Sunday, March 31, 2019

Myanmar the den of intolerance shows its ugly face again by disallowing freedom of worship for Muslims

People in central Myanmar town voted against reopening of mosques in what they call referendum, a sign that show some groups in Buddhist majority country are not willing to accept freedom of worship which is officially enshrined in the country’s constitution.
Mosques in Chauk, Salin and Sinphy Kyun Townships of Sagaing Division were set alight or destroyed by Buddhist mob in the anti-Muslim riot broke out in 2006 at the time of military regime.
Last year, local Muslims in Chauk Township sent a request letter to authorities asking for permission of reopening two Mosques which were seriously damaged in 2006 riot without repairing. Officials from Sagaing Regional government have decided to approve the request in the regional meeting held in October 2017 and instructed township authorities in November 2017 to follow the order.
Approval letter to reopen tow mosques
But township officials delayed the implementation. In March 30th 2019, two neighborhoods – where two damaged mosques are situated – held what they called ‘referendum’ to decide whether local Buddhists agreed or not the government approval. According to the Facebook group of Chauk News – where the voting result is posted – most of the voters rejected the reopening of the mosques. Officials from General Administration Department, Police forces and Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population were participated in so called referendum that goes against the constitution.
Although Myanmar’s 2008 constitution officially guarantees freedom of worship, in some places especially in rural areas of Myanmar, there are many attempts to bar religious practice of followers of Islam. Authorities are still failing to uphold the right that enshrined in country’s constitution.
Muslims in Myanmar view referendum as a violation of their freedom of worship and worry this kind of illegal campaign spreading other parts of the country to restrict their religious practice.
Ballot paper used in so called referendum
 
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Whither Pluralism in the USA?


by Habib Siddiqui

 

Pluralism still remains a far cry in the USA where Christian evangelism and conservatism got rejuvenated by the presidency of Donald Trump. More than a quarter of Americans identify themselves as  evangelists who see themselves as Jesus Christ’s soldiers for making the USA a Christian nation. Eighty percent of white evangelicals voted for and, by and large, continue to support President Trump. While such a support from the conservative wing of Christianity may seem like a fundamental contradiction, but to Trump’s faithful supporters, it is Providence at work in human history. They believe in Trump, and like any blind believers, they will not change their allegiance to him no matter what the ‘liberal’ media say about their beloved president.

They also believe that God is making America great again through an imperfect human agent like Trump. They have a very narrow view about the notion of One Nation Under God than what the founding fathers envisioned for this country and are, thus, opposed to an inclusive nation that is respectful of the minorities.

As hinted above, these so-called evangelists have no moral qualms about supporting a president who is known more for debauchery and immorality than anything moral or good. Christian Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell, Jr. has celebrated Trump as a “dream president” and Franklin Graham (Evangelist Billy’s son) said “God’s hand intervened” to elect him. At the 2018 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., several speakers said no President in American history has done as much as this one to promote “religious freedom.” One can only wonder if these Christian preachers and their blind followers have lost moral compass!

I say this because they can’t be oblivious of Trump’s hateful comments about religious and non-white minorities that call America their home, let alone asylum seekers from outside.

How could a faithful Christian be against asylum seekers if he or she has read the Bible? Didn’t Moses flee from Pharaoh’s Egypt and took asylum in Midian of northwest Arabia? (Exodus 2:15) Didn’t Joseph, the carpenter, flee to Egypt with Mary and her infant Jesus to escape from King Herod’s rule? (Matt. 2:13) How do Christian ministers reconcile their lord Jesus Christ who said “Love your enemy” with a President whose policy is to strike back at all critics? Why would people who claim to stand for family values so uncritically support a thrice-married man who according to Ronan Farrow’s reporting for the New Yorker set up complex legal arrangements to cover up multiple affairs throughout his current marriage?

Abuse of religion by morally bankrupt preachers is nothing new in the USA. As noted by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in a Feb. 2018 article, in the 19th century, when black and white people built a moral movement in America to abolish slavery, plantation owners paid preachers to write theological defenses of white supremacy.

“Human bondage wasn’t only allowable for slaveholder religion. It was reflective of God’s design — a righteous order in society to be preserved at all costs. Slavery went away, but this peculiar American faith did not. Historians refer to the movement to end Reconstruction in the South as “the Redemption movement” because Southern preachers told their people that God was redeeming them from Northern aggression and “Negro rule” when President Rutherford B. Hayes removed federal troops from the South in 1877. By 1896, “separate but equal” was the law of the land. A celebrated preacher of the early 20th century, Thomas Dixon, wrote a bestselling novel glorifying the Ku Klux Klan as champions of morality; by 1915, it was a major motion picture, The Birth of a Nation,” Wilson-Hartgrove wrote.

It is quite obvious that many of the evangelist preachers have not abandoned their old ways and are behind the resurrection of the white supremacist toxic ideology that is responsible for so much of violence these days from Charleston, USA to Christchurch, New Zealand to neo-fascist-run countries in Europe. As noted by many observers, what binds these killers from Norway to New Zealand is the ‘slaveholder Christianity’ that views multiculturalism as a code word for the destruction of the ‘native white national identity’. They believe that a nation should be composed of a single ethnicity – the white race, and are, thus, anti-immigrant and anti-minority of any kind, esp. Muslims. Many  of these bigots have no firsthand knowledge about people of other faiths but only the distorted views passed on to them by their hateful preachers.

One would have liked to believe that of all the places, Abraham Lincoln’s America would be the north star to guide others towards a more inclusive world. Apparently, all such hopes and aspirations are proving to be wrong in Trump’s America. Many lawmakers are emboldened by Trump to openly espouse ‘slave-holder’ Christianity, and white supremacist and ‘land-usurping’ pro-Israel sentiments that go against the very teachings of their Bible. Suffice it to say that they have lost moral compass.

Last week on Monday, in my state of Pennsylvania, a state legislator by the name of Stephanie Borowicz, who won the seat in 2018 “running as a Christian conservative and referencing the Bible often in her campaign” delivered prayer on the floor of the state's General Assembly, injecting several political statements before ending. Republican Speaker Mike Turzai tapped on her elbow as the prayer neared two minutes, signaling it was time to end.

"God, forgive us. Jesus, we've lost sight of you. We've forgotten you, God, in our country. And we're asking you to forgive us, Jesus. That your promise and your word says that if my people who were called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek your face and turn from their wicked ways, that you'll heal our land," Borowicz said as the prayer went into its second half.

