Monday, April 29, 2019

Local Muslims say they reported mastermind of Sri Lanka terror attacks years ago

Community leaders sounded the alarm about Zahran Hashim after seminary expelled him for ‘hardline’ views; Hashim had dozens of hate-filled sermons uploaded to YouTube.
KATTANKUDY, Sri Lanka — Zahran Hashim’s sword-wielding Islamic zealotry fueled fears in the sleepy east coast town of Kattankudy long before the cleric became Sri Lanka’s most wanted man over the horrific Easter Sunday suicide attacks. The country’s president announced Friday that Hashim led and died in the attack on the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo — one of three hotels and three churches hit by bombers wearing explosive backpacks.
The round-faced preacher headed the extremist Muslim group blamed for the bombings which left more than 250 dead. He featured in a video released by the Islamic State group when it claimed responsibility.
Heavy security surrounded the main mosque in the Muslim-majority town of Kattankudy, where religious leaders say they sounded the alarm about Hashim years ago, beginning with his expulsion from a seminary during his teens.

A photo published on the Islamic State terror group’s propaganda outlet, the Amaq agency, on April 23, 2019, showing what the group says is eight bombers who carried out the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka. (Amaq)
“It was the first time a student has been expelled for being a hardliner,” said Mohammed Buhary Mohammed Fahim, a senior official at the Jamiathul Falah seminary who was a younger contemporary of Hashim’s at the school.

“When he arrived here at the age of 12, he was clearly very intelligent, very studious, and asked lots of questions. He was popular and sociable,” Fahim told AFP.

‘Very violent people’

But things began to change as Hashim grew older, with Fahim blaming his exposure to books and CDs extolling a fundamentalist vision of Islam.
“He basically went off-course… We teach moderate Islam here but he was a hardliner.”
When Hashim sought to influence his fellow students, parents complained to the seminary chiefs and the school asked him to leave.
After a few years away he returned to Kattankudy, founded the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) group, and worked with some former classmates to build a mosque where he could preach and share his rabble-rousing sermons.
“He was a good orator… he would pick and choose words from the Quran and twist and misuse them,” one official at a local mosque told AFP. He spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he was terrified of reprisals from Hashim’s followers.
“These are very violent people. If they know who I am, they can just shoot me in the street,” he said.
Hashim’s violent streak attracted police attention three years ago when he brandished a sword during clashes with members of another Muslim organization, the official said.
But just as the net seemed to be closing in, he went into hiding with some followers, operating what appeared to be an NTJ breakaway group that was linked to vandalism attacks on Buddhist statues in Sri Lanka in December.
In 2014, a group called the “Peace Loving Moderate Muslims in Sri Lanka” published a newspaper commentary saying that the NTJ was “fast becoming a cancer” within Sri Lanka’s Muslim community and warned that the group was making mosque attendance compulsory, forcing a strict implementation of Islamic law and making women cover their faces and wear long robes.

‘Big mistake’

According to Hilmy Ahamed, vice-president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, Hashim shifted base to southern India.
“All his videos have been uploaded from India. He uses boats of smugglers to travel back and forth from southern India,” he told AFP.
Hashim uploaded dozens of hate-filled sermons to YouTube, calling for all “non-Muslims to be eliminated.” Though complains were made about his videos, YouTube declined to remove them on breach of policy grounds until after the attacks, according to Britain’s Sky News. The video sharing platform told Sky on Thursday it was deleting all of Hashim’s sermons, and other videos mentioning him other than news reports.
India has warned Sri Lanka that suicide attacks were possible weeks before Hashim and the other bombers walked into three churches and three hotels on Easter Sunday.
India’s warning was based on videos and other Islamic State-influenced material seized from raids in southern Tamil Nadu state in 2018.
At the largely deserted NTJ mosque in Kattankudy, adherents brushed off any suggestion of continuing ties with Hashim.
“Because of Zahran the mosque has got a bad name now. We have had no contact with him for two years… We have no connection to him, he is not a member of the NTJ,” said chief cleric Mohammed Yoousuf Mohammed Thoufeek.
Thoufeek said he has been questioned by police several times since the attacks.
Despite the link to Hashim, the mosque appeared to be functioning normally on Thursday evening, though only about a dozen worshipers attended prayers.
“When the attacks happened, even we couldn’t imagine that he would do something like this,” said the unnamed mosque official. “The police made a big mistake. If they had arrested him in the beginning they could have stopped this. All this could have been avoided.”
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Choice on Myanmar: Defend religious freedom now, or pay price later

