Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Christian Group decides to divest from Israel

The United Church of Christ on Tuesday voted to divest from companies that it says profit from the occupation of Palestinian lands.
The move passed 508-124 with 38 abstentions at the 1.1-million member church’s General Synod meeting in Cleveland. It instructs the church to divest from companies that have “been found to profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories by the state of Israel” and specifically singles out Caterpillar Inc., Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard Development Co., G4S and Veolia.
The companies are among a wider group that the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement has targeted, and the wide-reaching vote instructs the United Church of Christ Board, the Pension Boards United Church of Christ, United Church Funds, conferences, local churches, members and other related United Church of Christ entities to divest. While the entities' investments in the companies are considered to be substantial, a church spokesman told HuffPost Tuesday that the exact figure that will be divested is unclear.
“Things have not gotten better [in the region], they have gotten worse. We have to be clear and direct on our strategy that this is not acceptable. We should not be benefiting in any way from the occupation,” said the Rev. John R Deckenback, conference minister of the church’s Central Atlantic Conference, one of the regional bodies that proposed the measure.
Tuesday’s vote culminates a decadelong process for the church, which first began debating measures related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at its Atlanta synod in 2005. Major Jewish organizations, such as the Union for Reform Judaism, have strongly opposed divestment, while smaller groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace have praised the decision made by the UCC and others, as a number of American churches have taken the action.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church also controversially passed divestment-related resolutions last year. At separate governing body meetings this week, the Episcopal Church and the Mennonite Church USA are also debating divestment resolutions.
Divestment “undermines Israel’s legitimacy on the world stage,” said Mark Pelavin, chief program officer of the Union for Reform Judaism. “We see this as detrimental to the cause that we share with many denominations to move forward with the peace process for a two-state solution in the Middle East… The things that isolate Israel on the world stage make it harder rather than easier to move into a peace process.”
John Dorhauer, the newly elected UCC general minister and president, expressed his mixed emotions after the vote. “I will be obligated as the officer of this denomination and by mandate of General Synod to speak publicly the action taken here. But I will do so with a deep awareness at the pain that I will cause to people who I care about deeply,” he said. “And I will do so, to be quite frank, wondering if the benefits of our divesting from those companies is equal to cost to the relationships that we have with people who are critical to our movement towards justice, not just in Palestine but in many other places.”

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Media Treatment of White Terrorism in the USA

On Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was having Bible Study. Hours later, 9 Black church members were shot to death by Dylann Roof, a 21 year old White male.

Did Dylann Roof choose the date to send a message to the black community in the USA? After all, the 199-year-old church is the oldest AME Church in the South. Often referred to as "Mother Emanuel", it has played an important role in the history of South Carolina, including the slavery era, the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Lives Matter movement in the 2010s. Its history is closely tied with its co-founder, Denmark Vesey, a former slave who purchased his freedom in 1799. The AME Church was founded in 1816 in response to the exclusion that Blacks received from the broader Methodist denomination; it was a safe haven site for the Underground Railroad.

Vesey was suspected of planning a slave rebellion in Charleston at the stroke of midnight on June 16, 1822, which was to erupt the following day June 17. Thirty-five people, including Vesey, were executed and the church was burned down. Was it a mere coincident that Roof killed his Black victims on the 193rd anniversary of that thwarted slave uprising? The rebuilt church, later known as Emanuel AME Church, was badly damaged in the 1886 Charleston earthquake. The current building dates from 1891.

According to reports in the media, Dylann Roof sat next to Senior Pastor State Senator Clementa Pinckney, initially listening to others during the Bible study. He started to disagree when they began discussing the Bible. At one point, he stood up and pulled a gun. Before shooting his victims, he said, "I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go." He also reportedly said, "Y'all want something to pray about? I'll give you something to pray about." He reloaded his gun five times. He asked one of the survivors, "Did I shoot you?" She replied, "No." Then, he said, "Good, 'cause we need someone to survive, because I'm gonna shoot myself, and you'll be the only survivor." According to the son of one of the victims, who spoke to that survivor, the shooter allegedly turned the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger, but only then discovered he was out of ammunition. Before leaving the church, he reportedly "uttered a racially inflammatory statement" over the victims' bodies.

Roof was captured the next morning (June 18) in a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina, approximately 245 miles (394 km) from the shooting scene. That day many flags, including those at the South Carolina State House, were flown at half-staff. The Confederate battle flag flying over the South Carolina Confederate Monument near the state house, however, was not, as South Carolina law prohibits alteration of the flag without the consent of two-thirds of the state legislature. At a statehouse press conference on June 22, 2015, Governor Nikki Haley (originally of Sikh descent from India; now a Methodist Christian), flanked by elected officials of both parties, including U.S. Republican senators and former Republican Governor, called for the flag to be removed by the state legislature, saying that while the flag was "an integral part of our past, it does not represent the future" of South Carolina. "We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer," she said.

The massacre of nine African-Americans in Charleston has been classified as a possible hate crime. But many civil rights advocates are asking why the attack has not officially been called terrorism. Apparently, the killer himself wanted to ignite a race war. He reportedly had told friends and neighbors of his plans to kill people, including a plot to attack the College of Charleston. One image from his Facebook page showed him wearing a jacket decorated with the flags of two nations used as emblems among American white supremacist movements, those of Rhodesia (today called Zimbabwe) and apartheid-era South Africa. Another online photo showed Roof sitting on the hood of his parents' car with an ornamental license plate with a Confederate flag on it. According to his roommate, Roof expressed his support of racial segregation in the United States and had intended to start a civil war. He was agitated during scriptural discussion. To many Bible-thumping Christians, the scripture itself condemns the black people as a ‘cursed’ people (Gen. 9:20-27).

Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines terrorism as “the use of force or threats to demoralize, intimidate and subjugate, especially such use as a political weapon or policy.”