In one portion of the prayer, Borowicz began referring to President Donald Trump's policies toward Israel. She continued: "Jesus, you're our only hope. God, I pray for our leaders, Speaker Turzai, Leader (Bryan) Cutler, Gov. (Tom) Wolf, President Trump. Lord, thank you that he stands beside Israel, unequivocally, Lord. Thank you that, Jesus, that we're blessed because we stand by Israel and we ask for the peace of Jerusalem as your word says, God. We ask that we not be overcome by evil and that we overcome evil with good in this land once again."

Many lawmakers found the speech exclusively Christian and insulting to non-Christians, esp. given the fact that for the first time in Pennsylvania history an Afro-American legislator, Democratic Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell was sworn in as the state's first female Muslim lawmaker. She was joined by scores of guests, all there to witness the moment. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Johnson-Harrell strongly criticized the prayer, calling it "disrespectful" and "immature" and saying that it was "meant to be inclusive and to bring everyone together." "We as Republican and Democrat can find many many things to fight about -- prayer should not be one of them," she said, adding that she viewed it as a "political statement."

"I think we need to be very, very clear that everybody in this House matters, whether they're Christian, Muslim or Jew, and that we cannot use those issues to tear each other down," the newly sworn-in lawmaker said. Johnson-Harrell also told reporters that Borowicz "definitely" needs to be censured for her prayer, adding that "we need to be promoting inclusion, not division."

At least two other state Democratic lawmakers called out Borowicz's prayer, with Rep. Jordan Harris calling it hateful and saying she used the moment to "weaponize religion," and Rep. Kevin Boyle saying the prayer "epitomizes religious intolerance."

House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris said, “prayer was weaponized from the speaker’s dais.” Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he was “horrified” by the invocation, according to The Associated Press.

Philadelphia City Council will consider a resolution condemning a state legislator for a controversial prayer she said when Pennsylvania's first Muslim state representative was sworn in. Councilman Curtis Jones introduced the resolution accusing Clinton County Rep. Stephanie Borowicz of being inappropriate and Islamophobic on the day that Movita Johnson-Harrell took office after winning a special election to represent West Philadelphia. With Harrell's invited guests — 32 of whom were Muslim — in attendance for the swearing in, Borowicz said a prayer invoking Jesus 13 times, saying he is "our only hope," and asking his forgiveness because "we’ve lost sight of you, we’ve forgotten you, God, in our country."

Jones' resolution says the prayer excluded not only Muslims, but all other non-Christian members of the audience. "We just can't sit by and let people just deliberately make people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome," Jones said.

Borowicz has declined to apologize, but other legislators have come to Harrell's side. The legislative black caucus says members were mortified and outraged. Council will vote on Jones' resolution at its next session.

On Saturday, March 30, 2019, during Michael A. Smerconish's program, aired in the CNN TV, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (a Christian conservative policy and lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C.), was brought as a guest to comment about PA-Rep. Borowicz’s prayer. As expected, he supported Borowicz’s views and lied to his teeth to portray a very wrong notion about the world outside. It is worth noting that in 2010, the Family Research Council—under Perkins' leadership—was classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Perkins has also made statements critical of Islam. In 2015, Perkins affirmed the debate over Obama's birth certificate as "legitimate", remarking that it "makes sense" to conclude that Obama was a Muslim. In 2017, Perkins was accused of covering up a 2015 sexual assault by Wesley Goodman, a political candidate the Council for National Policy raised money for. In 2018, Perkins was criticized for defending Donald Trump's behavior, saying he should be given a "Mulligan". It is not difficult to understand why on May 14 2018, he was appointed to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. 

As noted above, Christian evangelicalism, akin to slaveholder religion, is becoming a serious threat to pluralism and multi-culture in many parts of the western world. But, America’s slaveholder religion is not the only faith in this land. Writing in the 19th century, when slaveholder religion was still taking root in white Americans’ consciousness, Frederick Douglass said, “Between the Christianity of the slaveholder and the Christianity of Christ, I see the widest possible difference.”

To quote Wilson-Hartgrove, “The faith that drove Douglass and thousands of others to risk all in the fight for abolition has also been passed down, one generation to the next, in the American story. Preachers like Sojourner Truth and J.W. Hood rallied the faithful to fight for Reconstruction after the Civil War, just as Social Gospelers were motivated by a moral vision, and the Civil Rights movement was sustained by the preaching of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the freedom songs that flowed out of Southern churches into the streets and jails. This faith is with us still in churches that offer sanctuary to immigrant neighbors facing deportation and in the Moral Movement led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II.

If slaveholder religion is still with us in the 21st century, the moral force of this other tradition is with us as well. To distinguish between the two is to make clear that people of faith have a choice to make. Faith that props up extremism isn’t the only religion in our public life, but our history makes clear that slaveholder religion will dominate unless people of faith are willing to put our bodies on the line to insist on a better way.”

I pray and hope that Wilson-Hartgrove is right and we have the courage and wisdom to denounce bigotry and intolerance.

 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Overt and covert racism and communalism

