Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The 2020 Candidates Are Ignoring Guantánamo

"The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have been nearly silent on a significant issue: Guantánamo. None of the candidates are making the still-open Guantánamo Bay prison a campaign issue. This is a huge shift from the Bush years, when liberal politicians criticized the Bush administration for the Iraq war, torture and other constitutional violations.
Throughout the first Democratic primary debate, Guantánamo was mentioned only once. During the first night, Ohio congressman Tim Ryan said, “terrorists at Guantánamo Bay” get better health care than migrant children detained in concentration camps on the southern United States border.
Describing the remaining Guantánamo detainees as “terrorists at Guantánamo Bay” gets it wrong. Most of them have not been charged nor tried for any crimes, let alone terrorism. They’re detained at Guantánamo indefinitely, which is against international human rights law. Only seven detainees are being tried at the military commissions but they have yet to be convicted of terrorism." - Adam Hudson

To read his article, click here.

The Antiwar Right and the New Cold War

To read the Scott Horton interview of Pat Buchanan, July 23, 2019, click here.

Israel’s latest attempt to erase Palestine

By Professor Ilan Pappe

The attempt to suppress official documentation of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 is not new.
But efforts by teams from the Israeli defense ministry to remove sensitive documents from Israeli archives – as reported by the Haaretz newspaper recently – must be understood in a new political climate and are not simply an attempt to spare Israeli governments embarrassment, as some have suggested.
Those of us working with Nakba documents – Nakba means “catastrophe” and is the term Palestinians use for the expulsion in 1948 of some 800,000 people from their lands and homes in what became Israel – were already aware of the removal of these documents. For many years, for instance, historians were unable to revisit “the village files,” which formed an important proof in my argument that the 1948 war was an act of ethnic cleansing.
Some of the crucial material Benny Morris used on the Deir Yassin and al-Dawayima massacres could also not be not re-opened. They all detailed a more honest Israeli version of the causes leading to what was termed the “Palestinian exodus” in 1948.
Why are these files being hidden? In 2016, the journalist Lisa Goldman assumed that the reason was that the works of the “new historians” embarrassed the government and undermined Israel’s international standing.
The documents certainly challenged the official Israeli version of a voluntary Palestinian flight and exposed war crimes committed by Zionist and later Israeli forces.
But I think the reasons are far more profound and alarming. They are part of a new assault on Palestine and the Palestinians.

Taking the politics out of Palestine

We need to look at the attempt at censoring these archives in two contexts: the political and the historical.
Politically, the removal of these documents has to be seen as part of an overall American-Israeli initiative (or at least tendency) to try to depoliticize the “Palestine question.”
In Israel, this began with Benjamin Netanyahu’s ideas about an “economic peace,” the attempt to induce the Palestinians to give up their political demands in return for an improved economic reality.
It continued with the legislation of the Nakba Law, which withdrew any government funding for public bodies and institutions that would commemorate the 1948 events as a catastrophe.
An important part of this strategy includes Israeli actions on the ground – settlement expansion, house demolitions, village clearances – that bring us closer to an official annexation of Area C – approximately 60 percent of the West Bank – into Israel and the establishment of small Bantustans in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
A number of Israeli politicians and officials have been quite open about wanting to annex all or parts of the West Bank, including, of course, the prime minister himself.
Finally, there is the Israeli nation-state law, which passed in 2018. This law consolidated Israel as an apartheid state.
One particular clause in the law is relevant to our discussion: it stipulates that the right to exercise national self-determination in the country is “unique” to the Jewish people.
On the American side, meanwhile, the Trump administration has taken a number of steps that complement the Israeli attempt to erase Palestine as a political issue and Palestinians as a national movement.
These measures included the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the transfer there of the US embassy from Tel Aviv; ending financial support for UNRWA, the UN body that caters for Palestinian refugees; removing the PLO delegation from Washington; and a Bahrain conference focused on financial incentives for the Palestinians with no mention of any political rights.
Together, the Israeli and American campaigns amount to a new assault on Palestine and the Palestinians. The Palestinians are very vulnerable at this moment: Arab regimes are deserting them, the international community’s elite is indifferent, and Palestinians themselves are divided between Hamas and Fatah.

Eliminating the native

Israeli and American intentions combined with the vulnerability of the Palestinians bring us to a dangerous historical juncture. Israel is now in a position to attempt once more to act according to the logic of the “elimination of the native” (the anthropologist Patrick Wolfe’s characterization of the motives behind setter colonial movements such as Zionism).
Israel succeeded only partly in implementing this aim in 1948. The Palestinian national movement and people struggled succesfully then, and continue to struggle now, against the completion of the ethnic cleansing of 1948.
But this is a difficult moment. Abroad, efforts to shield Israel from criticism have intensified.
Pro-Palestinian politicians are defamed as anti-Semites. Legislation is being introduced in different countries to protect Israel from criticism and activism, including boycotts.
Removing archival material and the possible destruction of documents expose the deeper ideological motives behind this current assault on Palestine and the Palestinians.
How much has this undermined our ability to reconstruct what happened in the Nakba and for assessing its significance today?
In many ways, we have been here before. Israel looted the PLO archives in October 1982, destroyed part of them, transferred some of them to Israel and returned a small portion.
In 2001, Israel raided the Orient House in East Jerusalem and stole the archives there.
Now Israel raids its own archives to cleanse them of evidence of its past crimes.
Will this damage our ability to reconstruct the past?
In one way, no. The Palestinian refugees after 1948 did not need Israeli “new historians” to tell them that they were victims of ethnic cleansing.
Archival evidence is needed, though, to expose the intent and planning behind the crime and for contextualizing the past within a wider understanding of the nature of the Zionist movement and Israel.
For both purposes, documents already seen, and in many cases already scanned and digitized for posterity, are enough to prove beyond doubt the Zionist ideological intent behind the attempt to eliminate the Palestinians in 1948 and after.
While there is no one “smoking gun” document proving the full intent behind the ethnic cleansing – although, as the scholar Walid Khalidi commented, a paper known as Plan D came very close – there are enough discrete documents that together expose the crime against humanity Israel committed against the Palestinians.

