Inter Press Service » Religion News and Views from the Global South Mon, 27 Jun 2016 19:26:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Islamists and Secularists Adjust to Work Together Fri, 24 Jun 2016 20:56:56 +0000 Ruby Amatulla By Ruby Amatulla
Jun 24 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

It is encouraging to watch how Rachid Ghannouchi and Nahdha, the largest and most popular Islamic political party in Tunisia which is now widely expected to come to power again in the next election, have been transforming over time. Recently Ghannouchi astonished the world by declaring that “We will exit political Islam”, meaning that the country would be working to separate religious work from politics. Coming from one who once advocated Sharia law in governance, this change is amazing. Ghannouchi’s leadership of remaining flexible, without compromising fundamental values and principles of Islam, has played a major role in helping Tunisia to become a vibrant democracy today, when other countries in the region have failed.

The goals of the revolution in Tunisia have not yet been achieved but the country is seeing some progress. photo: afp

The goals of the revolution in Tunisia have not yet been achieved but the country is seeing some progress. photo: afp

While Nahdha was in power, two opposition leaders were assassinated in 2013 and there were mass protests. To restore trust and confidence among people, Nahdha resigned and handed over power to a neutral caretaker government, who would be in charge until the next election. A secular party, Nidaa Tounes, got the majority in the Parliament in the subsequent election held in October 2014. Nahdha readily conceded defeat and pledged its cooperation. Thus a dignified political tradition, complying with the democratic spirit, was initiated. People’s trust was restored. Even the parties who lost in the last two elections in Tunisia confirm that elections were fair and the system is working well.

Going back, in June 2003, representatives of three major secular political parties made a visionary and courageous move in meeting representatives of Nahdha, then in exile, to negotiate and sign a joint declaration: “Call from Tunis” (issued from Paris). That document laid down rules of future political engagements that would ensure upholding democratic principles as well as respecting religious traditions and guaranteeing religious freedom. Since then, constructive engagements and protracted negotiations for a decade or so have produced a progressive Constitution, including terms of gender parity, proportional representation (PR) electoral system, and so on; a political system that should be emulated by the rest of the Muslim world.

This is an enormous achievement for a previously divided society that was ruled by autocrats since its independence from France in 1956, and torn between modernity and religious traditions. Since the Jasmine Revolution that ended President Ben Ali’s 23-year autocratic rule in January 2011, the nation has gone through difficulties but has survived with amazing resilience. The main contributing factor is the constructive engagement of the oppositions and the consequent changes in the greater society creating optimism and public trust in the political processes.

Right after the revolution, Nahdha was very popular and was widely expected to win about 90 percent seats in the Constituent Assembly without the PR [proportional representation] system. That would be unacceptable to the secular and liberal parties. To avoid turmoil in the country, Nahdha accepted PR whereby, they knew, the party’s share of the Assembly would drastically shrink.

In fact in the October 2011 elections, after using the PR system, Nahdha got only 41 percent seats. In spite of being the largest party in the Assembly, Nahdha formed coalition and shared power with the two secular groups. Paradoxically, the constraints and compromises of power-sharing among the oppositions have been the key to Tunisia’s success in having a functional democracy today.

On the other hand, Egypt, a regional power, could not hang on to the emancipation process after ending the long repressive rule of Hosni Mubarak around the same time of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution in January 2011. Only two-and-a-half years after the Revolution, and one year after Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was elected president, a military coup removed Morsi from power on July 3, 2013. Again a military man, the former Defence Minister, Abdel Fateh al-Sisi, who led the last coup, is on the throne, claiming to have received over 90 percent votes in the last election. Egypt is back full circle.

he main reason Egypt was unsuccessful is because secularists and Islamic groups failed to reach out to each other. President Morsi, after assuming power, refused to listen to the secular voices in the country, took an uncompromising approach, tried to consolidate power fast, and sent a signal of another authoritarian rule in Egypt. Massive protests erupted nationwide and turmoil ensued. The army took over power. The nation, since its independence from Britain in 1922, lost a historic opportunity for self-rule. The Islamic party bears a lion’s share of the blame for this failure. However, looking back, secular forces also remain responsible for this unfortunate outcome. Moderate Islamists have been persecuted at the hands of autocratic secular rulers going back to Nasser’s time over 60 years ago, while secular groups and civil society gave lip service to pluralism but remained silent when moderate Islamists were oppressed and their rights were violated.

Many western and eastern scholars have been repeatedly pointing out that whenever constructive moves of moderate Islamist groups are ignored and they are persecuted, extreme radical forces emerge. Ghannouchi confirms: Salafist and Jehadist groups emerged both in Tunisia and Egypt during the repressive secular rules.

As radicalism intensifies, autocratic regimes find more excuses to continue their grip in the name of fighting terrorism. In reality, they imprison opposition leaders at will and violate the civil rights of citizens. The western powers, in the name of stability, support and do business with these undemocratic ruthless regimes. Their support reinforces the status quo and their hypocrisy creates cynicism and distrust among the people under such a repressive rule. The anger and frustration of some segments of the society, especially of the younger generation, help reinforce radicalism. Radicals find more justifications for their vicious work. That also increases the ferocity of repression.