John L. Allen Jr

Globally speaking, religious freedom isn’t just a matter of principle but an urgent security priority, because places that start eroding the rights of religious minorities almost always end up engulfed in violence that threatens stability well beyond their borders.
Thus it is that news on Tuesday out of Myanmar, also known as Burma, ought to be of concern.
What happened is that the country’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal by two reporters for Reuters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were sentenced to seven years in jail last September for violation of the Official Secrets Act related to their reporting on human rights violations against the largely Muslim Rohingya minority.
The two reporters had exposed the massacre of 10 Rohingyas in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in September 2017. According to their findings, local Buddhist villagers had dug a mass grave and hacked two Rohingyas to death. The others, based on their reporting, were shot by the Burma army.
According to the watchdog group Christian Solidarity Worldwide, last year a police officer confessed that secret documents had been planted on Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. That policeman, Moe Yan Naing, was then arrested himself for breaking the Police Disciplinary Act. Another police officer admitted the documents had already been published in newspapers, and so were not secret. Yet another police witness said he had burned his notes of the case.
Despite all that, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have already spent sixteen months in prison with no prospect of a quick release in sight. On the basis of their reporting, by the way, the two won a Pulitzer Prize last week.
While the case raises obvious freedom of the press issues, it’s also a religious freedom matter because the Rohingya are targets in part because of their Muslim identity. Denied citizenship in Myanmar, the Rohingya have been subject to periodic military crackdowns, with hundreds of thousands now living as refugees in neighboring Bangladesh and other places. Since the present cycle of violence began in 2017, Médecins Sans Frontières estimates that the military and hardline Buddhists in Myanmar have killed at least 10,000 Rohingya.
When Pope Francis traveled to Myanmar in December 2017, he pointedly avoided even using the term “Rohingya” to avoid provoking his hosts. As soon as he arrived in Bangladesh, however, his caution dissipated as he met a group of Rohingya refugees.
“The presence of God today is also called Rohingya,” the pope said after speaking to an interfaith audience in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.
“Your tragedy is very hard, very big. We give you space in our hearts,” the pope told the refugees. “In the name of everyone, of those who persecute you, those who hurt you, and especially of the world’s indifference, I ask for your forgiveness. Forgive us.”
For the record, it’s not just Rohingya Muslims who suffer.
Christian churches have been closed and burned by the Communist-inspired UWS Army, with scores of believers detained and abducted. More than 100,000 Myanmar Christians reportedly live in IDP (internally displaced person) camps, deprived of access to food and health care. Radical Buddhist monks, generally tolerated by the government, have invaded church properties and built Buddhist shrines on church premises.
Communities and neighborhoods that aim to stay “Buddhist only” also make life for Christian families difficult or impossible by refusing to allow them access to community water resources.
In reaction to Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling, an official for Christian Solidarity Worldwide issued a call to action.
“This decision is a very dark day for press freedom in the country, and another setback to hopes of democratization,” said Benedict Rogers. “Upholding their conviction despite clear evidence they had been framed … is a serious setback to the rule of law.”
“The international community must protest clearly and loudly and demand the immediate release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo,” Rogers said.
Myanmar may seem far-away and inscrutable, its problems beyond our control and its culture beyond our understanding. Yet here’s the thing: Problems we choose to ignore rarely solve themselves. Typically they metastasize, siphoning off considerably more blood, toil, tears and sweat than it would have required to face them earlier.
In that sense, the global community might be well advised to respond to Rogers’s call - not only because it would be good for the two reporters involved and for the cause of human rights in Myanmar, but because it likely would save us far more grief down the line.

Rohingya crisis: Expert opinion

Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, who is also the director of the Center for Genocide Studies in Dhaka University, says Bangladesh needs to change the “body language” when it deals with Myanmar on the Rohingya refugee issue.
“It would be easier to do it now than at any time before. We have had the election. We (the government) have a five-year mandate. So I think the government should be in a position….the body language ought to change,” he said, speaking at a seminar in Dhaka on Sunday.
The Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB) organised the seminar titled ‘Rohingya crisis: International Role for Tangible Solutions in Rakhine’ with its president Raheed Ejaz in chair.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam was present as chief guest while UNHCR Representative in Bangladesh Steven Corliss spoke as a panelist. DCAB General Secretary Nurul Islam Hasib made welcome remarks.
Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque, secretaries to the foreign ministry Md Khurshed Alam, Kamrul Ahsan, Mahbub Uz Zaman, and Khalilur Rahman were also present.
Prof Imtiaz said this body language change is “very important” in diplomacy.
“The body language must change with Myanmar when we are negotiating. They are the ones who committed genocide, not us,” he said. “Look at the body language of Indira Gandhi way back in 1971”.
Gandhi was a staunch supporter of Bangladesh against Pakistan’s genocide in 1971.
“I can give examples of an extraordinary number of people that I know back in India and back in 1971 and what was their body language.
“That body language ought to change particularly given the fact that this regime or part of the members was responsible for committing genocide,” he said, urging media to “keep a constant gaze” on Myanmar.
He said people would say that Myanmar is a “hard shell”. “But IR (international relations) says the harder the shell, the easier to crack. Always remember that….that’s part of the diplomacy.”
image.pngRohingyas fleeing violence in Myanmar built temporary residences on the Balukhali Hill in Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhia. File Photo: Mostafigur Rahman 

Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million forcefully displaced Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar district and most of them have arrived here since August 25, 2017 after a military crackdown by Myanmar, termed "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" by the UN.

Prof Imtiaz also said media has a bigger role on this.
"What is required is a sustained publication of authoritative reports on Myanmar. It should be broadcast in Burmese and Rohingya languages. I don’t how you can do it. But it is important that whatever we are saying should get into the mind of Burmese people as well. This is something we have not been able to do.”
He said the International Criminal Court (ICC) and International Court of Justice (ICJ) should be geared up to the maximum, particularly by supporting them with evidence.
“This is going to put tremendous pressure on Myanmar, particularly when they will come to know that initiatives are in full swing.”
He also suggested that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visit China and India promoting solutions, stretching from repatriation to formation of safe zones inside Myanmar for Rohingyas. “It’s urgently required.”
Bangladesh is not the only country where Rohingya people are living; there are more than 19 countries where they live in.
He suggested holding an international conference on the Rohingya crisis inviting all 19 countries, including members of the media, human rights organisations, researchers, and other civil and political stakeholders.
“This should be done every six months -- one in Bangladesh and one outside,” he said, suggesting internationalising the whole issue.
The UNHCR representative agreed with Prof Imtiaz on keeping the constant gaze on Myanmar and said “return is the solution that we see for Rohingya refugees”.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam speaking at a discussion organised by the Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB) on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Dhaka on Sunday. Photo: Abdullah Al Momin 
State Minister Shahriar said Bangladesh is continuously engaged with China to create more pressure on Myanmar for creating conducive atmosphere inside Rakhine for ensuring safe repatriation of Rohingyas.