Erasing Palestine

As we move forward in time, from 1948 on, the information is more accessible and any attempt to destroy or hide it is bound to fail. Students, historians, pundits and activists can see very clearly the pattern of violence Israel inflicted and continues to inflict on the Palestinians (in this respect, one is reminded of another remark by Patrick Wolfe that settler colonialism is not an event but a structure).
Nevertheless, the origins of this structural violence is in the Nakba and therefore its documentation is important. It is this origin that explains Israeli policies since 1948: the imposition of military rule on Palestinians inside Israel until 1966 and its transition onto the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967; the Judaization policy of expropriation of land and displacement in the Galilee, the Jerusalem area and the Naqab (Negev); the brutal repression of the two intifadas; the destruction of southern Lebanon in 1982 and 2006 and finally the inhuman siege on Gaza.
All these criminal policies can be proven without declassifying Israeli documents but are better historicized and contextualized if supported by documentation that show how – in the case of Israel – the “logic of elimination of the native” was being implemented.
We need to accumulate and present clearly what I would call indicative documents, which are very near to a “smoking gun” proof of the intention, inhumanity and purpose of the 1948 ethnic cleansing. I have displayed several of these documents on my public Facebook page, but we need proper archives that can be safeguarded from a state and an international coalition that wants to erase Palestine from our historical memory and to diminish it into an economic question.
This is not the first nor will it be the last attempt to erase Palestine. Sometimes these attempts are hidden from the eye but are nonetheless are highly significant and can only be traced by professional historiography.
In March 1964, Israel demanded that American citizens who had passports issued with the designation “Palestine” would be issued with new passports without that designation. The US State Department complied.
“We will cease using ‘Palestine’ in passports as place of assignment and cease issuing, renewing, or amending passports with seal bearing word ‘Palestine’,” a telegram informed the US embassy in Tel Aviv.
But Palestine is not designation, and not a place of assignment that exists only in archives, open or closed. It is a real country, under colonization and occupation.
We should all strive to continue to tell its history as it explains the present and influences our future.
The author of numerous books, Ilan Pappe is professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.

Ilhan Omar condmens Trump


Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Thursday fired a new salvo at President Donald Trump over his racist attacks on her and three other progressive Democratic congresswomen of color.

Omar, in a scathing op-ed for The New York Times titled “It Is Not Enough To Condemn Trump’s Racism,” explained that “the only way to push back is to be unequivocal about our values.”

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“Throughout history, demagogues have used state power to target minority communities and political enemies, often culminating in state violence,” Omar wrote. “Today, we face that threat in our own country, where the president of the United States is using the influence of our highest office to mount racist attacks on communities across the land.”

Trump for more than a week has repeatedly attacked Reps. Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) ― freshmen lawmakers who call themselves “the Squad.”

Trump, condemned in a House vote for his racist comments, said the congresswomen should “go back” to where they came from. All of the lawmakers are American citizens and only Omar was not born in the U.S.

Trump further targeted Omar during his political rally in North Carolina last week. His supporters responded by chanting: “Send her back!”

Omar wrote that the rally “will be a defining moment in American history.”

She continued:

It reminds us of the grave stakes of the coming presidential election: that this fight is not merely about policy ideas; it is a fight for the soul of our nation. The ideals at the heart of our founding — equal protection under the law, pluralism, religious liberty — are under attack, and it is up to all of us to defend them.

Omar railed against Trump for “weaponizing division” and pitting religious minorities against each other in order to benefit the elite and distract from more pressing issues.

“If working Americans are too busy fighting with one another, we will never address the very real and deep problems our country faces — from climate change to soaring inequality to lack of quality affordable health care,” she wrote.

“Today, democracy is under attack once again,” Omar concluded. “It’s time to respond with the kind of conviction that has made America great before.”

Is Racism a Republican matter?


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Shameful remarks of Senator Rand Paul

I was simply caught by surprise when I was informed of Senator Rand Paul's hostile remarks to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. I simply could not believe that the son of Ron Paul will do a thing like that! It was obscene and height of racism! In my letter to him, I wrote, "Shame on you, senator. I thought that within the Republican Party there is someone who dares to speak truth and stand for truth; I am disappointed. You have failed me and millions of Americans who wanted to believe in you."
===========

Washington (CNN)Republican Sen. Rand Paul offered last week to buy Rep. Ilhan Omar a ticket to visit Somalia so "she might come back and appreciate America more," echoing racist language President Donald Trump recently used to attack the Somalian refugee and three other minority congresswomen.
The remarks, given during an interview with Brietbart News, are another personal attack on the Minnesota Democrat, who was the subject of racist attacks made two weeks ago by Trump. The President suggested that Omar and three other Democratic lawmakers, all of whom have been critical of conditions on the US-Mexico border, "go back" to their home countries. Three of the four lawmakers were born in the US, and Omar, who came to the US as a Somalian refugee, became a naturalized US citizen when she was a teenager.
"And so while I'm not saying we forcibly send her anywhere, I'm willing to contribute to buy her a ticket to go visit Somalia," Paul, who represents Kentucky, said. "And I think she can look and maybe learn a little bit about the disaster that is Somalia — that has no capitalism, has no God-given rights guaranteed in a constitution, and has about seven different tribes that have been fighting each other for the last 40 years."
"And then maybe after she's visited Somalia for a while, she might come back and appreciate America more," he added.
Reached for comment on Tuesday, Paul's office said they had no additional comment. Omar's office did not immediately respond on Tuesday to CNN's request for comment, but earlier this week, Omar shared a tweet about the remarks by a columnist who said the congresswoman "has visited Somalia more than Paul has - & knows far more about it."