This vicious cycle continues with the reckless way of pursuing de-radicalisation. The recent events in many countries is a testament to the fact that the ‘War on Terror’ policy has failed, in spite of spending hundreds of billions of dollars by the powerful western countries. There is no military solution to radicalism, especially in this global society with an ever higher intolerance for subjugation and humiliation, and with the ever more availability of arms through reckless arms businesses. It is long overdue that the world powers focus on a deep rooted agenda to address radicalism, such as helping establish power-sharing democratic rule. The counterproductive strategy of pursuing stability at the expense of democracy ultimately helps create a stagnant situation devoid of both stability and democracy.

Tunisia seems to be getting out of this quagmire. Radicals have either mostly been transformed or marginalised. Both Islamists and secularists are finding common grounds and democracy is thriving in the country.

The writer is Executive Director, US based Justice, Peace and Progress.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

]]> 0
Collective Indifference or Silent Acceptance? Thu, 23 Jun 2016 15:30:52 +0000 Moyukh Mahtab By Moyukh Mahtab
Jun 23 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

When blogger Rajib Haider was killed in 2013, the outcry was tremendous. But, over the next three years, at least 38 more were added to the list of those murdered, which includes writers, publisher, foreigners, religious minorities and LGBT rights activists. There have been reports about alleged IS involvement, and last week, the security forces launched a drive that resulted in the arrest of 194 ‘militants’. But the collective outrage over people being murdered seems to have mellowed.

Alfredo Ramos Martínez, 1934.

Alfredo Ramos Martínez, 1934.

It’s almost as if there is a general indifference towards those being killed now – there has even been ‘doubts’ about whether the slain deserved their fate. Of course, most Muslims in this country are not radical in their belief. But certain attitudes towards minorities have made the situation worse. As long as there is an impression that many people find nothing wrong with the murder of those who might have differing beliefs, whoever is behind these killings, be it Hizb ut-Tahrir, Ansarullah Bangla Team, JMB or even IS, are being ‘legitimised’ in their acts.

A recent article by The New York Times tries to explain the situation. The report quotes the Chief of the Police Counterterrorism Unit, Monirul Islam: “They have tried to pick their targets with care, with the aim of gaining support from the public. . . Their goal was to convert Bangladesh’s mixed secular and religious culture to an Islamist one.” The report does not inspire hope. Further comments from Monirul Islam and the reporter run along the same lines: “To a surprising extent, the militants have succeeded in their aim of discrediting secularism”; “In general, people think they have done the right thing, that it’s not unjustifiable to kill”. (“Bangladesh Says It Now Knows Who’s Killing the Bloggers”, NYT, June 8, 2016)

The killers seem to have achieved what they wanted. They targeted the deep-rooted cultural biases and attitudes of the largely Sunni Muslim population of the country. The moment bloggers of the Shahbagh movement became branded as ‘atheists’, the public outrage over fanaticism shifted. A pervasive fear has taken hold that Islam is somehow under threat, and eliminating elements that supposedly run counter to the religion need to be discarded. In the week of the police crackdown on militancy, a Hindu college teacher was stabbed in Madaripur, and staff of Ramakrishna Mission received death threats. And yet, the majority of the people remain unconcerned.

And here we must confront some uncomfortable issues. Despite our loud proclamations of being a secularist country, are we truly, by any definition secular? Our Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and safeguards against persecution due to religious belief. Secularism entails official neutrality of the state in matters of religion: that is religion is a personal issue, not a state one.

Yet, our minorities have been marginalised over the past four decades and the country’s Hindu population is on a decline (from about 30 percent before ’71 to less than 10 percent today). Since independence, secularism as a basic principle of the Constitution was removed, a state religion was ordained, and now we have the conflicting state of both being there at the same time.

Institutions like the Awami Olama League can today demand removal of Hindu ministers and judges with impunity and still operate under the AL banner. Age-old traditions of celebrating Pahela Baishakh are challenged as being un-Islamic. There has been increasing pressure from sections of society trying to impose parochial values and codes on women in the name of religious decency. Just this week a post that sparked a lot of debate on social media exemplified the manifestation of our belief when a woman was abused verbally on the road for driving a car instead of being at home, preparing iftari. The abuse was met with support of the general onlookers, as they berated the woman for not being at home, where she belonged.

Clearly, the state of affairs did not develop overnight; ghosts of unresolved communal issues, stretching from 1971 to as far as at least 1947, and the post-independence coups and countercoups have resulted in a fragile and fragmented society with serious identity issues. We seem to be grappling with the question of who we are. Instead of our identity being based on our roots in this country, with the corresponding effect of apathy and hostility towards not just other religions, but also towards other Islamic schools of thought like those of Shias and Ahmeddiyas. The root of the problem is that increasing number of people, including students, from universities and madrasas, are becoming radicalised.

On top of that, the educated liberal elites’ defensive stance on the issue has created further confusion. The Islamophobia in the West, and the repercussion of US foreign policy, has meant that Muslims here have been active in refuting the terrorist association with Islam. But, what they seem to miss is that the Islamophobia of Trump in a country where Muslims are a minority, and the case of a country like Bangladesh with a Muslim majority are not the same. Islam does not promote terrorism and killings in any form. That does not mean that certain schools of thought have not misinterpreted the religion in justifying vile acts. The flagging of all Muslims as terrorists is reprehensible, as is refusing to deal with the fact that in the name of the religion, actions are being carried out that go against its core values.

