Sunday, October 19, 2014

Religion and Violence - an analysis by Prof. Juan Cole

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

Terrorism and the other Religions

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

Death of an intellectual giant - Ali Mazrui

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

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

Prof. Ali Mazrui - Dead

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

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


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

Modi's US Visit - an analysis

The Indian Prime Minister was in NY last month to attend the UN General Assembly session. According to published reports he received a raucous reception from some 18,000 American- and Canadian- Indians who had gathered in Madison Square Garden, the famed New York sports arena. It is not difficult to assume that they supported his Hindutvadi agenda. Many in the audience wore T-shirts bearing Modi’s image, waved it on posters, and chanted his name “Modi, Modi, Modi” in unison, like a mantra, drowning out the announcer’s attempt to introduce him.
“It’s starting to sound like a campaign rally,” Hari Sreenivasan, a PBS anchor who was acting as M.C. of the festivities, remarked about the chants before Mr. Modi arrived.
The crowd was shown a video that showed Modi’s rise to power from the chief minister of Gujarat to prime minister of India: Modi praying, Modi bowing, Modi speaking, Modi saluting. “Minimum government, maximum governance,” the words on-screen read, quoting one of Modi’s many mottos. Another screen-shot read: “Red carpet, not red tape, to foster growth.”
Narendra Modi spoke in Hindi, which is the language he is comfortable in. He modulated his voice carefully and used body language to present the picture of an assertive, confident leader calling on his mesmerized audience to “join hands to serve our mother India” towards developing his country’s economy. He vowed that under his leadership India wouldn’t look back. He announced plans to simplify the immigration bureaucracy for Indians living abroad so that they could return and invest.
Accompanying the Indian crowd were 30 U.S. lawmakers that included New Jersey Democrat and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Senator Bob Menendez – long known for his anti-Muslim hawkish agenda in the Senate. Along with him were over three dozen congressional colleagues, and also the Indian-American Republican governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley.
Modi’s visit to the USA was a triumphal one, by any measure. It showed how time has changed! Modi was once a person non-grata in the USA who was denied a US visa in 2005 under the terms of a 1998 US law that bars entry to foreigners who have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom”. And now as the elected prime minister of the largest ‘illiberal democracy’ in the world, he’s treated as a Bollywood-like celebrity in Hollywood’s motherland.
In diplomacy, morality – which the US government never seemed to have – had to be shelved for selfish political expediency! Modi’s past sins were all forgotten and forgiven, as if, in amnesia.
Several hundred anti-Modi protesters, mostly Americans of Indian descent, both Hindu and Muslim, gathered across the street from Madison Square Garden, protesting the prime minister’s handling of the anti-Muslim pogrom that erupted in Gujarat in 2002 when he was the chief minister of the state of Gujarat. They chanted behind police barricades, “Modi, Modi, you can’t hide, you committed genocide!”
In New York Modi met many CEOs enticing them to invest in India. He then visited Washington DC for his scheduled meeting with President Obama. On Monday evening, on the eve of Tuesday’s (September 30) official meeting, Obama hosted Modi for a private working dinner at the White House — despite the fact that Indian leader, a devout Hindu, was fasting. He greeted Modi in Gujarati (“Kem cho, Mr Prime Minister?”) on the portals of the White House.
Typically, visiting heads of state spend just a portion of a day at the White House meeting with the president and other U.S. leaders. The rare second day of attention from Obama underscored the White House’s desire to give a warm welcome to a man once barred from even entering the U.S.
During their Oval Office meeting on Tuesday, the US President affirmed that India meets the requirements and is ready for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime. They also agreed to press forward on UN reforms to pave way for India’s membership of the Security Council. They also agreed to extend the framework agreement of defense between the two countries for a further ten years.
As noted in an Indian daily, there were a score of deliverables that will touch the life of every urban Indian. They include an agreement for the US to partner India in developing three smart cities: Allahabad, Ajmer, and Vishakapatnam; US help in upgrading Water, Sanitation, and Health in 500 Indian cities under a program titled WASH; US help in developing smart energy initiatives such as intelligent street lighting and rooftop renewables in numerous Indian cities; and a program under which 1000 American teachers will teach short-term in Indian universities. The US will also set up a new IIT.
Following their Oval Office meeting, Obama and Modi traveled together on Tuesday afternoon to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on the National Mall, just a few blocks from the White House, in an unscripted gesture of togetherness.