Report of Indian Muslims for Democracy Meeting

A meeting of prominent citizens, professionals and intellectuals from the Muslim community along with some non Muslim intellectuals under the platform “Indian Muslims for Democracy” took place at Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai on 29th July, 2019. Dr. Farrukh Waris, retired Principal of Burhani College and social activist, oriented the group to the objectives and purpose of the meeting. The objective of the meeting as she explained was to discuss the challenges facing the Muslim community vis-a vis communal harmony and democracy. The group identified certain issues faced by the Muslim community arising from their long term engagement with the various sections of the Muslim community and locating the community in the overall contemporary public discourse.

To begin with, the group felt that there is greater polarization in the society which alienates and isolates the Muslim community from the “mainstream”. One can blame media – both print and electronic, social media and political mobilization for the negative image of the community. The result is the exclusion and marginalization of the Muslim community. The community today is facing difficulty in integrating with the larger processes due to a variety of factors. Different members of the group traced the core of this problem to different factors. Some members felt that the political mobilization of non-Muslims by a section aggravated the image of the community and strengthened the prejudices and biases. For Example, Mukhtar Hussain, entrepreneur, social activist and community worker, opined that due to limited interaction between the Muslims and non- Muslims, there were a plethora of misunderstandings, myths and prejudices against the community which taints its image. According to him, interventions must be undertaken to establish dialogue and interactions between communities to correct the understanding of non-Muslims about the community. He gave an example of the programme they undertake inviting non Muslims to mosques to dispel the myth that mosques are den of terrorists or teaching of radical Islam.

On similar lines, Sayeed Khan, an activist, elaborated that addressing the bias against the community is key to its inclusion and better relationship with the other communities. They organize programmes that give non-Muslims better understanding of Islam. One such programme was during the Eid ul Miladun Nabi procession wherein the processionists chant certain slogans. The slogans are misunderstood by the others causing suspicion. They distributed small booklets containing the translation of such slogans among the people living along the route and to pedestrians who then welcomed the procession with open hearts appreciating the slogans meant and the broad principles of Islam.

While communally segregated neighbourhoods lead to lack of understanding regarding socio-cultural behavior, particularly Muslims, a portion of blame is also on some members of the Muslim community and their public conduct, particularly those who can be identified as Muslims from their dress, skull cap or beard. There was a nuanced discussion on the Akhlaq of the community members. The overall perception about Muslims is that they are religiously driven about their appearances. Their religious practices cause discomfort to non-Muslims, e.g. their congregational prayers spilling over onto on streets on Fridays, or using of microphones for Azaan i.e. the call for prayers. Nuzhat Farooqui, former lecturer at Rizvi college, cautioned that one may sport a beard or dress according to Islamic tenets, however what is more important is the conduct or behavior of Muslims according to the tenets of Islam and become better human beings – honest, kind, compassionate, and standing up for justice as is commanded by the Quran. We must educate members of the community orient their behavior according to the teachings of Islam and this would change the way non-Muslims perceived them. Towards this end, an attempt is made by Sayeed Khan and his colleagues who mobilized over 350 Muslim rickshaw drivers who preferred to wear skull caps and sport beard from across Mumbai and requested them to be polite towards the passengers. The rickshaw drivers are told to help the elderly passengers with their luggage, talk with utmost respect to the women passengers, not to abuse or cheat the passengers. This way they might change the perception of the Muslim community as they were goodwill ambassadors of the community. Mukhtar Hussain reported that similar initiative was taken in Bengaluru and it resulted in the fact that rickshaw drivers sporting beards have become synonymous with good service and ethical conduct and sought after and respected by passengers.

Suleman Bargi, a company secretary by profession and promotes education among Muslims through scholarships, underscored the inconvenience caused by Azaan through loudspeaker to the neighbourhood. Such practices are perceived as “appeasement” of the Muslim community. Sohail Masood, former employee of Air India and now runs an NGO called Dhai Akshar for education of street children,  reported that they in Lokhandwala had persuaded the Mosques in the area not to relay Azaan on loudspeaker as it was not an integral part of the religion. The namaazis gather five minutes before time for namaaz. On Fridays, instead of occupying streets for namaaz, they offer namaaz in two batches. The namaazis do not inconvenience non-Muslims in any manner.

In the group, some people voiced that we should be tolerant to diverse views within the community. Ghulam Arif, told about his NGO – Community Talking, which promotes the attitude of questioning, tolerance and critical thinking. He suggested that there is a lack of political awareness in the community; that there must be a process of self reflection in a conducive atmosphere and inclusive space for all voices including critical voices.

