Saturday, July 7, 2012

Violence – Not In My Name



Are the violent extremists winning everywhere? A closer look offers ample of evidences to suggest that indeed they are winning, esp. in war-torn countries and in countries that are engaged in war. This trend is somewhat understandable given the fact that war seems to bring the worst in human beings. In Iraq, e.g., hardly a day goes by when the extremist Sunnis are not killing Shi’a Muslims. This time of the year is a free-hunting season for these murderers when millions of Shi’a come to visit Karbala and other religious sites to mourn and celebrate the death and birth, respectively, of their Imams. Taking advantage of a dysfunctional government, these criminals obviously want to start a civil war that would surely turn the country into a failed state in the post-Saddam Hussein era.

Even in countries like the USA, which is at war in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and fighting either covert or overt wars elsewhere, since at least 9/11, Americans frustrated by either a failing economy or a slowly recovering economy seem to be gravitating more towards political candidates that sound extremists.

In Israel, which has been at war with all its neighbors since its illegitimate birth of illegal land-grab, which has led to the largest eviction of indigenous people from their ancestral homeland, extremists have been in power for ages. Truly, each subsequent government has been more extreme than the one it replaced. Thus, peace in the holy land remains an illusion!

In the post-9/11, governments everywhere were hooked up on potential terror from radical Muslims. And they had plenty of reasons to be paranoid of. After all, there were the so-called terrorist attempts by a shoe-bomber, a dirty-bomber, an under ware-bomber, and subway bombers. In that process of racial and religious profiling, the western governments, however, ignored the danger of ultra-right extremists within their own societies. They forgot that there is no shortage of home-grown terrorists like Breivik of Norway who are premeditated mass murderers. 

Take for instance the recent revelation about Germany, which has a sizeable Muslim population of Turkish origin. For years, no one within Germany was able to explain the killings of several Turkish Muslims on its soil. The relatives of victims said police tried to pin the murders on organized crime, drugs or ethnic rivalries, but never examined the possibility of right-wing terror. Only when two suspected founding members were found dead last November after a botched bank robbery did the activities of a small band of neo-Nazis -- the so-called National Socialist Underground -- come to light. We also learned that Germany's domestic spy agency may have been covering-up the crimes of these neo-Nazis that were responsible for those killings of ethnic Turks and Greeks in a seven-year terror spree. An official with the spy agency reportedly destroyed files relating to the investigation of this criminal group. The case prompted the government to announce this week that Heinz Fromm, the agency's head for the past 12 years, will take early retirement.

This German report once again highlights how racial profiling of a minority can backfire by bringing the worst within its own society where not only home-grown extremists from the majority group emerge but they thrive with tacit approval of the very law enforcing agencies that are supposed to be color- and race-blind. The end result can be quite toxic, devastating and suicidal.

Now the German government is embarrassed by the episode. Thus, the regional government in Thuringia – the home state of the alleged group members – recently announced the removal of the head of its own intelligence agency. Thomas Sippel "no longer has the confidence" of the state legislature, regional interior minister Joerg Geibert said.

Burma (Myanmar) is the worst den of hatred and prejudice in our planet. Truly, in my decades of study of minority races, I have never come across a country that has been as much divided on the racial issue at the exclusion of others as Myanmar is. It is a Buddhist majority country where the Bamar (Burmans) are the majority race. They are considered the first class citizens. Then there are seven second class national races, followed by 127 third class sub-races, who are followed by dozens of nameless races that are denied citizenship rights.

As expected, the Bamars have ruled the country since its independence from the Great Britain in January 1948. (Aung San Suu Kyi, the current leaders and past military rulers all have come from the Bamar race.) To them, a Burmese is synonymous with being a Bamar and/or a Buddhist. There is no room for non-Buddhists in this country of 55 million people. Through its 1982 Citizenship Law, enacted during Ne Win’s military rule, the state has nullified citizenship rights of millions of minorities, including the Rohingyas of Arakan (now conveniently named Rakhine) state (situated next to Bangladesh). As a result of many such aberrations from the very spirit of the Panglong Agreement (1947), Aung San-Attlee Treaty (1947), Burma Independence Act 1947, Nu-Attlee Agreement (1947), the 1947 Constitution and the Union Citizenship Act (1948) several ethnic groups feel cheated and are at war against the central government. Interestingly, although the Rohingyas are the most persecuted people in our world, they are not one of those groups who are fighting against the regime.

In recent months, although the Thein Sein government has promised reform and dialogue with the opposition, none of these promises has materialized yet. He has released hundreds of political prisoners in recent months, but still there are many who are left behind the prison walls. His government institutes and forces remain hostile to non-Buddhist minorities everywhere (even to non-Burmans). His regime has neither done anything towards reinstating citizenship rights of the affected communities, nor has it created an environment of inclusion away from bigotry and racism that run very deep all over Burma. Human rights violations in ethnic and religious minority regions are, therefore, a fact of life.

