Sunday, August 28, 2011

The blessed Night of Power

The blessed month of Ramadan is coming to an end. The first one-third of the month was for seeking mercy, the middle one-third for forgiveness and the last one-third for salvation from the Fire of Hell. In the last part of this month lies hidden the Night of Power or Decree (Laylatul Qadr) about which Allah says in the Qur’an:
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. (97:3)

As to the reason behind revelation of this powerful verse of the Qur’an, Imam as-Suyuti (rahmatullahi alayh) mentions in his book "Lubaabun Nuqool" that once Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, meaning - may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him) [herein after abbreviated as (S)], mentioned about the story of a person from among the Children of Israel who had strived (jihad fi-sabilillah) in the path of Allah for 1000 months. Upon hearing this, the Sahabah (companions) were astonished and at the same time they became very despondent on the basis that how will they ever be able to accomplish such a feat (after all, very few live that long to be able to engage oneself in jihad for 83 years and 4 months). So Allah revealed this noble verse as a solace to the believers. The followers of Muhammad (S) don’t have to match what that pious Israelite had done; only a fully engaged worship of one night in the Night of Power (Laylatul Qadr) – would be equivalent in merit.

A similar story is mentioned in another Hadith: there was a pious man from the Children of Israel who used to be engaged in the worship of Allah from the evening till the following morning, and then be engaged in the jihad fi-sabilillah from the morning till the evening. He did this continuously for a thousand months. So Allah revealed this verse stating that the worship in this night alone is better than the thousand months which the person had spent in worship and jihad.

So, the question arises when is this Night of Power? The answer is provided by Prophet Muhammad (S) who said: “Seek it in the last ten; and if one of you is too weak or unable then let him not allow that to make him miss the final seven.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Although to encourage worship amongst believers, this Night has not been pinpointed, a more common understanding amongst Muslims is that it falls on an odd night (23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th), and possibly the 27th of Ramadan.

Because of its merit, the Prophet (S) used to exert himself greatly during Laylatul-Qadr. He would spend the nights in worship. The Prophet (S) said: “Whoever stands (in prayer) in Laylatul Qadr out of Iman (faith) and seeking reward then his previous sins are forgiven.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Given the fact that the people of the Book (e.g., Children of Israel and Christians) don’t have anything remotely close to this blessing, Muslims feel highly blessed by God because of unfathomable merits of this blessed night which comes every year during the month of Ramadan – the Muslim month of fasting. It is, thus, not surprising to witness that many pious Muslims spend the entire night of the last 7 to 10 days of Ramadan awake -- praying, reciting the Qur'an and giving away charity (specially in disbursing their zakat and sadqah) hoping to earn the merit of good deeds of 1000 months.

On a comparable matter, it is worth noting that the Jewish Jubilee (Hebrew Yov-el) year - preeminently a time of joy, the year of remission or universal pardon - is the year at the end of seven cycles of Sabbatical years (Hebrew Shmita). And according to the Bible it came once every fifty years: “You shall sanctify the 50th year and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants; it shall be the Jubilee year for you, you shall return each person to his ancestral heritage and you shall return each to his family. It shall be a Jubilee Year for you - the 50th year - you shall not sow, you shall not harvest its after-growth and you shall not pick what was set aside of it for yourself. For it is a Jubilee Year, it shall be holy to you; from the field you eat its crop." (Leviticus 25:10-13)

Basically, these verses indicate that the Jubilee required all debts between ALL people (Jews and gentiles alike) to be annulled (although the practice was limited amongst the Jews only). Also, any Jew that sold his or herself into slavery is to be released, whether they worked the amount of time they promised, or not.
Rashi, an eleventh century (CE) Jewish scholar, pointed out that the world Jubilee was related to the Hebrew word for "ram," alluding to the fact that the Jubilee year was proclaimed by the blast of a ram's horn. Nachmanides, another great Jewish scholar, added that the word Jubilee was also related to the Hebrew word which means "to move around." Thus, all Jews who had sold themselves into slavery, or were shackled (so to speak) by debt, were to be released from their bonds on the Jubilee year and were to be given the freedom to move around freely.

According to the rabbinical sources, the origination of the counting of the Jubilee Year did not quite start with the time when the Children of Israel had entered the Holy Land (under Joshua), but rather after they finished conquering the Holy Land and after apportioning it to each family, which was 1288 BCE (Ref: Maimonides - Laws of Shmita and Jubilee 10:2). The first Jubilee was forty-nine years later.

Although the Sanhedrin was in charge of counting the years and ensuring its accuracy, and ensuring that the Jewish nation was notified of the Jubilee year's arrival by the blast of the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur (Leviticus 25:8 and Numbers 35:4), there is absolutely no credible historical evidence suggesting that it was observed religiously every fifty years in the centuries shortly before the advent of Jesus. The latter evidences even suggest that it might have been observed every hundred years during the time of Jesus, son of Mary.

