Monday, November 21, 2011

Two must-read articles in the New York Times

Two highly informative articles can be viewed in the New York Times. One is about how China can defeat America, written by one of the most prominent intellectuals of China: Yan Xuetong, the author of “Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power,” who is a professor of political science and dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University. The other is about Obama's Torture policy by Eric Lewis who is a partner at Lewis Baach PLLC in Washington.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

All those Republican Candidates – can they be taken seriously?

The American public likes to be entertained and this is the time of the year, thanks to the presidential hopefuls, when they are getting more than their share of entertainment. Just watch the Republican debates on the TV, or listen to their silly talks on the radio, or read their comments or views on a plethora of issues, you are sure to get plenty of entertainment. Sometimes they appear too stupid and vague to be taken seriously for such a lofty position. Consider, for instance, Herman Cain, the black Republican candidate. On his recent campaign stop in Miami, Cain took some time to try some Latino cuisine, and offend a few Latinos along the way. After biting into a croqueta at Miami's famed Versailles Cafe, Cain asks, "How do you say delicious in Cuban?" Cuban, as many know, is not a language. In Spanish, however, delicious is delicioso.

Sometimes these presidential candidates are stumbling and mumbling Jacks like any other Joe, Dick and Harry. Sometimes they are full of hypocrisy and hyperbole.

Mindful of the low favorable rating for the current Congress (9%) among the American voters, all of these Republican candidates would have us believe that they are outsiders to politics at the Capitol Hill and, if elected to the highest position, would reduce the national debt by shutting down huge parts of the government. None of them, outside Ron Paul, of course, wants to reduce the size of the ever-expanding Department of Homeland Security, let alone the Department of Defense. That would make them appear unpatriotic! Rick Perry wants to close two or possibly three departments; Michele Bachmann would close the E.P.A. and repeal its regulations; and Matt Romney would scrap a health care system virtually identical to the one he created in Massachusetts. But the worst of these candidates – the most deceptive of the bunch -- is Newt Gingrich who epitomizes hypocrisy. He is an immoral and unscrupulous person who pretends to be the elderly Republican statesman with ‘brains’. He has benefited lavishly from the very spendthrift cronyism that he attacks.

In recent months Gingrich has been harshly critical of those who have worked with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. For instance, in an October debate of the Republican presidential candidates, he suggested that Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) should be jailed for his association with “a lobbyist who was close to Freddie Mac.” Interestingly, for roughly six years, Newt Gingrich worked closely with high-level officials at the government-sponsored mortgage company Freddie Mac. As a highly paid consultant, he coached them on how to win over the conservative politicians, who consider their company an anathema, spoke to their political action committee and offered general advice as they worked to stave off various threats to Freddie Mac’s survival. As recently reported in the Bloomberg News he earned $1.6 million to $1.8 million, in an on-and-off relationship from 1999 to 2008, with the mortgage company that has since been taken over by the federal government. The payments were far more than had previously been known, or previously acknowledged by Gingrich.

When Gingrich was questioned, he tried to play down the report, saying that he did not know exactly how much he was paid, and that Freddie Mac was but one company that enlisted his firm, the Gingrich Group. When asked about a $300,000-per-year, two-year contract in 2006 and 2007, Mr. Gingrich said he had acted as an “historian.” The real reason he was hired, as company officials make clear, was to act as a liaison to conservatives on Capitol Hill. “Freddie wasn’t spending $25,000 to $35,000 a month for years to have somebody give them history lessons on what would have happened in 1945 if Japan had won,” one former official said.

It is very typical of Newt Gingrich to pretend that he despises lobbying groups whom he calls “the Washington culture of consultants” while simultaneously enriching himself by trading on his influence in Washington. As a matter of fact, he has been one of its better-paid members. Last Friday, The Washington Post reported that one of his think tanks collected $37 million over the last eight years from health care companies and insurers that wanted to be close to a prominent Republican.

In recent weeks the Republican candidates are giving us some ideas as to where they stand on a plethora of issues. In an interview on November 13 with ‘Meet the Press’ David Gregory, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) repeated her claim that the Iraq should pay America for the ‘privilege’ of having their nation invaded and occupied for most of the last decade — and then doubled down by calling for Iraq to pay millions of dollars for each American killed in that country. She said: "It’s over 800 billion dollars that we have expended [in Iraq]. I believe that Iraq should pay us back for the money that we spent, and I believe that Iraq should pay the families that lost a loved one several million dollars per life, I think at minimum."

Has Bachmann lost her mind? Is she aware that Iraq did not ask to be invaded by the United States, and that the Iraqi people have wanted American forces out of their country for a very long time. Estimates on the number of Iraqi civilian casualties due to our presence in Iraq vary depending on who is counting. According to local Iraqis, the total death is in excess of one million. Whatever the number is there is little question that tens of thousands more Iraqis would still be alive today if not for Bush’s criminal decision to invade their country.