Overt and covert racism and communalism
Irfan Engineer
On 15th March 2019, 50 Muslims offering their Friday prayers died and 48 injured when they were gunned down in Masjid al Noor mosque in Christchurch and at Linwood Avenue mosque in New Zealand. Brenton Tarrant a 28 year old son of an Australian working class family and the gunman behind at least one of the mosque shootings in New Zealand posted his 74 page manifesto making his reasons for the shooting clear. Prime Minister of New Zealand called the attack as terrorist attack and condemned it strongly and unequivocally as New Zealand’s one of the darkest days.
There was a world of difference how the media reported the Christchurch mass shooting incident wherein the shooter belonged to white race and Christian faith and how such incidents are reported when person involved professes to be a Muslim. London based Daily Mirror’s front page headlines the next day were “Angelic boy who grew into an evil far-right mass killer”. The Daily drew attention of the reader to the innocence of the shooter in his childhood and sought their sympathies. The story further tried to evoke empathies of the reader by tracing the troublesome situation in which he was. It mentioned, that the blonde little boy had a father who had cancer. The same Daily’s headlines were outright condemning the ISIS shooter involved in Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016 and causing 50 deaths. The headlines then were, “ISIS MANIAC KILLS 50 IN GAY CLUB”. Compare “ISIS maniac” with “Angelic boy”. The former rightly evokes disdain, condemns and censures the killer whereas the latter evokes empathy, tells the reader something went wrong with “person of our race, culture and faith” otherwise an “angel”.
The Australian daily – Courier Mail’s front page headlines were “WORKING CLASS MADMAN” and wrote in its opening sentence “Terrorist Brenton Tarrant became twisted by a severe addiction to wild video games as he morphed from a curly haired school boy into a mass murderer”. The story finds fault with the “wild video games that Tarrant loved to see, once again not finding fault with his ideology or racist attitudes and hatred towards immigrants and Muslims. The Daily found nothing wrong with Tarrant’s 74 page manifesto and launching a war with people of different faith and culture and offered no comments thereon. Western media unequivocally and promptly condemns incidents of terrorism wherein Muslims are involved, as it should be. Section of dominant western media names the religion of the terrorist willy-nilly drawing the entire community in the blame game. They link Islam with terrorism in such incidents. The Daily Telegraph’s headlines while reporting the Orlando nightclub shooting incident was – “SAME SEX JIHAD”. Jihad is popularly linked with Islam.
A section of popular media equivocates when the terrorist incident is carried out by a person belonging to a white racist Christian fundamentalist and ultranationalist group describing them as madman and lone wolf attack. Something went wrong with the individual, they seem to say. As if there was no trace of racism in their culture and body politic and all Christians in the Northern world were most modern, had right attitudes. The fault lies with the ‘others’ – those who profess a different religion and are from different race, ethnicity or culture. In case of terrorist attacks by politically motivated Muslim groups, the cause is located in their religion rather than in the political context. The cause of the attack is attributed to their objective of destroying, what they term as “our way of life”. However, motive of the racist Brenton Tarrant or anti-immigrant Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who gunned down 69 participants of a Workers' Youth League (AUF) summer camp on the island of Utoya on 22nd July 2011, are not critiqued or condemned.
White supremacists, anti-immigrant ultranationalist or Christian fundamentalists are not perceived to be destroying “our way of life”, although that is a bigger threat rather than the political Islamists who carry out terrorist attacks without leaving their footprints except the ghastly toll and enable the state to acquire more authoritarian powers on the pretext of security. Tarrant and Breivik are seen as “us” rather than “them”, whose strategy to achieve their objectives may have gone a bit wrong.  Deep down there is some sympathy with Tarrant and Breivik as they were trying to get their countries rid of “them”, the people who threaten “our” culture and “our way of life”. Tarrant and Breivik haven’t parachuted from nowhere. They are products of the society that has deep dislike for immigrants and people belonging to other religion, race, ethnicity, language or culture.
The covert and subtle racism which exists in large number of people makes them believe that their race, religion, language or culture is superior and is entitled to various privileges which need to be maintained by institutional structures and force if necessary. That discrimination against “others” is natural. Covert racism allows institutional structures and systems that produce inequalities in wealth, income, criminal justice system, housing, health care, political power and education among other factors. Covert racism thrives on prejudices against “others” and dehumanizes them. It is this covert racism that gives rise to double standards in dealing with racism or supremacism of all sorts. Covert racism calls ISIS terrorist as a violent maniac and Tarrant and Breivik as angelic boys with whom something went wrong. It is unwilling to question the racism within individuals when they want to know, or media that wants to report, personal stories of angelic boys rather than the plight of survivors of their reckless attack.
Covert racism allows racist ideologies and organizations to thrive and individuals to be filled with hatred and anger and take to violent means and terrorist acts. The ideology of “clash of civilization” by Samuel P. Huntington and Ku Klux Klan and many such violent organizations are supported by covert racism. The racist ideologies and organisations in turn nurture, deepen and spread racism. Merely condemning terrorist act is not enough. Civil society and state must identify the covert racism and address it. The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern is precisely addressing the covert racism within New Zealanders when she enters mosques and condoles the survivors of the terrorist attack and embraces members of Muslim community calling them their own and “us” while calling Tarrant and terrorists as “them”.
In Indian situation, if we replace the word racism with communalism in the above analysis, we get the same result targeting Muslim and Christian community. We have overt communalism in the form of communal riots, demolition of Babri Masjid, mob lynching of Muslims transporting / owning cows alleging them to be cow slaughterers, renaming places and lanes that have Muslim sounding names, when hate speeches is a norm rather than exception and highest political officials and officials of ruling party freely propagate hate speeches which is punishable offence and no action is taken against them. Due to limited space here, we are not listing the hate speeches here which have been dealt with in other issues of Secular Perspective.
We know there is widespread prevalence of covert communalism when people nurture prejudices against the Christian community that they indulge in mass religious conversions and their prayer meetings and churches are attacked, when Muslim community is stigmatized to be fast multiplying with the intention to become a majority community within a short span of time, that they are terrorists and all terrorists are Muslims even if all Muslims are not terrorists, that their rightful place is in Pakistan a country to which they are loyal, etc.
Covert Communalism has led to decline in socio-economic condition and educational status of the community as pointed out by the Sachar Committee Report, Ranganath Mishra Commission and Amitabh Kundu Committee Report. While terrorists from Muslim community are dealt with severest punishment in law, as they should be, the terrorists of Samjhauta Express Mecca Masjid bomb blasts, perpetrators of communal violence, mob lynchers of Pehlu Khan belonging to Hindu community are allowed to go scot free. Institutionalized communalism leads to innocent Dr. Kafeel Khan being suspended and victimized for the deaths of more than 60 children in BRD Hospital in Gorakhpur only because his religion happens to be Islam. Muslims and Christians are highly underrepresented in Parliament and state legislatures, in Govt. employment and in private sector. In several cities housing societies refuse membership of the society to Muslims and Christians. We could go on listing the exclusion of Muslim and Christian community but these are just a few examples. It is the covert and subtle communalism that does not condemn communal riots, mob lynchings and attack on Christian prayer meetings and Churches; that acquiesces terrorist attacks where most victims are Muslims as in Malegaon, Mecca Masjid, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express while it loudly and unequivocally condemns other terrorist attacks where most victims are from Hindu community to be an anti-national crime demanding severest of punishment.
We however do not have anybody like Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand. Mahatma Gandhi once made some of us question our covert communalism when he undertook fast unto death when there were communal riots. Societies would not be liberated from cycle of violence unless covert racism as well as communalism and supremacism of all hues and colours is addressed. We need to identify our own covert communalism and address it. There are enough resources in all our religions to do so. In India we believe in “vasudhaiv kutumbakkam” – entire world is my family; and “ekam sat, vipra bahuda vadanti” – there is one truth, wise people have described it differently. Buddhism teaches us to be rational and compassionate towards all, rather than build communities based on ideologies of superiority and supremacism. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in his Tarjuman-ul-Quran opines that it is compulsory for Muslims to accept all religions to be true. Saint Kabir, Maulana Rumi and Bulle Shah tell us that love is essence of all religions. We have Christianity that teaches us equality and ‘love thy neighbour’.
 