Civil rights advocates said the Charleston attack not only fit the dictionary definition of terrorism but reflected a history of attempts by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups to terrorize African-Americans. Professor Brian Phillips, a terrorism expert, said, "...the massacre in Charleston, S.C. Wednesday was clearly a terrorist act." However, James Comey, the FBI Director disagrees. He said, "Terrorism is act of violence done or threatened in order to try to influence a public body or citizenry, so it's more of a political act, and again, based on what I know, I don't see this as a political act. Doesn't make it any less horrific, but terrorism has a definition under federal law."

In a recent interview with the USA Today, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the themes of social disconnection and an attraction to radical thought expressed on online are responsible for recruitment of homegrown violent extremists like Roof. Lynch said, "People disaffected, people being radicalized online. Roof picked this racial hatred theme and that's what fueled him. Others picked the ISIL theme, and that's what fuels them.''

 Texas Governor Rick Perry called the massacre "an accident." Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (son of Indian immigrants from Punjab; he converted to Christianity), a fellow Republican, stated that it is hard to fathom an “incident” like this happening in America. To the conservative Christians like Bill O’Reilly of the Fox TV it was the action of a ‘disturbed’ individual, designed to terrorize people. In a recent broadcast of his show ‘Factor’, he staunchly insisted that racism is a nearly non-existent problem that is only represented by what he calls the “lunatic fringe.”

Most White Americans probably agree with O’Reilly on this. They see the massacre, committed by a fellow White, as a violent act (and not terrorism) done by a lone wolf – a fringe element of their society. And, as we have seen with other such cases, Roof’s religion – Christianity – is not deemed a problem here. Christianity is excused for the violence committed by one of its members!

It is worth pointing out here that assaults like the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and the attack on an anti-Islamic gathering in Garland, Texas, last month have been widely portrayed as acts of terrorism carried out by ‘Islamic’ extremists and not some ‘lone wolves’. Critics say, however, that assaults against African-Americans and Muslim Americans are rarely, if ever, called terrorism.

Is there a clear case of double standards?

Against the backdrop of rising worries about the Middle East, esp. ISIL, civil rights advocates see hypocrisy in the way the Charleston attack and the man under arrest in the shooting have been described by law enforcement officials and the news media.

“We have been conditioned to accept that if the violence is committed by a Muslim, then it is terrorism,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights advocacy group in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “If the same violence is committed by a white supremacist or apartheid sympathizer and is not a Muslim, we start to look for excuses — he might be insane, maybe he was pushed too hard,” Mr. Awad said.

Dean Obeidallah, a Muslim American radio show host and commentator, said it should be obvious that the Charleston killer was a terrorist. “We have a man who intentionally went to a black church, had animus toward black people and assassinated an elected official and eight other people,” he said. “It seems he was motivated by a desire to terrorize and kill black people.”

Samuel Sinyangwe, a civil rights activist who has helped chronicle violence against African-Americans, wrote on Twitter: “#CharlestonShooting terrorist wore an Apartheid flag on his jacket. If a Muslim man wore an ISIS flag, he wouldn’t get past mall security.”

Experts tell us that assailants who are white are far less likely to be described by the authorities as terrorists. Commenting on the Waco biker gang violence in May, 2015, Sally Kohn, a CNN political commentator, wrote, “One of the most distinct characteristics of white privilege is the privilege to be unique. When white people commit violent acts, they are treated as aberrations, slips described with adjectives that show they are unusual and in no way representative of the broader racial group to which they belong.  In fact, in much of the coverage of the Waco shootings, the race of the gang members isn't even mentioned, although pictures of the aftermath show groups of white bikers being held by police. By comparison, the day after Freddie Gray died in the custody of police officers in Baltimore, not only did most coverage mention that Gray was black, but also included a quote from the deputy police commissioner noting Gray was arrested in ‘a high-crime area known to have high narcotic incidents,’ implicitly smearing Gray and the entire community.

Kohn continued, “Research shows that implicit bias against black and brown people is real, as is white privilege. And studies show that white people greatly overestimate the share of crimes committed by black people. Is it any wonder, given the racialized nature with which we cover crime? According to one study, television stations covered crimes committed by black people in greater proportion than their actual share of criminal acts in the city.”

Amy Julia Harris – who writes for the Center for Investigative Reporting – similarly comments that when the shooter is black, the entire race is guilty; but when the shooter is white, he or she is viewed by the public (and the media) as a ‘troubled lone wolf’.

Worse is the case with Muslims. When the shooter is a Muslim, the entire religion is guilty. When one Muslim person even threatens violence in the United States, it is treated as terrorism of crisis-like proportions, and the person may rot in the jail for decades. The judicial mantra ‘everyone is innocent until proven otherwise’ does not seem to shield them from such allegations. It is patently obvious that the media and society at large treats criminals of color with more severe, less-balanced judgements than they do white criminals.

A 2011 survey by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found that Americans are much more willing to say Muslim extremists who commit violence in the name of Islam are really Muslims than they are to say Christian extremists who kill in the name of God are truly Christians. Overall, 83 percent of Americans surveyed said that people who commit violence and claim to be Christians are not really Christian. Interestingly, this poll was conducted not in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 or another terrorist attack in the name of Islam, but in the wake of the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway, where Anders Behring Breivik, who is often called a Christian terrorist, killed 77 Norwegians by setting off a bomb and gunning down victims. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News stridently said, “Breivik is not a Christian.” “No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder,” O’Reilly said. “The man might have called himself a Christian on the ’net, but he is certainly not of that faith.”

When it comes to Muslim suspects, I wish Christian apologists like O’Reilly had the impartiality to separate their crime from their religion. What would one call such an attitude but hypocrisy?

