housing plan in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Hours before Netanyahu spoke at the AIPAC conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told AIPAC attendees that the US commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock-solid. However, she criticized Israel for continuing to build settlements in occupied East Jerusalem: “New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines that mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides say they want and need. And it exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region hope to exploit. It undermines America’s unique ability to play a role, an essential role, in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they’re courageous and when we don’t agree to say so and say so unequivocally.”

As can be seen Netanyahu was not sobered by Clinton’s concerns about losing credibility. He has the legislative wing of the U.S. government to use as a trump card against the administrative wing. Just notice what Pelosi had to say to Netanyahu: “We in Congress stand by Israel, something we have a joint bipartisan commitment. No separation between us on this subject. In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel. Together we remain committed to advancing the peace process, preserving Israel’s security, responsible sanctions against Iran, working to finalize Iran sanctions bill right now.”

On April 13, the AIPAC publicized letters to Secretary of State Clinton, signed by 76 senators and 333 House members, which implored the administration to defuse tensions. That is, more than three-fourths of the U.S. Congress is opposed to any change in matters affecting the rogue state! In an open letter to Mr. Obama from the World Jewish Congress, the organization’s president, Ronald S. Lauder, asked, “Why does the thrust of this administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks?”

If Obama is serious about change, he cannot let his administration and its policy be dictated by groups or interests whose allegiance threatens American vital security interest in the Middle East. True that AIPAC is a powerful Jewish lobby, which has a leash on the U.S. Congress. But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the U.S. military. America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.

Obama must reach out to the people and share the concerns of General Petraeus. He must explain that there is an international law ruling on the question of East Jerusalem. In July 2004, the highest judicial body in the world, the International Court of Justice, stated unequivocally that East Jerusalem is an “occupied Palestinian territory.” It is not a question of conflicting claims to Jerusalem, let alone an Israeli exclusive right to the East Jerusalem, which was acquired in the course of the 1967 war. And under international law, it is simply inadmissible to acquire territory by war.

According to the UN, as many as 60,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem are currently at risk of forced evictions, demolitions and displacement by the Netanyahu government. The Israeli position on East Jerusalem is illegal, immoral, unjust and unacceptable, and only weakens America’s strategic interest for the entire region.

Obama must also make it clear to the American public that Netanyahu is not a partner for peace and that his administration threatens America’s vital interest in the region, and, as such, must be dumped. Only a biting boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) initiative can sober the Netanyahu administration and change its apartheid character. The Obama administration must take the lead in this initiative.

Israel simply cannot be allowed to blackmail the rest of the world under blinding victimhood that refuses to see that it has become the chief perpetrator of violence in the Middle East, thus, threatening global peace and security. Will Obama administration have the necessary courage and resolve to put the Israeli genie back into the bottle where it belonged before she does irreversible harm to America’s vital national security interest?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Children of Gaza - a must-see video

I just came across a highly moving, must-see video that first aired on Channel 4 (UK)’s Dispatches on 15 March. BAFTA-winning filmmaker Jezza Neumann follows the lives of three children for over a year. The children are amazing: well-spoken, reflective, resilient, understandably vengeful and fearful, but very endearing. The toll this inhumanity has taken is also clear.

Words can’t explain the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip. It is simply too painful to watch the plight of this unfortunate people. Who would have thought that some 65 years after World War II humanity will see the crimes of the children and grand-children of the Jewish holocaust? The current events show that these latter people have simply perfected the art of genocide and elimination. Adolf Hitler must be having his last laugh at the monsters and bastardly two-legged beasts he helped to create amongst the Israelis. Surely, World War II has failed to stop genocidal acts. And yet, how many western Jews are aware of the crimes of their co-religionists in the Occupied Palestine? If they claim to have any moral high ground, they ought to put a stop to this suffering of the indigenous Palestinian people before it is too late – for the victims and their own souls.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

American War Crimes: The WikiLeaks Video

The past week has been anything but ordinary with news of nuclear arms reduction, coal mine disaster in West Virginia and a newly released video showing US forces indiscriminately firing on Iraqi civilians.

On Monday, the website WikiLeaks.org posted footage taken from a US military helicopter in July 2007 as it killed twelve unarmed civilians and wounded two children. The voices on the tape appear to believe their targets are carrying weapons, but the footage unmistakably shows some of the victims holding camera equipment. The dead included two employees of the Reuters news agency, photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh. It was a blatant case of trigger-happy gunners shooting indiscriminately at unarmed civilians. Even a van that came to rescue the wounded civilians was attacked by the Apache helicopter killing the owner-driver while severely injuring his two children seated in the front seat. A US soldier in the Apache helicopter was heard in the video saying, “We have a black SUV—or Bongo truck picking up the bodies. Request permission to engage.” The permission to kill those civilians was granted!
As noted by Julian Assange of the WikiLeaks.org in his interview with Democracy Now, “These pilots have evidently and gunners have evidently become so corrupted, morally corrupted, by the war that they are looking for excuses to kill. That is why you hear this segment, “Come on, buddy! Just pick up a weapon,” when Saeed, one of the Reuters employees, is crawling on the curb.” To justify their war crimes, those soldiers lied and the Pentagon implied that this was a firefight and the Apaches were called in, into the middle of a firefight, and the journalists walked into this firefight. The released video belies such assertions.
What is also disconcerting in such clear cases of war crimes is that there was a third attack on that very day in Baghdad, just twenty minutes later, by the same crew, involving three Hellfire missiles that were fired onto an apartment complex where the roof was still under construction. Fresh evidence from Baghdad suggests that there were three families living in that apartment complex, many of whom were killed, including women.
As has been so common in the Bush era those involved with the cold-blooded murder of Iraqi civilians were cleared of any wrongdoing. It is highly unlikely that the Obama administration will reopen the case either. When contacted about the WikiLeaks footage, the Pentagon stated that it came to the conclusion back in 2007 that there was no violation of engagement rules, and that all the pilots and gunners had acted properly. They reiterated that original investigation came to the right conclusion and that they would not be reopening the investigation.
It is worth noting that Reuters put in the Freedom of Information request for this video in August 2007 and did not receive any response whatsoever until last week when the Pentagon released on the CENTCOM website six files relating to this event.
While our criminal servicemen and women, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, go unpunished for their war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan (and possibly in the tribal areas of Pakistan now), thus, soiling the image of the USA, there are hard evidences that show that human rights of many Muslims, detained since 9/11, have been grossly violated here inside the USA. According to a recent article by Professor Bill Quigley in the Counterpunch.org, the U.S. has kept Syed Fahad Hashmi, a person with no prior criminal record, in total pre-trial isolation inside in a small cell in New York under 24-hour video and audio surveillance for the last three years. He is forced to use the bathroom and shower in full view of the video. He has not seen the sun in years. It is well known in the medical circle that after 60 days in solitary confinement, a detainee’s mental state begins to break down, which can lead to severe psychiatric trauma and harms like psychosis, distortion of reality, hallucinations, mass anxiety and acute confusion. Essentially, the mind disintegrates. Yet the federal judge in New York hearing Hashmi’s case continues to approve of the forced isolation and the rest of the restrictions on this presumably innocent man. The reason that this is allowed to continue is that Hashmi is accused of being involved with al Qaeda by allowing rain gear (raincoats, ponchos and socks) that were going to Afghanistan to be stored in his Queens apartment in New York. What a mockery of justice when we are taught that until proven guilty everyone is presumed to be innocent!