--
Irfan Engineer
Director,
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

Pennsylvania State lawmaker criticized for 'disrespectful' prayer

Pluralism still remains a far cry in the USA where Christian evangelism seems to be the driving force with Trump ruling from the White House. The die-hard Xian evangelists have a very narrow view about the notion of One Nation Under God. While Muslims are the most monotheist among all the monotheists, their religion of Islam (where the Jewish and Christian prophets are respected and all considered to be rightly guided men of God) is not accepted as part of the so-called Judio-Christian nexus. Allah, the One God, invoked by billions of people (including Arab/Semitic Christians), is considered an alien or foreign God. There is so much pressure from the evangelical xians like Tony Perkins and many of the religious zealots to close the door of multi-culture and pluralism it is difficult to sometimes believe that we are living in the 21st century America and not medieval Europe that witnessed for decades to religious wars!
Recently, a bigot - PA rep Borowicz - created much fuss in her invocation at the PA state assembly by invoking the name of Jesus almost 19 times as if this country exclusively belongs only to Christians. This is unacceptable and absurd in our time when the world is becoming more inclusive and plural!.
Today, I saw Michael A. Smerconish's program aired in the CNN questioning Tony Perkins, who lied to his teeth to portray a very wrong notion about the world outside. Interestingly, in Trump's USA, such bigots are chosen to the highest position of the nation for religious freedom. What a joke!
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See the report below on PA Assembly:
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A Republican member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is facing scrutiny for delivering an invocation that is being called religiously exclusive and political before the swearing in of the state's first Muslim woman lawmaker.
State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz delivered the prayer Monday on the floor of the state's General Assembly, injecting several political statements before ending. Republican Speaker Mike Turzai tapped on her elbow as the prayer neared two minutes, signaling it was time to end.
"God, forgive us. Jesus, we've lost sight of you. We've forgotten you, God, in our country. And we're asking you to forgive us, Jesus. That your promise and your word says that if my people who were called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek your face and turn from their wicked ways, that you'll heal our land," Borowicz said as the prayer went into its second half.
Borowicz did not respond to a request for comment on her prayer by CNN. She later told one reporter it was "how I pray every day" and that "I don't apologize ever for praying."
Shortly after Borowicz's prayer concluded, Democratic Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell was sworn in as the state's first female Muslim lawmaker. She was joined by scores of guests, all there to witness the moment.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Johnson-Harrell strongly criticized the prayer, calling it "disrespectful" and "immature" and saying that it was "meant to be inclusive and to bring everyone together."

"We as Republican and Democrat can find many many things to fight about -- prayer should not be one of them," she said, adding that she viewed it as a "political statement."
In one portion of the prayer, Borowicz began referring to President Donald Trump's policies toward Israel.
She continued: "Jesus, you're our only hope. God, I pray for our leaders, Speaker Turzai, Leader (Bryan) Cutler, Gov. (Tom) Wolf, President Trump. Lord, thank you that he stands beside Israel, unequivocally, Lord. Thank you that, Jesus, that we're blessed because we stand by Israel and we ask for the peace of Jerusalem as your word says, God. We ask that we not be overcome by evil and that we overcome evil with good in this land once again."
"I think we need to be very, very clear that everybody in this House matters, whether they're Christian, Muslim or Jew, and that we cannot use those issues to tear each other down," the newly sworn-in lawmaker said.
Johnson-Harrell also told reporters that Borowicz "definitely" needs to be censured for her prayer, adding that "we need to be promoting inclusion, not division."
Johnson-Harrell also did not respond to CNN's request for comment Wednesday.

In a statement to CNN, Christine Goldbeck, a spokesperson for Turzai, said, "members of the House come from a wide variety of faiths and we believe it is important to respect this diversity," a sentiment Goldbeck said Turzai shared Monday following the prayer.
"Speaker Turzai reminded the members that our guidelines ask them to deliver an inter-faith opening prayer," Goldbeck said, noting that a Muslim cleric also delivered a prayer at Monday's ceremony.
At least two other state Democratic lawmakers called out Borowicz's prayer, with Rep. Jordan Harris calling it hateful and saying she used the moment to "weaponize religion," and Rep. Kevin Boyle saying the prayer "epitomizes religious intolerance."
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Council will consider a resolution condemning a state legislator for a controversial prayer she said when Pennsylvania's first Muslim state representative was sworn in.
Councilman Curtis Jones introduced the resolution accusing Clinton County Rep. Stephanie Borowicz of being inappropriate and Islamophobic on the day that Movita Johnson-Harrell took office after winning a special election to represent West Philadelphia.
With Harrell's invited guests — 32 of whom were Muslim — in attendance for the swearing in, Borowicz said a prayer invoking Jesus 13 times, saying he is "our only hope," and asking his forgiveness because "we’ve lost sight of you, we’ve forgotten you, God, in our country."
Related: Johnson-Harrell breaks barriers as Pa.'s first Muslim woman state rep
Jones' resolution says the prayer excluded not only Muslims, but all other non-Christian members of the audience.
"We just can't sit by and let people just deliberately make people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome," Jones said.
Borowicz has declined to apologize, but other legislators have come to Harrell's side. The legislative black caucus says members were mortified and outraged.
Council will vote on Jones' resolution at its next session.

Friday, March 29, 2019

People Vs. Pouvoir: Demonstrators take on Algeria's shadowy forces of power

In late February, just as protests against a fifth term for Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika were gathering momentum, the country’s prime minister warned ominously of a “Syrian scenario”. By this, he meant a peaceful protest movement turning into a civil war and destroying what had been a stable, placid nation.
“Demonstrators offered roses to the policemen,” Ahmed Ouyahia told lawmakers, speaking of the Algerian protesters who have been taking to the streets week after week. “But we should remember Syria also began with roses.”
Click here to read more.

Israel raids Birzeit University, arrests students


Tamara Nassar Israeli forces stormed the Birzeit University campus in the occupied West Bank disguised as Palestinians on Tuesday, and abducted three students.
“The kidnappers entered the campus breaking the university’s main gate with a special machine, broke into the room that contains automated teller machines close to the student council building, and arrested Hamza Abu Qaraa, Udai Nakhla and Tawfiq Abu Arqoub,” the university said.
Local media circulated pictures of the students following their arrest, as well as photos of damage caused during the raid.
Abu Arqoub had been taking refuge on his university’s campus since late last month to avoid arrest by Palestinian Authority forces which work closely with Israel, according to Palestinian prisoners rights group Addameer.
Abu Arqoub has been detained several times by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, severely disrupting his university education for years.
Birzeit condemned the abduction of its students, calling the Israeli raid a “direct violation of the sanctity of universities and a blatant attack on the right to education, guaranteed by all international laws and conventions.”
“The assault on Palestinian academic institutions by the Israeli occupation forces is a result of the widespread culture of impunity within the occupation authorities,” Addameer stated.
On Wednesday, Birzeit students protested the arrest of their peers and rallied to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in the Naqab

Undercover

A year ago, undercover agents from Israel’s Border Police disguised as journalists stormed into Birzeit and beat and arrested Omar Kiswani, the head of the student council.
The Israeli agents injured students by gunfire during the incursion.
The undercover Israeli agents – so-called mistaravim – dress up as Palestinians to abduct, injure and infiltrate groups of civilians, often during protests against Israel’s military occupation.
Israel has even used mistaravim to kidnap and kill Palestinians inside hospitals.