Explaining the 2011 survey, Robert P. Jones, the institute’s CEO, said, “Americans gave the answers they gave in the context of a blond-haired, blue-eyed, white Christian man committing terrorism. Even when they had a palpable example of someone who linked violence with his Christian faith, they weren’t willing to buy it at the end of the day.”

That is why, it is not difficult to understand the white American nonchalant attitude towards the latest terrorism committed by a fellow White Christian. In their passionate whitewashing of gruesome acts of terrorism by one of their own race, the Whites duck the fact that White right-wing domestic terrorism is one of the greatest threats to public safety and security in the post 9/11 America. Such a hard fact is, sadly, forbidden in mainstream American public discourse.

In the context of AME terrorism, it may be proper for White Americans to self-introspect and look into the mirror. What is radicalizing white men to commit such acts of domestic terrorism and mass shootings? Is something wrong with the white family? Why are their sons and men so violent? When will white leadership step up and stop white right-wing domestic terrorism? Are Fox News and the right-wing media encouraging violence? Is White American culture pathological? Why is White America so violent? Are there appropriate role models for white men and boys? Could better role models and mentoring help to prevent white men and boys from committing mass shootings and being seduced by right-wing domestic terrorism? Is there something wrong with Christianity? Is Bible the problem for their violence?

If they can’t look into the mirror of self-introspection, either every mass murderer of any race and religion should enjoy the “mentally disturbed” identity (that the mainstream media pampers about white spree killers with), or nobody deserves it. Let’s bury prejudice and call a spade a spade.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Hatemongering is big money for many born out-of-wedlock individuals

Here is an interesting article from MDI - Islamophobia is big money for well known Islamphobes

Why do Pamela Geller et al. do it? Sure, they believe it. But they get bankrolled to do it—and on a major scale.
People keep asking me why does Pam Geller spew so much anti-Muslim crap? Is it part of her work as a pro-Israel activist? Did she once get food poisoning at a Middle Eastern restaurant? Is it simply because she really, really hates Muslims?
Probably all the above, but one other thing is certain: Geller gets paid pretty well to demonize Muslims. I’m talking to the tune of $200,000 a year. True, that might be walking around money for Donald Trump (who actually bashed Geller this week for her draw the Prophet Mohamed cartoon contest), but that puts her in the top 5 percent of all Americans in terms of annual income. Now, $200,000 doesn’t make a person rich these days (although the $9 million in combined divorce settlement and life-insurance payments she reportedly got certainly qualifies her). But for what she does, it’s handsome pay.
In fact, many of the people identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the Center for American Progress (CAP) as the leaders of the anti-Muslim industry in America are paid well for their efforts. I’m talking so much money I almost want to start hating on Muslims—and I’m Muslim.
In Geller’s case, her salary is paid from her organization the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), a group listed by the SPLC as an active “anti-Muslim organization.” In 2013, the AFDI reported $958,800 in gross receipts and paid Geller a base salary of $192,500, plus $18,750 in other income (PDF).
Not bad for a group created, per AFDI’s tax returns, to act “against the treason being committed by the national, state and local government officials, the mainstream media and others in their capitulation to the global jihad and Islamic Supremacism.” This is truly one step removed from tin foil hats and claims that the government has bugged your cheese.
But Geller, who has also been denounced by the ADL for vilifying Muslims, is just one of many profiting from hate (PDF). As Matt Duss, a former policy analyst for the Center for American Progress and now president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, noted, “It’s certainly been a lucrative industry for leading anti-Muslim bigots. Tens of millions of dollars have been poured into this.”
Duss is truly an expert in this field, having co-authored a report released in February titled “Fear, Inc. 2.0” (PDF) that investigated the Islamophobia network in America and traced the funds used to support its key players. For example, the report notes that Frank Gaffney, Fox News regular (of course), is one of the leaders of the anti-Muslim movement and is the primary engineer of the claim that Muslims want to impose Islamic law across America. Gaffney has even argued that giving Muslim Americans a day off from work for Muslim holidays is a form of imposing sharia law.
Well, Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy (CSP) in 2012 reported $3.2 million in revenue. And Gaffney, as president, paid himself $300,000 a year for his work in demonizing Muslims.
Then there’s David Horowitz, a man described by the SPLC as “the godfather of the modern anti-Muslim movement.” He has also been denounced by the ADL for his work that “promotes anti-Muslim views and features events with anti-Muslim activists.” (PDF)
For example, Horowitz has tried to bully and marginalize Muslim-American college students by claiming that the Muslim Student Associations are“associated with terrorist organizations” and intend to “kill the Jews, to push them into the sea.”
Being “the godfather” of anti-Muslim hate appears to pay well. Horowitz’s Freedom Center in 2013 saw over $7.2 million in gross receipts and Horowitz was paid $525,000 in salary (PDF). And Horowitz even bankrolls Robert Spencer, another well-known Muslim-basher, with a $167,000-a-year salary.
Now in Horowitz’s defense, he doesn’t focus just on demonizing Muslims. He has also made other hateful comments like “There’s no community that’s more racist in America than the black community.” This guy is making a lot, but he is really earning his money.
And who can forget Brigitte Gabriel, another Fox News staple who demonizes Muslims at every turn.  Gabriel runs Act for America!, which the SPLC has noted is part of the “anti-Muslim inner circle.” Gabriel has given us such anti-Muslim classics as “America has been infiltrated on all levels by radicals who wish to harm America. They have infiltrated us at the C.I.A., at the F.B.I., at the Pentagon, at the State Department.
How much does Gabriel get paid to offer that type of garbage? Per Act for America’s 2012 tax returns, she was paid a $132,000 base salary and $84,090 as a bonus (PDF). I wonder if she earns that bonus by dishing out such off-the-wall claims as “tens of thousands of Islamic militants now reside in America…attending our colleges and universities, even infiltrating our government.
So who funds these organizations? Well that’s more challenging to determine. It’s like trying to figure the names of the people who fund the Klan or neo-Nazis—not too many people advertise their support for them. But the Fear, Inc. report found that certain key foundations have donated close to $60 million in recent years to these anti-Muslim advocates.
The most notable are the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Scaife Foundation, which each have donated over $5 million (PDF) to David Horowitz’s Freedom Center. The Scaife Foundation also donated over $3 million to Frank Gaffney’s CSP.
Why do they fund these groups is a big question. Duss explained that in his view it’s “because a group of hawkish conservative funders clearly see a political benefit to stoking Americans’ fears and suspicions of their fellow citizens who are Muslims.” This means we may see even more money flowing to these anti-Muslim advocates in the 2016 presidential race.
The bottom line is that the anti-Muslim industry is lucrative and not going anywhere soon. But at least now we can understand why some of these people engage in such hateful activities: It’s a living. And a nice one.