So who should compensate whom? As noted by many commentators, Bachmann is a sick old lady behaving like a hawk knowing that she has no chance of becoming the frontrunner within the conservative Republican voters. It is all about trying to become relevant again in the poll. Funny that she talks about compensation for the death of American soldiers while suffering from a selective amnesia about the Iraqi victims! How about the death of those one million Iraqis? What would be a fair price for the USA to pay the family members of those unarmed Iraqi civilian victims killed in the war?

The USA, if Bachmann wants to be fair, using her formula, will have to pay 200 times the sum that she is demanding of Iraq. How about paying $160 trillion to Iraq to compensate for killing its 1 million plus civilians? Is Bachmann willing to write that cheque for the USA? If not, she should shut up!

With two prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American economy is in the ruins. But don’t tell this to these Republican presidential hopefuls. Outside Ron Paul and John Huntsman, Jr., they all want to engage the economically-weak nation into yet another war – this time with Iran.

We thought that our politicians had learned something worthy from what went wrong with Bush Jr.'s presidency – the war crimes, the tortures, the abuses and the culture of deception, which put the entire nation look so bad in the eyes of people of the rest of the world. Each of these amnesic and brain-dead Republican politicians, minus Ron Paul and John Huntsman, are trying to prove that they have learned very little from the moral calamities of the administration of George W. Bush.

In a recent TV debate in South Carolina, Herman Cain (a sexual pervert who as executive of a pizza chain was accused of groping women) and Michele Bachmann said they would approve water-boarding of prisoners to extract information. When probed, they denied, of course, that water-boarding is torture, even though it has been classified as such since the Spanish Inquisition. On the other hand, Representative Ron Paul, probably the best of the bunch, said water-boarding is not only torture, it is illegal, immoral, uncivilized and has no practical advantages. Former Governor and diplomat Jon Huntsman Jr. eloquently pointed out that water-boarding and other forms of torture diminish the nation’s standing in the world.

It is worth noting here that Senator John McCain who ran against Obama in 2008, and himself a victim of torture as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, and surely a real moral authority on the issue, has always maintained that “Water-boarding is torture.” But none of the prudent comments are going to put a damper on the sick minds of his party candidates. Outside Ron Paul and John Huntsman Jr., and of course Cain and Bachmann, the rest don’t seem to have the backbone to even voice an opinion on the subject. They are unaware that water-boarding is banned by the United States Army Field Manual. They also chooses to ignore the testimony of top military officers like General David Petraeus (who now runs the C.I.A.) that such forms of torture are not only useless for gathering reliable intelligence but are detrimental to the security of American forces and the nation’s reputation.

Mitt Romney is a great disappointment in Republican politics. He has no moral compass, and appears and sounds more like a short-sighted career politician than a serious statesman ready to lead a nation. Recently, he claimed that if he were elected president Iran will not have a nuclear weapon, and that if Obama were reelected Iran will have one. He wants to drop bomb on Iran and/or encourage Israel, the rogue state, to do the ultimate crime that would surely trigger a massive war in the entire region. He forgets that Iran is not either Afghanistan or Iraq. Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, approves clandestine missions to kill Iranian scientists.

As empty as Mr. Romney’s remarks were about Iran, his refusal to renounce water-boarding is disturbing, and inexcusable. People deserve better from presidential candidates, and not some theatrics and idiotic behavior.

Funny that these warmongers and morally bankrupt politicians talk about American exceptionalism! Is water-boarding a symbol of American exceptionalism and is it going to raise our moral standing in the world? Is it a value that we can all cherish and export? If these rogue politicians believe that their arrogance, irrational behavior and stupidity are the traits of American exceptionalism then we are better off without them. They deserve themselves and not us.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Arab League Must Bring Down the Assad Regime

As usual the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad has made a travesty of its promises. It was only a week ago before Eid-ul-Adha that the tyrannical regime had promised to abide by an Arab League proposal to halt all violence, release all detainees, withdraw all armed elements from populated areas and allow unfettered access to journalists and to Arab League monitors. But the violence in Syria has not stopped. More than 60 people have been killed by military and security forces, including at least 19 on Sunday that marked the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

According to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists, Assad’s security forces shot dead 25 people, including two children, across Syria on Wednesday. The network provided some details of Wednesday's violence: in Homs, Haitham Al-Bawab, kidnapped from work Tuesday, was found with obvious torture marks; in Daraa-Jasim, pharmacist Basil Ibrahim Al-Qowaider was arrested for aiding the wounded; and near Idlib, Abdo Akram Shaqouqa, born in 1988, was killed by two bullets in the chest and neck. The day before, another 18 people were killed, the network said.

The United Nations estimates that more than 3,500 Syrians have been killed since the government crackdown on protesters started in mid-March. And yet, the Arab League and the UN are doing nothing to stop the Syrian monster.

Last Saturday the Arab League held meeting in its Cairo Headquarters. While dozens of protesters chanted and carried placards reading "Freedom for the Syrian people" demanding Bashar al-Assad's removal, the Arab League voted to suspend Syria in four days and warned the regime could face sanctions if it does not end its bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters. Eighteen countries agreed to the suspension, which was scheduled to take effect on Wednesday in a significant escalation of international pressure on the Syrian government. Syria, Lebanon and Yemen voted against it, and Iraq abstained. The anti-Syria protesters were joined by demonstrators from Yemen, protesting violent government crackdowns in their country.
Explaining the Arab League decision, Qatar's Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said that the 22-member league will monitor the situation and revisit the decision in a meeting on Wednesday in the Moroccan capital Rabat. "This decision reflects a lack of foreign intervention," he said. "The Arab League has been calling on Syria to stop the violence for four months and it hasn't happened."