Attacks on schools

Last week, Israeli bulldozers demolished a building in al-Razi school in Shuafat refugee camp in occupied East Jerusalem on the pretext that it was built without permits as well as “security reasons”:
Israeli forces attacked and beat the school’s principal, Saleh Alqam, teachers and residents during the demolition.
Israel rarely grants Palestinians permits to build on their own land in East Jerusalem, forcing them to build to meet housing and other needs in defiance of occupation orders.
Alqam said the school received no prior warning that the building would be demolished, according to Safa Palestinian Press Agency.
The Israeli municipality ruling occupied East Jerusalem demanded the school stop construction last November, also on the pretext of security, and Alqam said that the construction indeed stopped.
He added that he was able to prove to an Israeli court, through aerial images and maps, that the building had existed for about 45 years and was undergoing repairs and appealed to stop the demolition.
But the request was denied.
The school was supposed to be ready in early September to accommodate 400 students, in hopes of easing the shortage of classrooms and educational spaces for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.
On Tuesday, dozens of Israeli settlers tried to break into two schools in the town of Tuqu near the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem:
Teachers and villagers managed to prevent the settlers from entering the schools, despite how soldiers protecting the settlers used crowd control weapons against them.
“The village’s schools, which are adjacent to a road used by settlers, have been repeatedly attacked by settlers and Israeli soldiers,” the newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported.
There has been a marked increase in occupation-related violence in or near Palestinian schools in the West Bank during the current academic year.

Attacks on the press

Meanwhile, Israel is seeking to forcibly exile photojournalist Mustafa al-Kharouf, 33, after a prolonged detention.
Al-Kharouf, who works for Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, was arrested from his home in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz on 22 January, and was taken to the Givon prison in Ramle in present-day Israel where asylum-seekers and others facing expulsion are usually held.
In February, an Israeli court denied him family reunification citing “security grounds” and ordered him forcibly exiled to Jordan, his lawyer Adi Lustigman told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Al-Kharouf has no ties to Jordan.
“Even as his lawyer, I am not allowed access to the information on which the interior ministry has based its refusal to grant him family reunification, because that is the way the legal system works with regard to security cases,” Lustigman said.
But the lawyer told CPJ that the questioning during al-Kharouf’s family reunification hearing focused on a photo he had taken and posted to his Facebook page depicting graffiti critical of Israel.
The day before his arrest, al-Kharouf had appealed to regularize his status in occupied East Jerusalem, where he has been since he was 12 years old. Al-Kharouf was born in Algeria to a Palestinian father and an Algerian mother but he is not a citizen of any country, according to CPJ.
Under Israel’s discriminatory occupation regime, any Israeli Jewish settler is free to move to occupied East Jerusalem and the settlements surrounding it.
Meanwhile, Israel treats Jerusalem’s indigenous Palestinian population and their extended families as if they were foreign permanent residents, subjecting them to “family reunification” and residency proceedings that have been used to break families apart and force thousands out of the city.
Hafez Omar’s image of an anonymous Palestinian prisoner became the avatar of countless Facebook and Twitter users.
Hafez Omar

Arresting artist

Meanwhile, Israel arrested Palestinian designer and activist Hafez Omar on 13 March and has held him without charge or access to a lawyer since.
In 2012, Omar designed iconic images to draw attention to hunger strikes by political prisoners, especially Khader Adnan. The images were widely used in social media solidarity campaigns.
An Israeli military court rejected Omar’s appeal against the extension of his detention, and he remains in the Ashkelon interrogation center, according to Addameer.
“Addameer’s lawyer informed the court of his serious concerns that Hafez might be undergoing mistreatment or torture,” the group stated.
Israel also extended the administrative detention of Ayman Nasser, the legal coordinator for Addameer, who was detained by occupation forces last September.
Nasser, 48, was issued an administrative detention order shortly after his arrest, and it was renewed again earlier this month.
This means he will be held without charge or trial for at least six more months.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Trump’s Green Light to Israel: First the Golan, Then the West Bank?

