Friday, January 31, 2020

A New Law In India Threatens Their Muslim Minority

A 2017 military campaign against the Muslim Rohingya expelled more than 700,000 from Rakhine State into Bangladesh.
Last week Aung San Suu Kyi took the stand at the International Court of Justice to defend Myanmar against charges of genocide.

A 2017 military campaign against the Muslim Rohingya expelled more than 700,000 from Rakhine State into Bangladesh. Survivors recounted numerous mass executions, rapes and other atrocities. The ferocity and scale of this violence is based on longstanding denial of the Rohingya’s right to belong in Myanmar.

Nationalists have long derided the Rohingya as illegal Bengali immigrants. A 1982 citizenship law excluded them from a list of “national races” because they had not arrived in Myanmar before 1823.

The seeds of a similar situation have now been planted in India under an increasingly nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Like in Myanmar, the likely epicentre of a violent contest over who belongs and who does not is a remote state bordering Bangladesh: Assam.

This year, a statewide government program, known as the National Register of Citizens, verified the citizenship of all residents. It identified 1.9 million people as illegal immigrants.

Excluding Muslims

As it became apparent that just as many Hindus as Muslims lacked adequate documentation, the BJP submitted a new bill to parliament, which was quickly passed by both houses. The Citizenship Amendment Act provides a path to citizenship for all Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians who can claim persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and arrived in India before 2014.

Muslims are conspicuously absent from the list, despite the persecution of Ahmadis and Shia in the three states. No mention was given of the neighbouring states with some of the worst violations of minority rights: China and Myanmar. The reason is clear - the persecuted groups there are Muslim.

Those excluded from the National Register of Citizens can appeal to specially created foreigner tribunals, but these are likely to be highly politicised. The next and final step of appeal is the Supreme Court, but this is beyond the financial means of most.

Detention will then await, just as in Rakhine. The Indian government is currently building a 3,000-person detention centre in Assam’s Goalpara district. 

Unrecognised as citizens by Bangladesh, these people will be rendered stateless, just as the Rohingya before them.

A volatile history

If Assam’s history is any guide, this repression will be accompanied by political violence. The last period of turmoil over illegal immigration, known as the Assam Movement of 1979 to 1985, saw widespread protests, strikes and insurgency.

Ignited by claims voting rolls contained the names of hundreds of thousands of non-citizens, the period involved extensive communal violence. The main targets were people the movement deemed to be immigrants, particularly those of Bengal-origin. In a single incident, the Nellie Massacre, a mob killed more than 2,000 people.

I have written elsewhere about recent anti-migrant massacres in Assam in 2012 and 2014 in which mobs killed several hundred members of the Bengali Muslim and Advivasi communities. Widespread protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act have broken out in the state in recent days, not at the exclusion of Muslims as elsewhere in India, but at the impending naturalisation of Hindus and other groups.

The dangers of violence in Assam are real. A former chief minister of the state described it as a powder keg of ethnic tensions.

Assam’s future in a nationalist India

The BJP president, Amit Shah, has stated that the National Register of Citizens will be conducted throughout India. During the April 2019 national election, Shah said:

                   Illegal immigrants are like termites. They are eating the grain that 
                                   should go to the poor, they are taking our jobs.

He said that after coming to power, the party would throw the termites into the Bay of Bengal but would grant citizenship to every Hindu and Buddhist refugee. This is similar nativist and genocidal language to that used by the Myanmar army chief as the military began its campaign against the Rohingya:

                           The Bengali problem was a longstanding one which has
                                       become an unfinished job.

It seems unlikely violence on the scale perpetrated by the military in Rakhine State in Myanmar will occur in India. The militaries of the two countries have very different relationships with civilian political actors, and Muslims play an important political role in Assam and can therefore (to some extent) moderate the behaviour of nationalists.