So, why give Assad’s pariah regime additional time to kill more people and prevent biting actions from being implemented? Bin Jassim suggested that Arab League members withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus but left that up to the individual countries. The fact is such political gestures or threats won’t put a dent in Syrian regime’s tyrannical character.

The reluctance of the Arab League to impose sanctions against one of its rogue member is simply inexcusable. It is foolish to assume that the Syrian regime would all on a sudden change its repressive ways and honor its promises. Like Israel, the other pariah state in the region, the Syrian Ba’athist regime has learned the time-buying tactics rather too well to its advantage. It won’t bring about the desired fundamental change demanded by its people.

What is needed are biting sanctions against the regime, including war crime charges filed at the International Criminal Court against the members of the Assad’s government, followed immediately by military actions, if push comes to shove, that would allow regime change to take place, thus creating the environment for the formation of a representative government. With all those killings, Assad has lost all credibility to rule Syria any more. He must be brought down one way or another.
The reluctance of the Arab League to punish the Assad regime unearths the fact – an ugly one -- that in spite of the popular changes brought into Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in recent months, there are still too many of those anti-people regimes that make up the League’s roster. Punishing one of their fellow buddies for crimes against people is like throwing rocks in one’s own house of glasses!

But whether they like to punish Assad or not, the leaders of the Arab League ought to know that the old days of doing business with foreign patrons protecting them are now gone. If the puppet Mubarak could not be protected by his powerful masters – the USA, Israel and the EU -- what is the likelihood of survival of criminal regimes like those of Assad that is guilty of committing war crimes against its civilians? The Arab masses of the 2011 are different. They are not afraid to die for more noble causes.

As I noted many times before, the UN Security Council and the NATO are unreliable and hypocritical when it comes to the Muslim world and cannot be trusted with anything. They don’t have any moral compass to guide their actions and come to the aid of anyone unless they can profit from their involvement. In all fairness, Gaddafi was a saint compared to both Hafez Assad (now dead) and Bashar Assad, and yet, there seems to be a different litmus test for toppling the younger tyrant ruling Syria. The western reluctance can be explained by one word – oil; Syria is not Libya with billions of barrels oil reserves; every other excuse is superficial. It is not surprising, therefore, that the NATO has ruled out the kind of military intervention that helped topple Gaddafi. The economic sanctions from the western countries have not been severe enough to collapse the Syrian economy. And as noted elsewhere, such sanctions will not lead to the collapse of an unpopular regime.

The Syrian people will need more than empty sound bytes and sanctions to topple their ruthless regime. They need moral and material support to bring about the desired change, much like what has happened with Libya.

When the Arab League foreign ministers meet again on Wednesday, they should eject Syria and urge the United Nations Security Council to condemn Bashar Assad and impose international sanctions against the regime. They must come to the aid of ordinary Syrian people and the Syrian opposition the same way that they came to the aid of the Libyan people. Anything short of this would be viewed as treason by the Arab people -- much like what their protesters chanted in last Saturday’s meeting "Arab leaders are garbage". If these leaders desire respect, they must earn it by not only coming to the aid of the Syrian people but must also do what is right for their own people. They must reflect on the fact that they would die one day and have to account for all their worldly deeds, including their failure to come to the aid of the oppressed people. Let them be guided by the Prophet Muhammad’s (S) teachings rather than short-term worldly benefits that push one to an eternal life of damnation.

On its part, the Syrian opposition needs to translate its campaign into a coherent vision of governance after Assad and what that will mean for their people – the majority Sunnis and other minorities (including the Nusayris).

If the United States and Europe are serious about genuine freedom, they should help topple the Assad regime. At a minimum, they should push the UN Security Council to bring about war crime charges against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey, Syria’s neighbor to the north, has an important role, too. Mindful of Syria’s harmful potential influence to exploit the Kurdish problem, the Turkish government, thus far, has avoided confrontation with the Syrian regime. But it should know that it is in Turkey’s best interest and the interest of the region to ratchet up economic and political pressure so that change happens sooner, before violence spreads.
A regime change in Syria is a much desired one not only for its people but the entire region. The world community has a moral duty to help the Syrian people in their struggle for human rights.

A regime that has no moral qualms about killing unarmed Muslim worshippers – old and young - on the Day of Eid (when violence is considered absolutely haram or forbidden) has no credibility to rule over its Muslim population. It must be brought down. The Arab League cannot, therefore, shy away from its historical role, nor can others who care about life, liberty and dignity.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Comments on Biblical Controversy with the Qur’anic Narrative on Abraham's Son who was meant for sacrifice

According to Islamic Traditions, it was Isma'il (AS), the first son of Ibrahim (AS), who was meant for sacrifice and not Ishaq (Isaac) (AS). The Biblical narratives differ with the Qur’anic version suggesting, instead, that it was Isaac – the second son of Ibrahim (AS), born through Sarah, who was meant for the sacrifice. Genesis (chapter 22) says: "Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love…" The problem with this verse is that Isaac was not Abraham's only son. Before Isaac was born, there was Ishmael. Is it possible some zealous scribe had replaced the word Ishmael with Isaac into the verse?