The previously mentioned New York Times article quotes authorities in Bangladesh as saying: “Only when the leaders are caught will the attacks be stopped, and at that, only for a while if the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism is not blunted.” Collectively, we are indifferent towards those being hunted down and butchered. We refuse to acknowledge the issues that plague our society. Religion is not at fault here. The problem is with how religion is being interpreted by some people; the killers are being used as pawns, while the general people stand aloof. As long as we do not confront our exclusionary beliefs and accept that people with different beliefs than ours live in this country, no amount of anti-militancy drives or constitutional amendments can stop the killings.

The writer is a member of the editorial team, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

]]> 0
Xenophobic Rhetoric, Now Socially and Politically ‘Acceptable’ ? Thu, 23 Jun 2016 14:09:16 +0000 Baher Kamal Families from Falluja, Iraq, continue to flee from the city as fighting continues. Credit: ©UNHCR/Anmar Qusay

Families from Falluja, Iraq, continue to flee from the city as fighting continues. Credit: ©UNHCR/Anmar Qusay

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jun 23 2016 (IPS)

“Xenophobic and racist rhetoric seems not only to be on the rise, but also to be becoming more socially and politically acceptable.”

The warning has been heralded by the authoritative voice of Mogens Lykketoft, current president of the United Nations General Assembly, who on World Refugee Day on June 20, reacted to the just announced new record number of people displaced from their homes due to conflict and persecution.

In fact, while last year their number exceeded 60 million for the first time in United Nations history, a tally greater than the population of the United Kingdom, or of Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined, the Global Trends 2015 report now notes that 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of more than 5 million from 59.5 million a year earlier.

The tally comprises 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers, and 40.8 million people internally displaced within their own countries, says the new report, which has been compiled by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Measured against the world’s population of 7.4 billion people, 1 in every 113 people globally is now either a refugee, an asylum-seeker or internally displaced, putting them at a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent, the report adds.

On average, 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015, four times more than a decade earlier, when six people fled every 60 seconds. Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia produce half the world’s refugees, at 4.9 million, 2.7 million and 1.1 million, respectively.

And Colombia had the largest numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs), at 6.9 million, followed by Syria’s 6.6 million and Iraq’s 4.4 million, according to the new Global Trends report.

UNHCR distribution of emergency relief items for displaced families from Fallujah who’ve arrived in camps from Ameriyat al-Falluja. Photo credit: UNHCR/Caroline Gluck

UNHCR distribution of emergency relief items for displaced families from Fallujah who’ve arrived in camps from Ameriyat al-Falluja. Photo credit: UNHCR/Caroline Gluck

Distressingly, children made up an astonishing 51 per cent of the world’s refugees in 2015, with many separated from their parents or travelling alone, the UN reported.

Anti-Refugee Rhetoric Is So Loud…

On this, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon stressed that meanwhile, “divisive political rhetoric on asylum and migration issues, rising xenophobia, and restrictions on access to asylum have become increasingly visible in certain regions, and the spirit of shared responsibility has been replaced by a hate-filled narrative of intolerance.”

With anti-refugee rhetoric so loud, he said, it is sometimes difficult to hear the voices of welcome.

For his part, Mogens Lykketoft, UN General Assembly President, alerted that “violations of international humanitarian and human rights law are of grave concern… Xenophobic and racist rhetoric seems not only to be on the rise, but also to becoming more socially and politically acceptable…”

The UN General Assembly’s president warning against the rising wave of extremism and hatred, came just a week after a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’ strong statement before the 32 session of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (13 June to 1 July 2016).

“Hate is becoming mainstreamed. Walls – which tormented previous generations, and have never yielded any sustainable solution to any problem – are returning. Barriers of suspicion are rising, snaking through and between our societies – and they are killers,” the High Commissioner on June 13 warned.


Against this backdrop and the need to find ways how to halt and even prevent the growing waves of extremism of all kinds, the Geneva Centre on Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue on June 23 organised a panel themed Deradicalisation or the Roll-Back of Extremism.

IPS asked Algerian diplomat Idriss Jazairy, Board Member of the Geneva Centre, about the concept of this panel he moderated.

“Violent extremism, which sprang up in what might be perceived here as remoter parts of the world during the last part of the XXth century, has spread its dark shadow worldwide and is henceforth sparing no region… And with it, wanton deaths and desolation.”

He then explained that unregulated access to lethal weapons in some countries make matters worse. Violent extremism fuels indiscriminate xenophobic responses. “These in turn feed the recruitment propaganda of terrorist groups competing for world attention.”

According to the panel moderator, it seems at first sight that conflict is intensifying. “In fact what is happening is that it has changed its nature from more or less predictable classical inter-State or civil conflict to a generalisation of unpredictable ad hoc violence by terrorist groups randomising victims and outbidding one another in criminal horror.”

Thus casualties are not more numerous than was the case in the past, with some important exceptions such as Algeria during the Dark Decade of the ‘nineties, said Jazairy.