What is more problematic is the clear evidence emerging from Arakan that the latest pogrom against the Rohingyas of Arakan state of Burma couldn’t have been launched without the active cooperation and collusion between the Rakhine extremists and the government security forces. For years, Rakhine politicians and their intellectual frauds have only sold poison pills of hatred against the Rohingyas so as to cause their mass exodus. They have neglected nation-building tasks, starting with reconciliation efforts between various ethnic and religious groups. And they have succeeded in this criminal ploy to make the lives of ordinary Rohingyas a living hell inside Burma. More than a million of Rohingyas have already been forced to flee out of the country. Now with their homes, businesses, mosques and belongings set on fire, looted or destroyed in this year’s pogrom, more than a hundred thousand Rohingyas are internally displaced, and face mass starvation. Internal reports suggest that a few thousand Rohingyas might have perished also.

Through their colossal records of pure racism and hatred, unfathomed persecution and bigotry, the Rakhine Buddhists are giving a bad name to their religion which preaches non-violence. What an anomaly!

While racism has been a major cause of violence in our world, the Muslim extremists in Mali are opening a new frontier in violence. Like their Taliban mentors a decade ago, they are demonstrating that when ignorance is paramount, everything seems to be halal or kosher. The Ansar Dine (meaning: helpers of the faith) extremists – or more properly, the ‘idiots of the faith’ – are destroying treasures of mankind in Mali. In a matter of months Mali has gone from one of West Africa's stable democracies to a nation gripped by deadly chaos.

The March 22 coup eased the way for Tuareg separatist rebels -- descendants of those who founded the ancient city state of Timbuktu in the fifth century -- to carry out the armed takeover of an area larger than France they consider their homeland. However, the previously unknown Ansar Dine group, fighting on their flanks, seized the upper hand, and has since pushed the Tuareg from all positions of power.

These extremist Wahabis - members of the Ansar Dine - consider the Sufi shrines to be idolatrous and have wrecked seven tombs in two days. As published reports show, last week, these criminals, and that is how I see them, destroyed the tombs of Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya, and on Sunday attacked four more including Cheikh el-Kebir's mausoleum as residents stood by helplessly. The ancient city of Timbuktu is also home to 16 cemeteries and mausoleums.

The attacks on Muslim shrines are reminiscent of the Taliban idiots’ (with less than adequate learning of Islam) blowing up the giant Buddhas of the Bamiyan valley in Afghanistan -- an ancient Buddhist shrine on the Silk Road and a world heritage site -- in 2001. Back then, I condemned such acts saying that they had made a mockery of Islam through their utter ignorance. As many students of history would know those statues had no problem surviving during the regime of the great Muslim ruler Sultan Mahmood of Ghazni (11th century C.E.) but sadly, they could not survive during the short tenure of ignorant Talibans of Afghanistan. Was Sultan Mahmood a lesser Muslim or less knowledgeable Muslim compared to those morons of the Taliban?

And, now the Ansar Dine extremists are following the footsteps of their mentors. Through their acts they are shaming their noble faith. I condemn their destructive activities and their brand of faith. I pray and hope that the people of Mali, esp. the Tuareg, would unite together and throw these extremists out. There is no place for extremism in Islam.

As can be seen, in our time, there is no shortage of such extremists in any race, faith and continent. Their acts are divisive, criminal and unacceptable. Unless checked severely, they are bound to make our world a living hell, much like what is happening in Arakan state of Myanmar. Burmese and ethnic leaders must come to grip with the monumental hatred, racism and bigotry that they entertain against ‘others’, and redresses these vices by fairly treating all the residents as equal citizens. Otherwise, Myanmar is sure to implode within and no change of government in the future will upset such a bleak destiny.

If the Thein Sein government is serious about stability and peace, it must foster an inclusive agenda by restoring the citizenship rights of its minority Rohingyas and other affected communities, and harshly deal with preachers and practitioners of hatred. It must purge its rank and file of Buddhist extremists. It simply cannot allow ethnic cleansing of minority communities like the Rohingyas to continue.

As we have repeatedly seen, the Sunni extremists in Iraq are a disruptive force; they are anarchists and must be dealt with firmly before they make a living hell in the birthplace of human civilization. Since these criminals could not have operated without some form of support from within their own community, it is the responsibility of peace-loving people within those sectors to stop their crime one way or another. Otherwise, the outcome will be so terrible that they won’t be able to save their own skins from the resulting bloodbath.

As to the extremists here in the USA, the ordinary Americans can still make a difference through the ballot box. The choice is theirs. They can either accept or refuse to be bought by the merchants of violence. I hope they choose the latter option.

The same prescription is for the Israelis and others living under liberal or illiberal democracies.


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