But India has set itself on a nationalist trajectory under the BJP, and the end point is uncertain. There were warnings of impending genocide in Myanmar in the years before 2017. By the end of that year it was too late. There are now warnings of similar violence against Muslims in India, but there is still time to act.

Chris Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Auckland. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hindutvadi vigilante shoots at New Delhi demonstrators

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The protests outside New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University on Thursday started out small and relatively low-key - another show of anger by students who oppose a citizenship law they say discriminates against Muslims.
An unidentified man brandishes a gun during a protest against a new citizenship law outside the Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi, India, January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

But that quickly changed when a young man brandishing a rudimentary pistol appeared on the road between around 1,000 protesters and dozens of riot police facing them.

Waving the small handgun in the air, he taunted the demonstrators, and as both protesters and police converged towards him to try and calm the situation, he fired a single shot at a man later identified as Shadab Farooq.

Farooq was wounded in his hand, police said.

“As the protests started, there was no immediate threat so I was moving towards the police line and it was just like a regular day,” said Danish Siddiqui, Reuters’ chief photographer in India who took several pictures of the gunman.

“When I saw he was carrying a gun, I quickly moved to one side,” he added.

One close-up photograph captures the man pointing the gun towards protesters as he steps backwards. A line of riot police look on about 50 metres behind him.

In the melee after the shot was fired, Siddiqui also photographed the injured protester as well as the gunman, who identified himself on social media as “Rambhakt Gopal”, being brought under control by police.
Reuters could not immediately ascertain if that was his real identity.

Siddiqui has covered dozens of such demonstrations that have convulsed the country for more than a month. At least 25 people have been killed in clashes with police since early December.

Thursday’s incident - the first known case where a civilian has shot at protesters in the capital - raised fresh fears that Indians could take the law into their own hands as supporters and opponents of the legislation grow increasingly polarised.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has pushed through parliament, fast-tracks Indian citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from three neighbouring countries.

Its opponents say it discriminates against India’s sizeable Muslim minority of 180 million people and violates its secular constitution.

Modi has rejected the protests, and members of his party and its affiliates have painted the protesters as anti-nationals.

Minutes before firing, the gunman had uploaded posts onto his Facebook profile saying this will be his “final journey” and urging readers to “remember his family”.

He had also posted photos of himself posing with a gun and he is seen wearing a saffron T-shirt, the colour of Hindu nationalists.
Facebook later said it had taken down the gunman’s account. Police said they had detained the suspect but gave no further details.

The injured man, Farooq, was in hospital receiving treatment for his wound, according to a friend with him who declined to be identified. The friend said Farooq was not able to answer questions.

Following the shooting, the number of protesters swelled to several thousand, and scuffles between them and several hundred police officers broke out.

Carter says Trump Mideast plan violates international law

Washington (AFP) - Jimmy Carter said Thursday that President Donald Trump's Middle East plan would violate international law and urged the United Nations to stop Israel from annexing Palestinian land.
"The new US plan undercuts prospects for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians," the former US president said in a statement.
"If implemented, the plan will doom the only viable solution to this long-running conflict, the two-state solution," said Carter, who brokered the landmark 1978 Camp David Accords that brought peace between Israel and Egypt.
He urged UN member-states "to adhere to UN Security Council resolutions and to reject any unilateral Israeli implementation of the proposal by grabbing more Palestinian land."
His office said in a statement that Trump's plan, unveiled Tuesday, "breaches international law regarding self-determination, the acquisition of land by force, and annexation of occupied territories."
"By calling Israel 'the nation-state of the Jewish people,' the plan also encourages the denial of equal rights to the Palestinian citizens of Israel," it said.
Trump presented his long-awaited plan Tuesday alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his close ally, who shortly afterward signalled he would seek to annex a large part of the West Bank.
Trump's plan recognizes Israeli sovereignty over most of its West Bank
settlements and the Jordan Valley, as well as an undivided Jerusalem.
The plan also backs a Palestinian state with a capital on the outskirts of Jerusalem but says the Palestinian leadership must recognize Israel as a Jewish homeland and agree to a demilitarized state.
The 95-year-old Carter, the longest-living president in US history, has frequently spoken out since losing re-election in 1980 and has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work.
In his recent years, he has frequently faced criticism from pro-Israel supporters for his views on the conflict, especially his use of the word "apartheid" to describe the Jewish state's potential future without a peace deal.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The original 'Assassins': Medieval warriors of Alamut