He said Rohingya crisis is not only a humanitarian or repatriation issue, it is also a political one.
“At the UN security council we didn't get China and Russia the way we want them to be on our side (regarding Rohingya issue). But we are bilaterally engaged with China and Russia to get their supports in this regard, ” he said.
"Our foreign minister had visited Beijing and held meeting with his Chinese counterpart where the Myanmar minister in charge of Rohingya-related issue was also invited."
The state minister added that multiple visits had been made by Chinese politicians and bureaucrats to Myanmar for talks on the Rohingya issue.
“Because of our efforts, there are now wider, greater and deeper understandings by the Chinese side about the problem,” he said.
“I hope, with these (bilateral) efforts, we will be able to make some dent into their (China and Russia) current positions.”
“We will continue our efforts and I believe we are on the right track,” Shahriar said.

Election Manifestos 2019: Locating Rights of in India

Election Manifestos 2019: Locating Rights of Minorities
Part I
Neha Dabhade[1]
The Lok Sabha elections, 2019 are in progress in India. The largest democracy is going to polls and the electoral promises are unraveling thick and fast. Almost all political parties and prospective candidates have promises to make to the voters and some political parties have them written in the form of manifestos which spells out their vision for the society and policies that they wish to implement when voted into power. This manifesto doesn’t always translate into reality or is implemented in its entirety if the party is voted into power but does give the voter a glimpse of its world view or what can we expect from the party in some degree. The manifesto is also the stated position of the political party and thus it is morally binding on it to implement it. This article will analyze the manifestos of some of the political parties to understand how they locate minorities in their idea of India or the current Indian society for the next five years.
Why is it important to undertake this exercise of locating minorities in the manifestos of the political parties? Firstly, as famously said, a society will be judged by how it treats its weakest members. The Minorities in India, especially the Muslims are socio-economically more backward than Dalits having little access to quality education or livelihood and having little if no representation in government bodies or agencies. Today though India is recognized as the largest and most vibrant democracy, the scourge of mob lynching, communal violence and hate crimes can’t be wished away from India by remaining silent about them. Minorities in India are treated as second classes citizens and come under attack from various quarters- elected representatives, non state actors and the state itself. Never has India gone to polls so divided along religious lines amidst polarization and with the urgency to save its very soul-a secular and democratic India. The centre stage in the political discourse today is assumed by how one perceives minorities and their status in India. This is manifested in the issue of Kashmir, personal laws and specifically triple talaq, construction of Ram Mandir, the reverence of cow and subsequent intolerance spiraling into mob lynching of innocent people mostly from the Muslim and Dalit communities. Some of the candidates for the elections are accused of terrorism based on hatred for particular religious community resulting into the loss of lives of innocent citizens and thereby mocking the secular democratic fabric of our country.
In the above scenario, it is important to see how different political parties have placed the minorities in their manifestos. While some political parties don’t release their manifestos, the author was not able to access the manifestos of all political parties. Here the political parties and their manifestos are classified by their outreach- firstly, National parties or having a larger perspective as against restricted to particular region or constituency and secondly political parties for social justice or regional parties which mostly have their stronghold in a small number of states. These regional parties also have their roots in movements for social justice.
The discourse on rights of minorities has been primarily on three pillars- right to security, right to non-discrimination or equality and finally right to preserve culture. These are the rights recognized for minorities by international bodies like the United Nations and spelled in the ‘Declaration on the rights of persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities’. They have also found place in the Indian Constitution under different articles. Thus the location of the minorities in this article will be analyzed using this framework of understanding. It is observed largely that while some political parties had absolutely no mention of rights of minorities, some had a piece meal approach and some had a holistic inclusive approach towards minorities thereby defining the scope given to minorities in the manifestos.
National parties:
Bhartiya Janata Party:
The manifesto of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) which is the ruling party at the Centre remains silent on the issues of minorities. Overall, the manifesto is conspicuous by the absence of any perspective on minority from the point of view of security, equality or preservation of culture. What are striking are the promises of BJP on issues which have contributed to the marginalization, demonization and exclusion of minorities in the country thereby widening the fault lines along religious lines in India- envisioning a homogeneous and fractured India. Only a passing reference is made to development with dignity for all minorities. However this is not elaborated by spelling out concrete measures for development of minorities. But what do find clear and elaborate mention are the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, prohibition of practices like talaq e- biddat or triple talaq and Nikah Halala, implementation of National Registrar of Citizenship in other areas of the country, Citizenship amendment bill and the uniform civil code.
Starting with the promise of implementing NRC in other parts of the country and Citizenship Amendment Bill, it directly strengthens the narrative that Hindus are the rightful citizens of India and citizens practicing other religions are second class citizens of India. The message is clear that India is the natural and rightful land for Hindus and not a secular state which has no state religion. This narrative is to the detriment of the minorities which should face no discrimination and threat to their security. The hatred and violence faced by the Bengali speaking Muslims and Hindus in Assam over the decades and the plight of four million citizens, some of them in inhumane detention camps, who didn’t find their names in the NRC list of July 2018 is an indicator of what can be the fate of minorities if NRC and all the arbitrariness it stands for is implemented in the rest of India. It will also give traction to the myth that most Muslims in India are Bangladeshi migrants amid rising hysteria of Muslims being anti-nationalism. Similarly, uniform civil code and prohibiting practicing of Halala and triple talaq cited as ensuring equality to women, in the way argued by the BJP is only achieving demonization of Muslims by portraying them as backwards due to their practice of Islam. Overall the BJP hasn’t promised or assured the minorities of their rights on any of the three dimensions- no security in the atmosphere of gruesome mob lynching and communal violence, no equality or steps to end discrimination when the minorities and especially the Muslims have been recognized as the most marginal social groups in the country by reports like Sachar commission and Rangnathan Mishra commission and lastly no right to culture to the minorities. The manifesto overall paints India as moving towards a Hindu Rashtra marked by inequality and exclusion.