In Yemen, internally displaced children stand outside their family tent after the family fled their home in Saada province and found refuge in Darwin camp, in the northern province of Amran. Photo credit: UNHCR/Yahya Arhab

In Yemen, internally displaced children stand outside their family tent after the family fled their home in Saada province and found refuge in Darwin camp, in the northern province of Amran. Photo credit: UNHCR/Yahya Arhab

“Yet their impact is greater because attacks spread more fear among ordinary people and reporting on these crimes is echoed instantly across the world. The danger of polarisation of societies is thereby enhanced and peace is jeopardised.”

This meets the ultimate goal of terrorist violence, he added, while stressing that such violence has ceased to be simply a national or regional challenge. “It is now of worldwide concern. A concern that calls for immediate security responses with due respect for human rights of course.”

Jazairy explained that the panel has been intended to contribute to the maturing of such strategies and to rolling back violent extremism, xenophobic populism fuelled by it and that the latter in turn further exacerbates.

Understanding the Genesis of Violent Extremism

According to the panel moderator, understanding the genesis of violent extremism is not tantamount to excusing it despite what some politicians claim. It is a precondition to providing a smart and durable policy response, rather than a dumb crowd-pleasing short-term knee-jerk reaction, he added.

“True there is no single explanation to the emergence of violent extremism… Street crime in overpopulated cities may be its incubator.”

On this, Jazairy explained that in the South, high rates of youth unemployment and shortfalls in the respect of basic freedoms together with inadequate governance may be relevant considerations. In the North, he added, glass ceilings and marginalisation of minority groups and the desire of youths feeling powerless to develop an alternative identity and to become all-powerful, may also be at issue.

The former head of a UN agency then warned that understanding the genesis of violent extremism is not a philosophical debate as it ties in with the issue of how to “de-radicalise”.

In Belgium, he said, it has been claimed that condemnations in absentia of home grown terrorists that have joined Daesh (Islamic State) has pushed some to not return home with a group of others for fear of the penalty, thus radicalising them further.

]]> 0
An Elite Club of Suicide Bombers Tue, 21 Jun 2016 16:50:10 +0000 Editor Dawn By Editor, Dawn, Pakistan
Jun 21 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

It is always baffling, isn’t it, to see the yawning difference in our responses in South Asia to a gathering communal threat, for instance, as opposed to the catastrophic prospect of nuclear annihilation? Only recently, Pakistan toggled between public outcry and terrified whispers when teeming mourners showed up at the funeral of an executed religious zealot, the savage killer of a popular provincial governor.

57682f60102e5_In India, the sight of glistening, unsheathed swords or trishuls used to disembowel helpless people, as happened in Gujarat in 2002, evokes outrage from the middle classes among others. The remorseless lynching of men, women and children and an almost formulaic public gang rape of women that accompanies such abhorrent outings fill us with horror. It all horrifies us because we abhor bloodshed and hurting innocents. We are outraged because we see the rule of law collapsing; we see injustice ruling, where women bear the brunt of a hideous mob.

Remember the piles of bodies on military trolleys in Jaffna? They included the sexually tortured cadavers of women from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. We acknowledged at the time that though the LTTE included ruthless killers in its ranks, the military response was even more inhuman. Some of the cases we petitioned before international arbiters.

The middle classes that quake at the thought of gore and fascist hordes seem incorrigibly sanguine about a nuclear calamity.

So one thing is clear. We abhor bloodshed or at least most of us do. We are not inclined to accept organised mass rape or torture and targeted lynching as an occurrence we have to learn to live with. In fact, even laden with our unending grief and sorrow, as glimpsed in the case of Zakia Jafri and her doughty supporter, Teesta Setalvad, we want the severest retribution for our killers but not capital punishment.

What goes wrong when it comes to the prospect of nuclear annihilation? Why do we go silent or even appear indifferent? The middle classes that quake at the thought of gore and fascist hordes seem incorrigibly sanguine about a nuclear calamity. The cavalier way in which we behave towards our own or someone else’s nuclear arsenal is clearly not the standard global response to weapons of mass destruction, not even to nuclear power. Are we thus behaving like the third world that we are, people who are so busy warding off starvation and so on, that we don’t have the time or inclination to reflect on a major existential issue? Or is it because very few among us believe that a nuclear exchange, say between India and Pakistan, or between India and China, is really possible?

Examine: India joining NSG will escalate nuclear race in South Asia: US senator

We hear ever so often from nation-first analysts who try to assure us that the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) is adequate to deter a nuclear war. If Pakistan, for example, targets India then Pakistan would be made extinct by India, or so goes the doctrine. In which case the world should relax. There cannot be war. Yet there is that lingering doubt. What if the Pakistani ruler or the man with the trigger control says enough is enough, it’s time for all the faithful to go to heaven? And he or they pull the trigger? This is a common and pervasive fear across the world. North Korea could do it. Vladimir Putin could. Donald Trump, if he succeeds in his presidential bid will only be a shade more fraught than Hillary Clinton in posing a global threat. That’s a given.