Nearly 14 years ago I wrote an article on the similarities of the neo-nihilistic activities of some Muslims with the so-called Hashishin of the old days. You can view my piece by clicking here: 
Today, I came across an article in the National Geographic (pub. Nov. 2018) on the old Hashishin. I share excerpts of the article below:

The original 'Assassins': Medieval warriors of Alamut

High inside a secretpower for just 300 years, but their impact would last for centuries.

Alamut, the Assassins’ fortress, now in modern-day Iran, was a place that induced terror in the hearts of Sunni Muslim rulers. Related to eagles, the name Alamut conveys its majestic height and impregnability.


Conrad of Montferrat, an Italian crusader, was preparing for his coronation as king of Jerusalem, in Tyre, in April 1192. Making his way down a narrow street of the city, he was attacked by two men disguised as monks, who stabbed him to death.

Although historians still speculate who ordered the attack, there is little doubt as to the identity of the killers. They were not monks, but members of a secretive Muslim sect with strongholds seated high in the mountains of Persia and Syria. Headquartered in an impenetrable Persian castle, Alamut, these agents specialized in targeted killings and espionage. Infiltrating the ranks of their enemies, they would strike their targets, often with knives, and were willing to die for their mission. Syrian enemies called them the Hashishim, but they are better known today by the European crusaders’ term: Assassins.
Outsiders' accounts
Perhaps the first European account of the Assassins comes from a Spanish rabbi, Benjamin of Tudela, who traveled through Syria in 1167. He told of a mysterious leader, the Old Man of the Mountain, who led a sect of warriors who dwelled in hidden mountain fortresses.
The dreaded Assassins were at the peak of their power in the 12th century. Much of what is believed about them comes from accounts of fascinated European crusaders and from the pens of their sworn enemies, Syrian Sunni chroniclers. Their very biased accounts must be taken with a degree of skepticism, for they were intended at times to entertain or defame. They extolled the Assassins' strength and zeal while making wild exaggerated claims about their lifestyles.
One was penned by a 12th-century Archbishop of Tyre, William II, a crusader. He estimated their numbers to be around 60,000 and wrote about their extreme devotion to their leaders:
It is their custom to install their master and choose their chief, not by hereditary right, but solely by virtue of merit. Disdaining any other title of dignity, they called him the Elder. The bond of submission and obedience that binds this people to their Chief is so strong, that there is no task so arduous, difficult or dangerous that any one of them would not undertake to perform it with the greatest zeal.
Some European reports suggested they even ate pork and married their sisters. Colorful notions about the Assassins as reckless libertines were reinforced by the publication of The Travels of Marco Polo. The medieval best seller mentions the Syrian Old Man of the Mountain administering a drugged potion to his fanatical followers to facilitate their deadly missions. Since the sect’s nickname, the Hashishim, was derived from the Arabic for “hashish,” Marco Polo’s account helped cement their reputation as drug-fueled thugs. Modern historians, however, regard Marco Polo’s description as something of an invention itself.
Although the sect did pass through a brief phase of libertinism in the 1160s, at most other times in its history the sect was very strict and austere. The use of hashish is not found in any credible Muslim source, even among the Assassins’ enemies. Middle Eastern historian and expert on the Assassins, Bernard Lewis believes that Hashishi was a popular Syrian term of abuse used by the sects’ enemies to discredit them. (See also: Islam's Medical Advances in the Middle Ages.)