We have already seen the harmful impact of long term pre-trial isolation on Dr Aafia Siddiqui -- an MIT graduate and a Pakistani-American scientist -- who was accused of trying to kill US servicemen in Afghanistan. If her case appeared too bizarre to most people following it, they were simply dumbfounded by the equally brazen court verdict that found Aafia guilty.
There are new evidences that point to the fact that many innocent civilians were put in the Guantanamo Bay prison by the Bush-Cheney administration. According to a new document obtained by The Times of UK, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld let hundreds of innocent men undeservingly imprisoned in the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror. The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.
Colonel Wilkerson, who served 31 years in the US Army, claimed that the majority of detainees — children as young as 12 and men as old as 93 -- never saw a US soldier when they were captured. He said that many were turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to $5,000. Little or no evidence was produced as to why they had been taken. Referring to Mr. Cheney, he asserted: “He had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent ... If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.”
There are currently some 180 detainees left in the Guantanamo Bay facility. There, amongst other serious charges of human rights abuses, include falsification of records and deliberate hiding of people from the Red Cross, a breach of the Geneva Conventions, and psychological torture.
From all such reports and releases, an obvious pattern seems to be emerging which shows that the U.S. abuses and war crimes practiced at home and abroad are not isolated cases or aberrations. These war crimes are routine things happening on a daily basis where the lives of the victims in the homes and streets of the Muslim world, esp. the 21st century’s killing fields from the Occupied Palestine to Pakistan, are deemed too cheap and too expendable. Those civilian victims were often times the shooting targets of their killers whose very war crimes were approved and sanitized by the Pentagon.
As noted by Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer, the only thing that is rare about the WikiLeaks footage is that we happen to know about it and are seeing it take place on video. It is not shrouded any more in obscene propaganda that glories war and violence. He said, “This is something that takes place on a virtually daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places where we invade and bomb and occupy. And the reason why there are hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq and thousands of dead in Afghanistan is because this is what happens constantly when we are engaged in warfare in those countries.”
In their crimes, those U.S. soldiers only followed the SOP (standard operating procedure) in the war zone! It is not difficult to understand why the Pentagon did not find anything wrong with their criminal activities of shooting innocent civilians. The very reason that the Pentagon did not like this video to surface is that it knew that with its release it could no longer hide its ugly war and criminal practices that clearly violate rules of engagement as an occupation force.
To understand the grievances of American crimes, reflect upon the remarks of Nabil Noor-Eldeen, the brother of the slain Reuters cameraman Namir Noor-Eldeen, who in an interview with Al Jazeera said: “Is this the democracy and freedom that they claim have brought to Iraq? What Namir was doing was a patriotic work. He was trying to cover the violations of the Americans against the Iraqi people. He was only twenty-one years old. Other innocent colleagues and other innocent people, who were just standing out of curiosity when they see a journalist in a scene, and they were all killed. This is another crime that should be added to the record of American crimes in Iraq and the world. Is the pilot that stupid, he cannot distinguish between an RPG and a camera? They claim he was carrying an RPG. When was the RPG this small, small as a camera? He was carrying a small camera. An RPG is more than one meter long. Yes, it was an RPG because it shows the acts against Iraq and its people that still suffer from their crimes. We demand the international organizations to help us sue those people responsible for the killings of our sons and our people.”
Sadly, there are very few checks and balances left in the post-9/11 era USA to redress such horrendous abuses of human rights. The US Congress, mortgaged to the War Party, and the new Obama administration, appearing more Bush-like every day, are both ineffectual to tackle this huge problem. Anyone suspected of ties to Muslim terrorism can remain in isolated confinement the rest of his/her life while a trigger-happy killer of Muslims remains unpunished. No politician here still wants to appear soft on Bush’s Global War on Terror.
The media have a role to play. However, owned mostly by the forces that welcomed the Bush doctrine and embraced embedded journalism, the mainstream media here in the USA have long abandoned and betrayed the public. Thus, in such an environment of imposed confusion and moral decadence we may never see anything close to a Nuremburg trial for the masterminds of the illegal Iraq War, let alone their foot soldiers. We may have to settle for more of the same where cameras with a journalist in the so-called harm’s ways will continue to be claimed as RPGs, and unarmed civilians as al Qaeda operatives or terrorists, while the basic human rights of suspected Muslims in the USA will remain ignored!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Brief History of Soviet Muslims