Indian National Congress:
The INC or Congress in stark contrast to the BJP has released a manifesto which is inclusive towards the minorities. In the past the INC has been accused rhetorically of minorities’ appeasement by the Hindu Supremacists. However despite this accusation, the lived reality of the minorities tells a different tale. Under the Congress rule too, the minorities were victims of communal violence if not mob lynching to the extent seen today. The various Commission reports have given detailed status of backwardness of the Muslims in terms of education, livelihood and overall marginalization. Only on the front of right to culture, there seemed some assurance of preservation of culture but that didn’t stop the demonization of the minorities. The current manifesto has the following to offer:
In terms of security of the minorities, the INC starts off by recognizing that amongst the five internal threats to India is that of communal violence. It promises to put an end to vigilante groups and moral policing groups which indulge in violence with impunity. The manifesto says that communal violence will be handled deftly by firm use of the police forces. This is interesting given the trend of how biased the police force is against minorities and how they are compelled to follow the diktat of their political bosses who may habour similar bias. Given the bias of the police and under-representation of minorities in the police force, the manifesto states that Congress will work with state governments to ensure that their police forces reflect the diversity of the population of the State and gives greater representation to under-represented sections. It further states that investigations will be carried out into cases of communal riots, lynching and gang rapes by a special wing of the State police under the direct command of the State Headquarters of the police.
In the instances of communal riots, the manifesto highlights apprehending the instigators and bringing them to justice. To ensure that the atmosphere of impunity ends where communal violence is a new normal, the manifesto states that the district administration will be held responsible for communal riots. However, though the manifesto does mention the apprehending the instigator and not just the foot soldiers during the riots, it’s still a far cry from apprehending those who plan or engineer the riots in the institutionalized riot system thereby raising questions of effectively dealing with communal riots.
The manifesto also promises to pass a new law in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha and in the Rajya Sabha to prevent and punish hate crimes such as mob-engineered stripping, burning and lynching. The law will contain provisions to compensate the victims and to hold accountable the police and district administration for proven negligence.
Further in its attempt to be more inclusive in its approach to minorities and promoting a culture of peace, the INC has proposed National Integration Council to promote unity, solidarity, communal harmony, fraternity and reconciliation. Also in order to foster respect for all religions, the manifesto proposes setting up of an Interfaith Council for interfaith dialogue and increase mutual tolerance. In order to uphold the right to culture of the minorities, Congress promises to uphold the character of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia as minority educational institutions. National commission of Minorities to be given constitutional status as stated in the manifesto.
In order to ensure equality, equal access to opportunities and representation of the minorities which is marked by its absence today, the manifesto promises to introduce Diversity Index as a metric to assess and ensure diversity in all government bodies, semi-government agencies, public sector enterprises and other public bodies. The manifesto promises to pass an Anti-Discrimination Law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, gender or language in the supply of goods and services that are made available to the public in general such as housing, hostels, hotels, clubs, etc. It also proposes withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Bill. A special mention is made of equal representation of minorities, women, SC, ST and OBCs in Judiciary.
Overall the manifesto holds some favorable promises to the minorities- at least on paper as of now.
Regional parties:
Trinamool Congress-
Trinamool Congress or TMC in the last few years have been in strong confrontation with BJP in West Bengal. Post 2014, West Bengal has witnessed large scale communal riots and aggressive polarization along religious lines. The BJP has often leveled charges of appeasement of minorities against Mamata Banerjee and TMC. Though TMC is very vocal in its support and commitment to the minorities and especially the Muslims, this has hardly translated into security or development of Muslims in the State which account for approximately 27% of the total population of the State. Thus TMC is criticized for paying merely lip- service to the minorities. Unfortunately in the TMC manifesto too no elaborate measures are spelled out for minorities on any of three aspects of security, non-discrimination and right to culture. Though the manifesto starts with its commitment to an inclusive, pluralistic and secular country and expresses concern over mob lynching under the pretext of cow protection and communal violence, it only dwells on what it perceives as achievements of the TMC rule in the last 7.5 years and doesn’t clearly spell out its vision for minorities in the next five years. It loosely mentions that TMC will aim at development and prosperity for all including minorities in a new India without giving a roadmap. According to the Manifesto, TMC has given record 2 crores 3 lakhs minority scholarships, loans worth 1300 crores for 8 lakhs minority youth along few other achievements in past 7.5 years. But the manifesto doesn’t have anything to offer to the minorities in the future.
Samajwadi Party-
Samajwadi Party (SP) has entered into an alliance with arch rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) for 2019 elections. BSP as a practice doesn’t release an election manifesto. These three parties rose in politics on the plank of social justice. This is also the larger claim of SP in its manifesto. The alliance is essentially of parties which traditionally have a support based amongst the marginalized like the Dalits, OBCs, Yadavs and Muslims. The SP in particular counts on the Yadav- Muslim factor for electoral success. This reliance and expectation of Muslim support (Muslims constitute 19% of total population of UP) hasn’t compelled the SP to ensure their security or development. The Muzzaffarnagar riots in 2013 saw many innocent Muslims being displaced and dead. Communal polarization and mob lynching is also highest in UP. But surprisingly none of this finds a mention in the SP manifesto. It only mentions how SP will find a constitutional solution to Kashmir problem especially the alienation amongst the Kashmiri youth. The minorities are completely excluded from this manifesto which claims to have social justice as its foundation. The question is how just is social justice without including minorities in it?
Due to constraint of word limit, the manifestos of the rest of the political parties will be examined in the next part.
To be continued…..