Education is a crucial issue facing the Muslim community. And the issue is multi-layered demanding a multi-pronged solution. The first hurdle is the lack of equal access to educational opportunities like scholarships and secular education. The state allocates very small share of the budget for the education of the minority communities as compared their deprivation and backwardness. Furthermore, the minority welfare schemes have many issues and are not helpful to the neediest and even inaccessible due to cumbersome procedures and requisite documentation. Dr. Sandhya Mhatre, researcher at Mumbai University and social activist, explained that Maharashtra government allocates very little funds towards the education of Muslims in the state budget. That precious little too is not completely utilized for the allocated heads.

While Sohail Masood too emphasized on the importance of access to scholarship, he also raised the issue of high dropout rates among the Muslim students. The dropout rate among Muslim girls is even higher. Priority is given to learning household chores for a better prospect of marriage. Their mobility and interaction within the outside the community is restricted. Ruksheeda Syeda, psychologist working with college and school youth, pointed out that there has to be resistance from within and outside. While the Muslim community is fighting for inclusion and acceptance from outside, it has to even pay attention to the needs of the marginalized within the community especially the poor and the differently abled and help them access educational and livelihood opportunities.

The group also strongly voiced their support to democratic processes and spaces. Ghulam Arif reiterated the need of Muslims participating in political processes. He was of the view that Muslims should engage with elected representatives and pressure groups to put forth their demands and demand for accountability.  Dr. Indra Munshi, former head of department of Sociology at Mumbai University, pointed out that intervention has to be at multiple levels. One of sections to engage with to strengthen democratic values is the youth in college. Manzur Bagdadi from the Make Proud Foundation said that there is some change even in the religious leadership of the community and there should be constructive engagement with them.

The group unanimously agreed that the need of the hour is sustained work with the Muslim community in order to address the prejudice against them help the process of their inclusion. The group decided to thus meet on every 4th Saturday of the month from 4pm to 6pm. In the meanwhile, in order to inspire the community as well as strengthen the work of the civil society actors, Irfan Engineer suggested some steps. Firstly, he suggested that the community can benefit immensely if there are linkages and networking amongst the individuals and organizations that works for the Muslim community in a democratic framework upholding diversity. There have to be solidarity and exchange of information amongst such actors. Secondly, he suggested that Aslam Parvez, Vice Chancellor of MANUU should be invited to speak to the Muslims and non Muslims to shed more light on what it means to be a Muslim. Such talks will guide the community in the right direction. The group enthusiastically agreed to the suggestions.
--
Irfan Engineer
Director,
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

Monday, July 29, 2019

YouTube Debate: is anti-zionism same as anti-semitism?

To see the recently held debate on the subject click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1VTt_THL4A

More than one third of Israel's Arab citizens feel unsafe in their communities

From YNet

More than one third (35.8%) of Arab citizens of Israel say they feel they lack personal safety in their own communities, according to a study conducted by the Abraham Initiatives, a non-profit organization that advances coexistence between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens.
A parallel study conducted among Jewish Israelis put the percentage at just 12.8%.
More than one quarter (26.6%) of Arab citizens say they or a member of their family have been a victim of some form of violence, the study found.



The research was conducted over a period of one year by Dr. Nohad Ali and was presented this week to Knesset members, city mayors and police at a conference in Kafr Qassem, an Arab town east of Tel Aviv.

  According to the study, 35.8% of Arab citizens say they feel they lack personal safety in their own communities. A parallel study conducted among Jewish Israelis put the percentage at just 12.8%.
The study also found that 80.3% of Arab citizens consider violence on their streets to be their most pressing problem, followed by the presence of firearms (77%) and finally the amount of crime (73.5%).

Ninety percent said it is easy to obtain weapons and 59.3% fear they will themselves be hurt by acts of violence - compared to just 19.6% of Jewish citizens.

The Abraham Initiatives has been hoping to raise awareness about the high percentage of Arabs among the annual rate of murder victims, which is sometimes three times higher than the percentage of the general population that is Arab.

Last year, the Abraham Initiatives says, there were 72 Arab citizens among the 123 victims of murder - a figure constituting 58.5% of the total number.

The Ministry of Public Security and the Israel Police have both announced they have set targets to improve policing in Arab communities. A special administrative unit has been formed and more police stations opened in Arab towns.
                 The Israel Police also increased the number of Arabs in the force most of whom are Muslims.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

What life is like on the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh, where a UN-labeled 'genocide' has left 1 million refugees living in limbo

By James Pasley

Dividing Myanmar and Bangladesh is the Naf river. At times, it's 2 miles wide.

Below the Naf river, the Rakhine State in Myanmar has been a place of conflict for decades. The Rohingya people, who lived there, have not recognized as citizens since 1982.

In August 2017, Rohingya militants allegedly killed 12 Myanmar police officers, and Myanmar's military responded on a massive scale. A 2018 United Nations report accused the military of genocide, including murder, imprisonment, torture, and rape.

Fearing for their safety, hundreds of thousands fled into Bangladesh, primarily by crossing the river.
 
To see the pictures, click the link:
 
 

Buddhist Sinahalese extremists

By Tariq A. Al Maeena - Special to Gulf News - July 13, 2019
When nine Sri Lankans blew themselves up in churches and luxury hotels and led to the deaths of more than 250 people, the ugly head of the Sinhala extremist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) has roared back into action in inciting violence against the island’s minority Muslim population.

 
Last week, their leadership, which until recently was under arrest, had called for a nationwide conference to be held in the city of Kandy to be attended by monks from all over the Island.
Despite emergency regulations in force, this meeting was organised by Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, an extremist Buddhist monk (BBS General Secretary) who was recently released from prison by President Sirisena.
This comes at a time when the anti-Muslim campaign has made the community isolated and ostracized.