The history of the Muslims in the former Soviet Union is largely but not entirely the history of the Muslim descendants of Genghis Khan, the Mongol conqueror.
Daghestan was the gate through which Islam entered the territory of Russia. The first Muslims were the envoys of Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab (R) who came to Daghestan in 23 AH. Bodies of forty followers and companions of the Prophet Muhammad (S) are buried in Daghestan, and a Qurayshite descendant of the Prophet still live in the republic today.
After the death of Umar (R), the Byzantines invaded Syria. Uthman (R), the third Caliph, sent two columns of forces to repel them. In counter attack, the Muslim force penetrated deep into the Asia Minor, reaching the shores of the Black Sea. In 674 CE, during Mu’awiyah’s rule, a Muslim army crossed the Oxus River and defeated the Turks. In 675 CE Bukhara was captured becoming a vassal state. Thereafter, Jaxartes was crossed and Samarkand and Tirmiz came under Muslim rule in 677 CE. During the Umayyad period of al-Waleed, Muslim forces, under the leadership of Qutayba, captured Khiva in 711 CE. In 714 C.E., Qutayba captured the cities of Khojand and Shash, and then moved into the Chinese Turkistan and seized Kashgar in what is now Xinjiang province of China.
Islam influenced the Central Asia during the middle of the eighth century through Persia. This period coincides with the Abbasid regime that came to power overthrowing the Umayyads. The Samanids, a Muslim dynasty of Persian origin, ruled the Central Asia as early as 874 C.E. During the Mongol invasion of Central Asia (1218-60 C.E.), all these territories came under Mongol rule. Subsequently, however, Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, who was then the Mongol ruler in China nominated Mubarak Shah as the Khan of the Chagtais, whose territories (the so-called “Middle Kingdom”) included Turkistan and Transoxiana comprising the basin of the Ili in the east to the valleys of the Oxus (Amu Dariya) and Jaxartes in the west. In the western part of their territory, Muslims were majority. Mubarak was a Muslim, and that stood in his way of becoming popular with the Mongols. He was soon deposed by Borak Khan in 1266 C.E. Taliku, who became the Chaghtai Khan in 1308 became a Muslim on his accession. However, his religion was resented by the Mongols, and they assassinated him 1309. In 1322, Tarmashiria became the Khan of the Chaghtai Mongols. He became a Muslim, which was resented by his officers, and was, therefore, removed from power in 1330. Shortly thereafter Changshahi came to power. He was hostile to Islam and favored Christianity. During his rule, Muslim subjects revolted, Changshahi lost his life. This proved to be a turning point in the history of Transoxiana, and all the Chaghtai Khans came to the throne as Muslims.
The western part of Mongol empire (the so-called Khanate of the “Golden Horde”), comprising (later of) most of Russia, was assigned by Genghis Khan to his son Jochi. Later the authority passed on to Berek, Jochi’s grandson in 1257 C.E. Berek was a Muslim. The Mongols who had been heretofore united in their hostility to Islam now came to be divided among them. Berek openly championed the cause of Islam. He vehemently protested Halagu Khan’s massacre of Muslims, and withdrew his contingents from Iraq. The move weakened Halagu’s force, which led to his defeat at the hands of the Egyptian Mamluks at Ain Jalut in 1260 C.E. Berek later led a force against Halagu, the Il Khan of Persia, and defeated him on the bank of the Terek river in the Caucasus in 1263 C.E. Berek died in 1266.
According to Muslim historian Masudul Hasan, “The Mongols came to destroy Islam, but with the conversion of Berek to Islam, the Mongols became the instrument for carrying Islam to Russia and Eastern Europe. In the history of Islam, Berek holds a respectable place as one of the saviors of Islam.” It is worth mentioning here that Moscow and other principalities used to pay tribute to the Khans of the Golden Horde.
Berek was succeeded by his nephew Mongke Temur, who was a great pioneer of Islamic architecture in the Volga area. After his death in 1280, he was succeeded by Tode Mongke, who accepted Islam in 1283. So great was his love for Islam that he became a Sufi and abdicated his throne in 1287 C.E. One of the later rulers, Uzbeg (1313-41), decided to become a Muslim and introduced Islamic Shariah instead of Mongol Yasa. He patronized art and literature. He was a great king. His was the golden period of the rule of the Golden Horde. During his time, Ibn Batuta visited Sarai, the capital city, and rated him as “one of the seven mighty kings of the world.” After Uzbeg, a Mongol tribe came to be known as the Uzbeks, who have a state of their own today – Uzbekistan. Uzbeg died in 1341 after ruling for 28 years. His son Jani Beg promoted Islam. He died in 1357. After him, a period of palace clique and civil wars weakened the Khanate. Moscow refused to pay tribute. In 1378 Mamai, the Khan of the Golden Horde, led a force to Moscow to punish its Duke. However, he was defeated and had to withdraw his forces to Sarai. In 1380, he again mobilized a force to Moscow, but lost the battle. This battle was a turning point in the history of Russia. From this date, Russia rose to power progressively while the power of the Golden Horde began to wane.
In 1395, Amir Temur (1336-1405), the so-called Temur Lang (or Temur the Lame), a descendant of Chaghtai – the son of Genghis Khan - from his mother’s side, marched to Sarai and razed it to the ground, thus striking the final blow to the Golden Horde. (Temur also defeated the Duke of Moscow and exacted a heavy tribute from him.)
The Golden Horde Khanate gradually dismembered into smaller principalities. In 1438, a year after the khanate's foundation, the very first khan of Kazan, Ulugh Muhammad, advanced to Moscow with a large army. Vasily II of Moscow fled from his capital across the Volga River, but the Tatars refused to pursue the campaign and turned back to Kazan after devastating Kolomna and the locality. In 1439, Ulugh Muhammad withdrew from Sarai and caved out a separate principality of Kazan (in middle Volga) for himself. In 1441, Haji Giray set up the separate Khanate of Crimea. This encouraged further secessions, and a few years later in 1466 was yet another secession when the separate Khanate of Astra Khan (in lower Volga) was set up by Qasim b. Muhammad at the mouth of the Volga. As a result of these secessions, the Golden Horde became a mere ghost of its former self.
While Moscow had resumed paying tributes to Khanate of Golden Horde, after Temurid invasion of Moscow, she was always looking for opportunities to claim its sovereignty. Taking advantage of the disunity in the Khanate, Moscow repudiated its allegiance. In 1480, Khan Ahmad of the Golden Horde invaded Moscow and besieged the city. Moscow sought help from the Khanate in Crimea. Giray Khan attacked Ahmad’s force, forcing the latter to withdraw the siege of Moscow. Ahmad was assassinated before he reached Sarai. In 1502, Crimea invaded Sarai and defeated the Golden Horde Khanate. That was the end of the Khanate of the Golden Horde, after having ruled for 260 years.
As noted above the Russo-Kazan Wars was a series of wars fought between the Khanate of Kazan and Muscovite Russia in the 15th and 16th centuries, until Kazan was finally captured by Ivan the Terrible and absorbed into Russia in 1552.
The Khanate of Sibir was a Tatar Turkic khanate in the later Russian Siberia, just east of the middle Urals. The Khanate had an ethnically diverse population of Siberian Tatars, Khanty, Mansi, Nenets and Selkup people. Along with the Khanate of Kazan it was the northernmost Muslim state. It was also the northernmost Turkic state if one ignores the Yakuts. Its conquest by Ermak in 1582 was the beginning of the Russian conquest of Siberia.