Since the Qur’anic story about sacrifice did not specifically mention Isma’il (AS) by name, some Jews and Christians have suggested that the lad meant for sacrifice was Isaac. However, if one follows the sequence of verses it becomes clear that Ishaq (AS) was not meant in the Qur’anic story. In regard to the verse, "So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son," Imam Ibn Kathir (R) states in his tafsir (exegesis): "And this son is Isma’il (AS) for he is the first son whose good news was brought to Ibrahim (AS). He is older than Ishaq (AS), according to both Muslims and the Ahl-e-kitab (People of the Book – Jews and Christians). It is even said in their Scripture that Isma’il (AS) was born when Ibrahim was 86 years old and Ishaq (AS) was born when Ibrahim (AS) was 99. Moreover, their scripture states that Allah ordered Ibrahim (AS) to sacrifice his only son and in another version his firstborn. And, at this spot, they inserted falsely the name of Ishaq (AS) against the text of their very Scripture. The reason they inserted Ishaq (AS) is that he is their father whereas Isma’il (AS) is the father of the Arabs. They added Ishaq (AS) out of envy and brushed away ‘only son’ by saying that Isma’il (AS) and his mother had already been to Makkah. This is a fanciful explanation since we never say ‘only son’ except to a person who has no more than one son. Moreover, the firstborn has got a special place [in the heart of his father] that is not given to the following children and the order to sacrifice him is, therefore, a greater test… Moreover, God's Book (the Qur’an) is a witness, and points to the fact that it is Isma’il (AS) because it said that the son who was patient and that he is the sacrificed. Only afterwards, He (Allah) said: ‘And We gave him the good news of Ishaq, a prophet, one of the Righteous’ (37:112) and when the Angels brought the good news of Ishaq to Ibrahim they said: ‘Fear not,’ and they gave him the ‘glad tidings of a son endowed with knowledge.’ And [Allah] the Most High said: ‘We gave her [Sarah] glad tidings of Ishaq, and after him, of Yaqub (Jacob)" (11:71) -- meaning that in the lifetime of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac will beget a child that he will call Yaqub implying that Ishaq will have a progeny. We have already explained why it is not possible that Ishaq be sacrificed while still a child, i.e., because God promised them [Ibrahim and Sarah] that he [Ishaq] will have a progeny. On the other hand, Isma’il was described as forbearing and he fits that description."

As can be seen from above narrative, Imam Ibn Kathir nullifies the Judeo-Christian argument by simply making the point that Ibrahim (AS) was given the good news about the birth of Ishaq (AS) who would go on to father Yaqub (AS). Thus, it was not Ishaq (AS), but Isma’il (AS) who was meant for sacrifice.

Eid-ul-Ad’ha and the Merit of Hajj

The 10th day of Dhu’l Hijjah in the Muslim calendar is the day of Hajj - Eid al-Ad'ha or Yawm al-Nahr -- when the pilgrims in Makkah sacrifice halal animals following one of the oldest traditions of mankind, dating back to the time of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) Alayhis Salam (meaning: peace be upon him).

In an earlier article ‘The Soul of Hajj’ I mentioned about the rituals of the hajj and how it is tied up with the events in Ibrahim’s (AS) life. He was childless with his first wife Sarah. Then he took Hagar (Hajera) as his second wife. Through her, he became father of Isma’il (Ishmael) (AS) at a very advanced age. Soon after the child was born, he was commanded by Allah to settle the infant with his mother Hajera in the valley of Makkah. After some years, as the Qur’an says, “And when his son was old enough to walk with him, (Abraham) said: O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you. So look, what thinkest thou?” (37:102)

To this question, Isma’il (AS), then only a young boy, replied, “O my father! Do that which you are commanded. Allah willing, you shall find me of the steadfast." (37:102)
What a remarkable reply from the son of Ibrahim (AS)! Like the Rock of Gibraltar, Isma’il (AS) said that he was ready to be sacrificed. It is probably this characteristic which earned him the title ‘the forbearing son’ (Ghulamin Halim) in the Qur’an. The Qur’an continues the story, “Then, when they had both surrendered (to Allah), and he had flung him down upon his face, We called unto him: O Abraham: You have already fulfilled the vision. Lo! Thus do We reward the good. Lo! That verily was a clear test. Then We ransomed him with a tremendous victim." (37:103-107)
Ibrahim (AS) didn’t have to sacrifice his son. Instead, he was asked to sacrifice a ram, which had been sent to him, as ransom for Isma’il (AS). Unlike the false-gods of polytheism, Allah, the One True God, is not bloodthirsty. He just wanted to check where Ibrahim (AS) stood in relation to his uncompromising devotion to and love for Allah; was he capable of overcoming his personal feelings of love and compassion for his son to please Allah. A lesson was taught by Allah – from now on there would be no human sacrifice in the altar of God. Sacrifice of a halal (e.g., camel, cow, lamb, and goat) animal for eating and distributing among the poor is a sufficient substitute.