Considering the inflammatory nature of the convention, neither the authorities nor the police stepped in to stop this meeting, which had all the ingredients to provoke violence against the hapless minority Muslims.
Gnanasara is a dangerous individual to Sri Lankan harmony and although he claims that he has changed since he was released, the reality is far from that.
At a media conference on July 2, he brought in a married Muslim woman to speak of her harassment by Muslims for marrying a Buddhist.
That claim was dismissed shortly by village elders who refuted her story as a BBS ploy to incite further disharmony and violence against them. She had left her husband and was living illegally with this man.
The accusations of BBS (Bodu Bala Sena) and their political lackeys are just a part of a grander design to facilitate the impending ethnic violence.- Tariq A. Al Maeena
But that was not all.
Spurred on by government inaction or unwillingness to step in and stop the rising trend of violence directed against the Muslim minority, the Buddhist monks, along with some willing politicians, are blaming Saudi Arabia for what they call "the spread of the kingdom’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Islam" that, according to them, has been the source of extremism and led to the deadly Easter blasts.
A preposterous charge
They accused the Saudi government of funding mosques and schools in Sri Lanka patterned on Wahhabi Islam, which they claim has led to a rise in militancy among the Muslim population.
They also claimed that a Lankan migrant worker who had come to the kingdom for employment returned home a militant, shaped by the extremist Wahhabism beliefs he was taught in the kingdom.
Besides alleging that Saudi-funded mosques had sprung up everywhere, they also claimed that Sri Lankan Muslim women began switching from the saris to the ‘all-enveloping black abayas’ as a result of Saudi conditioning.
This is a preposterous charge on several counts. Contrary to the prevailing notion among many in the foreign press, there is no such thing as ‘Wahhabi’ Islam.
Sunni Islam has just four schools of law or madhabs: Hanafi, Shaf’ie, Malki and Hanbali. Each has its own religious guidance, which falls within the framework of the Islamic faith.
The level of tolerance and leniency varies moderately between each school. In Saudi Arabia, people are free to practice and follow whichever school of thought they so desire, and I dare anyone to prove otherwise.
Ethnic unrest
Saudi response to the latest charge was swift. In a letter released to the Sri Lankan press, the Saudi Embassy in Colombo detailed a list of financial contributions the kingdom had made to Sri Lanka.
Of the more than $400 million that the kingdom had spent, more than $220 was directed towards improving the roads, water and electrical infrastructure of the island.
More than $130 million was directed towards improving facilities at medical universities and institutions. The remainder was allocated for other public works. Not a single dollar was sourced to funding any form of extremist behavior.

Rohingya tell Myanmar they refuse to return without recognition

A campaign by Myanmar’s military in response to insurgent attacks in 2017 drove 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh’s southeastern border district of Cox’s Bazar, where they live in squalid camps, fearing further persecution if they return.
U.N. investigators have said Myanmar’s operation included mass killings, gang rapes and arson and was executed with “genocidal intent”. Myanmar denies the charge.
This is the second time Myanmar officials have visited the camps in Cox’s Bazar in an effort to convince Rohingya refugees to kick-start the repatriation process. In October, Rohingya rejected an offer to go back to their homeland when a Myanmar delegation held talks with leaders of the group.
The Myanmar delegation, led by permanent foreign secretary Myint Thu, held talks with 35 Rohingya leaders in Cox’s Bazar on Saturday and Sunday amid tightened security in the camps.
Rohingya leaders said they wanted Myanmar to recognize them as an ethnic group with the right to Myanmar citizenship before they return.
“We told them we won’t return unless we are recognized as Rohingya in Myanmar,” Dil Mohammed, one of the Rohingya leaders who joined the talks, told Reuters by telephone.
He also said they will not return to Myanmar unless demands for justice, international protection and the ability to go back to their original villages and lands are met.
“We want citizenship, we want all our rights. We don’t trust them. We will return only if international protection is in place,” he said.
“We will return to our own land ... (we) don’t want to end up living in camps.”
In November, a formal move to start the repatriation process stalled as no Rohingya agreed to return to Myanmar.
The U.N. refugee agency and aid groups are also doubtful about the plan as they fear for the safety of Rohingya in Myanmar.
“We are ready to begin the repatriation anytime. It is up to Myanmar to create a conducive environment to allow the Rohingya to return to their homeland,” said Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner.
With the repatriation plan largely stalled, Bangladesh has been considering relocating Rohingya refugees to an island in the Bay of Bengal, but some have expressed concern this could lead to a new crisis given the island is vulnerable to cyclones.
Myanmar has made “minimal” preparations for the return of Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh, an Australian think-tank said.
Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Dale Hudson