[1] The author has benefitted immensely from the discussions that took place at CSSS with CSSS team which will publish a detailed paper soon on the same topic in the Indian Journal of Secularism. The framework for analysis in this article is borrowed from the discussions along with some other ideas. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Sri Lanka attacks: What led to carnage?

Sri Lanka is in a state of shock and confusion, trying to understand how a little-known Islamist group may have unleashed the wave of co-ordinated suicide bombings that resulted in the Easter Sunday carnage - the worst since the end of the civil war a decade ago.
The South Asian island nation has experience of such attacks - suicide bombers were used by Tamil Tiger rebels during the civil war. But the ruthlessness of the new atrocities has stunned the nation anew.
Eventually the government spokesman, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, came out and blamed National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), a home-grown Islamist group, for the bombings.
"There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded," he told reporters on Monday.
That might go some way to explaining how a group that has been blamed for promoting hate speech may now have been able to scale up its capacity so monumentally.
On Tuesday, however, the Islamic State (IS) group said its militants had carried out the attacks. It published a video of eight men the group claimed were behind the attacks.
The IS claim should be treated cautiously. It is not clear whether these men were trained by the group or simply inspired by IS ideology.

Political deadlock and confusion

The manner in which NTJ was identified was circuitous. The prime minister said there had been warnings made to officials that hadn't been shared with the cabinet. He said only the president would get such briefings, even though it is not clear if he personally did in this instance.
This is not an insignificant statement from a prime minister who was at loggerheads with the president for much of the past year. Many are drawing a conclusion about how political discord can have serious consequences - as well as undermining trust in the messages being put out.
If the suicide bombers were local Sri Lankan Muslims, as stated by the government, then it is a colossal failure by the intelligence agencies. Information is also now emerging in the US media that the Sri Lankan government may also have had warnings from US and Indian intelligence about a possible threat.
"Our understanding is that [the warning] was correctly circulated among security and police," Shiral Lakthilaka, a senior adviser to President Maithripala Sirisena, said.
The Sri Lankan president, who oversees security forces, has now set up a committee to find out what went wrong.
Sri Lankan intelligence was credited with foiling several suicide attacks by the Tamil Tiger rebels at the height of the civil war and for penetrating a well-knit and ruthless Tamil Tiger organisation.While this is clearly a security and political failure, there are also questions about the nature of communal strife in Sri Lanka's more recent history. During the civil war, Muslims were also targeted by Tamil Tiger rebels and suffered at their hands.
But Muslim community leaders say successive Sri Lankan governments have failed to restore confidence among young Muslims following more recent attacks by some members of the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community.
One of the worst incidents was in the town of Digana in central Sri Lanka where one person died when a Sinhalese mob attacked Muslim shops and mosques in March last year.
A Muslim boy looks at a smashed mosque window in Sri Lanka, 2018Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency after attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses in 2018
"After Digana quite a few Muslims lost faith in the government to provide them security. Some of them got the idea that they can defend themselves," says Hilmy Ahamed, vice-president of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council.
The attacks and what the youths perceived as the lack of action by the government may have led some of them towards groups like NTJ.
Some of the radicals were blamed for damaging Buddhist statues in recent years and their leader was arrested last year for offending religious sentiments. He later apologised for offending the sentiments of the Buddhist Sinhalese.