Homegrown terror from extremists

According to a recent report in the New York Times, in the 14 years since Al Qaeda carried out attacks on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or social media rants.
But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a surprise. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, including the recent mass killing in Charleston, S.C., compared with 26 by self-proclaimed radical Muslims, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.

Homegrown Terrorism
In the United States since Sept. 11, terrorist attacks by antigovernment, racist and other non-Muslim  extremists have killed nearly twice as many people as those by radical Muslims.

The contentious question of biased perceptions of terrorist threats dates back at least two decades, to the truck bombing that tore apart the federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995. Some early news media speculation about the attack assumed that it had been carried out by Muslim militants. The arrest of Timothy J. McVeigh, an antigovernment extremist, quickly put an end to such theories.
The bombing, which killed 168 people, including 19 children, remains the second-deadliest terrorist attack in American history, though its toll was dwarfed by the roughly 3,000 killed on Sept 11.
“If there’s one lesson we seem to have forgotten 20 years after Oklahoma City, it’s that extremist violence comes in all shapes and sizes,” said Dr. Horgan, the University of Massachusetts scholar. “And very often, it comes from someplace you’re least suspecting.”      
Nonjihadist extremists
Fort Hood shooting
Boston Marathon bombing
Charleston shooting

The Real "Fox Dix Five" story

Do you believe everything that is fed n the popular media? Facts are that many such information may not be true at all. And that is the sad part. Thanks to the media, an innocent person can be turned into a villain and conversely, a villain can be made a saint.

Most of us have heard about the Fort Dix 5 who were found to be guilty of planning to commit a terrorist activity against service men.

On the evening of May 7, 2007, 48-year-old Lata Duka was doing dishes in the kitchen of her home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, when she heard a loud bang come from the front of the house. “It wasn’t a normal sound. I was very scared,” Lata recalls nearly a decade later.

Thinking someone was breaking in, Lata grabbed a chair from the kitchen table and hoisted it above her head, waiting for the intruder. Moments later a swarm of armed men burst through the front door and ran into her kitchen. “Put the chair down or I’ll shoot!” she says one exclaimed, pushing his gun against her chest.
The armed men were FBI agents and other law enforcement officials. As they searched the house, one of the men approached Lata. He was smiling.
“He kept asking me, where are my sons!” Lata remembers. “Just smiling and going up and down the stairs, asking me all the time, where are your sons? I told him my sons were at work. He just kept smiling at me.”
Lata didn’t know that at roughly the same time, authorities were conducting raids at separate locations in Cherry Hill to arrest her three sons, Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka. Over 100 officers and agents were involved in what at the time was one of the most high-profile counterterrorism arrests in the post-9/11 era.

The next morning, Chris Christie, then the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, appeared at a press conference flanked by law enforcement officials to announce the arrests. “The philosophy that supports and encourages jihad around the world against Americans came to live here in New Jersey and threatened the lives of our citizens through these defendants,” he said.
Christie said that five men apprehended the previous night — the three Duka brothers along with two friends, Mohamad Shnewer and Serdar Tatar — had been planning to launch a terrorist attack against the nearby Fort Dix military base. “Fortunately, law enforcement in New Jersey was here to stop them,” he said.
The press conference and ensuing case garnered national attention, and the brothers and their friends quickly became known as the “Fort Dix Five,” characterized in the media as a terrorist cell that intended to kill servicemen and attack facilities at the base.

For the Duka family, the arrests marked a tragic turn. They had escaped the turmoil of the former Yugoslavia and managed to start anew in the United States, only to find three sons publicly branded as terrorists. Dritan, Shain and Eljvir, seized when they were 28, 26 and 23, would be convicted of conspiring to kill U.S. military personnel and sentenced to life in prison, devastating the Duka family and putting an end to their nascent American dream.
Beyond the sensational headlines is the story of paid FBI informants with long criminal histories who spent a year working to befriend the brothers and enlist them as terrorists. This effort, both expensive and time-consuming, nevertheless failed to convince the Duka brothers to take part in a violent attack. Indeed, over the course of hundreds of hours of surveillance, the plot against Fort Dix was never even raised with them.

In the years since these events occurred, the use of dubious informants in terrorism investigations by the FBI has become almost routine. When purported terror plots are “revealed,” they almost invariably involve paid government informants at every level of their ideation, facilitation and planning. But the story of the Duka brothers is an early example of this type of case — and it still stands out because of the deliberate and brazen way the brothers were entrapped by authorities, assisted by their paid informants. Indeed, one might argue that the targeting of the Dukas was the prototype for the program of state-orchestrated terrorism plots that continues today.

More than seven years after the trial, the person who was arguably the most critical in securing the convictions still agonizes over his role in the case. In a recent interview with The Intercept, Mahmoud Omar, the informant, maintains that while Mohamad Shnewer was involved in the Fort Dix plot, the Dukas, whom he describes as “good people,” were innocent.
“I still don’t know why the Dukas are in jail,” he says.