Better to have a few rats than to be one

Baltimore Sun Editorial:
In case anyone missed it, the president of the United States had some choice words to describe Maryland’s 7th congressional district on Saturday morning. Here are the key phrases: “no human being would want to live there,” it is a “very dangerous & filthy place,” “Worst in the USA” and, our personal favorite: It is a “rat and rodent infested mess.” He wasn’t really speaking of the 7th as a whole. He failed to mention Ellicott City, for example, or Baldwin or Monkton or Prettyboy, all of which are contained in the sprawling yet oddly-shaped district that runs from western Howard County to southern Harford County. No, Donald Trump’s wrath was directed at Baltimore and specifically at Rep. Elijah Cummings, the 68-year-old son of a former South Carolina sharecropper who has represented the district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1996.
It’s not hard to see what’s going on here. The congressman has been a thorn in this president’s side, and Mr. Trump sees attacking African American members of Congress as good politics, as it both warms the cockles of the white supremacists who love him and causes so many of the thoughtful people who don’t to scream. President Trump bad-mouthed Baltimore in order to make a point that the border camps are “clean, efficient & well run," which, of course, they are not — unless you are fine with all the overcrowding, squalor, cages and deprivation to be found in what the Department of Homeland Security’s own inspector-general recently called “a ticking time bomb."
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In pointing to the 7th, the president wasn’t hoping his supporters would recognize landmarks like Johns Hopkins Hospital, perhaps the nation’s leading medical center. He wasn’t conjuring images of the U.S. Social Security Administration, where they write the checks that so many retired and disabled Americans depend upon. It wasn’t about the beauty of the Inner Harbor or the proud history of Fort McHenry. And it surely wasn’t about the economic standing of a district where the median income is actually above the national average. No, he was returning to an old standby of attacking an African American lawmaker from a majority black district on the most emotional and bigoted of arguments. It was only surprising that there wasn’t room for a few classic phrases like “you people” or “welfare queens” or “crime-ridden ghettos” or a suggestion that the congressman “go back” to where he came from.
This is a president who will happily debase himself at the slightest provocation. And given Mr. Cummings’ criticisms of U.S. border policy, the various investigations he has launched as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, his willingness to call Mr. Trump a racist for his recent attacks on the freshmen congresswomen, and the fact that “Fox & Friends” had recently aired a segment critical of the city, slamming Baltimore must have been irresistible in a Pavlovian way. Fox News rang the bell, the president salivated and his thumbs moved across his cell phone into action.
As heartening as it has been to witness public figures rise to Charm City’s defense on Saturday, from native daughter House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, we would above all remind Mr. Trump that the 7th District, Baltimore included, is part of the United States that he is supposedly governing. The White House has far more power to effect change in this city, for good or ill, than any single member of Congress including Mr. Cummings. If there are problems here, rodents included, they are as much his responsibility as anyone’s, perhaps more because he holds the most powerful office in the land.
Finally, while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner — or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s Cummings, not Cumming) — we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are “good people” among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.

‘Treat them as citizens’

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KUALA LUMPUR:
The Rohingya should be treated as Myanmar nationals or be given a chance to form their own state, said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
He said even though Malaysia generally does not wish to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries, it does so in this case due to the massacre or genocide that is happening in Myanmar.
“Myanmar, of course, at one time was made up of many different states. But the British decided to rule Myanmar as one state – and because of that, many of the tribes (were) included in the state of Burma.
“But now they should either be treated as nationals or they should be given their territory to form their own state,” he said in an interview with Turkey’s Anadolu Agency in Ankara during his four-day visit to the country.In 2017, more than 700,000 ethnic Rohingya were driven from Rakhine state following a military-led crackdown that a United Nations’ report said included mass killings and gang rapes.
Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein, told the Human Rights Council that the episode was a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, according to the UN website.
Meanwhile, asked to comment on the plight of the Uighur in China, Dr Mahathir said Malaysia has always advocated for the settlement of conflicts through negotiation, arbitration or court of law.
“We should tell China (to) please treat these people as citizens. The fact that they have a different religion should not influence the treatment towards them. When you resort to violence, then it’s very difficult to find a good conclusion because there has been no case where violence has achieved the objective,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Turkey’s fight against the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO) both inside and outside the country, Dr Mahathir said Malaysia does not support insurrection in any country.
“It is our policy not to be used as a base for action taken against other countries. It is for that reason that when we find that there are some attempts to make use of Malaysia as a base for dissent against the Turkish government, we have taken action to close these (FETO-linked) schools” he said. — Bernama

Rohingya refugees press citizenship demands in talks with Myanmar

SHEHAB SUMON
July 28, 2019 02:12
 
DHAKA: Rohingya refugees pressed their demand to be granted Myanmar citizenship in a meeting on Saturday with a delegation from Yangon.
The meeting, held at the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in southeast Bangladesh, is the first between the Myanmar government and Rohingya Muslims since their exodus from their homeland in August 2017 to flee rampaging Buddhiest vigilantes.
The 17-member delegation from Myanmar arrived in Bangladesh on Friday night on a three-day visit to discuss repatriation issues with the refugees. The delegation included five members from ASEAN states led by the permanent secretary of the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Myint Thu.
 A 35-member team of Rohingya community leaders participated in the Saturday meeting, which lasted for more than three hours.
The meeting is an outcome of Bangladesh’s efforts to persuade Myanmar to send a delegation to convince the Rohingyas about the situation in Rakhine —the province in Myanmar where most of the refugees came from — to help them decide about repatriation.
Sayed Ullah, secretary of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, said the refugee delegation simply pressed their citizenship demand.
”They didn’t say anything new. The Myanmar delegation members requested us to accept the National Verification Card (NVC), but what will we do with this without the citizenship rights?” Ullah told Arab News.
 ”We have demanded for further dialogue over repatriation issues in the presence of a third party and they have agreed with us," he added.
 Mohammad Shamsuddoza, of the Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), said: ”The good thing is that the Myanmar side have agreed with the proposal for further dialogue. But the next date and venue of the meeting is yet to be fixed.”
 The delegation will meet the same group of Rohingyas on Sunday again, said Shamsuddoza.
 Another Bangladeshi high official who was present in the meeting said, ”Initially it took some time to break the ice during the meeting between Myanmar authorities and the Rohingya refugees. But it was fine as the time went on.”
Some Bangladeshi experts have reservations about Myanmar and its talk of repatriation.
"We shouldn’t expect much from Myanmar. They don’t recognize the Rohingya Muslims, along with other minorities of the country. The military junta wanted to make a Buddhist nationalist country in Myanmar,” Ambassador S. M. Rashed Ahmed Chowdhury, former Bangladesh envoy to Japan, told Arab News.
 He opined that all the Myanmar efforts are ”eye wash” and only to ”divert” international pressure from the country.
 Ambassador Chowdhury, who is also the former UN regional administrator of Kosovo, said: ”Myanmar should allow a buffer state in Rakhine which will be monitored and controlled by the international forces. Only the recognition of citizenship of the Rohingyas can bring a sustainable solution of the Rohingya crisis.”
 Bangladesh is currently hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingyas who fled the persecution of the Myanmar army in their homeland in Rakhine.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Learning to learn