In the cluster of those that are genuinely sensitive to the ticking of the Doomsday Clock are New Zealand and South Africa. They have opposed the US-backed move to include India in the elite club called NSG, the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

But why should India or Pakistan or Israel, which would be the ultimate beneficiary of the current dogfight between India and Pakistan over the NSG bone, be indulged? What does it signal to the rest of the world — that we are ready to honour two more or possibly three new members to the elite club of suicide bombers? That is what they are, nothing less. Suicide bombers. How are they different — the so-called P5 from those that wear belts to blow up people? To suggest that India’s participation in the club of bombers would make the world more stable or secure is to ignore history. The NSG was barely a decade old in 1983 when the presence of mind of a Soviet officer manning the early warning system prevented a nuclear war and thereby the end of the world. India and Pakistan will not have the luxury of the time gap that may have saved us in 1983.

Read: Nuclear leak in Gujarat may be more serious than the Indian government is claiming

That doesn’t answer the question though. Why are we in South Asia, laden with the potential to destroy ourselves many times over, so blasé about the issue? One Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union sent shivers down the spine of the world. I was in Tokyo the day the Fukushima calamity took place in Japan. It was scary. But I have to say something about the discipline of the Japanese, the way they trooped out of their offices and schools and homes and forded through the crisis without treading on the toes of the person next to them.

The mile-long lines to the telephone booths moved steadily, with everyone sure they would get their chance to send a message to their folks. Consider the melee that occurs in our patch at the drop of a hat. So many crushed in a stampede in such and such religious fair. Can we even begin to imagine the stampede if and when a nuclear calamity takes place? It rained exploding missiles at a military arms depot in Maharashtra the other day. It was an accident. There have been several close calls at our nuclear facilities as well. That somehow doesn’t frighten us as much as fidayeen suicide bombers and unsheathed swords do. Why?

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

]]> 0
Islamic State: Foreign Fighter Trends Tue, 21 Jun 2016 16:06:09 +0000 Syed Mansur Hashim Photo:


By Syed Mansur Hashim
Jun 21 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Thanks to Edward Snowden dumping sensitive data on to the net, there now exists more accurate estimates on foreign fighters recruited by the Islamic State (IS). Indeed, going by The Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point (United States Military Academy) recently made available a report titled ‘The Caliphate’s Global Workforce: An Inside Look at the Islamic State’s Foreign Fighter Paper Trail’ which provides data of some 4,600 foreign fighters recruited between early 2013 and 2014. This study which is a compilation of 4018 Mujahid Data forms, 2 Excel files (with 155 individuals entered), Exit records (31 files, 431 individuals) and 15 miscellaneous files provide a pattern of recruitment, which interestingly points to something rather disturbing, i.e. Europeans are signing up in alarming numbers, mostly from smaller countries like Belgium and Denmark. We are talking continental Europe here and the IS has successfully recruited from East and West and the Balkans.

What has become clear from the data presented is that the IS recruits from over 70 countries and that means the global workforce IS commands brings with them different skills and capabilities. The educational backgrounds of foreign fighters vary widely and the group has benefitted enormously as most of the fighters have received higher education. This means that the group is actively “head hunting” for more than fighters, it is recruiting “individuals with specific educational, professional, or military backgrounds that might prove useful to the group in the future.” The average age of the foreign fighter is 26-27, but what should be noted here is that IS does not recruit based on age, rather on specific skills sets that these foreign citizens bring to the group. As pointed out in the report, information on 12 individuals born in the ’50s (two apparently are French citizens) “demonstrated relatively significant professional experience, to include multiple engineers, teachers, business owner, and a government employee (from Saudi Arabia).

All this points to IS’s efforts to recruit more than suicide bombers. We are looking at a divergent group of people who have skills linked to governance, business aptitude and technical knowhow. The IS has recruited heavily amongst people with IT background, especially those having media and communications background, which include amongst others, having knowledge in computer design and engineering, networks, programming, telecommunications, and website design. This would explain the savvy propaganda material coming out of the IS social media factory that make even the most gruesome acts of terror appealing or horrifying depending on the audience.

The IS has “facilitators” who travel widely to recruit. The data presented provides the name of top five border facilitators, viz. Abu-Muhammad al-Shimali who facilitated some 31 percent of all foreign fighter recruits (1,306) and the other four Abu-al-Bara’ al Shimali, Abu-Mansur al-Maghribi, Abu-Ilyas al-Maghribi and Abu-‘Ali-al-Turki combined recruiting some 637 fighters. The US government has offered a US$5 million reward for al-Shimali who has been identified as the IS’s Border Chief and following the Paris attacks is now chief accused for helping those who carried out the Paris operation to travel to France. Although IS allows for recruits to select their area of preference (suicide, frontline fighter), a mere 12 percent opted for suicide missions and that can perhaps be attributed to the fact that today, IS commands significant territory. By looking at these patterns, it would appear that the Islamic State is looking into the future where the “caliphate” that can successfully be governed. Hence, the shift is away from one-way missions (suicide bomber) to a combat role that allows for greater survivability.

So where does that leave countries at the receiving end of IS’s actions? IS has emerged as the first truly multi-national Islamic militant organisation that can and does strike across continents, many European countries are finding out the hard way that their counter-terrorism efforts are sorely lacking. In the aftermath of the Belgian bombings in March, it took authorities four months to locate Salah Abdeslam in the neighbourhood he grew up in. Belgium’s plight in combating terrorism is not unique. These nations have never faced anything as deadly as the IS which has successfully recruited fighters with prior combat experience, fighters who blend in with the local populace who are well educated and sophisticated in outward appearance.