Hajj (Pilgrimage) is one of the pillars of Islam. According to Imam al-Ghazali Rahmatullah alayh (May Allah have mercy on him), one of the greatest savants in Islam, hajj is the act of worship of a lifetime, the seal of all that is commanded, the perfection of Islam and the completion of religion. Concerning it the Prophet Muhammad Sallal-lahu alayhi wa sal-lam (meaning: the blessing of God and peace be upon him) said, "Whoever dies without, having performed the Pilgrimage let him die, if he wish, either a Jew or a Christian." It is quite obvious that Hajj has an exalted status with¬out which religion is lacking in perfection.

There are numerous merits of hajj. Allah said [to Ibrahim (AS)], "And proclaim unto mankind the Pil¬grimage. They will come to thee on foot, and on every lean camel, coming by every distant tract" (Qur’an 22:27). Qatada (R), one of the pious Muslims of the first century of Islam, said, "When Allah the Most High commanded Ibrahim (AS) to proclaim unto man¬kind the Pilgrimage, he proclaimed, ‘O People, God the Most High has built a House; go to it on Pilgrimage.’ God the Most High said, ‘That they may witness [its] benefits for them’ [Qur’an 22:28].” It was [once] said, "The business is during the season [of Pilgrimage], and the reward is in the hereafter."

The Prophet (S) said, "Whoever per¬forms Pilgrimage to the House without foul talk or iniquity is free from sin as [he was] on the day his mother bore him." And the Prophet (S) also said, "Satan has never been seen as to be more mean, or humiliated, or miserable or vexed than on the day of ‘Arafat." That is solely because of what he sees of the revelation of the mercy and forbearance of God toward grave sins. Thus it is said, "There are some sins which are expiated, only by the standing on Mount ‘Arafat." Imam Jafar al-Sadiq Ibn Muhammad (R) has attributed this saying to Muhammad (S).

The Prophet (S) said, "Whoever sets out on the Greater or Lesser Pilgrimage and dies [before completing the Pilgrimage], will until the Day of Resurrection be awarded with the award of a pilgrim. And whoever dies in one of the two shrines will not be exposed [to Judgment] or made to give an account. To him it will be said, "Enter into Paradise," And the Prophet (S) said, "One Pilgrimage which is accepted [in the sight of God] is better than the whole world and what is in it; a Pilgrimage which is accepted [in God's sight] has no reward but Paradise."

And Muhammad (S) also said, "Those who go on the Greater or lesser Pilgrimage are a delegation of God Almighty and His visitors. If they ask [something] of Him, He grants [it] to them; if they beg His forgiveness, He forgives them; if they voice their supplication, it is granted to them; and if they intercede [on behalf of anyone], their intercession is granted." A saying of the Prophet (S) transmitted by members of his household declares: "The most sinful man is the one who, though standing on 'Arafat, thought that God has not forgiven him."

Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas (Radi Allahu Anhu: May Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (S) ¬said, "Everyday one hundred and twenty mercies descend on this House [the Ka'ba]; of these, sixty are for those who circumambulate [it], forty for those who [merely] pray [before it], and twenty for those who [merely] gaze [at it]." In another Prophetic tradition, it says: "Circumambulate the House often for it is among the most important things that you will find on your record on the Day of Resurrection, and [it is, moreover,] the most delightful deed you will find."

One of the early pious Muslims said, "If the day of 'Arafat coin¬cides with Friday, all the people [who have stood] at 'Arafat are pardoned [of their sins]. Such [a day] is the most excellent of days in this [earth¬ly] life; it was on such [a day] that the Prophet (S) performed his farewell pilgrimage, and he was stan¬ding [at 'Arafat] when the, [following] words of God Almighty were revealed [to Him]: "This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favor upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion." [Qur’an 5: 4] The people of the Book said, "Had this verse been revealed to us, we would have made it a feast day." 'Umar (RA) said, "I testify that it was revealed to the Apostle of God [Muhammad (S)] on a day of two feasts: the Day of 'Arafat and the Day of Gathering [i.e. Friday], when he was standing at 'Arafat." The Prophet (S) said, "O God, forgive the pilgrim and the man for whom the pilgrim asks forgiveness."