By Habib Siddiqui
 
A man came to Libnani, a Sufi teacher, and this interchange took place:

Man: “I wish to learn, will you teach me?”

Libnani: “I do not feel that you know how to learn.”

Man: “Can you teach me how to learn?”

Libnani: “Can you learn how to let me teach?”

[The Sufis: Idries Shah]

 

Merriam-Webster defines learning as: the act or experience of one that learns; knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study; modification of a behavioral tendency by experience.

Learning is either experienced or acquired by instruction or study. It is the process of acquiring or delivering information.

Learning starts with inquiry, as so succinctly stated by Ali ibn Abi Talib (RA) who nearly 14 centuries ago said, 'He who asks learns.' Umar ibn Khattab (RA) said, "Half of one's learning lies in his asking questions." [See this author’s book: Wisdom of Mankind, available in the Amazon.com for many such quotations.]

Thus, learning is a choice that one has to make to be knowledgeable.

What is knowledge? Merriam-Webster defines it as
facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject; awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.

Knowledge involves understanding, comprehension, and mastery. It is about acquiring, sustaining, growing, sharing, and applying information to achieve a goal and make an impact.

If learning is a recipe, then knowledge is the cake. If learning is a process, then knowledge is the effect of that process.

One cannot make the right decision in life without knowledge. One needs to have knowledge in order to perform at his/her best. Succinctly put, one needs to have the right knowledge to be successful.

It is said that the willingness to learn is a choice; the capacity to learn is a gift and the ability to learn is a skill.

In the Islamic context, the term used for knowledge in Arabic is 'ilm that has a much wider connotation than its synonyms in English and other Western languages. 'Ilm is an all-embracing term covering theory, action and education;  ‘ilm is also gnosis or ma'rifah. Ma'rifah is ultimate knowledge and it springs from the knowledge of the self (e.g., consider the Prophetic hadith: Man 'arafa nafsahu fa qad 'arafa Rabbbahu, 'He who knows himself knows his Lord'). This process also includes the knowledge of the phenomenal world. Therefore, wisdom and knowledge which are regarded as two different things in the non-Muslim world are one and the same in the Islamic perspective.

The sources of ‘ilm are reason (‘aql) and revelation (or mystical experience). Revelation gives one the self-knowledge needed to use reason or ‘aql correctly. Similarly, reason can help to support revelation.

It is important to note that there is much emphasis on the exercise of the intellect in the Qur'an and the Islamic traditions. Exercise of the intellect ('aql) played an important role in the development of all kinds of knowledge, scientific or otherwise, in the Muslim world.

The Islamic revelation started with the word iqra' (meaning: 'read!' or 'recite!').

According to the Qur'an, the first teaching class for Adam (AS), the first man, started soon after his creation and Adam (AS) was taught 'all the Names'.

Allah is the first teacher and the absolute guide of humanity. This knowledge was not imparted even to the Angels, and thus, setting the stage for entrusting man with God’s viceregency on earth (Qur’an 2:30).

As Allah's vicegerent, man must accept higher responsibility and deliver the trust (amanah). As keeper of that Divine amanah, man's final goal is to become on the one hand the master of the universe as Allah's vicegerent on earth, and on the other hand to recognize that he was created solely for the purpose of serving Allah.  Worship ('ibadat) in Islam is, therefore, not confined to man's fulfilling the rights of Allah (Huququllah), but also includes those of his fellow human beings (himself included), other creatures, and nature or environment (Huququl 'ibad).  Serving or helping those in destitute, fighting for the rights of the oppressed are equivalent to serving Allah. Yes, even the protection of the environment is an Islamic obligation due upon the society.  Complete contentment, complete satisfaction and complete peace of mind are byproducts of how effectively one was able to fulfill that divine mission for which he was created.  

The best knowledge is that there is no God but Allah. He has no equals, no partners. He is besought of all; He neither begets nor is He begotten; there is nothing comparable to Him.

In Islamic society the importance of learning has been stressed to the extent that Muslims are urged to learn from the cradle to the grave. This implies that 'ilm, attainment of which is obligatory upon all Muslims covers the sciences of theology, philosophy, law, ethics, politics and the wisdom imparted to the community by the Prophet (S).

Consider below some of the statements from the Islamic luminaries:


Muhammad (S), the Prophet of Islam, said, "Knowledge is a treasure house whose keys are queries." [Mishkat]

He (S) also said, "The best treasure is the pursuit of knowledge."