Historian Masudul Hasan rightly observes, “If Amir Temur and the other Muslim rulers had combined for a common cause, and had directed their affairs against non-Muslims, the history of Islam would have taken a different course, and Islam would have spread to all parts of the world.”
Amir Temur, unlike Genghis Khan, was not an empire builder. So, soon after his death, the empire crumbled. He did enormous harm to Islam. If he had not destroyed the Muslim power in the Volga valley, Moscow could not have risen to power.
The history of Islam in Russia will be incomplete without mentioning about the religious ties that developed in Volga region in the pre-Genghis Khan era. In the early tenth century, an Arab historian Ahmad Ibn Fadlan came to Volga Bulgaria, which is also known as Volga-Kama-Bolghar (territory of modern Tatarstan), in what is now Russia. He came to establish relations and bring qadis and teachers of Islamic law to Volga Bulgaria, as well as help in building a fort and a mosque. He was followed by a group of Abbasid Caliphate messengers sent to improve cooperation between the two states.
It is worth noting that Ibn Fadlan was sent from Baghdad in 921 to serve as the secretary to an ambassador from the Abbasid Caliph al-Muqtadir to the Iltäbär (vassal-king under the Khazars) of the Volga Bulgaria, Almiş. The embassy's objective was to have the king of the Bolğars pay homage to Caliph al-Muqtadir and, in return, to give the king money to pay for the construction of a fortress. Although they reached Bolğar, the mission failed because they were unable to collect the money intended for the king. Annoyed at not receiving the promised sum, the king refused to switch from the Maliki rite to the Hanafi rite of Baghdad. From the above account it is obvious that the Bulgars had accepted the Maliki Sunni version of Islam before ibn Fadlan’s trip.
The first Muslim ruler of the Volga Bulgaria was Almas Iltabar (late 9th century). He sent ambassador to the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. During ibn Fadlan’s trip, the latter also met the Vikings (Rus), some of whom converted to Islam.
During Genghiz Khan’s invasion of Volga Bulgar, 80% of the population was killed. Later the territory was incorporated under the Golden Horde, and the mixing of these peoples brought about the acceptance of the ethnonym Tatars to describe them. The invaders later embraced Islam. As the Horde disintegrated in the 15th century, the area became the territory of the Kazan khanate, which was ultimately conquered by Russia in the 16th century.
Islam spread in Belarus from the 14th to the 16th century. The process was encouraged by the Lithuanian princes, who invited Tatar Muslims from the Crimea and the Golden Horde as guards of state borders. Already in the 14th century the Tatars had been offered a settled way of life, state posts and service positions. By the end of the 16th century over 100,000 Tatars settled in Belarus and Lithuania, including those hired to government service, those who moved there voluntarily, prisoners of war, etc. Tatars in Belarus generally follow Sunni Hanafi Islam.
The last powerful Muslim government in Central Asia was that of the Shaibanids (1500-1599) who were followed by the Janids. Shaiban was one of the sons of Jochi, the son of Genghis Khan. The Shaibanids lived a nomadic life in western Russia. In the 13th century (1282) they converted to Islam and came to call themselves as Uzbeks after the Golden Horde Khan Uzbeg (1313-41). Janids were the descendants of Jani Beg, the son of Uzbeg. During the 15th century, when the Golden Horde Khanate started breaking up and the lineages of Batu and Orda died out in the course of civil wars of the 14th century, the Uzbek prince Abul Khair Khan (1430-68) declared the Shaibanids as the only legitimate successors to Jochi and laid claim to the vast territories in the western part of Siberia and Kazakhstan. Their rivals were the Timurids, who claimed descent from Jochi's thirteenth son by a concubine. Several decades of strife left the Timurids in control of the Great Horde and its successor states in Europe, namely, the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Crimea.
Abul Khair was killed in 1468 in a battle with Yunus Khan, the ruler of Turkistan. On his death, a section of Uzbeks separated from the main horde, and came to call itself “Kazakhs” or freed people. They came to occupy the territory, now known as Kazakhstan. Abul Khair was succeeded by his son Haidar Sultan, who ruled for 20 years until his death in 1499. He was succeeded by his nephew Shaibani Khan, who proved to be a great ruler of his time. He conquered Transoxiana. His territory extended from the Lake Aral to Balkh and Herat, and from Farghana to Jurjan. The invasion of Nadir Shah, the king of Persia, in 1740, left behind a divided and decaying country. The Kazakhs in the north, Tajiks in the east, the Uzbeks at Bukhara and the Turkomans around Merv lacked leadership and unity.
The expanding power of Imperial Russia fished eagerly in these troubled waters. In the late eighteenth century Catherine the Great attempted to forcibly annex the region. But the Russian invaders inspired fierce, unexpected resistance from a broad ethnic coalition of Caucasian Muslims who had united in loyalty to one spiritual leader - a Chechen Muslim mystic (Sufi) warrior named Shaykh Mansur Ushurma. Declaring the struggle a jihad, Shaykh Mansur and his Muslim mountaineers inflicted a crushing defeat on Czarist forces at the Sunzha River in 1785 and were briefly able to unite much of what is modern Daghestan and Chechnya under their rule.
Shaykh Mansur headed a branch of the Naqshbandi Sufi order, an Islamic mystical brotherhood that originated in fourteenth century Central Asia. Islamic mysticism - known as Sufism - spread quickly among both Muslims and non-Muslims in the Caucasus and Central Asia, largely through the missionary activities of itinerant Sufi scholars and mystics. These popular shaykhs (saints, literally "friends of God") often acquired reputations as miracle workers, and their tombs frequently became shrines (mazars) and pilgrimage sites. [David Damrel notes that “as recently as the late 1970s, Soviet authorities testified to the abiding attraction of these shrines, listing more than 70 active mazars in Daghestan and over 30 more in Chechnya. More traditional Muslim religious leaders often attacked the Sufi "cult of saints" for un-Islamic practices, but from early on in the Caucasus, Sufism helped attract converts to Islam at a popular level and offered a powerful source of spiritual guidance and social identity.” ]
Shaykh Mansur’s disciples continued their low-key resistance against the Russians even after his death in prison in 1793. Full-scale armed revolt against the Russian occupation of Daghestan and Chechnya resumed in 1824, when a series of Naqshbandi Sufi leaders called Imams began a bitter guerrilla war that would last for over 30 more years. One of those Imams was Mulla Muhammad of Ghimree, better known as Qazi Mulla, who was succeeded in turn by Hamzed Beg and Imam Shamil.
The most famous of these Sufi warriors, the Naqshbandi Shaykh Imam Shamil, was a native of Daghestan. He actually established a short-lived Islamic state in Chechnya and Daghestan before his capitulation in 1859. Imam Shamil openly called upon his Sufi Murids at Ghimree to prepare themselves for Jihad in 1829. When the "pacification" offensive against the Caucasus began in 1830, the Russians were convinced that despite their superior arms and numbers, they could attain the domination over the area only by destroying the villages, cutting down the forests, and laying waste the cultivated fields to deprive the survivors of food. A Russian General, Tomam, who was appointed by the Czar Nicholas, to accomplish this mission described how he ordered his forces to set fire to the houses in which the Muslim fighters were in. Even under those circumstances the Mujahids did not surrender, they preferred death to cowardly surrender. In his memoir, Tornam, wrote, "The result of the Czar's expedition was the 'submission' of 80 villages, the total destruction of 61."