Notre Dame of Gaza: Our Mosques and Churches are Also Burning

As the 300-foot spire of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris tragically came tumbling down on live television, my thoughts ventured to Nuseirat Refugee Camp, my childhood home in the Gaza Strip.
Then, also on television, I watched as a small bulldozer hopelessly clawed through the rubble of my neighborhood mosque. I grew up around that mosque. I spent many hours there with my grandfather, Mohammed, a refugee from historic Palestine. Before grandpa became a refugee, he was a young Imam in a small mosque in his long-destroyed village of Beit Daras.
Mohammed and many in his generation took solace in erecting their own mosque in the refugee camp as soon as they arrived to the Gaza Strip in late 1948. The new mosque was first made of hardened mud, but was eventually remade with bricks, and later concrete. He spent much of his time there, and when he died, his old, frail body was taken to the same mosque for a final prayer, before being buried in the adjacent Martyrs Graveyard. When I was still a child, he used to hold my hand as we walked together to the mosque during prayer times. When he aged, and could barely walk, I, in turn, held his hand.
But Al-Masjid al-Kabir – the Great Mosque, later renamed Al-Qassam Mosque – was completely pulverized by Israeli missiles during the summer war on Gaza, starting July 8, 2014.
Hundreds of Palestinian houses of worship were targeted by the Israeli military in previous wars, most notably in 2008-9 and 2012. But the 2014 war was the most brutal and most destructive yet. Thousands were killed and more injured. Nothing was immune to Israeli bombs. According to Palestine Liberation Organization records, 63 mosques were completely destroyed and 150 damaged in that war alone, oftentimes with people seeking shelter inside. In the case of my mosque, two bodies were recovered after a long, agonizing search. They had no chance of being rescued. If they survived the deadly explosives, they were crushed by the massive slabs of concrete.
In truth, concrete, cements, bricks and physical structures don’t carry much meaning on their own. We give them meaning. Our collective experiences, our pains, joys, hopes and faith make a house of worship what it is.
Many generations of French Catholics have assigned the Notre Dame Cathedral with its layered meanings and symbolism since the 12th century.
While the fire consumed the oak roof and much of the structure, French citizens and many around the world watched in awe. It is as if the memories, prayers and hopes of a nation that is rooted in time were suddenly revealed, rising, all at once, with the pillars of smoke and fire.
But the very media that covered the news of the Notre Dame fire seemed oblivious to the obliteration of everything we hold sacred in Palestine as, day after day, Israeli war machinery continues to blow up, bulldoze and desecrate.
It is as if our religions are not worthy of respect, despite the fact that Christianity was born in Palestine. It was there that Jesus roamed the hills and valleys of our historic homeland teaching people about peace, love and justice. Palestine is also central to Islam. Haram al-Sharif, where al-Aqsa Mosque and The Dome of the Rock are kept, is the third holiest site for Muslims everywhere. Yet Christian and Muslim holy sites are besieged, often raided and shut down per military diktats. Moreover, the Israeli army-protected messianic Jewish extremists want to demolish Al-Aqsa and the Israeli government has been digging underneath its foundation for many years.
Although none of this is done in secret; international outrage remains muted. In fact, many find Israel’s actions justified. Some have bought into the ridiculous explanation offered by the Israeli military that bombing mosques is a necessary security measure. Others are motivated by dark religious prophecies of their own.
Palestine, though, is only a microcosm of the whole region. Many of us are familiar with the horrific destruction carried out by fringe militant groups against world cultural heritage in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Most memorable among these are the destruction of Palmyra in Syria, Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan and the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul.
Nothing however can possibly be compared to what the invading US army has done to Iraq. Not only did the invaders desecrate a sovereign country and brutalize her people, they also devastated her culture that goes back to the start of human civilization. Just the immediate aftermath of the invasion alone resulted in the looting of over 15,000 Iraqi antiquities, including the Lady of Warka, also known as the Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia, a Sumerian artifact whose history goes back to 3100 BC.
I had the privilege of seeing many of these artifacts in a visit to the Iraq Museum only a few years before it was looted by US soldiers. At the time, Iraqi curators had all precious pieces hidden in a fortified basement in anticipation of a US bombing campaign. But nothing could prepare the museum for the savagery unleashed by the ground invasion. Since then, Iraqi culture has largely been reduced to items on the black market of the very western invaders that have torn that country apart. The valiant work of Iraqi cultural warriors and their colleagues around the world has managed to restore some of that stolen dignity, but it will take many years for the cradle of human civilization to redeem its vanquished honor.
Every mosque, every church, every graveyard, every piece of art and every artifact is significant because it is laden with meaning, the meaning bestowed on them by those who have built or sought in them an escape, a moment of solace, hope, faith and peace.
On August 2, 2014 the Israeli army bombed the historic Al-Omari Mosque in northern Gaza. The ancient mosque dates back to the 7th century and has since served as a symbol of resilience and faith for the people of Gaza.
As Notre Dame burned, I thought of Al-Omari too. While the fire at the French cathedral was likely accidental, destroyed Palestinian houses of worship were intentionally targeted. The Israeli culprits are yet to be held accountable.
I also thought of my grandfather, Mohammed, the kindly Imam with the handsome, small white beard. His mosque served as his only escape from a difficult existence, an exile that only ended with his own death.

'We don't want another Sisi': Sudanese protesters reject Egyptian interference

Alarm bells are ringing in Khartoum after Egypt's president urges more time for Sudan's military leaders.
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is not welcome in Sudan's protest movement.
Sisi's recent intervention calling for Sudan's military to remain in power for three months was widely rejected by demonstrators in Khartoum.
"Tell Sisi this is Sudan, your borders are just [until] Aswan," Sudanese pro-democracy protesters chanted, referring to the border with Egypt, Sudan's neighbour to the north.
Demonstrations in Sudan have not ceased since longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir was ousted after 30 years of rule on 11 April.
The military who removed him, however, have not put power into the hands of civilians, much to the people's chagrin.
This week, after meeting with African leaders, Sisi said that the military council currently ruling Sudan should be allowed three months to implement reforms and ensure a smooth handover of power.
On Thursday, it became clear that many Sudanese were vehemently opposed to this idea and to the messenger delivering it.
In Khartoum, thousands of people marched on the Egyptian embassy holding anti-Sisi posters, demanding an end to what they considered an "intervention" in their country's transition.
"Enough is enough!" one protester, Shaza Abdul Wahab, told Middle East Eye.
"We don't have problems with the Egyptian people, but we do have a problem with the Egyptian government's repeated intervention in Sudanese affairs," the 23-year-old said.