`Ali Ibn Muwaffaq (R) is reported to have said, "I performed the Pilgrimage one year, and when it was the night of 'Arafat I slept in the Mosque of al-Khaif at Mina. I saw in dream as though two angels clothed in green came down from the sky. Then one of them called to the other, 'O slave of God’, and he [the other Angel] replied, ‘Here I am [Lab¬bayka], O slave of God'. The former continued, 'Do you know how many performed pilgrimage to the house of our Lord the Most High this year?' ‘I do not know’, he [the second Angel] answered. 'Six hundred thousand have performed the pilgrimage to the House of our Lord', the other said, ‘but do you know how many of them were accepted?' He said, 'No.’ ‘Six persons’, the other replied. Then they ascended into the air and disappeared from me, and I woke up in fright. I was very much distressed and my condition great¬ly disturbed. Then I said [to myself], ‘If the pilgrimage of [only] six persons has been accepted where am I among the six?’ Then, after I had left ‘Arafat I stayed for a while at Mash’ar al-Haram, and I began to meditate upon the multitude of people [who attended that year's pilgrim¬age as compared to] the small number whom were accepted. I fell asleep, and all of a sudden there were [before me] the two figures having des¬cended [again] in their [same] form. And one of them called the other repeating the same words [as before]. Then he said, 'Do you know what decision has our Lord made this night?’ ‘No’, the other said. He said, 'He has given everyone of the six a hundred thousand.' Then, I woke up with such rejoicing as cannot be described."

May Allah allow us to perform Hajj, the largest annual gathering of people on Earth, and chant: Labayk Allahuma Labayk. Labayk. La shareeka laka Labayk. Innal hamda wan-nimata laka wal mulk. La shareeka Lak (meaning: Here I am at your service, Oh Lord, here I am - here I am. No partner do You have. Here I am. Truly, the praise and the favor are Yours, and the dominion. No partner do You have.)
Happy Eid. Eid Mubarak.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Adibashi and Adhibashi Issue of Bangladesh

Like many countries of our world, especially in South and South-east Asia, Bangladesh has her share of ethnic minorities. There are some 14 ethnic minorities that live in Bangladesh. They are known as Chakma, Marma (Mogh), Larma, Jummas, Tippra, Murong, Panko, Kyong, Mro, Tangchangya, Bomang, Lushai, Kuki, Khumi etc.

In recent years some foreign NGOs and their local agents have been involved in anti-Bangladesh campaigns that are aimed at undermining the sovereignty of the country. Since 1975, the Indian government has been playing a very dubious role by aiding some of the secessionist movements inside Bangladesh, a process which never stopped even in good times with more friendlier governments. Regretably, their anti-Bangladesh campaigns are also aided by paid local agents inside Bangladesh.

As reported in a prominent daily of Dhaka on March 20, 2010, Subir Bnowmick, BBC representative of Kolkata, India, wrote in his book titled ‘Troubled Periphery Crisis of Indian North East’ that India is interested to separate the CHT (Chittagong Hill Tracts) from Bangladesh. It is worthmentioning here that CHT borders both India and Burma and is home to many ethnic minorities. Captain Sachin Karmaker, International Secretary of Minority Congress Party, wrote a letter to the Director, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of America on July 27, 2007 to help them to establishing a separate homeland for ethnic minorities in the CHT, as reported on August 25, 2009.

None of these is a good news for Bangladesh and its 150 million people who enjoy equal status irrespective of their ethnic, religious and tribal origins. There are protected quotas for these ethnic minorities to ensure that even when they don't qualify on competive tests, jobs or positions, a segment of these ethnic minorities are represented.

As I and other more renowned researchers have long shown through our meticulous research works on minority issues of the region, the settlement of the tribal people of the CHT was rather a recent development, dating back only a couple of centuries ago. Marmas or Arakanese Moghs, e.g., came to the CHT in 1784 when Arakan was conquered by Burman king Bodaw Paya. At that time, two thirds of the Arakanese population (approx. 200,000), both Rohingya Muslims/Hindus and Rakhine Maghs (Buddhists) of Arakan fled to Chittagong and its hilly districts. While a section of these peoples (mostly Rakhines) would later return to Arakan after the British East India Company had conquered the territory in 1826 after the first Anglo-Burma War (1824-26), a vast majority continued to live inside Chittagong Division of British Bengal. Chakmas were a nomadic people that moved to and from between the porous borders. There is no record of their presence before the late 17th century when one of their chieftains (Shermonta Khan), being defeated by an Arakanese king, fled Arakan and took refuge in the CHT. Bomang tribe also settled in the CHT during the seventeenth century. Murong, Mro, Kyong, Panko and Kukhi came here about 200 to 300 years ago.

Similar is the case of settlements of some tribal people such as Khasia and Monipuri who live in Sylhet, Garo living in Mymensingh, Santals, Orang and Mundas living in northern districts of Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Bogra and Rangpur. They are not aboriginals. They came here about 100 to 200 years ago during the British regime to work at tea gardens and cultivation. Santals came from Choto Nagpur of India for ‘indigo’ cultivation during the British era.

Lest I be misunderstood, the aboriginals are the groups of human race “who have been residing in a place from time immemorial… they are the true sons of the soil…" (Morgan, An introduction to Anthropology, 1972). As recently reiterated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina the tribal people of the CHT are not indigenous people, nor are the other minority ethnic groups now living inside Bangladesh. They are not aborigines or Adibashis under any pretext. Unlike Burma, Bangladesh's consitituion guarantees equal rights to all its people - indigenous or not. As citizens of the country, a Chakma or a Marma has as much rights as any Bangali (Bengali). So, all the fuss about adibashi and adhibashi is disingenuous and is aimed at creating a rift between all those that call Bangladesh their home.