 Here is the full story, which you may like to read.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

China Violates Religious Rights of Uyghurs

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has begun last week. Because of its religious significance, hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world are expected to fast from dawn to dusk.

In total disregard to the religious rights of its Muslim minorities, the Chinese government has, once again, banned observation of Ramadan in parts of the far western Xinjiang province (formerly Eastern Turkestan) affecting millions of its indigenous Uyghur (also spelled as Uighur) people. There is much to criticize the Chinese government action.

China is long known for her harsh treatment of Muslim minorities. The Uyghurs are Turkic speaking Muslims who are one of the worst persecuted people in our time. In recent years, the Chinese authorities have blamed separatist Uyghurs for a string of attacks on Han settlers (of Chinese descent) and government institutions, but the group has consistently denied involvement.

The Chinese government has forbidden Muslim party members, civil servants, students and teachers in the districts of the Xinjiang province from fasting. The Uyghur leader, Dilxat Raxit, sees the move as China’s attempt to control their Islamic faith and warned that the restrictions would force the Uyghur people to resist the rule of the Chinese government even more. He added: “The faith of the Uyghurs has been highly politicized and the increase in controls could cause sharp resistance.”

Human rights activists have long-accused Beijing of exaggerating the threat as an excuse to impose restrictions.

Mr. Raxit told Radio Free Asia: “They [the Chinese government] are extracting guarantees from parents, promising that their children won't fast on Ramadan.”

According to the government’s website, halal restaurants near the Kazakh border are being encouraged by food safety officials to stay open during daylight hours in Ramadan.

Shops and restaurants owned by Muslins have also been ordered to continue selling cigarettes and alcohol over the course of the month – or be shut down altogether.

Although the Chinese government tries to portray its actions as justifiable crack-down against ‘religious extremism’ all human rights groups call it ‘religious repression’, adding that authorities want to prevent Muslims from ‘instilling religion’ into public bodies.

The ruling Communist party says religion and education should be kept separate and students should not be subject to ‘religious influences’, although this rule is rarely enforced for children of Han Chinese, who – if they have a religion – are mostly Buddhist, Daoist or Christian. So what we are witnessing in China vis-à-vis its treatment of the Uyghur people is plain double-standard, and there is no way to hide this serious problem.

As I have noted before, the Uyghur Muslims of China are some of the worst persecuted people in our planet because of their ethnicity and religion. The Chinese government is after their natural resources, and has been treating the resources-rich Xinjiang region more like a colony settling millions of Han Chinese from outside, threatening the demographic makeup of the restive region. More problematically, the Uyghurs are denied jobs and are discriminated in their own region like a third-class citizen while they see the 0utsiders – the majority Han Chinese – taking all such jobs, while they remain unemployed.

While lack of employment is a big issue for most Uyghurs, they face discrimination in all areas of life, including where they can live and travel. They are discouraged and in some cases forbidden from displaying any outward sign of their Islamic identity, such as growing beard for adult men, and wearing hijab for women. The Chinese government has also been closing down Uyghur language schools to delink its history and heritage to Islam and the rest of the Muslim world, esp. Turkey. Instead, their students must take all subjects in Chinese. And even when they graduate, they are discriminated in the job market simply because of their race and religion. They are also spied and spat upon by the racist Han settlers. 

Any protest or sign of disapproval of the apartheid-like treatment of the Uyghurs against the racist Han Chinese settlers has been treated by the colonial Chinese government as an act of terrorism.

Last year, the Chinese government sentenced Professor Ilham Tohti, an economics professor of Uyghur descent, to life imprisonment in a kangaroo court. He was found guilty of separatism, an absurd charge of no validity at all. He was also stripped of all his assets – a punishment that has inflicted extra hardship on his family. Professor Ilham was no separatist, and has always stressed that Xinjiang should remain part of China and promoted greater understanding between Han Chinese and indigenous Uyghurs. As I have noted before, Professor Tohti’s unjust imprisonment would only destabilize the restive Xinjiang region.

Last Thursday (the first day of Ramadan in many parts of our world), another Uyghur man was killed in the Chinese city of Xi’an, a popular tourist destination for being the starting point of the Silk Road and home to the famous Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. According to government report the man approached a ticket counter with a brick, as if to harm ticket buyers, and when he didn't stop, he was killed by a Chinese police man.

Given China's censorship and tense relationship with the ethnic Uyghurs, we shall probably never know the whole truth about what really happened in Xi’an. Did the man really pose any danger to anyone? And if he did, was he reacting to the appalling repression of his people, including the banning of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan?

By treating all Uyghurs as separatists, and by default as terrorists, and driving every manner of dissent, including peaceful protests, underground, the Chinese government is behaving like an arrogant colonist that fancies that its repressive, heavy handed approach and apartheid-like policies will win the ultimate battle in East Turkestan (Xinjiang autonomous region). It is foolish thinking.

The Chinese government’s latest ban on fasting for Uyghur Muslims once again highlights the government's extreme repressive policies in Xinjiang, which are sure to provoke more unrest. Beijing risks inciting the very radicalism of its persecuted Uyghur Muslims it fears.

Peace with the Uyghur Muslim minorities would require Beijing to respect the Uyghur people as equal citizens having similar aspirations as anyone else inside China, and to respect their religion - Islam, without restricting their religious duties. It would also require Beijing to listen to its own Mandela – Professor Ilham Tohti - and not more repression, and surely neither Hanification of Xinjiang nor locking up voices of moderation like Ilham.  

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rohingya refugee crisis can be solved only if Asean musters the will to do so

Professor Syed Munir Khasru is chairman of the international think tank, the Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance. His recent article on the plight of the Rohingyas of Myanmar has appeared in the South China Morning Post.