Export the Egyptian experience

Egyptian authorities have deported dozens of Sudanese activists and handed them over to Sudan in recent months. One of them, Mohamed Alim, commonly known as Alboushi, was deported by Egypt in October and held in a Sudanese prison for five months.
Alboushi, who was freed on 11 April after Bashir was toppled, addressed the protesters in front of the embassy, warning against an attempt by Sisi's government to export the Egyptian experience to Sudan by bolstering the military rulers to remain in power as long as possible.
He also warned that the current Egyptian stance would lead to real deterioration in the popular ties between the two nations.
"We respect the choices of the Egyptian people, and we expect them to do the same," he told the protesters.
Mohamed Youssef al-Mustafa, a leader in the Sudanese Professionals' Association (SPA), which has spearheaded the protests, accused Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of  "supporting the counterrevolution in Sudan".
He said the Sudanese opposition disagreed with Egypt over military rule.
"We are very keen to maintain the Egyptian interest in Sudan," he told MEE. "But we clearly asked the Egyptians and other Middle Eastern states not to interfere in our domestic issues and to let the Sudanese choose how they want to be ruled."
Sudanese security expert Alabas Alamin told MEE that the Egyptian government seeks to maintain its interests in Sudan "by all means," including supporting the military council as a way of exercising influence.
Sisi is a former defence minister who came to power after leading a military coup against his predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected civilian leader.
This week saw the approval of a string of constitutional amendments that gives Sisi the ability to stay in power until 2030.
The referendum process, according to analysts and rights advocates, was marred by the near total shut down of all spaces for opposition.
"The authoritarian Egyptian government would like to reproduce the Egyptian experience in Sudan, and that will only take place if they deal with military leaders rather than civilians," Alamin said.
Ismail Kushkush, an independent journalist and commentator on Sudanese affairs, said the Egyptian government’s approach to Sudan has historically been centred on security.
"There is a lot of rhetoric about brotherly relations and unity of the Nile Valley and so forth, but I think what is paramount has been the immediate interests of the Egyptian state," he told MEE.
He added that Cairo wants to make sure that Egyptian opposition elements, especially Islamists, no longer have any type of presence in Sudan.
Another concern, according to Kushkush, is that Egypt will try to pressure either the current council or any subsequent government to take its side in Nile water politics.
Analysts say that Egypt hopes Khartoum will take its side in the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project, which Cairo sees as a threat to its share of the Nile river.
Closer ties between Egypt and Sudan could arguably lead to Khartoum's cooperation in pressuring Ethiopia into slowing down the process of filling the dam, due by 2022, thus giving Egypt a chance to find alternative sources of water.
"Sudan has been more on the side of the Ethiopian government, but Egypt will try to push the Sudanese government to side with it in political negotiations around GERD," he said.

Lessons to learn

Egypt's 2011 revolution saw longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak replaced with a democratic system, only for Sisi and the military to take charge and implement a stifling authoritarian regime.
Sudan's revolution is taking note, Kushkush said.
"The Sudanese protesters have lessons from their own history, from 1964 and 1985, not to trust the army, but also you have next door a vivid example of what happens when you put too much trust in the army to lead the transition," he said.
Another analyst, Gamal Ali, agreed. "The spread of democracy in Sudan would have its echoes in Egypt, and that is more dangerous for Egyptian rulers than the presence of Egyptian Islamists in Sudan," Ali told MEE.
"Egypt wants to secure its southern borders and wants to create a subordinate system in Sudan. A weak military council is the ideal option for it at the moment."

Trump's designation of Iran is bound to lock into enmity

By Trita Parsi
Branding the Revolutionary Guard Corps as terrorists serves Israel and Saudi Arabia’s interests but makes an Obama-style rapprochement by a future president more difficult.
ith the stroke of a pen, the Donald Trump administration declared more than 11 million Iranians – nearly one-seventh of the country’s population – terrorists. The unprecedented move to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization has rightfully raised concerns that the John Bolton-Mike Pompeo wing of the administration is pushing a clueless Trump closer to open conflict with Iran. But the greater risk is not the short-term impact of this reckless decision, but the way it will entrap future administrations – long after Trump has left the White House – in a no-win enmity with Iran.
The sad history of the US and revolutionary Iran cannot be understood solely from the perspective of these two countries alone. From the outset, it has been an enmity driven as much by the designs of other Middle East powers as by the passions of decision makers in Tehran and Washington. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have for more than two decades feared that a US-Iran rapprochement would come at their expense and would deprive them of the favorable regional position American hegemony in the Middle East has provided them with.
Few American decisions, however, have been so blatantly designed to serve the interest of the leadership of Israel and Saudi Arabia and have so clearly contradicted any reasonable definition of US national interest as Trump’s unprecedented decision to designate the state military of Iran as a terrorist organization.
 Secretary Pompeo claims that this step is just a continuation of the US’s “maximum pressure campaign against the Iranian regime”. But that campaign is itself founded on the false premise that sanctions will force Iran to capitulate. George W Bush tried that approach. He failed. Barack Obama tried it. He too failed.
In fact, in both cases, American pressure was met with Iranian counter-pressure. In 2003, Iran had roughly 150 centrifuges and no stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU). By the time Bush left office, Iran had 8,000 centrifuges and 1,500kg of low-enriched uranium – enough to build a bomb. Five years into Obama’s presidency and his tightening of the Iran sanctions, Iran had 22,000 centrifuges and 10,000kg of LEU.
Obama wisely understood that the maximum pressure path eventually would lead to Iran getting a bomb or the US bombing Iran. It would not lead to Iran’s capitulation. So he shifted gears in secret negotiation with Iran in Oman and tried the unthinkable instead: compromise.
It worked. American flexibility elicited Iranian flexibility. Goodwill begot goodwill. Respect unclenched fists on both sides.
But the thaw in US-Iran relations gave birth to a panic in Riyadh and Tel Aviv that Iran’s nuclear advances never did.
While the maximum pressure campaign never could solve the nuclear issue, it could achieve Israel and Saudi Arabia’s true objective: to either push the US into war with Iran or to trap the US in a permanent state of enmity with that country. Both outcomes would ensure, they calculated, a shift in the regional balance of power in their favor and that their geopolitical rival Iran would be checkmated for the foreseeable future.
After all, it wasn’t Iran’s nuclear program that threatened them. Rather, it was Tehran’s willingness to reach a modus vivendi with Washington that terrified them.