As also noted in a recent posting in the Weekly Holiday by A.M.K. Chowdhury, all the tribal people living in the CHT came from Tibbet, Arakan and Myanmar. They cannot be recognized as indigenous people. They are ethnic minorities by any definition.

I fully endorses Bangladesh Government's position on the ethnic minorities of Bangladesh. I also strongly condemn the divisive policy of the Indian government and their paid agents, and foreign and local NGOs who are trying to undermine the sovereignty of Bangladesh.

Rohingya - Rakhine -- Debate or Dialogue between thinking persons?

From the responses we have seen thus far, it is quite obvious that the extreme racists and bigots within the Rakhine Buddhist community are running out of wits after my recent posting of the Rohingya Identity and Demography in the British Era. There I showed that the Rohingya people, far from the Rakhine unsubstantiated claims, are an indigenous group of the Arakan State of Burma who had settled there from time immemorial, and hundreds of years before the ancestors of today's Rakhines settled. Having analyzed the demographic data of the English colonial period, I also pointed out that the so-called influx to Arakan during the British era actually had more to do with the Rakhine population than any other ethnic/religious group, and that the growth within the Rohingya Muslim community was a natural one.

Unfortunately, as we have noticed time and again, the racists within the Burmese and Arakanese Rakhine communities are uncomfortable to consider any other possibility beyond their own myths which challenge such absurd chauvinism. Prejudice dies hard!

Consider, e.g., the case of racist Aye Chan who says he is 'tired of arguing' with us. His entire thesis is built around showing that nowhere within the British records the name Rohingya appeared, and as such, by default, Rohingya is a dead horse. He is unwilling to accept the characterization of Rohingyas under Muslim/Mohamadan/Musulman categories. Were the Rakhines categorized as Rakhines by the British? Are Aye Chan and his ilk aware of the two books written by British army officers: (i) BURMESE OUTPOST by Anthony Irwin, published by Collins in 1945, and (ii) DEFEAT INTO VICTORY by Field Marshal Viscount Slim (considered one of the best books written by a military general on World War II) published in 1956? In these two books the authors mentioned Muslims of Arakan as ‘Mussulman Arakanese’ or 'Araknese Mohammedans' or simply as 'Arakanese' and the Buddhists as ‘Maughs’. [See below for actual citations from these books.]
(As can be seen even the name Rakhine did not appear in those books to describe the Maghs of Arakan.)

Unless, one is willing to accept that colonizers had their own ways of and rationalization for categorizing people, which may not totally agree with those of the colonized, there is little one can do to educate that moron. Look at the Spanish Conquistadors that came to colonize the Philippines where they came across indigenous Muslims who practiced Islam, similar to the practice of the Spanish (Moor) Muslims. To these new invaders, thus, the Filipino Muslims came to be named as Moors and later Moro Muslims. In the Dutch colonization of South Africa, the Indian community was put under the category of 'colored' people. They were not called Indian South Africans. Here in the USA, while there is no record of African-American heritage (as to where they were plucked out of), we may know a White person with his precise European heritage. Thus, governors Cuomo (father and son) of New York State of the USA are known as Italian-Americans. Within the conquered people in the USA and Canada, the natives were called Red Indians and later Native Indians, while those people never called themselves as such and were actually divided on many matters, language, religion, etc. Does such categorization by the English/French colonizers change the mere fact that Cherokees lived in the Americas before the Europeans subdued them? If today, the Cherokees would rather like to self-identify by their heritage - the Cherokee name - who can deny that right to them? Only an utterly extreme racist with no brains, and full of hatred and chauvinism, would deny that right.

And there are plenty of such examples in our world that we can cite about the Rohingya case. Will that educate a half-educated person when he refuses to grow up as a thinking man?

And still within many good hearted and well-meaning Rohingya Diaspora there is a call for having a debate with such obscene racists within the Rakhine commmunity. Here below I share my views on the question of a debate:

1. I prefer dialogue or discussion than a debate unless the latter can be held under a neutral venue and moderated/administered by an unbiased person. Still, since debate has everything to do with winning, even by ridiculing the other side's shallow (?) views, at the end it leaves behind a bad taste amongst the participants and their respective adherents, further widening the gap between the opposing parties. Hardly, debate has brought differing peoples together for a common cause. As such, if the objective is to let the other party know where each party stands, a discussion/sharing of info/dialogue is often a more prudent approach. In these days of information superhighway we can achieve this without a confrontational debate by sharing our writings/postings, and asking/answering probing or poignant questions/points for elaboration. So, e.g., when Aye Chan says "we are lying about Rohingya", we want to ask "show us where we lied" (just as Dr Bahar had done in his note to Aye Chan). Such a dialogue with an opposing side can be more fruitful than wasting people's time and money to organize a debate with a racist. If still money and time are no problems a better way to spend such would be to hold our own seminars to educate folks on the either side to learn/share without allowing racists like Aye Chan to get a free ride at our cost. As I stated before, if he is all serious about a debate with us, let him organize it (without spending our money), and we shall be glad to take him up anywhere in the globe (of course, outside Burma). He cannot have a free ride at our cost!