As government agencies go back to the drawing board, whether in Europe or Asia, the message is clear. There has to be cooperation among agencies and countries. The IS apparently has mobilised some 400 operatives on the European continent. We have little idea of its operations in the Indian subcontinent. And there lies the danger. Bangladesh has been witness to rising militancy problems. Although we are informed there is no IS presence in Bangladesh and the killings have been carried out by our own home-grown outfits, what we should remember is that IS in all respects is the world’s first truly global jihadist movement with recruits from 70 nations. There is no room for complacency when it comes to our national security and it would be ill advised to sit back and relax.

The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

]]> 0
Unmet Expectations Mon, 20 Jun 2016 17:49:58 +0000 Umair Javed By Umair Javed
Jun 20 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Donald Trump’s rise in America, a wave of pro-Brexit and xenophobic sentiment in the UK, mass demonstrations in France and Brazil, a political crisis in South Africa, communal polarisation in India, and religious zealotry coupled with anti-corruption agitation in Pakistan. On the face of it, there’s very little that connects these disparate events. Each appears unique to a country’s history and its contemporary interaction of domestic and global events.

faccione_However, strip away the details, and the names and faces of the actors involved, and a common theme emerges. At the heart of this decade of political crises, marked by conflict and disruption across the world, is a story of unmet expectations.

In 1962, James Davies published an article in the American Sociological Review titled ‘Towards a theory of revolution’. He borrowed the J-Curve model from non-linear mathematics to develop an understanding of why mass social disruptions, such as revolutions, take place.

His answer was that a period of prolonged prosperity followed by a sharp reversal in fortunes creates a crisis of unfulfilled expectations. By triggering sentiments of relative deprivation amongst upwardly mobile population segments, economic shocks or other exogenous factors (such as war) generate anger towards the established political order. In contemporary times, this order rests in the hands of the state and the political elite.

In a world where it takes little effort to see how the wealthy live, expectations from the state will be high.

In the 54 years since this article was published, we know human beings don’t function as angry automatons. Institutions, politicians, and ideological and cultural issues are very important in determining the scale and outcome of public anger and acquiescence. But perhaps there is a kernel of truth in the story of boiling frustrations.

For the last three decades, deindustrialisation and a complementary shift towards the services sector characterises the economies of many high- and low-income countries. The wake of this transformation has left behind a burgeoning mass of underemployed, semi-skilled labour, ruptured communities, and decaying cities. Over the same period, conservative political elites have capitalised on this crisis by shoring up support using scaremongering tactics and cultural markers such as gender roles, religion, and racial and ethnic identity.

Trump, for example, polls highest in areas, and amongst population segments (such as the white working class), ‘left behind’ by economic transformations of the last three decades. Unsurprisingly, these are the same areas where conservative cultural politics by the Tea Party and other radical fringes ran amok for the last two decades. The outcome? A heady combination of protectionist economic populism with visceral hatred towards racial minorities.

In the UK, a legitimate debate over immigration and a prolonged economic downturn has taken on ugly xenophobic contours. At its core, as John Hariss puts it, the anti-EU, anti-immigration movement is tapping into the frustrations of the precariously perched middle and working classes. Its support is loudest amongst those who have no space in London’s glamorous ‘knowledge economy’ and are now left at the mercy of whimsical, short-term employment contracts, a burdened social welfare system, rising house prices, and an increasingly inaccessible path towards social mobility.

The prosperity-followed-by-apocalypse model doesn’t just hold true for the US and UK. Brazil was jerked out of a decade of relatively egalitarian growth by a slump in commodity and oil prices, thus pushing the economy into recessionary free fall. The result is public anger over government corruption, directed towards the now-suspended president, Dilma Rouseff, and her party. The desire for a way out of relative or absolute deprivation has pushed many into the hands of politicians equally (and in some cases, even more) hollow only because they offer some element of change.

Similarly, Imran Khan and PTI are the prime beneficiaries of sentiments of relative deprivation amo-ngst Pakistan’s urban middle classes. As the heady days of consumption and mobility of Musharraf’s era gave way to expensive oil and incompetent governance under the PPP, anger became the most natural response. Even now, as the economy shuffles towards some semblance of stability, the anger hasn’t completely subsided. In a world where it takes very little effort to see how the wealthy live, and how the rest of the world progresses, expectations from the state will always remain high.

To this point, I’ve focused on unmet material expectations because, historically speaking, these have triggered the greatest unrest. However, unmet cultural and moral expectations are also potent factors for agitation. In India, provoked religious sentiment has led to the Hindutva right-wing asserting itself as a victim of Congress-ite secularism and minority appeasement. They now hold a prime seat at the BJP’s table, and will push the government’s supposed developmental agenda into one that caters to their communal demands as well.

For Pakistan, the biggest threat comes from a combination of material and cultural frustrations. The state pays lip service to its Islamic foundation, yet retains a comparatively secular orientation towards governance. Its existing political elite exhibits no intentions of turning the country into a Sharia-compliant state. However, decades of top-down soft-Islamism and cultural propaganda have resulted in an organic demand for a version of faith that stands proudly and violently on its own.