Which is why the IRGC designation topped their wishlist (Netanyahu took credit for the decision on Twitter). Though the short-term dangers of this decision should not be dismissed – when Senator Rand Paul on Thursday failed to win Pompeo’s admission that the designation didn’t greenlight the targeting of the IRGC in Syria, he forcefully reminded the secretary that “You do not have our permission to go to war in Iran” – the longer-term implications are equally worrisome.
The US-Iran enmity is already institutionalized. A web of political and legal realities serve to make it unresolvable. Whenever Washington and Tehran have tried to overcome their differences, they have found themselves chained to the political and legal facts that prevent them from transcending the pain and grievances of their past.
The IRGC designation adds yet another, massive brick in this wall of mistrust separating the two. But unlike previous moves, this decision is next to irreversible mindful of the immense political capital required to reverse it. And without undoing it, a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran appears inconceivable.
This designation is designed to reduce the maneuverability of future US administrations and to effectively take peace off the table. It’s designed to make future presidents resigned to the idea that America is trapped in a permanent state of enmity with Iran – even though continuous hostility with that important country in no shape or form serves US national security.
Israel and Saudi Arabia, however, calculate that it serves their interests. And once again, Trump took their advice over that of the US intelligence community and military.
But as radical as this move is, it is less extreme than Obama’s decision to seek a win-win compromise with Iran. The Iran nuclear deal was a triumph of diplomacy. It squarely served US national interest. But it fundamentally contradicted America’s grand strategy and designs of hegemony in the Middle East. It signaled that America was willing to come to terms with Iran instead of seeking Tehran’s submission and punishment for having opposed Pax Americana. It was radical because it was a first step towards dismantling the unquestioned notion that America must dominate the Middle East – come what may.
Trump’s designation of the IRGC, on the other hand, does not contradict America’s hegemonic aspirations. And that’s where the deeper problem lies: America’s post-cold war approach to the Middle East does not exclude permanent enmities. It embraces them. It may appear radical, but it is a logical conclusion of a posture that dictates that America must dominate the region. Permanent enmities – and endless wars – are not a bug of this grand strategy; they are its most prominent feature.
To paraphrase Obama, it was not enough to end the Iraq war. The mindset behind it also had to be discarded. Similarly, it is not enough to prevent a costly, no-win enmity with Iran. The hegemonic aspirations that inevitably lead to forever wars and permanent enmities must also be replaced.
  • Trita Parsi is the author of Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy

Friday, April 26, 2019

Message from Sound Vision on preparing for Ramadan

In his book “Eat the Frog”, productivity expert Brian Tracy notes that 10 to 12 minutes invested in planning your day will save at least two hours of wasted time and effort throughout the day.

Imagine having two hours of your life back to spend on what really matters. With Ramadan beginning in barely a week, this is a critical practice we can all use to make the most of the blessed month.

Making the most of Ramadan is a reminder we routinely see and hear in the weeks preceding it. But how many of us truly consider that this may be our last Ramadan? Just as we are often reminded before congregational prayers to “pray as if it is your last prayer”, we need to approach Ramadan the same way.

This blessed month can’t be left to become a blur in our memories. It has to be more than that time of the year we squeeze in fasting amongst the other things we do daily. But doing that requires planning on your own, as well as with family and friends.

Please take the time in the coming week to write down exactly what you want to achieve by the end of Ramadan this year insha Allah. Making the intention, writing it down, and sharing them with a family member and friend who can help you stay focused on your goals all help you reach the finish line with success.

O Allah! Bless us during Rajab and Shaban, and let us reach Ramadan. Ameen.

Sound Vision Team

'Do not forget the Rohingya': UN urges support for refuge

Top UN officials have urged the international community not to forget the plight of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and called for global support to ensure their safe and voluntary return to Myanmar.
Speaking to reporters following a visit to refugee camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar on Friday, Mark Lowcock, the United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said the body was seeking to raise nearly a billion dollars to help the Rohingya refugees and their host community. 
More than 700,000 members of the persecuted minority fled Myanmar following a brutal military crackdown in response to attacks by a Rohingya armed group.
More than 1.2 million now live in overcrowded and squalid refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh. 
Lowcock said the "great exodus" of Rohingya refugees arriving to Cox's Bazar "caused all sorts of issues".
"Our main message is to the wider world: do not forget the Rohingya, do not forget the generosity of the people and institutions and government of Bangladesh, and be generous in supporting both the Rohingya and Bangladesh," he said.
Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who accompanied Lowcock, said the Rohingya refugee crisis should not turn into a "forgotten crisis".
"This remains one of the world's biggest refugee crises," said Grandi.
"I saw a great deal of progress, but their situation, especially for women and children, remains fragile. With the current crisis almost two years on we must give refugees the chance to learn, build skills and contribute to their communities while also preparing for reintegration when they can return to Myanmar," he added. 
"It's very clear: nobody has gone back because many of those reasons that pushed them out of the country have not yet been addressed."

Monsoon season

The officials also highlighted the need for stronger infrastructure in the camps in the upcoming cyclone period. 
AK Abdul Momen, Bangladesh's foreign minister, who met with the UN officials, reiterated his government's plan to move some 100,000 refugees to to the remote island of Bhasan Char, a move opposed by many refugees.
"We have information that this year there may be more rain and that may cause landslides," Momen told reporters. 
"Bhasan Char island is now prepared and we can start to relocate Rohingya before the monsoon to avert any casualties in the coming monsoon," he said.
Some human rights groups have expressed concerns over that plan because the island is remote and prone to devastation from cyclones.
Separately, the International Crisis Group said criminal gangs and fighters were now operating openly in the Rohingya refugee camps, committing killings and abductions with "impunity".
The conflict research group, in a new report on Thursday, called for Bangladesh to toughen its police presence.
Threats from fighters from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, whose attacks triggered the Myanmar military campaign, had left Rohingya leaders fearful for their lives and that frequent murders were "rarely" investigated, according to the ICG. 
"Refugees express serious concerns about their personal security, and militants and gangs are intimidating, kidnapping and killing with impunity," the report said.   
"Murders and other forms of violence are an almost nightly occurrence... and perpetrators have almost never been brought to justice."  

SOURCE: News agencies