You can read his analysis below or by clicking here.

For the boat people of Southeast Asia, each day begins with a thickening sense of uncertainty, despair and a fading glimmer of hope. Thousands have been rescued in the past month by authorities and fishermen in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia after being stranded in the Andaman Sea. While some are Bangladeshis migrating for better jobs abroad, the majority are Rohingya Muslims escaping persecution in Myanmar.
After last month's regional summit in Thailand in which 17 countries participated, along with the UN refugee agency and the International Organisation for Migration, the host said major progress had been made. However, the meeting failed to address the root cause of the problem; delegates refrained from uttering the word "Rohingya" to ensure Myanmar's participation, even though the Rohingya are the principal victims of the crisis.
The summit's failure to effectively address a humanitarian crisis shows the inherent weakness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in grappling with regional issues. Some argue that the boat people crisis is not particularly an "Asean problem", saying we shouldn't hold all of Southeast Asia accountable for Myanmar's ethnocentric policies. However, the reality is that Asean's existing structure limits its ability to put into force the collective political will to mitigate this human tragedy.
The association is universally applauded for its economic success, but its sacrosanct principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a member country has exposed the cracks in cooperation.
Before Myanmar's reforms, Western democracies used to criticise this policy due to its acquiescence to Myanmar's military rulers. However, the censures were overshadowed by the spectacular economic gains of regional free trade arrangements. Now criticism has resurfaced alongside the migrant crisis.
When a similar migrant crisis emerged in the Mediterranean, the European Union was quick to mobilise a coherent response. Comparisons are inevitable as both are multinational bodies in important regions seeking to overcome past conflicts by promoting integration. Within a month of Italy's call for help, the European Commission had announced plans to distribute asylum seekers among member countries to ease the surge along the coasts of Italy, Greece and Malta. Even as discussions continue, so does action on the ground, in contrast with Asean.
While Asean is a grouping with a predominantly economic mandate, the EU has a customs union and a supranational structure of governance with an elected parliament. The European Commission could come up with an involuntary quota of migrant sharing because it has a mandate, clearly lacking in Asean's case.
The EU migrants are mainly refugees fleeing embattled North African countries and the EU is in no position to cooperate with the source countries to stop the influx. In Southeast Asia's case, the migrant source and destination countries have come together in talks but, still, the meeting fell short of an effective response.
Asean today finds itself faced with a stark choice hinging on its very self-definition: should it expand its mandate to adequately equip itself to tackle a humanitarian crisis, or stick to a purely economic agenda? As the "Asian Century" spawns unforeseen geopolitical, economic and humanitarian challenges, the time has come for Asean to build on its economic success to create a framework of governance that can respond to the changing geopolitical realities.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

China is again violating rights of Muslims to fast during the holy month of Ramadan

China is long known for her harsh treatment of Muslim minorities. The government there has, once again, banned Ramadan in parts of the far western Xinjiang district for Muslim party members, civil servants, students and teachers.
Muslims throughout the district have been told not to fast during the Holy Month. This is a serious violation of religious rights of Chinese Muslims, esp. the Uyghur who are the indigenous to the Xinjiang province.

The Uyghur leader, Dilxat Raxit, sees the move as China’s attempt to control their Islamic faith and warned that the restrictions would force the Uyghur people to resist the rule of the Chinese government even more.A group of Uighur women outside a mosque in Kashgar, farwest China's Xinjiang region, November 2013

She added: “The faith of the Uyghurs has been highly politicized and the increase in controls could cause sharp resistance.”

In recent years, Chinese authorities have blamed separatist Uyghurs for a string of terrorist attacks on civilian crowds and government institutions, but the group has consistently denied involvement.

Activists have long-accused Beijing of exaggerating the threat as an excuse to impose restrictions.

Ms. Raxit told Radio Free Asia: “They [the Chinese government] are extracting guarantees from parents, promising that their children won't fast on Ramadan.”

According to the government’s website, halal restaurants near the Kazakh border are being encouraged by food safety officials to stay open during daylight hours in Ramadan.

Shops and restaurants owned by Muslins have also been ordered to continue selling cigarettes and alcohol over the course of the month – or be shut down altogether.

Beijing is continuing to crack-down against ‘religious extremism’ although human rights groups call it ‘religious repression’, adding that authorities want to prevent Muslims from ‘instilling religion’ into public bodies.

The ruling party says religion and education should be kept separate and students should not be subject to ‘religious influences’, although this rule is rarely enforced for children of Han Chinese, who – if they have a religion – are mostly Buddhist, Daoist or Christian.

You can read the news by clicking here.

Another Uyghur man killed by Chinese police

Another Uyghur (also spelled Uighur) man has been killed today in the Chinese city of Xian. According to government report the man approached a ticket counter with a brick, as if to harm, ticket buyers, and when he didn't stop, he was killed by a Chinese police man.

Given China's censorship and tense relationship with the ethnic Uyghurs, we shall probably never know the whole truth on sensitive matters of this kind.

Exiled Uyghur groups and human rights activists say the government's repressive policies in Xinjiang, including restrictions on religious practices, have provoked unrest.

Attack on a medical clinic in the Gaza Strip was to “raise morale” of Israeli soldiers

Adding to concerns about the Israeli military’s deliberate targeting of civilian facilities during last summer’s Gaza War, Major Amihai Harach confirmed today that the attack on a medical clinic in the Gaza Strip was deliberate, and was done to “raise morale” among Israeli soldiers invading the area.

The attack on the clinic killed five people, four of whom were civilians seeking treatment, and 45 others were wounded in the strike. Rights groups condemned it, as with many other Israeli strikes on civilian targets, as war crimes.
Israeli officials insisted at the time that Hamas was operating out of the clinic, and they continued to maintain that story today, irrespective of the major’s comments that the attack was primarily about boosting the morale of occupation forces with a revenge attack on a civilian target.