With fundamentalism and communal conflict rampant, the onus is on political elites and activists to construct an alternative cultural worldview that channels away and dilutes some of the moral anger. Similarly, politicians need to do a far better job of managing expectations by being better at delivering services and also by avoiding making unrealistic promises to the electorate.

So far, the country’s authoritarian history — with its patronage-tied political parties and a largely demoblised, cynical population — has acted as an inadvertent bulwark against mass Islamist mobilisation. Yet without adequate safeguards taken on an urgent footing, there is no guarantee that this ossified condition will persist indefinitely.

The writer is a freelance columnist.
Twitter: @umairjav

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

]]> 0
Xenophobia: ‘Hate Is Mainstreamed, Walls Are Back, Suspicion Kills’ Mon, 20 Jun 2016 13:43:49 +0000 Baher Kamal With fear etched on their faces, clearly still suffering from the trauma of a rough by boat across the Aegean, an Afghan family arrives in Lesvos, Greece (2015). Photo credit: UNHCR/Giles Duley

With fear etched on their faces, clearly still suffering from the trauma of a rough by boat across the Aegean, an Afghan family arrives in Lesvos, Greece (2015). Photo credit: UNHCR/Giles Duley

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

“Hate is becoming mainstreamed. Walls – which tormented previous generations, and have never yielded any sustainable solution to any problem – are returning. Barriers of suspicion are rising, snaking through and between our societies – and they are killers…”

Hardly a statement could have portrayed more accurately the current wave of hatred invading humankind, like the one made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

“… Clampdowns on public freedoms, and crackdowns on civil society activists and human rights defenders, are hacking away at the forces, which uphold the healthy functioning of societies. Judicial institutions, which act as checks on executive power, are being dismantled. Towering inequalities are hollowing out the sense that there are common goods.” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned.

In his address to the 32 session of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (13 June to 1 July 2016), the Human Rights Commissioner warned, “As the international community’s familiar customs and procedures are much in evidence… And yet the workable space in which we function as one community – resolving disputes, coming to consensus – is under attack.”

Zeid explained, “The common sets of laws, the institutions – and deeper still, the values“ which bind us together are buckling. And suffering most from this onslaught are our fellow human beings – your people – who bear the brunt of the resulting deprivation, misery, injustice, and bloodshed.”

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Credit: UN Photo/Pierre Albouy

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Credit: UN Photo/Pierre Albouy

He the recalled, “We are 7.4 billion human beings clinging to a small and fragile planet. And there is really only one way to ensure a good and sustainable future: ensure respect, resolve disputes, construct institutions that are sound and fair and share resources and opportunities equitably.

The UN Human Rights Commissioner referred to the millions of stranded refuges and migrants, saying that globally, many countries have distinguished themselves by their principled welcome to large numbers of desperate, often terrified and poverty-stricken migrants and refugees.

“But many other countries have not done so. And their failure to take in a fair share of the world’s most vulnerable is undermining the efforts of more responsible States. Across the board, we are seeing a strong trend that overturns international commitments, refuses basic humanity, and slams doors in the face of human beings in need.”

‘Europe Must Remove Hysteria and Panic’

The only sustainable way to resolve today’s movements of people will be to improve human rights in countries of origin, “ he said, while stressing that “Europe must find a way to address the current migration crisis consistently and in a manner that respects the rights of the people concerned – including in the context of the EU-Turkey agreement,” which was sealed on March 22, 2016.

“It is entirely possible to create well-functioning migration governance systems, even for large numbers of people, with fair and effective determination of individual protection needs. If European governments can remove hysteria and panic from the equation – and if all contribute to a solution…”

According to Zeid, in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa, the life-forces of society – which are the freedom and hopes of the people – are crushed by repression, conflict or violent anarchy. “Torture, summary execution and arbitrary arrests are assaults on the people’s security, not measures to protect security. It is a mistake to imagine that attacking the people’s rights makes them any safer or more content.”

There are roughly as many people seeking protection outside their countries as live in all of France. © UNHCR/Younghee Lee

There are roughly as many people seeking protection outside their countries as live in all of France. © UNHCR/Younghee Lee

“The antidote to the savagery of violent extremism is greater rule of law,” he said and added that “the best way to fight terrorism, and to stabilize the region, is to push back against discrimination; corruption; poor governance; failures of policing and justice; inequality; the denial of public freedoms, and other drivers of radicalization.”


Radicalisation, or rather de-radicalisation, is precisely the focus of one of the panels organised within the current session of the Human Rights Council.

 Idriss Jazairy

Idriss Jazairy

In fact, on June 23, 2016, the Geneva Centre on Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue has organized the event under the auspices of the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the UN Office in Geneva. The panel will be moderated by highly respected Algerian diplomat and former head of a UN agency Idriss Jazairy, Resident Board Member of the Geneva Centre.

The panel organisers recall that “violent extremism had been until 2001 mainly in the lot of developing countries such as Uganda where a Christian mandate was usurped by the Lord’s Resistance Army to attack civilians and force children to participate in armed conflict, Sri Lanka, where the first suicide attacks originated, and Algeria where more Muslims were killed during a decade than Europeans worldwide ever since, through an evil manipulation of the precepts of Islam.”