Another medieval European misunderstanding was that the sect was specifically targeting Christians. In reality, there was considerable amicable contact between the crusaders and the sect. Around 1251 France’s Louis IX sent envoys to meet them. The meeting may have suited their diplomatic needs at the time, but the sect was largely uninterested in the Christians. It was primarily focused on the tumultuous changes in the Muslim world and the events that had shaped them, which they were also shaping in turn. Their story forms part of a great struggle between empires and local Muslim communities, between Arabs and non-Arabs, city and castle, and the ... rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites....
In the eighth and ninth centuries a new Shiite faction organized around this esoteric interpretation of the Quran. Called the Ismaili, they broke from Shiism in the early 700s, after a succession dispute in which their choice—Ismail—lost. Organized in secret, they created an extensive web of learned missionaries. A strong social dimension informed Ismaili theology, the belief that a mahdi, or divinely guided one, would introduce a longed-for era of equity and light.
Flame of the Fatimids
The new sect, however, was not all about prayer and ideas. In 909 Ismaili revolutionaries seized power in North Africa. Conquering Tunis with the help of Berber tribes, they established the Fatimid Caliphate, named for Fatima, daughter of the Prophet.
In 969 the Fatimids conquered Egypt, and founded a city near the Nile. Its name summed up their triumphant spirit: Al Qahirah, “the Victorious,” known in the West as Cairo. From here, the Fatimids expanded into Palestine and Syria, forming a western Shiite bulwark against the Sunnis in Baghdad.
For a while, the Fatimid star shone brightly, but by the mid-11th century a change was once again sweeping through the Islamic world. Far to the east, a Turkic tribe from Central Asia started to conquer swaths of the Islamic world. Moving west through Persia, these recent Sunni converts, called the Seljuks, moved westward. In 1055 they took Baghdad, where they proved themselves determined defenders of their faith.
Amid the tumult, Ismaili missionaries continued their work of finding and educating new students. In the second half of the 11th century, a 17-year-old Persian named Hasan-e Sabbah began training in the Persian city of Rayy to become an Ismaili missionary. When he completed his education, Hasan was sent to Cairo.
The golden century of Fatimid rule had long ended, and rifts were growing within Ismailism. As the Seljuk grip tightened, the fortunes of Sunni Islam were rising. After three years, Hasan left Cairo and went to work as a missionary in Persia. His work there extended throughout the land: He gathered Ismaili converts and began to organize them against the hated Seljuks. Hasan’s new faction, the Nizari Ismaili, would give rise to the infamous Assassins of legend.
Vizier Abu Ali Hasan ibn Ali, better known by his title, Nizam al-Mulk, acted as the eyes and ears of the sultan. He spearheaded a Sunni revival across the vast Seljuk Empire. His treatise on government inveighed against the Nizari in particular, for which he paid a heavy price. Assassinated on the orders of Hasan-e Sabbah in 1092, his death played a role in the weakening of Seljuk power.
Prime targets
Hasan’s followers were committed and devout but outgunned and outnumbered. To fight against the powerful Seljuks, Hasan had to outsmart them. In 1090 he captured Alamut Castle from the Sunni Seljuks. Located in the rugged Elburz Mountains northwest of modern Tehran, the castle became his stronghold and served as the Nizari’s aerie for nearly two centuries. Using infiltration, bribery, and violence, Hasan occupied other fortresses in mountainous regions of Persia and established a Nizari state with imposing defenses.
Hasan knew that battle was out of the question, so he turned to other tactics: guerrilla warfare, spying, espionage, and targeted killings. His special corps, the fedayeen, proved highly effective against carefully selected targets. The fedayeen (“those who sacrifice themselves”) were drilled to murder their victim, await discovery, and then submit to torture or execution.