For example, the apocryphal book – Gospel of Barnabas – puts these words in the mouth of Jesus, saying: “I am indeed sent to the house of Israel as a prophet of salvation; but after me shall come the Messiah, sent of God to all the world; for whom God hath made the world. And then through all the world will God be worshipped, and mercy received, insomuch that the year of jubilee, which now cometh every hundred years, shall by the Messiah be reduced to every year in every place.” (Chapter 82)

As to the identity of this Messiah, the Jesus of the Gospel of Barnabas, is quite explicit, when asked by a priest, answering: "The name of the Messiah is admirable [Ar. Muhammad], for God himself gave him the name when he had created his soul, and placed it in a celestial splendour. God said: "Wait Muhammad; for your sake I will to create paradise, the world, and a great multitude of creatures, whereof I make you a present, insomuch that whoever shall bless you shall be blessed, and whoever shall curse you shall be accursed. When I shall send you into the world I shall send you as my Messenger of salvation, and your word shall be true, insomuch that heaven and earth shall fail, but your faith shall never fail." Muhammad is his blessed name." Then the crowd lifted up their voices, saying: "O God send us your Messenger: O Muhammad, come quickly for the salvation of the world!" (Chapter 97)

In chapter 84, the Jesus of Gospel of Barnabas after completing one of the midnight prayers reportedly said, "Let us give thanks to God because he has given to us this night great mercy; for that he has made to come back the time that needs must pass in the night, in that we have made prayer in union with the Messenger of God. And I have heard his voice." The disciples rejoiced greatly at hearing this…”
Is it possible that the aforementioned night is the Laylatul Qadr – the Night of Power, mentioned in the Qur’an? And God knows the best!
====-====

Whatever may be the controversy surrounding the authenticity of each of the gospels – canonical and apocryphal – now attributed to the disciples – real or self-styled – of Jesus, son of Mary, the Qur’an – the Last Testament of God to mankind - is rather unambiguous about the merit of Laylatul Qadr. This night, thus, remains the most sought-after night amongst the faithful Muslims.

As the end of the blessed month of Ramadan approaches, let us remind ourselves with the wise advice of Abul Abbas al-Sabti (may Allah have mercy on him): "The secret of Fasting is that you are hungry. When you are hungry you remember the one who is always hungry and know the strength of the fire of hunger that afflicts him, so that you become charitable towards him. Thus, if you deny yourself food but have no compassion for the hungry and your Fasting does not cause this idea to occur to you, you have not [truly] Fasted and have not understood the intended meaning of the Fast." [Al-Tashawwuf ila rijal al-tasawwuf wa akhbar Abil Abbas al-Sabti: Yusuf ibn al-Zayyat al-Tadili]

According to ‘Ubadah ibn al-Samit (may Allah be pleased with him), a Companion, the Prophet Muhammad (S) used to say upon entering this month of Ramadan: "O Allah, greet and save me for Ramadan; greet and save Ramadan; greet and save Ramadan on my behalf, and grant me its acceptance (Allahumma sallimnee li ramadana wa sallim ramadana wa sallimhu minnee mutaqabbilan)."

May Allah accept our fasting and save us for this and the next Ramadan. Amin.

I wish you all a happy Eid.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Disturbing Evangelical Trends in Politics of America

An emerging Christian movement that seeks to take dominion over politics, business and culture in preparation for the end times and the return of Jesus is establishing a presence in American politics. The leaders are considered apostles and prophets, gifted by God for this role.

The International Apostolic and Prophetic Movement was named the New Apostolic Reformation, or NAR, by its leading architect, C. Peter Wagner. Rachel Tabachnick has been researching and writing about this movement. She says although the movement is larger than the network of apostles organized by Wagner, and not all those connected with the movement describe themselves as part of Wagner's NAR, the apostles and prophets of the movement have an identifiable ideology that separates them from other Evangelicals.

Two ministries in the movement, The Call, led by Lou Engle, and the International House of Prayer, led by Mike Bickle, helped organize Rick Perry's recent prayer rally, where apostles and prophets from around the nation spoke or appeared on stage.

The Kenyan pastor who anointed Sarah Palin at the Wasilla Assembly of God Church in 2005 while praying for Jesus to protect her from the spirit of witchcraft is also part of this movement.

For details, please, read the NPR's transcript of the interview conducted in the Fresh Air by Terry Gross with Rachel Tabachnick on August 24.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Essence of Ramadan

Muslims throughout the world are now observing Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting in accordance with the dictates of the Qur’an – the Muslim Holy Scripture, in which they are commanded by Allah:
O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint (Taqwa). (2:183)

The word "Ramadan" comes from the Arabic root word for "parched thirst" and "sun-baked ground." Through fasting, a Muslim experiences hunger and thirst, and sympathizes with those in the world who have little to eat and drink every day. It teaches him/her to be charitable. Through increased charity, Muslims develop feelings of generosity and good-will toward others.

As is clear from the above Qur’anic verse, the essence of fasting is learning Taqwa, which is more than self-restraint (translated above). It is God-consciousness which endows the person (the Muttaqi) to be aware of the presence of Allah in every moment of his/her life.

As to the characteristics of a Muttaqi, the Qur’an says:
It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards east or west; but it is righteousness - to believe in God and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the muttaqoon. (2:177)
In his famous book Kimiya-e Sa’dat, Imam al-Ghazzali (r) tells the story of a certain Shaykh [Junayd al-Baghdadi (r)] who favored one of his disciples over others because of the latter’s God-consciousness. Other disciples obviously were jealous about the Shaykh’s favoritism. One day to prove the point, the Shaykh gave each disciple a fowl to kill it in a place where no one could see him. All the disciples returned after killing their fowls, except the favored disciple. The Shaykh inquired why he had returned with the live fowl. The disciple replied, “I could not find a place where Allah would not see me.” His God-consciousness (Taqwa) did not allow him to be heedless of Allah’s presence. The Shaykh then told his other disciples: “Now you know this youth’s real rank; he has attained to the constant remembrance of Allah.”