The two men wrote in a joint editorial in the Washington Post in yet another expression of togetherness: “The true potential of our relationship has yet to be fully realized. The advent of a new government in India is a natural opportunity to broaden and deepen our relationship. With a reinvigorated level of ambition and greater confidence, we can go beyond modest and conventional goals. It is time to set a new agenda, one that realizes concrete benefits for our citizens.” “While our shared efforts will benefit our own people, our partnership aspires to be larger than merely the sum of its parts. As nations, as people, we aspire to a better future for all; one in which our strategic partnership also produces benefits for the world at large,” they said, concluding their op-ed with the new catch phrase that headlined their vision statement: “Chalein Saath Saath.”
Well, that sums up Modi’s first visit to the USA in over a decade. No Indian Prime Minister before him has ever been honored so well. However, not everything went well for him.
A US court has ordered Prime Minister Narendra Modi to answer allegations that he failed to stop the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. The petitioner in the case is the American Justice Center, a non-profit human rights organization, acting on behalf of two survivors of the 2002 riots in Gujarat: one is a Muslim woman whose mother was attacked by a mob during the riots and died of her injuries a year later, according to the court documents; the other plaintiff is a man whose grandmother was killed and who said he was attacked by a gang of Hindus. When he approached the police, they told him they had orders not to save any Muslims, according to the petition.
Modi was serving his first term as Chief Minister of his home state when the riots erupted. Nearly 2,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims.
The civil case before a New York court seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Mr Modi for “crimes against humanity” and extrajudicial killings under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act. “There is evidence to support the conclusion that minister Modi committed both acts of intentional and malicious direction to authorities in India to kill and maim innocent persons of the Muslim faith,” the petition said.
Another group, the Sikhs for Justice, decided to convene a ‘Citizen’s Court’ where they indicted Modi at a park in front of the White House when he met Obama.
It should, however, be noted that as a serving prime minister, Modi don’t have to appear before the US court. And he did not appear in the court to defend himself. With the cozy relationship between the USA and India, the petitioners may never see justice.
As one who had the opportunity of reviewing the Gujarat pogroms, I don’t entertain any positive impression about Modi, and consider him a mass murderer, who could have stopped the anti-Muslim pogroms in his state if he desired to do so, but he did not. Modi espouses Hindutva, a fascist ideology where non-Hindus have no place unless, of course, they become Hindus. His election win has only emboldened such divisive forces within a country of 1.25 billion.
As a sad reminder to the fires of hatred that Modi and his party BJP have rekindled in India, esp. in his native state of Gujarat, during his visit to the USA last month, communal clashes erupted in Vadodara, a major city in the state which is about 75 miles from Ahmedabad. Modi, who was Chief Minister of Gujarat till he was elected to the country’s top job, contested and won Vadodara in the national election in May, but gave up the seat later, choosing to represent the holy Hindu city of Varanasi in the country’s north in Parliament. His party, the BJP, won the Vadodara by-election recently.
According to the Reuters, the riots reportedly flared up after an image, perceived as being offensive to Islam, was shared on Facebook and WhatsApp. The clashes began late Thursday, at the time of a major religious Hindu festival being celebrated across the country. Hindu groups had sought to bar Muslims and other religious minorities from taking part in the festivities.
“The idea of banning Muslims from Hindu festivals has upset the minority but we are determined to keep the celebrations open to all,” E. Radhakrishnan, the city’s police commissioner said, according to Reuters.
Over a dozen people got injured in the clash, one of them in a case of stabbing. Gujarat’s government deployed riot police to control the clashes over the weekend and appealed to religious leaders to intervene to curb them. Mobile telephone Internet and bulk text messaging were also temporarily suspended as a precautionary step.
Over 200 people from both the communities were arrested. DJ Patel, additional commissioner of Vadodara police, said, “The man, a teacher, who posted the controversial message on WhatsApp has also been arrested.”
Last week, tensions between India and Pakistan flared up along a 200-km (125-mile) stretch of border in mostly Muslim Kashmir. The two sides exchanged fires, the worst skirmishes between the nuclear-armed rivals in more than a decade. Nine Pakistani and eight Indian civilians got killed. Fighting paused on Friday after days of heavy shelling and gun battles. “War is not an option,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office said in a statement after chairing a Pakistan’s National Security Committee meeting. “It is shared responsibility of the leadership of both countries to immediately defuse the situation,” it said.
Since 1947, the two nations have fought each other in three wars, two over Kashmir. There has not been a full-blown war since they both tested nuclear weapons in 1998.
So, why now? Has Modi’s recent visit to the USA emboldened him to go on the offensive? We don’t know the answer yet but won’t be too surprised to later find the connection.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Rohingya people need our help