With Shamil safely imprisoned, the Russians moved to crush the remaining "Murids" and pacify the region. Many of Shamil’s followers were hanged or deported, while his senior deputies escaped to Makkah, Madinah or Turkey. But with the suppression of the Naqshbandis, a new order--the Qadiri--entered the fight.
The Qadiri order, with its origins in twelfth-century Baghdad, first appeared in the Caucasus in 1861 headed by a Daghestani shepherd named Kunta Haji Kishiev. Initially he counseled peace with the Russians. His popularity surged but soon his following, swelled by many murid fighters from Shamil’s former army, so alarmed the Russians that he was arrested and exiled in 1864. That same year at Shali in Chechnya, Russian troops fired on over 4,000 Qadiri murids, killing scores and igniting a fresh wave of violence. The brotherhood--whose remaining leaders all claimed spiritual descent from Kunta Haji--became implacable Russian foes and struck deep roots in the Chechen countryside. Together with the rejuvenated Naqshbandis, the Qadiris rose up against the Romanovs in 1865, 1877, 1879 and the 1890s and plagued Czarist rule in the Caucasus through the Bolshevik Revolution.
The Russian conquest of Turkistan in 1800-1886 brought the use of overwhelming brute force followed by large-scale colonization. After 30 years of Russian expedition, General Kaufmann captured Khiva in 1873. Following the Russian victory, the Russian army carried out a genocide, in which even the women and children were mercilessly butchered. The Russians under Scobelev moved on to the Kokand area where they carried out bombardments of defenseless cities and bazaars. A general massacre of the Muslims followed in 1881 in which 8000 men and women were killed.
Another hero of the Muslim resistance against Imperial Russia was a Kazakh, Kine Sari, who fought the Russians from 1837 to 1846 east of the Ural River and the Kara Tav and Ulu Tav mountains, east of the Aral Sea. Following his murder, the Russians confiscated 14 million hectares of Kazakh steppe land and brought in 2 million Russian immigrants. It was a tragedy comparable to what had happened to the Native Indians in America and what was to happen to the Palestinians in Palestine.
In the year 1860, shortly after the Czarist Army moved into the Caucasus, more than 400,000 Muslims were killed. That is too high a price for a tiny nation: almost half the entire population! If that is not genocide, what is? The "pacification" of the Caucasus was not completed until 1864. This was quickly followed by a mass deportation of nearly a million of native peoples to Turkey but due to hunger, disease and hardships, less than half of them ever reached their destination. The deportation cleared large land areas in the northern Caucasus of the natives to be colonized by Russian settlers. Continual clashes between the settlers and the local Muslims continued right down to the Communist Revolution of 1917.
In 1916 the Merdikar (meaning man of work) Revolt broke out against the Russians. Governor General Kuropatkin led an extermination campaign against the Muslims, killing thousands. These rebellions of the Muslims helped indirectly the Bolshevik Revolution by tying up large Russian armies. As a result, in their earlier years, the Soviets praised the Muslim fighters. Later, however, these Jihad movements were termed as "reactionary" risings of the feudal classes. Great Mujahids like Kine Sari and Imam Shamil were also denounced as representatives of "Bourgeois Nationalism" and even as "bandits".
That is the history of massacre and genocide of Muslims during the Czarist Russia. Has this become any better in Communist Soviet Union?
On May 11, 1918 the Central Asian people, under the leadership of Naqshbandi Sufi Shaykh Uzun Haji, proclaimed their independence and set up an Islamic Republic of the Caucasus (called "North Caucasian Emirate”) but on March 30, 1920, Lenin ordered the Red Army to crush them and after bitter fighting, the capital city was captured, followed by a severe wave of Communist repression which only led to renewed resistance lasting for another eleven months. Lenin ordered the Caucasian Republic to be cut up into several administrative divisions. In Bukhara the Red Army plundered the city destroying many of the Madrasas and setting fire to the famous library containing what has been termed "the most valuable collection of Muslim manuscripts in the world."
The Muslim forces comprising the Sufi warriors continued their resistance to the Soviet armies in the mountain of eastern Bukhara and along the Afghan and Chinese frontiers. Thousands of Muslims were killed as the battles continued from 1920 to 1924. "Basmachi" resistance was finally stumped out in 1928 when Soviet forces crossed the Afghan border.
Before Lenin died, he gave order to change the Arabic alphabet to Latin which during Stalin's period was replaced by the Russian Cyrillic, so as to sever the ties of later generations of Muslims with their fellow Muslims elsewhere. [It is well known among serious researchers in ethnic studies that when a community’s connection with its religious language is terminated, that act alone is often sufficient to destroy its religiosity. Surely, that was the motive behind changing the Arabic alphabet.] During the terrible purges of 1936-37 mosques were closed down and turned into clubs and storehouses. 25,000 important religious personalities were arrested and then deported to slave labor camps in Siberia. Muslim lands were handed over to Russians, their flocks were seized and they were forced into barren steppe where hundreds of thousands died of starvation and disease. One out of every three Kazakhs perished in a similar way. (This statistics can easily be verified from the fact that while in 1926 there were 3.6 million Kazakhs, the number dropped to 3 millions in 1939, some 13 years later, in Kazakhstan.) The survivors hated Stalin so much so that during the World War II mass anti-communist uprisings took place in northern Caucasus. Almost a million Muslim soldiers deserted the Russian army and joined the Germans. [This attitude of subjugated masses is quite common. During the British rule of India, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, a nationalist leader from Bengal, traveled to Japan and Germany to foster ties with those regimes. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” seems to be the age-old maxim in this regard.]
But there were many Chechens and Ingush Muslims who fought alongside the Soviet Army. Towards the end of the Second World War, when Russia started triumphing over Germany, a veritable reign of terror gripped the Muslim territories. Stalin accused Muslims of being Nazi-sympathizers and ordered the arrest of every man, woman and child among the Chechens, Ingush, Balkars and Karachai. Nearly 300,000 were massacred. Those who were not executed on the spot, nearly a million people, were deported on Feb. 23, 1944, on cattle carts to slave-labor camps in Siberia and wastelands in the Central Asia. One-third of the population died during the journey. Many others perished under the harsh conditions of exile. For all practical purposes, the last two groups of people had totally ceased to exist. Thirteen years later, in 1957, under Khrushchev, the Chechens and Ingush people were reinstated, told it was a mistake and invited to return to their homelands. Many did so on the foot. While Chechens still had a home to return to, the Ingush Muslims found their lands and houses occupied by Christian Ossetians. According to David Damrel, “The Chechens, Ingush and Daghestanis also discovered a land scoured of Islam. Soviet authorities had experimented with the near total suppression of Islam in the region, closing over 800 mosques and 400 religious colleges. Mazars were demolished, converted into state museums, or made inaccessible. Only after more than 30 years, in 1978, Soviet authorities in the Caucasus allowed under 40 mosques to reopen and staffed them with less than 300 registered ulema.”