Fasting increases devotion, and brings a Muslim closer to the Creator. It creates the recognition that everything we have in this life is a blessing from Him. It teaches self-control or -restraint, and thereby, good manners, good speech, and good habits.
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the major pillars of Islam, and this is also noted in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (S) [blessings of Allah and peace be upon him] who said: “Islam is based on (the following) five (principles): (1) To testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and Muhammad is Allah's Apostle; (2) to establish the prayers; (3) to pay Zakat (i.e. obligatory charity); (4) to perform Hajj (i.e. Pilgrimage to Makkah); (5) to observe fast during the month of Ramadan.” [Bukhari: (narrated by) Abdullah Ibn 'Umar]
While fasting is an obligation for all able-bodied persons who are not traveling or sick, it is also clear from some other verses of the Qur’an and numerous sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (S) that fasting is not restricted to the month of Ramadan, and can be observed voluntarily at other times. The Prophet (S) used to fast on Mondays and Thursdays almost on a regular basis. Fasting a certain number of days (or offering charity or sacrifice) can be an expiation for missing out (or unintentionally breaking) some religious obligations of either Hajj or ‘Umra (Qur’an 2:196, 5:96), and for forgetting or breaking one’s oaths or promises (Qur’an 5:89).

Great merits and rewards – both physical and spiritual – can be drawn from fasting. As noted by Dr. Shahid Athar, M.D., “The physiological effect of fasting includes lowering of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. In fact, Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for the treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obesity, and essential hypertension.”

As stated in the Qur’an, Allah promises forgiveness and vast reward for a fasting person:

Lo! Muslim men and women (who submit to Allah), and men who believe and women who believe, and men who obey and women who obey, and men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth, and men who persevere (in righteousness) and women who persevere, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their modesty and women who guard (their modesty), and men who remember Allah much and women who remember - Allah hath prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward. (33:35)

In a well-known hadith, Muhammad (S) said, “Allah, the Almighty and Master of Honor, says: ‘All actions of a person are for himself, except the case of his fasting which is exclusively for Me and I shall pay (recompense) for him for the same.’ The fast is a shield (against vice and the fire of Hell). Therefore when anyone of you is fasting he should abstain from loose talk and avoid verbosity and noisy exchange of words.” [Bukhari and Muslim: Abu Hurayrah]

And when one combines such meritorious deeds like prayer, fasting and charity (three of the five pillars of Islam) during the month of Ramadan, which is described as a month of blessing when the Qur’an was revealed, Allah promises immense rewards. Muhammad (S), Allah's Apostle said: "Whoever establishes prayers during the nights of Ramadan faithfully out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah's rewards (not for showing off), all his past sins will be forgiven." [Bukhari: Abu Hurayrah]

To a Muslim, it is this state of God-consciousness, attainable through fasting -- for surely, the evils of the nafs (ego, evil-self, etc.) cannot be tamed without this, which is learned in the blessed month of Ramadan. It is at this stage that a person truly becomes Allah’s servant (‘abd) for whom He says in the Qur’an:

When My servants ask thee (Muhammad) concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way. (2: 186)

Alas, today’s Muslims are a far cry from those who follow the dictates of the Qur’an. They may like to listen to the advice of Ibrahim ibn Adham (r), a great saint of Islam, when he was asked, "Allahu ta'ala declares: 'O My human creatures! Ask Me! I will accept, I will give!’ Nonetheless, we ask but He does not give?"

Ibrahim (r) said: "You entreat Allahu ta'ala, but you do not obey Him. You know His Prophet (S), but you do not follow him. You read the Qur'an al-Karim, but you do not follow the way it prescribes. You utilize Allah ta'ala's blessings, but you do not thank Him. You know that Paradise is for those who worship, but you do not make preparations for it. You know that He has created Hell for the disobedient, but you do not fear it. You see what happened to your fathers and grandfathers, but you do not take a warning. You do not see your own defects, and you search for defects in others. Such people must be thankful, since it does not rain stones on them, since they do not sink into the earth, and since it does not rain fire from the sky! What else could they want? Would not this suffice as a recompense for their prayers?" [Ithbat an-Nubuwwat]

On another occasion, somebody asked the Ibrahim ibn Adham (r) for advice. He said: “If you accept six things, nothing you do will harm you. These six things are:
1) When you intend to commit a sin, do not eat the food He gives. Does it befit you to eat His food and to disobey Him?
2) When you want to rebel against Him, go out of His Domain. Does it befit you to be in His Domain and to be in rebellion against Him?
3) When you want to disobey Him, do not sin where He sees you. Sin where He does not see you! It is simply unbecoming to be in His Domain, to eat His food and then to sin where He sees you!
4) When the Angel of Death comes to take away your soul, ask him to wait till you repent. You cannot turn that angel back! Repent before he comes, while you have the chance at this very hour, for the Angel of Death comes unexpectedly!
5) When the two angels Munkar and Nakir come to question you in the grave, turn them back. Do not let them test you!”
“It is impossible,” said the person who asked for his advice.
Ibrahim (r) said, "Then prepare your answers now!"
6) On the Day of Resurrection, when Allah ta'ala declares: "Sinners, go to Hell!" say that you will not!
The person said, "Nobody will listen to me," and then repented; he did not disavow his sense of penitence up until death. There is a Divine effect in the words of a saint. [Islamic Wisdom]

May this Ramadan lay the foundation stone to the path of Taqwa!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bangladesh’s Political Insanity?