By Jonathan Cook who won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism
Nazareth.
When President Donald Trump moved the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem last year, effectively sabotaging any hope of establishing a viable Palestinian state, he tore up the international rulebook.
Last week, he trampled all over its remaining tattered pages. He did so, of course, via Twitter.
Referring to a large piece of territory Israel seized from Syria in 1967, Trump wrote: “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability.”
Israel expelled 130,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights in 1967, under cover of the Six Day War, and then annexed the territory 14 years later – in violation of international law. A small population of Syrian Druze are the only survivors of that ethnic cleansing operation.
Replicating its illegal acts in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel immediately moved Jewish settlers and businesses into the Golan.
Until now, no country had recognised Israel’s act of plunder. In 1981, UN member states, including the US, declared Israeli efforts to change the Golan’s status “null and void”.
But in recent months, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu began stepping up efforts to smash that long-standing consensus and win over the world’s only superpower to his side.
He was spurred into action when the Bashar Al Assad – aided by Russia – began to decisively reverse the territorial losses the Syrian government had suffered during the nation’s eight-year war.
The fighting dragged in a host of other actors. Israel itself used the Golan as a base from which to launch covert operations to help Assad’s opponents in southern Syria, including Islamic State fighters. Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, meanwhile, tried to limit Israel’s room for manoeuvre on the Syrian leader’s behalf.
Iran’s presence close by was how Netanyahu publicly justified the need for Israel to take permanent possession of the Golan, calling it a vital buffer against Iranian efforts to “use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel”.
Before that, when Assad was losing ground to his enemies, the Israeli leader made a different case. Then, he argued that Syria was breaking apart and its president would never be in a position to reclaim the Golan.
Netanyahu’s current rationalisation is no more persuasive than the earlier one. Russia and the United Nations are already well advanced on re-establishing a demilitarised zone on the Syrian side of the separation-of-forces line. That would ensure Iran could not deploy close to the Golan Heights.
At a meeting between Netanyahu and Trump in Washington on Monday night, the president converted his tweet into an executive decree.
The timing is significant. This is another crude attempt by Trump to meddle in Israel’s election, due on April 9. It will provide Netanyahu with a massive fillip as he struggles against corruption indictments and a credible threat from a rival party, Blue and White, headed by former army generals.
Netanyahu could barely contain his glee after Trump’s tweet, reportedly calling to tell him: “You made history!”
But, in truth, this was no caprice. Israel and Washington have been heading in this direction for a while.
In Israel, there is cross-party support for keeping the Golan.
Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and a confidant of Netanyahu’s, formally launched a plan last year to quadruple the size of the Golan’s settler population, to 100,000, within a decade.
The US State Department offered its apparent seal of approval last month when it included the Golan Heights for the first time in the “Israel” section of its annual human rights report.
This month, Republican senator Lindsey Graham made a very public tour of the Golan in an Israeli military helicopter, alongside Netanyahu and David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel. Graham said he and fellow senator Ted Cruz would lobby the US president to change the territory’s status.
Trump, meanwhile, has made no secret of his disdain for international law. This month, his officials barred entry to the US to staff from the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, who are investigating US war crimes in Afghanistan.
The ICC has made enemies of both Washington and Israel in its initial, and meagre, attempts to hold the two to account.
Whatever Netanyahu’s spin about the need to avert an Iranian threat, Israel has other, more concrete reasons for holding on to the Golan.
The territory is rich in water sources and provides Israel with decisive control over the Sea of Galilee, a large freshwater lake that is crucially important in a region facing ever greater water shortages.
The 1,200 square kilometres of stolen land is being aggressively exploited, from burgeoning vineyards and apple orchards to a tourism industry that, in winter, includes the snow-covered slopes of Mount Hermon.
As noted by Who Profits, an Israeli human rights organisation, in a report this month, Israeli and US companies are also setting up commercial wind farms to sell electricity.
And Israel has been quietly co-operating with US energy giant Genie to explore potentially large oil reserves under the Golan. Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has family investments in Genie. But extracting the oil will be difficult, unless Israel can plausibly argue that it has sovereignty over the territory.
For decades the US had regularly arm-twisted Israel to enter a mix of public and back-channel peace talks with Syria. Just three years ago, Barack Obama supported a UN Security Council rebuke to Netanyahu for stating that Israel would never relinquish the Golan.
Now Trump has given a green light for Israel to hold on to it permanently.
But, whatever he says, the decision will not bring security for Israel, or regional stability. In fact, it makes a nonsense of Trump’s “deal of the century” – a long-delayed regional peace plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that, according to rumour, may be unveiled soon after the Israeli election.
Instead, US recognition will prove a boon for the Israeli right, which has been clamouring to annex vast areas of the West Bank and thereby drive a final nail into the coffin of the two-state solution.
Israel’s right can now plausibly argue: “If Trump has consented to our illegal seizure of the Golan, why not also our theft of the West Bank?”

Tens of Thousands of Yemenis Rally Against US, Saudis, and for Houthis


On war's anniversary, many vow to see resistance to invasion grow
The Saudi-led invasion of Yemen has entered its fifth year this week. Those first four years saw predictions of a quick victory turned into a massive civilian death toll, constant airstrikes, food and medicine shortages, and a cholera outbreak worse than any in human history.

Calling it war weariness would be putting it mildly, as tens of thousands took to the streets in many Yemeni cities to condemn the Saudis for invading, condemn the US for backing the Saudis, and to express support for the Houthis and other groups resisting the invasion.

Slogans were chanting, and protesters said that whether it takes five years or fifty, Yemenis will remain steadfast in resisting foreign control. The rallies were present even in cities in particularly war-torn situations, like the port of Hodeidah.

Immediate problems, beyond intense Saudi airstrikes against hospitals and schools, are food shortages. Yemen grows almost no food of its own, and imports are next to impossible with the Saudis blockading the coast and having occupied all the port cities beyond Hodeidah.

This last port, Hodeidah, is responsible for importing about 70% of the food for the entire country, and Saudi forces are keen to take it as well.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Jewish Field Log From the Rohingya Refugee Camps

Jewish Journal

Judaism in Action in Bangladesh: A Field Log From the Rohingya Refugee Camps


BY Ann Strimov Durbin



A view of the Kutulalong camp in Cox’s Bazar. Photos by Rares Michael Ghilezan

The Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar is one of the most persecuted populations in the world.

After enduring decades of rights deprivations and abuses, more than 700,000 Rohingya in August 2017 fled full-blown genocide at the hands of the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military and security apparatus. This mass exodus joined previous waves of Rohingya refugees already living in neighboring Bangladesh, and together nearly 1 million remain today in sprawling, squalid camps.

In my position at Jewish World Watch (JWW), one of my first priorities was to classify the Tatmadaw’s persistent persecution of the Rohingya as an ongoing genocide, and to push elected officials and the U.S. State Department to do the same.

Last August, I wrote an essay posted on the JWW website that explained why the attacks on the Rohingya by the Tatmadaw should by called a “genocide,” a term used sparingly by governments and legal entities. Multiple other entities have since followed suit in labeling this a genocide — and not just a mass atrocity — including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the United Nations’ fact-finding mission tasked with assessing the atrocities, and the Public International Law & Policy Group, contracted by the State Department to do the same. In December, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution designating the situation as genocide.

JWW was founded in 2004 on the belief that Jews cannot stand idly by in the face of genocides worldwide. Just as righteous gentiles saved Jews during the Holocaust, we stand united with people of all faiths to speak out on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people — the survivors of today’s genocides and mass atrocities.

In early March, I traveled on behalf of JWW to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh to learn how we, the Jewish community and beyond, can make a difference.

At JWW, we encourage our community to advocate, but beyond the loftier goals of international recognition of the Rohingya’s plight, we recognize that they need increased aid and — perhaps most importantly — accountability for what has happened. JWW has a history of supporting survivors of the Darfuri genocide and mass atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others, with educational and vocational programming — particularly for women, and it was our belief that those avenues, along with community-building initiatives, could emerge as the most necessary and strategic means for us to engage with the Rohingya.


“For cultural and religious reasons, Rohingya women primarily are confined to their homes. Their children, by virtue of their statelessness, are barred from attending host community schools.”

What follows is a collection of my observations from a weeklong journey into the camps of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh — a journey that recalibrated my perspective, exposed me to bottomless need, and reminded me why all of us at JWW — including our many supporters in schools, synagogues and beyond — do this work: because we believe in the awe-inspiring resilience of the human spirit.