The Rohingya people of Myanmar (formerly Burma) who mostly live in the western part – the Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state, bordering Bangladesh, are undoubtedly the most persecuted people on earth. Denied citizenship in the Buddhist majority country, the Rohingyas have simply become the most unwanted people in our planet. The nearby Bangladesh does not want the persecuted Rohingyas to settle there either. In desperate attempts to save their lives, many Rohingyas have become now the ‘boat people’ of our time!
Who would have thought that in our time, some 68 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the world community to guide its behaviors and actions we would see so much of intolerance and persecution of peoples based on their race or ethnicity?
There are 30 Articles of the UDHR, starting with “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…” The second one reads: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status…”
When it comes to the Rohingya, sadly, not a single one of these rights is honored by the Myanmar government. These unfortunate people are denied their right to citizenship while the 15th Article clearly states: “(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”
As the UN General Assembly convened last week, it is worth reminding ourselves that the preamble of the United Nations says, “WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, ….”
And yet, the Myanmar government, being a member of the United Nations, denies such fundamental rights to the Rohingya people. It draws justification from the Burma Citizenship Law (1982), which was adopted during military dictator Ne Win’s time. Under the section 3 of this law it is mentioned that “Nationals such as the Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Burman, Mon, Rakhine or Shan and ethnic groups as have settled in any of the territories included within the State as their permanent home from a period anterior to 1185 B.E., 1823 A.D. are Burma citizens”.
As can be seen the name ‘Rohingya’ was deliberately not mentioned in the list in spite of the fact that before the advent of the Tibeto-Burman races in Arakan, the Indo-Bengali ancestors (the first settlers) of today’s Rohingya people had already settled in the territory and that they have had maintained an unbroken continuity of their existence since time immemorial. In so doing, Aye Kyaw (a neo-Nazi fascist, Rakhine academic) who had drafted the Citizenship Law for the military dictator Ne Win was killing two birds with one stone – permanently erasing the identity and sealing the fate of millions of Rohingyas by not only denying them citizenship in Burma but also from exercising democratic rights in Arakan where they comprised nearly half (or more correctly, 47.75%) of the population, second only to the Buddhist Rakhines. This was a devious ploy by any definition.
The same evil genius – Aye Kyaw – was also a key figure in the formulation of racial, apartheid policy of the ANC (Arakan National Congress). Its draft constitution for the Arakan state reads: “The citizenship of the Republic of Arakan shall be determined and regulated by law. The citizen of Arakan shall be known as Arakanese. Buddhism shall be the state religion. Only the Arakan legal entities and citizens of Arakan nationality shall have the right to own land.” Since the Rohingyas are classified as Arakan Bengalis they will be subjected to a second class citizenship with no right to run for office or own land.
As can be seen, the ANC policy is an apartheid policy of exclusion, discrimination and marginalization of the Rohingya, who are derogatorily called the Kula (Kala) much like how the Afro-Americans were once called in the USA as the Black Niggers.
Interestingly, under the section 4, the 1982 Citizenship Law says: “Every national and every person born of parents, both of whom are nationals are citizens by birth.”
In the section 6, it says: “A person who is already a citizen on the date this Law comes into force is a citizen. Action, however, shall be taken under section 18 for infringement of the provision of that section.”
It is worth pointing out that the Rohingyas were accepted as citizens of Burma, and had elected members of the parliament from their own community. During the Parliamentary period (1948-1962) and the first years of Ne Win’s dictatorship, there were not only many Rohingya organizations, both in Arakan and Rangoon, but the government recognized Rohingya as a Burmese ethnic group, and its language program was also transmitted through the national radio station in Rangoon. As such, to them sections 4 and 6 were only a confirmation of such rights.