In recent days, the Economist of the U.K. seems to have taken more than a casual interest about the sad state of politics inside Bangladesh, which has been a nasty partisan one with an illiberal democracy for the last two decades. While such an interest may be a boon to stir a healthy debate about the health of a failing democracy, I was not too happy with the partisan tone of the analyst who wrote on August 13 under the pseudonym Banyan. It is absurd to take such pieces seriously when we even don't know who has written the piece.

The politics in Bangladesh has been abused by those in power with a winner-takes-all attitude. This trend was neither started by the ruling Awami League when in 2008 it swept to power in a landslide, nor will it probably end with its fall. The ruling party never learns how to compromise and build consensus across the aisle on the parliament floor. It carries out partisan policies and takes draconian measures, all aimed at marginalizing its opposition, hoping that such would ensure its victory in the next election, only to find that they are rejected by its electorate. This is the most important lesson which the leaders of Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), often accused of entertaining dynastic ideas, have foolishly tried to be oblivious of. There is a name for such an attitude. I call it insanity!

True to Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s remark more than half a century ago that “What Bengal (comprising of today’s Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal in India) thinks today, India thinks tomorrow,” the Bangladeshi people are probably the most politically conscious of all the people living in South Asia. They have never made a mistake when they went to the polls to disrobe a political party while replacing it by another. They were not wrong when they voted for the Jukto Front in 1954 and the Awami League in 1970 as part of what was once East Pakistan. Minus the military period of 1975-91, nor were they wrong in any election held ever since December 16 of 1971, when Bangladesh emerged as an independent nation. They were not wrong when in 1946 they overwhelmingly voted for Pakistan in what was then British India. They were not wrong either in December of 2008 when they voted for the coalition led by Mrs Hasina Wazed of the Awami League.

Unfortunately, this piece of essential history, that has defined much of the Bangladeshi character, its sense of intellectual superiority and political correctness, is often forgotten by the new leaders that came to power since 1975.

If today’s leaders of major political parties had respected their electorate and learned that bitter lesson that Bangladeshi people don't like the aspiring Pharaohs, Nawabs and princes, the arrogant snobs and the extremist zealots, the thugs and robbers that spoil and steal their wealth, we would have been spared of this insanity and it could have been a big plus for the failing health of democracy in Bangladesh. If they had learned that ‘the politics of Bengal is in reality the economics of Bengal’, they probably would have cared more for improving the economy rather than coming up with chauvinistic political agendas and narratives that have brought nothing good but harmed the economy of the country through mindless strikes and counter-strikes.

And probably, there has never been a better time in the last two decades to changing this paradigm than after the election of December 2008, dubbed my most outside experts as the fairest poll in the country’s four-decade history. There was that wave of national optimism that the newly sworn Prime Minister would use her party’s popularity to strengthen democratic institutions and pursue national reconciliation, putting an end to a vicious cycle of nasty politics between the Awami League and its major rival, the BNP. But that hope seems to be scuttled by allegations that she had used the huge mandate for partisan advantage. Her opponents say that she has been more interested in sanctifying her late father’s (Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman -- who was the founder of the country) image and solidifying her party’s position than real changes that are necessary to either change Bangladesh from an illiberal democracy to a liberal democracy or improve her economy from its 7 percent GDP growth rate to a healthier double digit one.

There is no denying that power is abused in every illiberal democracy, let alone autocratic, anti-people regimes of our planet. It is this abuse at the top which leads to unfathomable corruption and crime spreading like a virus in every public sector. And, in this regard, Bangladesh has plenty of examples with filthy rich politicians, their beneficiaries and benefactors. She has her share of ‘untouchable’ ‘princes’, a few ‘disposable’ godfathers, and many sycophants. Thus, when the erstwhile military-controlled Caretaker Government came into power in 2007, putting some of these thugs behind the prison cells, people started celebrating and dreaming once again (much like the independence day celebration of 1971) that their days of sad past living under the thugs and criminals were over. It only took few months to have the rude awakening that ‘whoever goes to Lanka becomes a Ravana.’ The caretaker government was no saint!

Bangladesh’s history is, therefore, a sad tragicomedy played by political actors who come and go through the swing door of politics, never to learn from its bloody past that has witnessed so many assassinations. As my sagacious father would say it would require seven layers of soil to be exchanged before anything good to come out of this unfortunate land! A sad commentary, and yet, probably a correct one, for an unfortunate people!

Politics and, more correctly, the political leaders have betrayed the Bangladeshi people too long by choking their legitimate aspirations to live in a crimeless and corruption-less society. They forget about accountability for their misdeeds, which is a corner stone of democracy. Thus, when swept out of power, they cry foul with new government inquiries and ensuing legal actions, which may put them behind the prison walls. When in power, they seem to fancy that this day of hardship would never visit them. What a selective amnesia!

No one should ever think that they are above the law. I have no sympathy for criminals and corrupt guys. The government owes its people the simple task of ensuring checks and balances by prosecuting them in a free trial. The process ought to be fair and transparent and cannot be seen partisan-like where the ruling party’s thugs dodge the long arms of the law and justice while their counterparts in the opposition are prosecuted. The opposition leaders simply cannot cry foul when their kith and kin and buddies are charged for money-laundering and other crimes.

The Economist writer Banyan’s claims about the reasons behind the troubles with Dr. Yunus are too childish to be taken seriously. Dr. Yunus, in spite of all the great things he has been doing globally, is, however, not above criticism. He has been accused of making some mistakes as to how he ran the Grameen Bank. His poverty-alleviation micro-finance program has had many detractors, including economists like Professor Anu Muhammad, who had tried to paint him as a viper that has been “sucking blood from the poor borrowers.” In spite of his quite visible Mandela-like humility, he has been accused of having a big ego that has come to conflict with others vying for the same media spotlight. But to claim that the current troubles of Dr. Yunus owe solely to popularity contest with Sk. Hasina and her slain father is simply too ludicrous!