Apart from this political, economic and linguistic subjugation, there was a concerted effort to destroy Islam amongst the conquered Soviet Muslims. Before the Communist Revolution of 1917, there were 24,000 mosques. A count around 1980 showed that there were less than 300 in the entire USSR. Some of these mosques were used as museums, clubs, and bars. Ezaz Gailani in his article in the Impact International showed that even religious rituals like the fasting in the month of Ramadhan, Hajj, Zakah and religious dresses for Muslim women were prohibited in the USSR. There is also enough evidence about forced transfer of Muslim population form six Muslim majority areas to Siberia. [Anyone more interested to learn about the fate of Muslims in Russia is referred to the book, "Russia and Her Colonies" by Walter Kolarz.]
As noted by David Damrel, these anti-Islamic measures against "institutional" Islam had little impact on the Sufi brotherhoods, which had never relied on mosques and madrasas as their centers. The Sufi orders -- particularly the Naqshbandis – continued to organize their own clandestine Arabic classes and schools to teach the Qur‘an. In the 1970s, they regained their popularity in Chechnya behind a new Chechen Sufi brotherhood, called the Vis Haji after its founder, the Chechen Sufi Uways "Vis" Haji Zagiev. It is an offshoot of Kunta Haji’s branch of the Qadiri order. First identified in the camps in 1953, the Vis Haji combines scrupulous adherence to "conservative" Islam with unremitting anti-Russian, anti-Soviet rhetoric.
Probably very few places in our world provide a better similitude of an old adage "players change but the game continues" than Soviet Union when it comes to the fate of Muslims. Russian Orthodox Christian Czars were replaced by atheistic Communists in the Soviet Union. But their policy and the Muslim-hunting/slaughtering/genocidal campaign did not change. The Communist Russians simply continued the expansionist policy of the Czars.
From the 13th century onward, during the time of Czar Ivan the Terrible, the southward move is a recurring theme in Russian policy. Peter (the Great) followed the same footsteps followed earlier by his predecessors. Bolshevik Stalin, a great admirer of Ivan the Terrible, continued the same policy. Muslim states of Central Asia were the targets of aggression throughout. Brezhnev has followed the same footsteps. Soviet influence over Zahir Shah's regime in Afghanistan, its involvement in Daud takeover in 1974, in Taraki's so-called coup d'etat in 1978, and then Amin's drama of Taraki's overthrow and lastly Babrak Kamal's coming to power through the bloody coup are important elements in this Russian game of ever controlling the Muslim territories.
The research work "Red Clouds over Afghanistan", written by A. M. Manzer, points to the evidence that the Soviets were determined to carve out a Peoples' Republic of Baluchistan with the collusion of Baluchi Communists. It would cover parts of eastern Iran, southern Afghanistan and Baluchistan province of Pakistan. Fortunately, for the brave resistance of the Afghan Mujahideen, which resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Soviet forces, and the overthrow of their nearly 100,000 soldiers, that dream seems to have been somewhat punctuated.
And what a price did not the Afghans pay during Soviet occupation of their territories? Babrak Kamal himself admitted in an interview with Der Spiegel newspaper that more than 1.5 million Afghans were killed during the past two (1980-1) years; 16,000 political prisoners alone perished in Afghan jails. The occupation created roughly two million refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Russia used nerve gas and Napalm bombs against the Afghans. Land mines litter the country, and are responsible for maiming more than a million Afghans. The war was not only to kill, but also to liquidate entire territory including its vegetation with germ warfare. The Afghans are still paying with their lives for the war crimes committed against them.
The most conspicuous aspect of the Soviet foreign policy was that of wooing the Arabs and Iranians. But one cannot forget the fact that it was USSR, which was one of the pioneers in the creation of the Zionist state of Israel. It has mercilessly killed Muslims both within and outside its borders, practicing the most aggressive form of white colonial domination against Muslims. A careful and attentive mind would enable one to transcendent misleading propaganda launched by the Russians and reveal their hypocrisy to everyone in all its naked ugliness.
Decades of state atheism have inflicted an enormous loss to spiritual education amongst the Soviet Muslims. However, thanks to the Sufi brotherhoods, the process of spiritual resurrection is going on at the present moment. There are over five thousand clandestine mosques in Daghestan, about ten Islamic tertiary schools and hundreds of Madrasses. Annually nearly 80% of all pilgrims to Makkah from Russia are the Daghestani Muslims.
In this resurrection of Islam, the roles played by the Jadid movement and the Naqshabandi and Qadiri Sufis of the Caucasus cannot be ignored.
The Jadids, who appeared in Kazan in the 1880’s first demanded the renewal and reform of the old system of Muslim education. Then they proclaimed certain political aims as well. The most prominent members of this movement were: Shibhaddin Marjani, an outstanding theologian and Islam reformer (1818-1889), Ismail Gasprinsky, a journalist and a scholar (1851-1914), Rizauddin Farhiddinov, the Mufti of Ufa, Musa Bigiyev, the writer of new-method school-books.
The history of the Jadid movement can be divided into two parts: from 1880 to 1905, and from 1905 to 1917. In the first period, they didn’t have many people on their side, whereas in the second period the New-Methodists were a serious power, widely supported by their fellow-Muslims. They began to develop as a social and political movement, supported by the craving of the so-called ethnical Muslims for a renewed Muslim spirituality and revived Islam. The new-Methodist movement had strong influences in the Volga region, the Crimea, Azerbaijan and Daghestan.
These people were not the “destroyers of the old order”. On the contrary, their primary aim was to renew the religious education to let Muslims take a more active part in the political life in Russia. The New-Methodists, whose activity in education was very much like the atmosphere in many of the present-day Muslim educational institutions, were cautious about natural sciences, taking them only as a tool for the more profound understanding of religion.
As to the influence of the Sufis, reliable membership figures are impossible to establish, but a 1975 Soviet survey in Chechnya claimed that half of the Muslim population there belonged to local Sufi orders -- a stunning total of over 300,000 murids. The Naqshbandis, joined later by the Qadiri Sufi brotherhood, have dominated north Caucasian Muslim spiritual life from the late eighteenth century to the present day. Naturally secretive and disciplined, with broad-based social support and foreboding mountainous terrain for cover, these orders have proven formidable adversaries for whoever has tried to rule the Caucasus.
With such a grass-root support for the Sufi orders, no matter how the atheist and communist Russians try they will never be able to extinguish the light of Islam from the hearts and souls of Muslims in the Soviet Union.
[This essay is a revised and expanded version of the author’s lecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1982.]

Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis in Bangladesh

[Written in collaboration with Dr. Nora Rowley]

When a widely circulated newspaper like the New York Times picks up the matter of ill-treatment of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, it is no small matter. It is a matter of grievous concern and shame to tens of thousands of Bangladeshi-Americans who live in and around the Big Apple state. In its February 20 publication the headline read, “Burmese Refugees Persecuted in Bangladesh.” It said, “Stateless refugees from Myanmar are suffering beatings and deportation in Bangladesh, according to aid workers and rights groups who say thousands are crowding into a squalid camp where they face starvation and disease.” It described the situation as a humanitarian crisis.

The NY Times report should come as no surprise to many of us who have been following the inhuman condition of the Rohingyas around the world for a number of years. In its Special Report, dated February 18, “Bangladesh: Violent Crackdown Fuels Humanitarian Crisis for Unrecognized Rohingya Refugees,” the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) criticized the Bangladesh government for violent crackdown against the stateless Rohingyas in Bangladesh. It was a chastising report in which the MSF called for an immediate end to the violence, along with urgent measures by the Government of Bangladesh and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to increase protection to Rohingya refugees seeking asylum in the country.

Last month the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) issued an emergency report, “Stateless and Starving: Persecuted Rohingya Flee Burma and Starve in Bangladesh”. This report reveals a PHR emergency assessment of 18.3% acute malnutrition in children. This level of child malnutrition is “considered “critical” by the World Health Organization (WHO), which recommends in such crises that adequate food aid be delivered to the entire population to avoid high numbers of preventable deaths.” The extreme food insecurity causing this critical level of malnutrition is the direct consequence of Bangladesh government authorities’ restricting movement and, therefore, income generation of the Rohingya, and actively obstructing the amount of international humanitarian aid to this population.

Last week, the American Muslim Taskforce (AMT), an umbrella organization that includes the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), amongst other Muslim organizations in the USA, hosted a press conference in the National Press Club, Washington D.C. to discuss human rights abuses in Bangladesh. In his inaugural statement, Mr. Wright Mahdi Bray of the AMT brought up the squalid living conditions of the Rohingya refugees inside Bangladesh. In the last few years we have raised the Rohingya issue a few times with Bangladesh government, but have failed to improve the deplorable condition.

Denied citizenship rights and subjected to repeated abuse and forced slave labor in their ancestral homes in the Arakan/Rakhine state of Burma by a xenophobic Buddhist government, where they cannot travel, marry or practice their religion freely, and betrayed and battered by their Magh Rakhine co-residents, many Rohingya Muslims have hardly any option left for them to survive with dignity other than seeking refuge outside. The neighboring Bangladesh to the north-west with her huge Muslim population and historical ties with Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar, dating back centuries earlier during the Arakanese rule of those districts (1538-1666), provides a natural setting for seeking shelter. Thus, when the Burmese genocidal campaigns – Naga Min (1978-79) and Pyi Thaya (1991-92) – forced eviction of some 300,000 and 268,000 Rohingya refugees, respectively, to seek shelter outside it was Bangladesh where they ended up.

With the assistance of the UNHCR, Bangladesh repatriated most of those refugees back to Arakan. Still, however, tens of thousands of Rohingyas never returned, especially from the second batch of major exodus in 1991-92. The on-going Nasaka operation and targeted violence by the Rakhine Maghs inside the Rakhine state have also forced many Rohingyas to leave their ancestral land and return again to Bangladesh. Many of those refugees have often used Bangladesh as a transit point to seek better shelters elsewhere. Many of the Rohingyas have ended up in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, and also in Pakistan.