But soon the controversial law was exploited by the military regime and its racist and fascist supporters within the larger Buddhist community, esp. the Rakhines, to treat the Rohingyas as non-natives to Burma, opening the door for all types of discrimination against them. A chain of pogroms followed laying down the stepping stones for their genocide.
With the change of the old guards in Myanmar in recent years, we had high hopes that the apartheid Citizenship Law would be revoked. But we were wrong.
The former military general Thein Sein is the poster-boy of so-called reform inside the country. With him as the head of the state, there is a quasi-civil-military government in place that runs the fractured country. Myanmar had its election – albeit a limited one – in which many politicians with grass root support within the masses managed to win the limited seats available in the parliament. The new regime has also released many political prisoners (mostly Buddhists) who were once rotting in many of Myanmar’s notorious dungeons. In reaction to such positive image-building initiatives, the western world has reciprocated by lifting its political and economic sanctions against the once hated military dictatorship, which has ruled the country for almost its entire life since earning independence from Britain in January 4 of 1948.
There was much expectation – probably too unrealistic and too premature – that the Thein Sein government was serious about ‘real’ reform and that the Rohingyas will be integrated as citizens at par with other ethnic/national groups inside Myanmar. What we have witnessed instead is worsening of their situations. They are now victims of a highly organized genocidal campaign in which even Buddhists like Aung San Suu Kyi – touted one-time as the democracy icon – are sadly, either silent or willing partners in this gross violation of human rights. Since May of 2012, an estimated 150,000 Rohingyas are internally displaced in the Rakhine state. Tens of thousands of Muslims living in other parts of Myanmar have also seen organized mob violence, lynching, and wholesale destruction of their homes, schools, mosques and businesses, which have resulted in some 250,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) all across Myanmar.
What is worse, the international NGOs, esp. from the Muslim countries, were barred from helping out the Muslim victims. In the face of reported protests from the Rakhine Buddhist community, the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) could not even open an office to carry out its much needed humanitarian relief work in the troubled region.
This year (2014), the Myanmar authorities have cracked down even harder, making the situation worse. First, the government expelled Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which had been providing health care for the Rohingya. Then orchestrated mobs attacked the offices of humanitarian organizations, forcing them out. While some kinds of aid are resuming, but not the health care! As noted by award-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof, expected mothers and their children are dying for lack of doctors. They need doctors desperately to save their lives, but the Myanmar government has confined them to quasi-concentration camps outside towns, and it blocks aid workers from entering to provide medical help. They are on their own in Myanmar, where democratic progress is being swamped by crimes against humanity toward the Rohingya.
Many of the Muslim IDPs now live in squalid camps with no provisions and are counting their days hopelessly to be relocated to their burned homes. And yet, such a provision seems unlikely. In recent months, Rakhine Buddhists have organized demonstrations protesting any resettlement of the Rohingya and other Muslims. Bottom line – they want the Rohingya and other Muslims out of Myanmar, if not totally annihilated.
Many international observers and some experts, including human rights activists, were surprised by such outbreaks of ethnic cleansing drives last year against the Muslims, in general, and the Rohingya people, in particular, let alone the level of Buddhist intolerance against non-Buddhists everywhere inside Myanmar. However, such sad episodes were no surprise to many keen readers and researchers of the Myanmar’s problematic history.