Sk. Mujib was a towering figure in the politics of Bangladesh, and as shown in the 2004 poll (when BNP was in power), conducted on the worldwide listeners of BBC's Bengali radio service, was voted the "Greatest Bengali of All Time" beating Rabindranath Tagore, another Nobel laureate, and others. It is doubtful that Dr Yunus or anyone in our time would be able to eclipse that image of the Bangabandhu.

Banyan is seemingly against the current War Tribunal in Bangladesh and finds witch-hunting in government's efforts to try the alleged criminals. He forgets that the ruling party had a mandate to close this sad chapter of Bangladesh by trying those accused of committing one of the worst crimes of our time, which has killed some 3 hundred thousand Bangladeshis. (Note: while no serious effort has been taken inside Bangladesh to count the number of those killed during the War of Liberation, some recent research findings do suggest that the actual figure was well below 3 million - the commonly accepted figure in Bangladesh.) During that sad chapter the roles of some politicians now belonging to the opposition was anything but humanly. They were monsters, torturing and killing their fellow Bangladeshis like rats and mosquitoes. One of the accused in the trial personally led a torture cell in his father's residence. I personally know of a few victims, who were students then that were tortured by him mercilessly. He himself killed an elderly Bangladeshi in an execution style murder in 1971.

One would have thought that there was no place for such killers in Bangladeshi politics, especially in a party that was formed by a freedom fighter. Sadly, his criminal prowess, instead of making him a pariah, a persona non grata, simply endeared him to the BNP leadership. He was made a ranking member of the party and bestowed a state ministerial rank. And, this, in spite of his vulgar and trashy talks, some lobbed against his own boss! On a personal note, he abused his power to grab our properties in Khulshi, Chittagong. Land-grabbing and murder of innocent human beings are no small matter. One cannot but wonder what message Mrs Zia was delivering to our people when she allowed such murderers to join her party and become ministers!

Accusations have been made in the Economist that the War Tribunal proceedings in Bangladesh are not fair. I am not aware of any war tribunal that has not been accused of being imperfect. Even the Nuremburg Trial has not been spared of such accusations and has been called 'politically motivated' since it was carried out by the opponents of the Nazis. As to the shoddy trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1962 in Israel, the least said the better. And yet, in spite of such accusations, no one would dispute that each of these trials was able to do justice.

I don't see why today Bangladesh Government would fail to carry out its national obligation by trying the alleged war criminals fairly. As I wrote last year, such trials should never be abused for witch-hunting the opposition, and I am assured that the Commission’s office is not abused. The defenders would have all means to defend themselves against the charges. As to the treatment of the accused, I am also told that they are treated humanly, and much better treated than what the USA and the UK governments had done with their shoddy trials of suspected terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11. Let's face it, compared to how those suspects like KSM and others in Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan are treated, the suspected war criminals in Bangladesh are getting a five-star celebrity treatment!

What Banyan forgets is that our world needs more, and not less, of war tribunals so that no one, not even Bush and Blair, Rumsfeld and Cheney, can dodge their accountability for crimes against humanity. [It is good to hear the recent courageous verdict by Judge Hamilton of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit who refused to grant former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others immunity from lawsuits which “would amount to an extraordinary abdication of our (U.S.) government’s checks and balances that preserve Americans’ liberty.” The case is important because it makes clear — for the first time — that government officials can be held accountable for the intentional mistreatment of American citizens, even if that conduct happens in a war zone. (Sadly, there remains no accountability for the abuse, and torture, of foreigners by American jailers and interrogators, which Mr. Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush personally sanctioned.)]

Banyan tries to make fun of the use of 'sir' for the current Prime Minister. Is Banyan aware of the fact that many successful female CEO's don't like the term 'madam' for them, and insist that they be addressed as 'sir'? Banyon may like to check out with Pepsi Co.'s CEO - Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi.

Banyan's article has distorted some facts. No one has been prosecuted for criticizing the amended constitution. Opposition leaders have simply been warned as they threatened to throw away the constitution and thus implicitly encourage unconstitutional means to take over power. Violence is not the way to solve anything, and surely not a constitutional problem. There is a place for such a debate. It is the Parliament. That is where the BNP and other opposition party members ought to debate.

As noted above, the article in the Economist does little good to steer a healthy debate about politics in Bangladesh and for curbing its nasty partisan politics.

Democracy is worthless without a viable opposition. The majority rule need not be a winner-takes-all process which marginalizes opposition. The leaders in Bangladeshi politics ought to show more maturity and compromise. The two decades that they have ruled Bangladesh alternately as prime ministers should have been sufficient to move forward and grow up. A healthy, respectable dialogue between the political leaders with a firm commitment towards good governance, checks and balances, accountability and respect for the rule of law can be the starting point, if they truly care about building a viable, thriving, healthy democracy in Bangladesh. They can either embrace the lessons of history or choose to end in its dustbin. The choice is surely theirs to get out of political insanity.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Terrorism in Norway – How to avoid it in the future?

If Australia is the ‘land down under,’ then surely Norway is the ‘land up above’ with the sun never completely descending beneath the horizon in areas north of the Arctic Circle during the summer months of May-July (and hence the more common name ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’).