In 1092 the Assassins made a notable killing, the vizier Nizam al-Mulk, a powerful member of the Seljuk Sultanate. Records say that a Nizari disguised himself as a Sufi mystic and stabbed him. Soon after, the Seljuk sultan, Malik Shah, was also killed. Historians believe this sultan’s murder could have been committed by another sect; he had many enemies closer to home than the Nizari. Nonetheless, the murders had a domino effect, and the Seljuks were thrown into turmoil. A series of Nizari attacks followed on rulers, generals, governors, and clerics. The Nizari seemed to be everywhere and nowhere. Their adversaries began to take extra measures to protect themselves: hiring bodyguards and wearing chain mail under their clothing.
In the last years of meaningful Fatimid rule, Hasan-e Sabbah broke ties with the Ismaili in Cairo. In the early 1100s he decided to expand the reach of his sect, sending missionaries to Syria and Palestine. The Nizari believed that they alone possessed the truth, and that an imam—a true descendant of Ali—would one day reveal himself. To their Sunni enemies whose disdainful chroniclers recorded their deeds, they were delinquents; to the Nizari themselves, they were holy warriors.
The Nizari expansion coincided with the arrival of European crusaders in Syria, who settled there after conquering Jerusalem in 1099. Sometimes the Nizari killed Christians, as was the case with Conrad of Montferrat in Jerusalem, but at other times, they were open to forming alliances with them. To the Nizari, the Christian presence was a minor irritant in their declared goal to await the revelation of the imam. (For more about the Crusades, see also: The Rise and Fall of the Templar.)
The Old Man of the Mountain
Hasan-e Sabbah died in 1124, and the sect continued without him. In 1138 his successor, Buzurg-Ummid, died, “crushed under the heel of perdition, so Hell [was] heated with the fuel of his carcass,” as a Sunni chronicler colorfully described his demise. But Nizari fortunes remained buoyant, and the murders of high-ranking Sunni figures continued.
In the 1160s leadership fell to Hasan II, who took the branch in a different theological direction. Hasan proclaimed he had received instructions from a hidden imam. True believers, he said, were now relieved from moral customs, such as praying in the direction of Mecca, and could even do things regarded as sinful. This period probably influenced the lurid tales that were later collected by Marco Polo and other Europeans, even though the sect later reverted to a more austere interpretation of Islam.
Hasan II’s protégé was Rashid ad-Din as-Sinan, leader of the Syrian Nizari and based at the stronghold of Masyaf. It was Sinan who was known as the Old Man of the Mountain. His struggle brought him into conflict with another central figure in the Crusades, the sultan Saladin, who set out to expel the Christian foe, and unite Islam—a goal the Nizari did not share.
Fedayeen were twice sent to kill him, but Saladin escaped. In response, he besieged Masyaf Castle but then unexpectedly withdrew. Ismaili sources claimed the Nizari had infiltrated Saladin’s most trusted guards, and that he was forced to strike a deal or die. The Nizari survived that attack, but their undoing would not come at Muslim hands. Mongol invaders in the 13th century destroyed Alamut in 1256 and took down the Nizari.
Europeans continued to circulate legends of the deadly Assassins even after the Mongols took over the Nizari strongholds. The word “assassin” passed into common parlance during the 13th and 14th centuries. Dante uses it in his 14th-century epic poem, 
The Divine Comedy. In Spanish, “assassin” became the root of the common word for “murder”: asesinato. In modern English, an assassination has retained its specific sense of killing a powerful person for political ends. The romantic idea of the Assassins still lingers in popular culture, like the series of Assassin’s Creed action-adventure video games. (For more on Dante, see also: The hellish history of the devil: Satan in the Middle Ages)
Although the military might of the Nizari faded over time, their faith has survived and is still practiced around the world today with Ismaili living in 25 countries, mainly in Central and South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. While the reputation of the Assassins was largely built on exaggerations by their enemies, the impact of this small sect and its effective tactics struck fear into mighty powers and has inspired imitators ever since.