We all knew that simply a transition to democracy would not and could not solve the Rohingya problem. Instead of a much-needed dialogue for reconciliation and confidence-building between ethnic/national and religious groups, what we recognized was appalling Buddhist chauvinism – outright rejection of the ‘other’ people from such processes by the so-called ‘democracy’ leaders within the Burmese and Rakhine Diaspora. As if, their so-called struggle for democracy against the hated military regime was a purely Buddhist one, the Rohingya Muslims were unwelcome in those dialogues between ethnic/national groups.
The level of Buddhist intolerance, hatred and xenophobia has simply no parallel in our time! The chauvinist Buddhists are in denial of the very existence of the Rohingya people, in spite of the fact that the latter’s root in Arakan is older than that of the Rakhines by several centuries. While the vast majority of the late comers to the contested territory were Buddhists, the Rohingyas, much like the people living next door – on the other side of the Naaf River – in today’s Bangladesh had embraced Islam voluntarily. Their conversion had also much to do with the history of the entire region, esp. in the post-13th century when the Sultans and the great Mughal Emperors ruled vast territories of the South Asia from the foothills of the Himalayas to the shores of the Indian Ocean.
As a matter of fact, the history of Arakan, sandwiched then between Muslim-dominated India and Buddhist-dominated Burma, would have been much different had it not been for the crucial decision made by the Muslim Sultan of Bengal who reinstalled the fleeing Buddhist king Narameikhtla to the throne of Arakan in 1430 with a massive Muslim force of nearly 60,000 soldiers – sent in two campaigns. Interestingly, the Muslim General Wali Khan – leading a force of 25,000 soldiers, who was instructed to put the fleeing monarch to the throne of Arakan –claimed it for himself. He was subsequently uprooted in a new campaign – again at the directive of the Sultan of Muslim Bengal, by General Sandi Khan who led a force of 35,000 soldiers. What would be Arakan’s history today if the Muslim Sultan of Bengal had let General Wali Khan rule the country as his client?
The so-called democracy leaders in the opposition had very little, if any, in common with values and ideals of democracy but more with hard-core fascism. Their behavior showed that they were closet fascists and were no democrats. Thus, all the efforts of the Rohingya and other non-Buddhist minority groups to reach out to the Buddhist-dominated opposition leadership simply failed. It was an ominous warning for the coming days!
So, in 2012 when the region witnessed a series of highly orchestrated ethnic cleansing drives against the Rohingya and other Muslim groups not just within the Rakhine state but all across Myanmar, like some keen observers of the political developments I was not too surprised. Nor was I surprised with the poisonous role played by leaders of the so-called democracy movement. They showed their real fascist color. But the level of ferocity, savagery and inhumanity simply shocked me. It showed that the Theravada Buddhists of Myanmar, like their co-religionists in Sri Lanka and Cambodia, have unmistakably become one of the most racists and bigots in our world. With the evolving incendiary role of Buddhist monks like Wirathu – the abbot of historically influential Mandalay Ma-soe-yein monastery and his 969 Fascist Movement, which sanctifies eliminationist policies against the Muslims, surely, the teachings of Gautama Buddha have miserably failed to enlighten them and/or put a lid on their all too obvious savagery and monstrosity.
Myanmar is still locked in its mythical, savage past and has not learned the basics of nation-building. It uses fear-tactics and hatred towards a common enemy – the Rohingyas and Muslim minorities – to glue its fractured Buddhist majority. And the sad reality is – its formula is working, thanks to Wirathu, Thein Sein, Suu Kyi and other provocateurs and executioners!
On June 20, 2013 twelve Nobel Peace Laureates called upon the Myanmar government for ending violence against Muslims in Burma. They also called for an international independent investigation of the anti-Muslim violence. Yet, the Myanmar regime continues to ignore international plea for integration of the Rohingya and other minorities. It proclaims – “There are no people called Rohingya in Myanmar.” This narrative is absurd, as well as racist. A document as far back as 1799 refers to the Rohingya population in Arakan, and an 1826 report estimates that 30 percent of the population of this region was Muslim.