Similarly, Ali (RA) said, "Make haste in acquiring knowledge and wisdom before it becomes difficult for you to reach the source of learning, before your indulgence in vicious pleasures and carnal desires do not allow you to reach these fountain heads." [Nahjul Balagha]

He (RA) also said, "No exaltation or grandeur is superior to learning and knowledge."   [Nahjul Balagha]

Mu’adh ibn Jabal (RA), one of the close companions of the Prophet (S), said, "Acquire knowledge for the pleasure of Allah, for learning engenders piety, reverence for one’s Lord and fear of wrongdoing.  Seeking knowledge for Allah’s pleasure is an act of worship, studying it is a celebration of God’s glory (lit. Zikr), searching for it is a rewarding struggle (lit. Jihad), teaching it to someone who realizes its worth is a charity (lit. Sadaqa), and applying it in one’s home strengthens family unity and kinship.  Knowledge indeed helps the believer to discern between the lawful (lit. halal) and the unlawful (lit. haram). It is the guiding light for the seekers on the path of Allah and the future dwellers of the heavenly paradise. Knowledge is a comforting friend in times of loneliness. It is the best companion to a traveler. It is the innermost friend who speaks to you in your privacy. Knowledge is your most effective sword against your foe, and finally, it is your most dignifying raiment in the company of your close comrades." [Hilyat’ul Awliya Wa Tabaqat’ul Asfiya]

"Feeding the soul with learning is the work of the intelligent. " [Bahr al-Fava'id]

Imam al-Ghazzali (R) said, "Devote yourself to learning 'Ilm (which is helpful for Hereafter)."

As to the importance of seeking knowledge that is beneficial, here below are some statements that are worth pondering about:

Muhammad (S), the Prophet of Islam, said, "When the son of Adam dies, all his deeds come to an end except three: knowledge which is beneficial to others, a virtuous child who prays for him, and an ongoing charity which he leaves behind."  [Muslim]

He (S) also said, "One who treads a path in search of knowledge has his path to Paradise made easy by Allah thereby. " [Muslim]

He (S) also said, "To seek knowledge for one hour at night is better than keeping it (night) awake." [Darimi]

It is not difficult to understand the logic behind why Islam put so much importance on seeking knowledge that makes the learner aware that his/her actions - good and bad - are all being monitored and recorded and that one Day he/she will be held accountable for such actions in terms of being either rewarded entering paradise or condemned to hell.

For instance, consider the statement of Bayazid Bosami (R), a famous Sufi, who said, "The ultimate knowledge is to understand that God knows your outward and inward aspects, your secrets and that which is manifest." [Bahr al-Fava'id]

One of the mystics, Abu Muhammad Abdullah Muhammad b. Al-Fadl al-Balkhi (R), said, "He that has most knowledge of Allah is he that strives hardest to fulfill His commandments, and follows most closely the custom of His Prophet (S)." [Kashf al-Mahjub]

Without knowledge, man is bound to either make mistakes or be misled and oblivious of the accountability before God thereby disobeying His commandments and harming everyone (including himself).

It is in this vein that Sharafuddin Maneri (R), one of the great Sufi Shaykhs, said, “Knowledge is the basis of obedience, while ignorance lays the foundation for sin.  Faith and obedience are the offspring of knowledge, while disbelief and sin are the offspring of ignorance.” [Maktubat-i Sadi]

He also said, “Knowledge is the fountainhead of all happiness, just as ignorance is the starting point of all wretchedness.  Salvation comes from knowledge, destruction from ignorance.” [Maktubat-i Sadi]

 

Abu al-Qasim Hakim (R) said, "From knowledge must come benefit, from work - well-being, and from speech - wisdom." [Bahr al-Fava'id]

There are several Islamic traditions that indicate that a scholar's sleep is more valuable than an ignorant believer's journey for pilgrimage (hajj) and participation in holy war, and that the drops of a scholar's ink are more sacred than the blood of a martyr.


Man: “I want to learn to swim.”

Sufi: “Do you want to make a bargain about it?”

Man: “No, I only have to take my ton of cabbage.”

Sufi: “What cabbage?

Man: “The food which I will need on the other island.”

Sufi: “There is better food there.”

Man: “I don’t know what you mean. I cannot be sure. I must take my cabbage.”

Sufi: “You cannot swim, for one thing, with a ton of cabbage.”

Man: “Then I cannot go. You call it a load. I call it my essential nutrition.”

Sufi: “Suppose, as an allegory, we say not `cabbage,’ but `assumptions’ or `destructive ideas’?”

Man: “I am going to take my cabbage to some instructor who understands my needs.”

[The Sufis: Idries Shah]

While modern men know the importance of learning as a means to earning livelihood but more often than not they are oblivious of the bigger picture – the divine trust endowed unto them and their accountability on the Day of Judgment. Through ignorance or disregard of why they were created, they are more prone to seeking knowledge and/or indulging in activities that are harmful. Thus, the importance of seeking beneficial knowledge cannot be ignored.

In closing, let me share another short story:

A grammarian once embarked in a boat. Turning to the boatman with a self-satisfied air he asked him: “Have you ever studied grammar?”

“No,” replied the boatman.

“Then half your life has gone to waste,” the grammarian said.

The boatman thereupon felt very depressed, but he answered him nothing for the moment. Presently the wind tossed the boat into a whirlpool. The boatman shouted to the grammarian: “Do you know how to swim?”

“No,” the grammarian replied.            

“In that case, grammarian,” the boatman remarked, “the whole of your life has gone to waste, for the boat is sinking in these whirlpools.”

You may be the greatest scholar in the world in your time, but consider, my friend, how the world passes away - and time!

[Devotional Stories: Habib Siddiqui, pub. A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia]

 

Arm yourself with the right knowledge that is beneficial for all.