You can read the news by also clicking here.

A year of Modi's rule in India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has completed a year of his rule. In this period at least 43 deaths, 212 cases targeting Christians and 175 cases targeting Muslims, 234 cases of Hate Speech have been recorded between 26th May 2014 and June 2015. The number of death does not include the 108 killed in Assam in attacks on Muslims by armed tribal political groups.

You can read more about the subject by clicking here.

Ramadan Mubarak

The blessed month of Ramadan has started. Ramadan Mubarak to everyone. May this month find you in the best of your character! Here is something to remind all of us about its importance:

On the last day of one Sha'ban, Prophet MuhammadSall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, gave a Khutbah about the upcoming month of Ramadan. It is a very important Khutbah that we should carefully read before every Ramadan to prepare ourselves mentally for the sacred month. It begins: "Oh people! A great month is coming to you. A blessed month. A month in which there is one night that is better than a thousand months. A month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night. Whoever draws nearer to Allah by performing any of the voluntary good deeds in this month shall receive the same reward as is there for performing an obligatory deed at any other time. And whoever discharges an obligatory deed in this month shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of Sabr (patience), and the reward for sabr is Heaven. It is the month of kindness and charity. It is a month in which a believer's sustenance is increased. Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast, shall have his sins forgiven, and he will be saved from the Fire of Hell, and he shall have the same reward as the fasting person, without the latter's reward being diminished at all."

You can read more on the subject from Khalid Baig's excellent piece in his blog.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Petition drive - Burma must allow unfettered access for humanitarian relief, human rights, and equal access to citizenship for Rohingya

There is an on-line petition drive towards - "Burma must allow unfettered access for humanitarian relief, human rights, and equal access to citizenship for Rohingya."

Please, consider voting by clicking here. Thanks.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Is Modi failing to deliver on his promises?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims to be a devout Hindu who likes to visit Hindu temples wherever he visits. In spite of his short visit to Bangladesh, thus, he did not miss visiting the Dhakeshwari Mandir and Ramkrishna Math in Dhaka.

I have no problem about anyone’s religion and devotion to it. I have, however, serious problem when religion is exploited to hype up communal tension, and harassment and persecution of a group.

Modi's BJP and its parental group RSS have been portrayed by many political analysts as politically divisive and religiously polarizing, if not fascist, organizations that want to rewrite India's history to suit their Hindutvadi agenda. Modi, of course, denies such accusations.  When a 30-member delegation of Muslim clergy and professionals as part of his outreach program met him a few days ago, he said that he should not be judged by what his opponents have been saying about him but by his actions and performances.

The unfortunate reality in India, however, is just a few days earlier, on May 25, a newly constructed mosque was destroyed by a group of Hindus. The sad incident happened in Atali in the state of Haryana. Armed Hindus torched the mosque and set fire to Muslim homes, terrorizing hundreds of residents. The Muslim victims have since been camping at the Ballabgarh police station. They are afraid to return to their homes. 

According to the Indian Express, at the police station, everyone has an ordeal to narrate and cell phone photographs to share. “All our money has been looted. The school books have been burnt. Our clothes are gone, our cars torched. We have nothing left. How can we go back?” asked Fakhruddin Haji who had a transport business.

“We kept calling police, but they didn’t come. They still haven’t arrested the accused and they are asking us to return home. How can we? We refuse to leave the police station until we are sure we will be safe,” Ishaq Lambardar said. His house was directly opposite the mosque and, at the time of the attack, men had gathered there for the evening prayers. 

Religious symbols matter a lot. Muslims and Christians pray in mosques and churches, respectively. So, by attacking such religious symbols, the Hindu fanatics are sending a clear message to the aggrieved parties that unless they embrace Hinduism, they cannot expect safety and security in India.

As the diplomats in India and Bangladesh were chalking out the last minute details of Modi's first state visit to Bangladesh, and before the Muslim victims of Atali could return to their homes, Hindu fanatics in Rajgir in the state of Bihar destroyed an Eidgah (where the local Muslims pray) and desecrated Muslim graves nearby on Thursday, June 4 – just two days before Modi’s visit. Apparently, they were upset that local authorities did not allow hosting a Hindu festival (Malyamas Mela) on a Muslim ground, showing theater shows, which would generally be “obscene” in nature, but profitable.

The Eidgah is amid the background of a temple at Brahma Kund — hot water pond attracting tourists from all over the country. The local police imposed prohibitory orders to prevent people from assembling at the site. The Hindu protesters, mostly local traders, accused the administration of Muslim appeasement, saying their business would be affected if the government prevents them from using the Muslim ground.

Rajgir has only some 60 Muslim households, who stayed away from Thursday’s clash. When asked by the reporter of the Indian Express, a government official said that the reason for shopkeepers’ anger is the ban on dirty shows. "It is a group of mela contractors who may have provoked the protesters,” said the official.

Well, such incidents of attack on Muslim lives and properties are not new in India, but seem to be getting a new life in Modi’s India. And that is why it is difficult to take Prime Minister Modi seriously.

One may recall how the historic Babri Mosque was demolished by Hindu fanatics, mostly affiliated with Modi’s own party, in 1992. A 2009 report, authored by Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan, blamed 68 people for the demolition of the mosque – mostly leaders from the BJP and a few bureaucrats. Among those named in the report were Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former BJP prime minister, and LK Advani, the party's then (2009) leader in the Parliament. Kalyan Singh, then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (he was accused of posting bureaucrats and police officers who would stay silent during the mosque's demolition in Ayodhya) and Murli Manohar Joshi, former Education Minister in NDA Government, were also found culpable. In a 2005 book former Intelligence Bureau (IB) Joint Director Maloy Krishna Dhar claimed that Babri Masjid demolition was planned ten months in advance by top leaders of RSS, BJP and VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and raised questions over the way the then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao of Congress had handled the issue.  