Gitmo testimony sheds light on $81 million contract for black site interrogations

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba Testimony at Guantanamo Bay’s war court by the architect of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program shed light on what the government paid his company more than $80 million to do.

Speaking under oath in open court for the first time last week, former Air Force psychologist Dr. James Mitchell was pressed by defense lawyers representing alleged plotters of the 9/11 terrorist attacks about his major role in assisting the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program. The program involved at least 119 detainees held in agency black sites following the deadly attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mitchell was hired in April 2002 as a short-term contractor to consult on the overseas interrogation of captured al Qaeda facilitator Abu Zubaydah, but by June of that year, the CIA asked him to help design and take part in the interrogation program. He and his business partner, Dr. Bruce Jessen, became two of the CIA’s three official waterboarders. Mitchell was paid more than $1.4 million and Jessen over $1.2 million from 2002 through 2005. The “physical coercion” techniques they promoted included walling, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and more.

Mitchell, 68, insisted that these techniques, stemming from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape program, were approved by the president, buttressed by Justice Department legal memos, and given the green light by the CIA. Critics labeled them torture.
Zubaydah as well as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. He also waterboarded Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the alleged plotter of the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 U.S. sailors in October 2000.

“The last enhanced interrogation I was involved in was in the summer of 2003,” the psychologist said.

Throughout his testimony, Mitchell condemned the mistreatment of detainees by other CIA officers who he said were acting outside his recommended interrogation guidelines.

Mitchell testified about work he did at a black site in Guantanamo Bay, where he “got requirements from" the 9/11 Commission, whose members were “interested in the details behind 9/11.” The psychologist said FBI agents were at the black site doing a similar job.

Mitchell described getting intelligence requests from the 9/11 Commission at a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility at the U.S. naval base and insisted his role at the time was that of a debriefer and no longer an interrogator.

The roles played by Mitchell and Jessen only grew from there.
The duo formed a Spokane, Washington-based consulting firm, Mitchell, Jessen, and Associates, in 2005. Between then and 2009, their company received $81 million out of a possible $180 million contract as they assisted the CIA’s rendition and detention group. The agency also gave Mitchell and Jessen an indemnification agreement protecting them from legal liability. As of 2014, the government had paid out $1 million — with an additional, undisclosed settlement paid in 2017 to representatives for three former detainees through an ACLU lawsuit.

Mitchell claimed that the company “existed prior to them coming up with the contract.” He said that it was “originally formed because [he] wanted to continue to provide continued medical education for war fighters” and that it wasn’t created to conduct interrogations.

“I was told that it was an open bid contract and that our proposal would be considered with other proposals,” Mitchell testified about the payment. “Later, I was told it was a sole source contract.”

“It was revenue, not profit,” Mitchell said of the $81 million, claiming the vast majority of the funds went to pay for his more than 100 employees. All of his company's interrogators were former CIA officers, he said. “The CIA would tell us what the qualifications had to be, and the qualifications were that you had to have worked the job before.”

Mitchell said his company’s year-to-year contract with the government was dropped after President Barack Obama’s election.

“They were being pressured by the White House and the Senate, and for the convenience of the government, they said that they were going to cancel our contract,” he said. “It was canceled after we’d been told it had been renewed.”

The CIA’s chief of medical services wrote in 2007 that the use of the waterboard against Zubaydah and Mohammed was “little more than an amateurish experiment, with no reason at the outset to believe it would be either safe or effective.”

The Democrat-led Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in 2014 that enhanced interrogations were “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence.”
Republicans and former CIA directors pushed back. "We have no doubt that the CIA's detention program saved lives and played a vital role in weakening al Qaeda while the program was in operation," Republican committee members wrote in response.

The CIA acknowledged “mistakes” but insisted the program “helped thwart attack plans,” crediting it with producing important information that could not be obtained through other means.

Obama banned the use of the techniques with a 2009 executive order, and a 2015 law further limited interrogation methods.