As I have noted elsewhere, today’s Rohingya are a hybrid group of people, much like the Muslim communities living in many non-Arab countries around the globe, esp. South Asia. To say that their origin is a British-era or a Bangladeshi phenomenon is simply disingenuous.
In recent months, Myanmar has conducted a controversial census in which nearly a million Rohingyas were unaccounted. They were denied their basic rights to identify themselves as Rohingya. It was a gross violation according to scores of international law.
The Rohingya identity is no more “artificial” or “invented” than any other, including the Rakhine identity. The national politics around the Rohingya people of Arakan who are dumped as the ‘Bengali illegal Muslim immigrants’ is not mere bigotry but a viable toxic fruit of Myanmar ultra-nationalism Bhumi Rakkhita Putra Principle. It is a deliberate act of provocative target-marking in line with YMBA’s (Young Men Buddhist Association) amyo-batha-tharthana (race-language-religion) and is the foundation of the Burma Citizenship Act 1982. It is strong, powerful, and ultra-toxic. This apartheid law allows a Rakhine Buddhist like Aye Maung – an MP and chairman of the RNDP (a religio-racist Rakhine political party) whose parents only emigrated to Arakan state in 1953-54 from Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) – to be automatically recognized as a Burmese citizen while denying the same privilege to millions of Rohingya and other Muslims whose ancestors had lived in the territory for centuries.
Myanmar espouses neo-Nazi Fascism, i.e., Myanmarism – the noxious cocktail of Buddhism, ultra-nationalism, racism and bigotry. It is a farcical ideology, which starts on the false premise that the different groups that make up its complex ethnic/religious mosaic today were always under the authority of a single government before the arrival of the British. It is a dangerous ideology since it promotes the agenda towards genocide of the Rohingya and other non-Buddhist religious minorities. It is a medieval ideology of hatred and intolerance because it defines citizenship based on ethnicity or race, which has no place in the 21st century.
The Citizenship Law of 1982 violates several fundamental principles of international customary law standards, offends the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and leaves Rohingyas exposed to no legal protection of their rights. The 1982 Law promotes discrimination against Rohingya by arbitrarily depriving them of their Burmese (Myanmar) citizenship. The deprivation of one’s nationality is not only a serious violation of human rights but also constitutes an international crime.
This apartheid law is a blueprint for elimination or ethnic cleansing. It has galvanized into genocidal campaign against the vulnerable Rohingya people who have lost everything in their ancestral land and has created outflows of refugees, which overburden other countries posing threats to peace and security within the region. Of the Rohingya Diaspora an estimated 1.5 million now live in Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, UAE, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, USA, UK, Republic of Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and other places where they could find a shelter. Such a forced exodus of Rohingyas is simply unacceptable in our time.
If Myanmar’s leaders are serious about bringing their nation state from savage past to modernity, from darkness to enlightenment and avoiding becoming a failed state, they must abandon their toxic ideology of Myanmarism and revoke the apartheid Citizenship Law. They must learn from experiences of others to avoid disintegration. They must also learn that like everyone else the Rohingyas have the right to self-identify themselves. And it would be travesty of law and justice to deny such rights of self-identity.
Finally, it would be the greatest tragedy of our generation should we allow the perpetrators of genocide and ethnic cleansing to whitewash their crimes against humanity. The UNSC must demand an impartial inquiry and redress the Rohingya crisis. The Rohingya people need protection as the most persecuted people on earth. Should the Thein Sein government fail to bring about the desired change, starting with either repealing or amending the 1982 Citizenship Law, the UNSC must consider creating a ‘save haven’ inside Arakan in the northern Mayu Frontier Territories to protect the lives of the Rohingya people so that they could live safely, securely with honor and dignity as rest of us. The sooner the better!