Norway has a history of active pacifism that while being anti-war has never meant being apolitical. During the World Wars (WW) I and II, the country maintained a neutral stance. And yet, during the WW I it suffered heavy losses to its shipping, and was occupied for five years by the Third Reich during the WW II. In 1949, partly due to its failure to maintain its traditional policy of neutrality in the war, Norway became a founding member of the NATO and the UN.

It is this activism in international affairs, which catapulted Norway to take a leading role in hosting the Oslo Accords (1993) towards resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Accords affirmed a Palestinian right of self-government within the Occupied Territories through the creation of a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority. Palestinian rule was to last for a five-year interim period during which “permanent status negotiations” would commence - no later than May 1996 - in order to reach a final agreement based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, and 338, an integral part of the whole peace process. As we all know by now, Israel, through a series of terrorist and criminal activities (namely, the massacre of praying Palestinians in Masjid Ibrahimi in Hebron by a Zionist terrorist Baruch Goldstein, criminal blockades and the illegal settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories), sabotaged the true intent and purpose of the Accords. It was this implosion of hatred of the ‘other’ people which ultimately led to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, a signatory to the peace Accords, by another Zionist terrorist.

In recent months, while the Obama Administration of the USA has been trying to blackmail the Palestinian people, threatening to Veto their cause in the UN, Norway and its progressive leadership have been reclaiming its global leadership by endorsing their “perfectly legitimate” aspirations to live as a free nation. “We will consider very carefully the proposed text that’s to be put forward by the Palestinians in the coming weeks,” said Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas beside him at a press conference. Stoere however left little doubt about his inclination. “I don’t think that any Palestinians or anybody around the world are in doubt that Norway supports Palestinians’ right to statehood,” he said. “That has to be accompanied by a process of negotiation, which at the moment is stalling.”

He and Abbas signed a document upgrading the Palestinian Authority’s representative in Norway to ambassadorial rank, as several other European nations have done.
It is probably this aspiring moral leadership role in the global arena, which triggered the latest carnage what was to become Norway’s worst calamity in the post WW II era. On Friday July 22, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year old son of a Norwegian diplomat, planted a car bomb at a government building in Oslo, which killed eight, before driving to the island of Utoya, northwest of the capital, to shoot another 69 people dead and injure countless more at a Labour Party youth camp. The victims were all Norwegians including children of the immigrants. Breivik was later arrested by the Norwegian police, and confessed to the mass slaughter.
Published reports, including Breivik’s own Internet postings, show that he was a fundamentalist Christian-Zionist zealot who had closely followed the acrimonious American debate over Islam, and was poisoned by the hateful blogs and writings of pro-Israeli, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim provocateurs in America, Europe and India. In his 1500-page manifesto he wrote that he acquired some 8,000 e-mail addresses of “cultural conservatives” not just across Europe but North America, Australia, South Africa, Armenia, Israel, and India – ensuring scrutiny of anti-Muslim groups far beyond Europe.

Breivik’s primary goal was to remove Muslims from Europe. But his manifesto calls for a military cooperation with Jewish groups in Israel, Buddhists in China, and Hindu nationalist groups in India to contain Islam. He referenced India dozens of times. He lists the websites of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the NVO (National Volunteers’ Organisation), the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) and the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) as resources for further information about his bigotry. He included a five-page paper written by a man named Shrinandan Vyas -- a Hindutvadi extremist provocateur dedicated to distorting history and seeding anti-Muslim hatred (and, thus, providing the intellectual basis for the BJP’s politics of hatred and bigotry), who had falsely accused Muslims of committing genocide in the Hindu Kush. [As I have shown some years ago, the name Hindu Kush predates the emergence of Muslims into the territory.] He applauds Hindu groups who “do not tolerate the current injustice and often riot and attack Muslims when things get out of control.” “It is essential that the European and Indian resistance movements learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical,” he wrote.

Breivik frequently posted his comments in several Norwegian internet sites, including the www.document.no, which is run by Hans Rustad, an extremist pro-Zionist Jew who warns against ‘Islamisation’ of Europe by Muslims. [As noted elsewhere by Gilad Atzmon, Islamophobes like Hans Rustad and Harry Place of the UK won’t criticize the Jewish Lobbies, the Lord Levy’s or the Russian Oligarchs’ disastrous impact on ‘Western culture’ or on ‘democratic values’ any time soon.] Breivik has said that the Dutch Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, the third-largest in the Netherlands and an informal member of the ruling coalition, is the only “true” conservative party in Europe. He also wrote approvingly of Stop Islamization of Europe and Pamela Geller, leader of its sister organization in the USA, who has been a leading figure in efforts to block the so-called Ground Zero mosque.

It is also obvious that Breivik did not operate in the vacuum and had a support group. His manifesto says he is among 12 “knights” fighting within a dozen regions in Europe and the US, but not India. His manifesto, which denounced Norwegian politicians as failing to defend the country from Islamic influence, quoted Robert Spencer, who operates the Jihad Watch website, 64 times, and cited other Western writers like Mark Steyn who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture.

Breivik frequently cited another blog, Atlas Shrugs, and recommended the Gates of Vienna among websites. Pamela Geller runs Atlas Shrugs. The Gates of Vienna is a blog that owes its name to the siege of Vienna in 1683 by Muslims who, the blog says in its head note, ‘seemed poised to overrun Christian Europe.’ This was echoed in the title Breivik chose for his manifesto: ‘2083: A European Declaration of Independence.’ He chose that year, the 400th anniversary of the siege, as the target for the triumph of Christian forces in the European civil war he called for to drive out Islamic influence.