Day 1: A prison with no walls
“The host community is on the left, the camps on the right,” my guide, Haythem, said after an hour of traveling bumpy roads, taking in the tableau of everyday Bangladesh. The activity of the host community’s bustling marketplace slowly dwindled as we approached the refugee camps that, although huge, appeared surprisingly still.
In Camp 6 we crossed paths with very few adult women. The most noise came from babies sitting in the dirt, calling out until older siblings scooped them up. I kept hungering to see programmed activities for the refugees, especially the children, who followed us with curiosity. It wasn’t just the conditions of the camp, with its fragile structures extending seemingly forever into the distance, that left me concerned. It was the lack of anything for the people to do.
For cultural and religious reasons, Rohingya women primarily are confined to their homes. Their children, by virtue of their statelessness, are barred from attending host community schools. An “informal” curriculum developed for use inside the camps may be taught only in English or Burmese, not Bangla — the language most similar to the one the Rohingya speak and the official language of Bangladesh.

Because Rohingya have no legal status, they cannot legally work for aid organizations or outside the camps. These limitations create an invisible barrier between them and the host community, preventing assimilation and diminishing the option to stay.
In this newer section of the camps I saw just one informal learning center, where a teacher led a class in English — a language she herself did not understand.
On this first day in the camps — despite seeing the 50 impressive monsoon-resistant dwellings JWW had commissioned last year as part of a pilot program to provide shelter for families — I felt flattened by the scene before me: All those listless eyes of children with untapped potential; the women confined to their homes with nothing to do and no way to heal from their trauma.
I witnessed the survivors’ need for purpose, to truly make lives for themselves and their families, even in the camps. 



A student writes on the white board in a school in a camp.

Day 2: Little things, big differences

I had hoped my second day would offer me opportunities to explore how JWW’s support of locally run programs might be of help, but I woke to learn that the government had shut down the roads to the camps because of street protests by the local residents. 
With the camps closed off, I pivoted to visit schools in the slums of Cox’s Bazar that educate many Rohingya from previous waves of persecution-triggered flight. The conditions in the slums were even worse than what I had seen in Camp 6.
John Littleton, regional director of an organization operating the slum schools in partnership with a Bangladeshi nongovernmental organization (NGO), announced our arrival at the first school. As I entered through a gate, I was spellbound by a lush garden with tidy bushes, blooming flowers, planters fashioned from repurposed plastic water bottles, and a set of swings! Old and rusty as those swings were, seeing them in this tiny, verdant oasis — such a stark contrast to the bleakness outside — filled my soul with hope.
We visited four schools across three slum areas. All had uplifting gardens and classrooms decorated with the children’s vibrant artwork — brightly colored paper streamers crisscrossing the ceilings, and mobiles made of shells, pompoms, straws and bottle caps. 
The benefits of these decorative touches could be seen in the smiling faces of the kids, who seemed genuinely engaged and grateful to be there. They got me thinking about how we might go about replicating such healthy learning environments within the Rohingya refugee camps.

There is a palpable difference in the response of beneficiaries whose unique circumstances are considered in the crafting of a project. Such recognition gives the refugees a sense of agency and joy, offering the message: “I believe in you, and you matter.”




Rohingya children in a learning center in a camp in Cox’s Bazar.

Day 3: True leaders rise

Today, with the camps reopened, I was lucky enough to befriend several young people who, against all odds, have managed to pierce the malaise of being marooned indefinitely in a country that doesn’t want them.

I met a young Rohingya woman who worked with a communications organization that produced radio programs for the camps. Groups of refugees would huddle in listening groups around the few people with phones that picked up the programs.

The woman, who would not give her name out of concern for her safety, interviewed Rohingya on topics ranging from early marriage and sex trafficking to water sanitation and chickenpox. She also helped dispel rumors, like the one about vaccinations being a tool for religious conversion.

“We hear the words ‘human rights,’ and we are human, but where are our rights?” she asked me. “I would rather die in Myanmar than waste away my days here.”

If just one remark could capture the Rohingya predicament, that would be it.

She continued, talking about the desperate need to combat boredom.
“The men, they sit idle because there is nothing for them to do. It’s dangerous. They’re like in prison.”
The women, she said, also need help. “Many women here were raped or had their husbands killed in front of them. But because they have nothing else to do, they sit around reliving the horrors that happened to them. Their minds get stuck. … There should be sewing centers for women everywhere!”
I then met a remarkable young man (who also would not give his name). He was born in one of the camps that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees established to deal with a large influx of fleeing Rohingya in 1992. When the mass influx from the Myanmar genocide began in August 2017, he started to work as a day laborer for an NGO to assist the refugees. Under the mentorship of the NGO’s director, he has risen to become a program coordinator, managing multiple projects across several camps.
“I’m not educated at all, but I’m resourceful and work hard,” he told me. “I don’t know where I’d be if [my boss] hadn’t taken me under his wing.”

These two brilliant young people both dream of one day earning a college degree. They demonstrate that incomprehensible resilience that pushes even survivors of atrocities to rise. They are the future leaders of their people, the sort JWW strives to seek out and help to empower.
“We hear the words ‘human rights,’ and we are human, but where are our rights?” — a Rohingya woman 

Day 4: Community is power

I sat upon many floors during my days in the camps, mostly in dark huts, surrounded by women. On this day I sat with one such group, huddled together to listen to a radio program much like the one produced by the young woman I met the day before. With them, I felt as though I was among girlfriends, sharing concerns and talking lovingly about our children.
Many Rohingya women have formed informal support groups in their communities. Among us was a young woman whose husband was beheaded before her eyes, and whose daughter bears deep white scars on her chest and neck. These women rely on one another. Any opportunity to bring them together, particularly to learn, has a multiplier effect. They hold each other up so that they may hold up their respective families in the wake of the unfathomable loss and unconscionable violations. 

In these sprawling camps of nearly 1 million people, I saw the power of human connection in teaching, learning, healing and rebuilding. The women, in particular, have charted a way forward by building communities, such as a democratically elected women’s association that oversees operations in a school-uniform sewing center, as well as that radio-listening group and a communal garden.
The power of such groups is what helps the Rohingya to persevere.

They gave me hope and confidence that our interventions to help bring together and organize these survivors are crucial to making life in the camps sustainable for whatever time they remain there.

What’s next?

I am now compelled to share these and more stories with anyone who will listen to how we can support the Rohingya. I and others from JWW will be making ourselves available to speak at synagogues and events throughout Los Angeles to increase awareness and to ask you to join us in this fight. Over the next two weeks, I will also be at JWW’s annual Walks to End Genocide, where you also can learn how to get involved.