As noted recently by Syed Neaz Ahmad in a New Age article, the late King Faisal’s kind gesture to offer the fleeing Rohingyas a permanent abode in Saudi Arabia is no longer respected by the new rulers who have restricted their employment and movement within the Kingdom. According to him some three thousand Rohingya families are in Makkah and Jeddah prisons awaiting their deportation. It is good to hear that the Pakistan government has agreed to take these unwanted refugees. (Islamabad can also do a noble job, albeit a delayed one for the past four decades, in taking some 300,000 stranded Pakistanis – living a miserable life in camps in Bangladesh.)

There are some 13,600 Rohingyas registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia, an estimated 3,000 in Thailand, and unknown numbers in India. Small number of Rohingya refugees also lives in Japan, Australia and the USA. The total number of Rohingya refugees living inside Bangladesh today is not known. The UNHCR stopped documenting the Rohingyas after 1991 as they shifted their focus to Africa and Eastern Europe. From my contacts within the Rohingya leadership, the estimate is around 400,000. Of these refugees, only 28,000 are recognized as prima facie refugees by the Government of Bangladesh and live in official camps under the supervision of the UNHCR. The official camp has everything: primary schools, a computer learning centre funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, health care centers, adult literacy centers, supplementary food centers for children and pregnant women.

Except a handful of wealthy Rohingyas who have been able to settle comfortably within the big cities, the rest of the refugees struggle to survive unrecognized and largely unassisted and unprotected, living in dire humanitarian condition with food insecurity, poor water and appalling sanitation. They live mostly in and around Cox’s Bazar and the Hilly districts of Chittagong. Some of the unfortunate refugees have also ended up living in slums of big cities like Dhaka and Chittagong. As reported by the MSF and the Amnesty International, these Rohingya refugees are treated as unwanted folks and have faced repeated beatings and harassment, including forcible repatriation to Myanmar. Many refugees, who had been repatriated to their country in the past, had entered Bangladesh again as they did not find any development and change in the attitude of the Myanmar authorities.

Some Rohingya refugees live at a makeshift camp in Kutupalong, south of Cox’s Bazar. Last June and July the local authorities destroyed 259 homes in that makeshift camp to clear space around the perimeter of the official UNHCR camp at Kutupalong. There was a crackdown in October in Bandarban District, east of Cox’s Bazar, forcing many Rohigyas to take shelter in the makeshift camp in Kutupalong. In January 2010, another crackdown followed the refugees living in Cox’s Bazar District. To add to the brutality of the authorities, the Rohingyas also suffer at the hands of the local population, whose anti-Rohingya sentiment is fuelled by local leaders and the media.

This was not the first time that this kind of problem emerged for the fleeing Rohingyas. In 2002 during the police action “Operation Clean Heart” many Rohingyas were violently forced from their homes, which led to the establishment of the original Tal makeshift camp on a swamp-like patch of ground. This camp relocated, and in the spring of 2006 MSF started a medical program at the new site, where at the time around 5,700 unregistered Rohingya lived in awful, unsanitary conditions on a small strip of flood land in Teknaf in the Cox’s Bazar District. After two years of providing humanitarian assistance, and following strong advocacy by MSF, which ultimately gained the support of UNHCR and the international community, the Government of Bangladesh allocated new land in Leda Bazar for around 10,000 people in mid-2008. Less than one year later, nearly 13,000 people were living in Leda Bazar Camp, their fundamental living conditions having changed little. According to the MSF, these people continue to struggle to survive without recognition and opportunities to provide for themselves inside an increasingly hostile environment.
With a total population of over 28,400, the unregistered Rohingya at Kutupalong makeshift camp now outnumber the total registered refugee population supported by the UNHCR in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government has repeatedly stopped registration of those unfortunate refugees living outside the official camps. Without official recognition these people are forced to live in overcrowded squalor, unprotected and largely unassisted. Prevented from supporting themselves, they also do not qualify for the UNHCR-supported food relief. And sadly, the UNHCR, which is mandated to protect refugees worldwide, makes little or no visible protest at the injustice of this situation.
According to the MSF, the UNHCR is guilty of not taking the return of the Rohingyas as a priority issue. The Office of the UNHCR must take greater steps to protect the unregistered Rohingya seeking asylum in Bangladesh. The UNHCR must not allow the terms of its agreement with the government to undermine its role as international protector of the Rohingyas who have lost the protection of their own state - Myanmar, and have no state to turn to. Any failure to protect the Rohingyas inside and outside Myanmar is simply not acceptable.
We are told that as a poor country, Bangladesh faces a dilemma about the Rohingya refugees. If she shows too much flexibility a huge influx may occur, while being harsh creates concern among international community. Nevertheless, Bangladesh government’s forced repatriation of the refugees against their wishes is simply inhuman and violates international humanitarian laws. It must be immediately stopped, failing which its international image may suffer terribly. It must also stop all harassment against the Rohingyas. Temporary residency permits should be provided to the refugees so that they can earn their livelihood like any other Bangladeshi. There is nothing worse than a forced poverty which leads to crime and other serious problems. Should the refugees choose to leave Bangladesh for a third country the government should not hinder that process either. It must also make all diplomatic efforts to find shelters for these stranded refugees in sparsely populated and prosperous countries of Europe and North America, and the Gulf states.

The Rohingya refugees remain trapped in a desperate situation with no future in Bangladesh. These unfortunate people are caught between a crocodile and a snake: neither the xenophobic SPDC regime wants them back in Myanmar, nor does the Bangladesh government want them to stay because they are largely perceived as a burden on already scant resources. Outside China, none of the neighboring countries of Burma has ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. This must change by ratifying those conventions.

As the Thai boat crisis of 2009 made clear, regional comprehensive solutions are needed to the situation of the stateless Rohingya. The international community must support the Government of Bangladesh and UNHCR to adopt measures to guarantee the unregistered Rohingya’s lasting dignity and well-being in Bangladesh.

[Dr. Rowley is a medical doctor who as part of MSF worked with the Rohingya people inside Arakan. She is currently affiliated with the US Campaign for Burma.]