How real is that ‘threat’ from Muslims in Europe, especially in Breivik’s native country? The Muslim population in Europe is approximately 4 percent, and may not rise above 6 percent by the next decade and level out thereafter. According to EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, of the 498 terrorist incidents in 2006, only 1 was accused of Muslims. The data for subsequent years (2007-2010) are 4, 0, 1 and 3 out of 583, 515, 294, and 249, respectively. That is, a whopping 99.6% of terrorist attacks in Europe were by non-Muslim groups.

Norway has a population of 4.92 million of which nearly 4.04 million (82 %) are ethnic Norwegians, a figure that has steadily decreased since the late 20th century. [Currently there are more than 4 million Norwegian Americans living inside the USA.] Of the remaining 18 % population, 600,922 (12.2%) are either immigrants or Norwegians born to immigrant parents, and 282,082 (5.7%) have at least one ethnic Norwegian parent (including foreign born). Of this non-Norwegian immigrant community 48% is from other European countries (namely, Poland, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Russia and Lithuania). The Asians (including Pakistanis, Vietnamese, Iraqis, and Turks), Africans, and others (people from the Americas and Oceania) comprise only 4.26%, 1.5% and 0.62%, respectively, of the total population. The Muslim population is estimated to be 100,000, or roughly 2% of the total population, or 11% of the non-Norwegian community living in Norway. It is simply absurd to believe that such a meager number, mostly engaged in low-paying menial jobs in Norway, would destroy the Norwegian culture in what has been wrongly dubbed in 2009 as ‘stealth Islamization’ by Siv Jensen, the leader of the Progressive Party.

To understand Breivik’s terrorism, we must, thus, look into the selection of his targets. Much like the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City by an anti-government militant, Breivik targeted government buildings in Oslo. He also targeted a youth camp that had held “BOIKOTT ISRAEL” sign. Why? It is not difficult to connect the dots here. To understand his ideology of hatred that enticed him to terrorism, we have to look into his manifesto that provides ample of clues with citations from anti-Muslim bloggers.

Automatic weapons and potent bombs allow the deranged and begrudged to slaughter scores of innocents in mere seconds. There are several examples of such mayhems at the University of Texas in 1966 (14 killed), Columbine High School in 1999 (13 killed), Virginia Tech in 2007 (32 killed), and Bath School disaster of 1927 in which an angry school board member blew up 38 children and 6 adults in Michigan. We also forget that most threats and violence tend to emerge from within a society and not from outside it. M.K. Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, King Faysal, Anwar el-Sadat, Indira Gandhi and Yitzhak Rabin were all assassinated by their fellow countrymen, and not by outsiders.

In the past two decades, much attention has been paid to extremist groups within the world Muslim community, while the potential terrorism from local rightwing extremist groups was ignored. Consequently, just about every ‘expert’ -- conservative chatterer with a blog or a Twitter account rushed to blame ‘Islamic jihadists’ for the bombing and gun massacre in Norway only to be proven wrong later. Just as in Norway, rightwing extremism could easily happen anywhere in our world. The Hutaree, an extremist Christian militia in Michigan accused last year of plotting to kill police officers and planting bombs at their funerals, had an arsenal of weapons larger than all the Muslim plotters charged in the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks combined.

A Norwegian citizen with Norwegian parents slaughtered some 77 of his countrymen (which included teenagers) whom he considered in his twisted logic as traitors for supporting multiculturalism (and therefore Islamisation). Its government must now answer: why it didn’t pay more attention to the threat of domestic terrorism, especially given the fact that, according to Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto, he spent a decade planning his attacks. And why did it take police so long to respond to the shootings at the summer camp?

A more important issue is the growing intolerance across Europe for Muslims and other immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Inflammatory political rhetoric is increasingly tolerated not just in Holland, Denmark and France, but across all of Europe and America. Even Asiatic countries like India, Israel, Burma, Thailand and the Philippines are not free from such hateful messages. Look at the sheer number of anti-Muslim books, movies, TV dramas and websites that emerged in the post-9/11 era! And anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic parties are getting stronger notably in northern European countries that have long had liberal immigration policies.

While individuals are responsible for their actions, there is no denying about the harmful influence of hateful provocateurs which mold their beliefs and justify their criminal actions. For years, many morally bankrupt and utterly corrupt politicians have had nothing better to offer their constituents other than distributing anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant pills. Hatred sells, as it did in Hitler’s Germany. As there were once Julius Streicher and Der Stürmer in Germany (1923-45), so are there now hate-mongers and psychopaths like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly of the radio and TV journalism in the USA, let alone thousands of pen-pushing anti-Muslim bigots like Mark Steyn and Ann Coulter who sell their poison pills to divide our world into hateful camps. Look at the shameful statements made by mainstream Republican politicians with respect to the mosque controversy in Lower Manhattan. Outside the Mayor Bloomberg of New York City hardly any politician had the moral bites to decry such bigotry. This xenophobia is even packaged, promoted and propagated by Rupert Murdoch’s media empire and other anti-Muslim right-wing tabloids.

There are think-tanks, dedicated to promoting hatred and bigotry against Muslims. Nor should one forget about the impact of Jerusalem Summit in packaging hatred to the rest of the world.