Please come walk with us and stop by to talk. With your help, we can provide hope and healing.

For more information on how you can advocate for the Rohingya, visit jww.org/actions.

On March 31, the Walk to End Genocide will be held at Pan Pacific Park, 7600 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. On April 7, a Conejo Valley walk will be held at Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Ann Strimov Durbin is a human rights attorney and Jewish World Watch’s director of advocacy and grantmaking.

Lessons from Christchurch for unity

"The mass killing in New Zealand’s Al Noor mosque triggered an instant response from a Queensland senator, in Australia: Fraser Anning not only justified, but valourised the 28-year-old fellow Australian killer, Brenton Harrison Tarrant. In a statement published on an official letterhead, Anning averred that the growing fear in Australia and New Zealand of increasing Muslim presence was bound to result in such an act. He condemned New Zealand’s immigration policy...

Ironically, Australia and New Zealand are known for their usurpation of land rights and harsh treatment of the aboriginal people, the Maoris. Civilised nations the world over have a history of snatching the rights of the First Peoples in their quest for new lands and conquests. But history is usually forgotten and recalled only when an incident such as Christchurch uncovers the dirt that lies beneath the veneer of modernity.
We learn that human depravity has seeped into some minds everywhere in the world. In India, it showed up in Nuh which saw the lynching of Rakbar Khan, in Alwar with the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq, in Rajsamund which saw the lynching of Afrazul, in Ballabhgarh which saw the killing of Junaid, and, in Kathua which saw the rape and murder of eight-year-old Asefa. Our beloved country is being infected with this malaise: It incubates in the hearts of Muslim haters whose mission is to make Bharat “swachh” by obliterating their existence. Political leaders who valorise them now have a new mentor — senator Fraser Anning.
Are we letting this depravity become the new normal? In his commentary and explication of the Qur'an, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad wrote about all the religions. He said that Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam all enjoin their adherents to eschew every act of violence and follow the Sirat al-Mustaqim — the straight path of love and compassion for all beings created by God.

I believe in Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who saw Hindus and Muslims as integral to the idea of India. This is best expressed in the 1923 address of Maulana Azad, the youngest Congress president, where he said that if an angel were to descend from heaven and declare that India will get swaraj within 24 hours, provided she relinquishes Hindu-Muslim unity, “I will relinquish swaraj rather than give up Hindu Muslim unity. Delay in attainment of swaraj will be a loss to India but if our unity is lost it will be a loss to entire humankind”. Those were days when such words could be spoken from public platforms without the fear of lynching or assassination. They need to be invoked across the board now by secular, democratic liberal peoples and parties.

India has 180 million Muslims who cannot be swept away by a spate of violence. Globally, 1.5 billion Muslims, most of whom live in 50 Muslim-majority countries, cannot be destroyed by random killings. There is solace in what prophets, philosophers, sufis, have instructed in every text, every language, and every religion. Gandhi said, “There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seemed invincible, but in the end they always fall”. These words keep me alive." - writes Syeda Hameed, who was a member of the Indian Planning Commission.
You can read her entire article by clicking here: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/lessons-from-new-zealand-christchurch-terror-attack-india-secular-5646184/

Jewish Settlers Raid 2 Palestinian Elementary Schools


Jewish settlers, escorted by Israeli army, routinely raid Palestinian villages and schools. (Photo: via ActiveStills.org)

A group of Jewish settlers attempted to raid two Palestinian elementary schools, on Tuesday afternoon, in the Tuqu village, southeast of the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem.
Locals told Ma’an that heavily armed Israeli forces escorted a group of Jewish settlers, who were gathered holding Israeli flags near the two mixed elementary schools, attempted to break in.


Sources mentioned that teachers and school staff prevented Israeli settlers from entering the premises and closed the main gates.
The attack caused panic among the students, forcing the two schools to dismiss them early, in fear that the Israeli settlers would become violent.
No injuries were reported.


It is noteworthy that the Palestinian Ministry of Education released its annual report for 2017 documenting the Israeli government’s violations against Palestinian education, saying that 80,279 Palestinian children and 4,929 teachers and staff were “attacked” by Jewish settlers or soldiers.
According to the report, nine students were killed, while 603 students and 55 teachers and school employees sustained wounds during Israeli raids into schools or by being run over by Israeli military jeeps, while dozens of students suffered from suffocation due to inhaling tear-gas fired by Israeli forces against them.
(Ma’an, PC, Social Media)

The case of Assam, India


"Assam has always been multicultural and multi-ethnic state"
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism held a talk on the topic, ‘State of the Stateless – Story of NRC in Assam’ by eminent scholar Prof. Monirul Hussain, Chair Professor, Centre for North East Studies, Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi. The talk was organized in the background of the current debates on and concerns around the National Register of Citizens in Assam wherein 4 million people have been left out of the NRC which renders them stateless. The talk dwelled upon the historical roots of NRC process and the migration in Assam during the colonial period and even after Partition. Post this migration, indigenous groups opposed the migration and viewed that migrants as foreigners. The conflicts largely draw from the various ethnic disparities amongst the communities that have different demands and expectations from the government, state and the union.Initially the Assamese opposed the Bengali Hindus and Muslims alike however due to strengthening of communal discourse the narrative of Muslims being Bangladeshis and thus foreigners gathered impetus. 
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Prof. Hussain in his talk highlighted that Assam has always been a multicultural and multi-ethnic state. He continued to talk about the long history of different ethnicities and their interaction with each other until the partition of India wherein conflicts between Hindus and Muslims arose.  The massive Nellie massacre (1983) in which more than 1800 people died also created conflicts in the state. The more recent conflicts in Assam, Prof. Hussain noted are arising out of the Hindu communalism in opposition to the Assamese nationalism.

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Regarding the NRC process, Prof. Hussain elaborated his personal experience with the NRC officials and how the process is absolutely arbitrary in nature. Though it’s a judicial process, Prof. Hussain emphasized that the ruling government is meddling in between the procedures.  People are being harassed by the NRC officials as well as the police who are given targets to “identify” certain number of foreigners in their areas, Prof. Hussain added. He said the NRC process is an important process but is being carried out in an arbitrary manner leading to victimization of certain communities. However, Prof. Hussain added that he is hopeful that the ongoing protests and a strong civil society movement will help in restoring the democratic and secular fabric of the state.
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The talk was followed by a question and answer session with the group of 10-12 people which included scholars, professors and students IIT Mumbai, Wilson College and Maharashtra College.

Siddhi Pendke
Program Coordinator
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

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