The destruction of mosques in India by Hindu fanatics seems to follow all too familiar tactics starting with a false claim that the targeted mosque was on a disputed territory. Likewise, Hindutvadis falsely claimed that the great Mughal Emperor Babar had demolished a Hindu temple and turned it into a mosque which was to bear his name. In this regard, it is worth sharing Babar’s will to his son, Humayun, where he instructed, “Son, this Nation Hindustan has different Religions. Thank Allah for giving us this Kingdom. We should remove all the differences from our heart and do justice to each community according to its customs. Avoid cow-slaughter to win over the hearts of the people of this land and to incorporate the people in the matters of administration. Don’t damage the places of worship and temples, which fall in the boundaries of our rule. Evolve a method of ruling whereby all the people of the kingdom are happy with the King and the King is happy with the people.”

That is how Babar, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty, ruled and preached to his son to follow his footsteps. It is simply ludicrous to doubt his sincerity and accuse him of demolishing Hindu temple.

And yet, the fascist Hindus had no problem destroying the historic Babri mosque.  They continue to falsify history of Muslim-ruled India and spread the myth that the Muslim rulers were intolerant of the Hindu faith. So, it was not surprising that when Dr Sheldon Pollock (currently the Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies at the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University), who is also a foremost scholar of Sanskrit, was visiting India in February, he was asked the same question. He replied, “If Muslim rulers had forced religious conversion, this country would not have a single Hindu remaining."

But prejudice dies hard. It is even more difficult to bury it when such prejudices serve the politics of polarization and fascism. Hindu fanatics hate Tipu Sultan, also known as the Tiger of Mysore, who was a ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in the late 18th century. He was a scholar and poet, and recognized as one of the greatest South Asian rulers of all time.

Interestingly, while the Hindu Maratha rulers are the icons of Hindu nationalism or Hindutvadi fascism today, esp. to the votaries of the VHP, BJP and RSS, during the Third Anglo-Mysore War, in 1791, Parashuram Bhau ravaged Mysore and damaged the very seat of Hinduism — the Shankaracharya’s (Shrirangpatanam) temple, also known as the matha of Srinegri Shankaracharya – killing and wounding many, and plundering the monastery of all its valuable possessions.

The incumbent Shankaracharya petitioned Tipu Sultan for help. Tipu Sultan expressed his indignation and grief at the news of the raid: "People who have sinned against such a holy place are sure to suffer the consequences of their misdeeds at no distant date in this Kali age in accordance with the verse: "Hasadbhih kriyate karma rudadbhir-anubhuyate" (People do [evil] deeds smilingly but suffer the consequences crying)."

Tipu Sultan immediately ordered the Asaf of Bednur to supply the Swami with 200 rahatis (famans or silver coins) in cash and other gifts and articles. Tipu Sultan's interest in the Sringeri temple continued for many years, and he was still writing to the Swami in the 1790s CE.

In light of this and other many such events, B.A. Saletare has described Tipu Sultan as a defender of the Hindu dharma, who also patronized other temples including one at Melkote, for which he issued a Kannada decree that the Shrivaishnava invocatory verses there should be recited in the traditional form. The temple at Melkote still has gold and silver vessels with inscriptions indicating that they were presented by the Sultan. Tipu Sultan also presented four silver cups to the Lakshmikanta Temple at Kalale. In spite of all his good deeds, Hindu fascists of the Sangh Parivar love to hate Tipu Sultan.

It is worth recalling that although the BJP made the controversy surrounding the Babri Mosque a political issue in the 1980s, its seeds were sown in 1949 when some Hindu zealots installed Ram Lalla Idol in the historic Babri mosque. The rest is history. The culmination of this has been that the Allahabad High Court gave the verdict on the ownership of land on the grounds of faith of the majority Hindu community, and divided it into three parts. The judgment was a precedent of sorts as faith became the basis of judgment. The matters are pending in Supreme Court of India.

In recent months the Hindu fanatic organizations VHP and the ruling BJP have started making noises for construction of the Ram temple soon at the site where Babri Mosque once stood. The BJP members, as acknowledged by Modi himself during his meeting with Muslim community leaders, have also been ‘spreading communal hatred’, and some of his party colleagues were making ‘totally uncalled for’ provocative remarks. For instance, Yogi Adityanath of BJP said that non Hindus should not be permitted in Haridwar’s ghats. Somanth trust is barring the entry of non-Hindus into the temple. Subramniam Swami of BJP has been saying that Temple is a holy place but mosque is not a holy place.

Dr. Ram Puniyani writes for the Secular Perspectives, "There is a long trajectory of incidents related to mosque-temple-dargah. Disputes have been constructed around them systematically. In Karnataka the Baba Budan Giri dargah was claimed to be the Datta Peetham. In Hyderabad near Charminar, Bhgyalaxmi temple is gradually being extended to be dangerously close to the Charminar. In Madhya Pradesh Kamaal Maula Masjid in Dhar has been claimed to be Bhojshala. In most of these places the campaigns were launched and polarization around these was brought in leading to electoral benefit to BJP at most of the places.”

Is Modi failing to deliver the economic miracles he had promised last year? Apparently, his BJP and the Sangh parivar have found easier ways, e.g., attacks on mosques and churches, to divert the attention of electorates from such promises.

India remains a country that is very low on the index of human development and per capita calorie consumption. Instead of attempting to rewrite history, the Hindutvadi politicians may like to invest their time and energy to improve life of ordinary Indians, and let the unbiased academic historians do their job. Otherwise, Modi’s statement that he "neither believes in politics which seeks to divide people on communal lines nor will he ever speak communal language" would only sound politically correct and nothing else. And that would be an ominous sign for the so-called largest democracy!