2. A frame of reference is very important for any such info sharing including a debate. Without such, the exercise may become a mindless one. If, e.g., demography in the post-1826 era is the issue, let's make it clear in the beginning and that way the history of who came earlier to Arakan is not a debating issue to bite upon. As the tens of articles and books have been written, including those by Syed Ashraf Alam, AFK Jilani, BaShin, Nurul Islam - UK and Ctg., Abid Bahar and many others - if anyone is interested to learn the truth on the Rohingya issues of our time there are plenty to educate oneself with. On the other hand, if one is close-minded, no words of mouth in a debate/discussion/dialogue would do any good as it has failed to even educate one from written words. At the most they can create doubt and that too, only under non-threatening environment possible outside a debate.

3. The more important question, therefore, is - what we gain and what we lose from such an interaction with a known racist like Aye Chan? If it is a zero-sum activity, we should shun any such temptation. Do we really expect Aye Chan to all on a sudden change his mind by participating in a debate with us, something that he could have been enlightened on his own through our writings? I seriously doubt that possibility.

4. What is value-adding for our purpose? Can we find moderate elements within the Rakhaing to accept or consider our side of the history, and share our findings so that he/she can start the groundwork within his/her community for a paradigm shift away from racism and hatred toward inclusion and acceptance? If we don't have any moderate Rakhine intellectual or politician or opinion maker, we would better serve the cause of the Rohingya by reaching out to moderate Burmans who can start that process of reconciliation or paradigm shift. If that also looks rather bleak, we may have to do what other such threatened minorities in the world have done, which would include knocking on the doors of power brokers in the global scene. For that we can study the history of newly emerged countries like East Timor and South Sudan, as a starting point. How lucky we shall be there, given the fact that what was possible for those territories may not excite xian overlords of our time when it comes to Arakan, that is closer to the Chinese domain of influence? Allah knows the best! But it is the last option we shall be left with minus the two earlier options.

Our best approach, IMHO, is to reach out to democratic minded Burmese that are open-minded and are willing to giving it a try towards federalism and democracy, which are based on universal values and laws. The inclusion of Rohingya in Burma would be a win-win formula for the divided country, while the exclusion can only make it worse - not only morally but also economically. Our time served there to promote the Rohingya cause would be more fruitful than wasting time with Aye Chan. Who is Aye Chan anyway? He is a dishonest academic, a provocateur and a charlatan trying to masquerade as an intellectual for his racist extremist section of the people. Even if he were to accept Rohingya citizenship does he have any influence to repeal the racist 1982 Citizenship Law of Burma? I don't think so. Guys like him are used as pimps and prostitutes by illiberal undemocratic regimes to further their draconian measures, and then left to their repulsive, evil, pitiful selves.

5. What we truly need from our leadership is a strategy to repeal that Citizenship Law that is hemmed with short-term tactical moves that would InshaAllah allow the Rohingya people of Burma to live as a free people that is equal with other citizens of Burma. Inclusion not rejection. May Allah help us all in that endeavor.

End Notes:
1. Slim writes -
In page 147:
"......this exodus was followed by a bitter internecine struggle for land and power between the Arakanese and Maugh, two sections of the population. The Maughs got the worst of it and many were driven across the Naf River to take shelter in territory still held by us, there to make yet another refugee problem. Faction fights among the victorious Arakanese then became the order of the day, until the Japanese, pushing up to Buthidaung, resorted some sort of uneasy peace."

In page 148:

".....It later extended its activities to include minor raiding operations, and frequently fought successful actions with Japanese patrols and detachments, but in July 1942 an attempt to bolster up the Arakanese in our area by issuing fire arms of various sorts was judged premature and abandoned."

In page 238;

"....The porters of this column were Araknese Mohammedans and Maughs. All droped their loads and the Arakanese made off into the jungles, but the Maughs, two hundreds of them, prefered wisely to be captured rather than have their throats cut by the local Arakanese as they attempted to escape. "

2. BURMESE OUTPOST: Author Anthony Irwin writes (for example)

Maughs .. Arakanese Buddhists who inhabit the Southern half of Arakan and some extent Kaladan. (This is a definition the of the word Mugh given by him.)

In Pages 22-23
"...As the area then occupied by us was almost entirely Mussulman country, it was from the followers of Mohammed that we drew most of our "Scouts" and Agents. The Arakan before the war had been occupied over its entire length by both Mussulman and Maughs. Then in 1941 the two sects set to and fought. The result of this "war" was roughly that the Maugh took over the Southern half of the country and the Mussulman the Northern.......". "The immediate result to us was that it seperated the two peoples into two distinct araes of influence, and it is on these areas that we have to base our whole system of intelligence, and the Jap likewise, for the uses or tries to use the aughs in the same way as we use the Mussulmen, but fortunately not to the same effect. Added to the fact that the Mussulmen are the most trustworthy and in my opinion the more courageous, is the point that at the moment the Jap has had to fight in an area the Northern section of which is entirely Moslem."

"....I sometimes wonder if any other people in like circumstances can tell the same story of loyalty and patience as can these Mussulman Arakanese."

In page 65:
Abdul Salaam, Mussulman Arakanese headman.