In the 1980s, Jean-Marie le Pen of the French National Front, at the time a marginal politician, was one of the first to vituperate against the risk of Islamicization. Today, Islam as ‘the internal and external enemy’ is a staple of European political discourse. Anti-Muslim sentiment has now passed the dinner-table test to become socially acceptable. What message is the public getting out of such unambiguous displays of intolerance? In Europe, even mainstream politicians have sown doubts about the ability or willingness of Europe to absorb newcomers. At a security conference in Munich Feb. 5, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain closed ranks with French and German leaders saying the ‘doctrine of multiculturalism’ has failed in a Britain that encourages ‘different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.’ Multiculturalism ‘has failed, utterly failed, Mrs. Merkel said last October amid a national debate sparked by a racially loaded bestseller written by German bank official Thilo Sarrazin that criticized Arabs. Last summer French leader Nicolas Sarkozy said multiculturalism was dead as the French cracked down on immigrants and Gypsies.

I wonder if these politicians understand the difference between assimilation and integration or multiculturalism! What they truly want is not integration but blind, robotic assimilation, bereft of discernible cultural values that define one’s humanity and diversity. So to an intellectual midget like Sarkozy, it is the abandonment of the burqa and niqab that defines integration into the French society, and not the much-needed reforms that are essential for integrating Muslims.
There are many third generation Turks and Algerians living in Germany and France, respectively, who are still not integrated into those societies, treated as being outsiders. Unless one’s parents are ethnic French or German, the roads to employment and upward social mobility are often nil for these grandchildren of immigrants from Asia and Africa. Consequently, they are forced to live in the ghettos or poor neighborhoods where public sector is dysfunctional. They routinely face bitter discrimination and witness monumental hypocrisy with almost everything. Unfortunately, when rioting exploded in France’s heavily-immigrant ghettos, many conservative pundits and politicians refused to see the obvious and dismissed claims that the violence had something to do with poverty, unemployment, and exclusion. No, what mattered is that the rioters were Muslims. And then blame it on failure of multiculturalism!

If these western governments had invested in human capital, creation of jobs and ensured equal opportunities, there won’t have been any problem integrating pale-, brown- and dark-skinned immigrants and their children and grandchildren, irrespective of whether or not they are Muslims.

Hatemongering provocateurs, who are no better than terrorists, have long been selling their poison pills of Eurabia - how Muslims soon will take over Europe, if they are not checked. The neocon ideologue Daniel Pipes discovered Jihad in the 2005 riots of France! Similarly, Mark Steyn wrote, “As France this past fortnight reminds us, the changes in Europe are happening far faster than most people thought.” In 2006, Steyn expanded his delusional paranoia into the book America Alone. As you can guess, it was a huge hit, a New York Times bestseller, amongst many delusional readers. Not surprisingly, the dim-witted former president George W. Bush is a fan. In Republican and Tea Party circles, Steyn’s vision of an enfeebled, infertile Europe overrun by fecund, violent Muslims is almost a truism. But to his dismay, no such ‘Eurabian civil war’ has been started by ‘wide-eyed’ Muslim ‘Jihadists.’ Instead, what we find is the terrorism of brain-washed white Europeans. For people like Steyn, that is more than enough. Tell a true story, treat it as typical (and not an exception) and then draw a scary conclusion. This is the standard operating procedure of alarmists like Steyn.

It is high time that these provocateurs, who have brainwashed terrorists like Breivik, denounce Breivik’s evil and apologize to Muslims. They simply cannot skirt off their responsibility for his heinous crime. The western government agencies need to investigate the activities of groups like the Jihad Watch, Atlas Shrugs, Stop Islamization of Europe (and America), and Jerusalem Summit that promote bigotry and xenophobia, and offer the justification for terrorism. They must also follow the trail of money that comes to these hate groups.

In a society where anti-Islamic xenophobic sentiments and open bigotry are tolerated, there will be hateful zealots who would feel legitimized in taking criminal measures. The government must make it clear that there is no room for such chauvinism in this age. They must also know that political opportunism, by tying knots with groups that are openly racists and bigots, much like what has happened in places like Israel and Denmark, is not a viable option and can actually do more harm than good.

As I have noted many times, Europe has never been able to shelve its innate Fascistic leaning that has defined much of its history. It is no accident that there are too many far right parties that draw upon two distinct constituencies. The first is a core of hardline racist bigots who are willing crusaders for neo-Nazi Fascism. These bigots, however, have been joined by a swathe of new supporters (the second group) whose hostility toward immigrants, minorities and Muslims is shaped less by old-fashioned racism than by a newfangled sense of fear and insecurity. They are dissatisfied with their lives, anxious about the future and distrustful of any authority figure. As noted by some area experts, there is little that can be done to sway the opinions of the hardline racists. This does not mean pandering to their prejudices. It means, to the contrary, challenging those prejudices openly and robustly. It means, for instance, challenging their false idea that immigration is responsible for the lack of jobs and housing, or that lower immigration would mean a lower crime rate, or that Western societies are becoming “Islamized.”

Truly, the western governments should have an open and honest debate about why immigration is important for their very survival in this age. It may be a great idea that when their leaders visit New York for attending the UN sessions that they should opt for taking a ride in a taxicab, driven by a naturalized citizen of the USA, to places like Queens in New York City and Edison in New Jersey to get a flavor of what multiculturalism truly means.

As noted by the erudite Shaykh Abdal Qadir, every year on November 11, the masses gather around the Cenotaph in London for the sacred silence. On the Cenotaph is carved the new creed of humanism: “One day we will understand.”

It is time for the Europeans to recognize the new realities of our time – globalization and multiculturalism. Embrace them right or be left out in the dustbin of history!