Outside observers, they add, tended to belittle the impact of such violence considered as local incidents, at times preferring to ascribe it to “militants” responding to deficits of democracy and governance in the targeted countries.

During the last phases of the Cold War, violent extremism was condoned in some quarters as a weapon against communism, the panel concept note recalls, and adds that the recruitment of new cohorts of violent extremists was given added impetus by the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, the collapse of Iraq and Libya and the wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen.

“These developments, or lack thereof, occurred mainly in Muslim countries thus exacerbating violent extremism associated with this region and leading to an intensification of Islamophobia elsewhere, especially in Europe and North America.”

It remains, as underlined by the joint co-chairs conclusions of the Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism (7-8 April 2016), that “violent extremism or terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group.”

 A woman prepares a meal at a makeshift outdoor cooking area, atop the muddy grounds of the Bab Al Salame camp for IDPs, near the border with Turkey in Aleppo Governorate, Syria (January 2014). Photo credit: UNOCHA

A woman prepares a meal at a makeshift outdoor cooking area, atop the muddy grounds of the Bab Al Salame camp for IDPs, near the border with Turkey in Aleppo Governorate, Syria (January 2014). Photo credit: UNOCHA

The reaction of the international community was slow in taking shape in the UN if only because of political differences in terms of acceptance of a common definition of terrorism, says the panel’s concept note.

In a key remark, the organisers warn, “The very lexicon of international affairs is being manipulated to provide knee-jerk reactions that nurture ideologies of racist and xenophobic parties in the advanced world. It also provides a propitious climate for explosion of violent extremism around the world.”

In Europe, over 20 million Muslims have lived for decades as citizens in harmony with followers of other religions as well as with non-believers and have been contributing to the wealth of their countries of residence, the panel organisers recall.

“They are now being targeted by virtue of their identity, not their deeds. They are alone to suffer from fear-mongering and the rise of xenophobia for diverse minority groups in different parts of the world. One needs in this context to understand better the causes and means by which violent extremism is perpetrated and spread.”

The focus has been so far on how to roll back radicalism and on fighting violent extremism by all possible means without a full understanding of the root causes of such violence, says the panel’s concept note.

“The roll-back of violent extremism calls for an in-depth approach informed by the genesis and evolution of radicalisation, its link with citizenship and possible tipping point into violence… There also needs to be a better understanding of short-cuts to violent extremism that do not transit through radicalisation.”

]]> 1
Not Politically Correct Reflections on Brexit Fri, 17 Jun 2016 15:55:29 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.]]>

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jun 17 2016 (IPS)

Allow me a rare personal anecdote. In 1965 I met Lord Hume, who had just left the post of Prime Minister and we had a mutual sympathy. Lord Hume invited me for lunch at the Chamber of Lords. Over an extremely delicious rump of Scottish lamb, I asked if I was allowed to ask a complex question. I explained that I had started my professional career as a Kremlinologist, which had served me well in following British foreign policy. One day London was looking to Europe as its compass, and another day, to Washington. All this on the basis of small signals, difficult to detect. Could his Lordship explain to me how to address this dualism?

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Lord Hume’s answer was that only a British citizen could understand the dualism, and therefore, I should try to be British for five minutes. Then he asked me “Dear fellow citizen, do you prefer to be second to Germany or second to the United States?”

That dualism explains why the British, more than other Europeans, have looked on in dismay at the decline of Europe in the international scene, and the pivot of President Obama who has made Asia his priority. Obama’s exhortation against Brexit in his last visit to London, stirred considerable debate. Boris Johnson, the most visible proponent of Brexit,even said that Obama, having been born of a Kenyan father, is not qualified to advise the UK.

But Brexit is only the insular British version of the current world’s implosion under fear and greed. Any debate in the referendum on Europe’s vision or values or identity is simply non-existent. In England the debate is fear against greed. The Brexit camp has launched a campaign based on fear. Fear of immigrants, fear of losing control of its borders, fear of being subject to the whims of Brussels (widely seen as those of Merkel, therefore of Germany). Contrary to any reality, the Brexit campaign is now about the threats of 70 million Turks able to enter Great Britain and rape women. The fact that there is no chance that Turkey will join the EU in the foreseeable future, is ignored. Dominic Raab, the justice minister who is backing Brexit said “ There is more evidence on how EU membership makes us less safe. This puts British families at risk”. The British tabloids have launched an unbelievable campaign. Britons could lose control of their coastline. Their country could be merged with France. And Brussels Is going to veto the use of the kettle, the indispensible instrument for the daily tea. One recent study found that of 982 articles focused on the referendum, 45% were about leaving, and only 27% in favor of staying. Boris Johnson, who has written in two books how it is important for the UK to be part of Europe, and boasted of his family’s Turkish ancestry, has now jumped on the Leave camp, with the clear aim of replacing Cameron as Prime Minister, where the current one will have to resign after losing the referendum. Cameron was the inventor of this referendum, so his destiny is linked to it. The fear campaign runs the same arguments and rhetoric of Trump, Le Pen, Salvini, Wilders, who are all supporting Brexit. It has no specific British flair.

If fear is the argument to “Leave Europe”, greed is for the Stay in Europe camp. In fact, it is also a fear campaign. But it does not talk of safety, borders and immigrants. It talks about money. How much money Great Britain would loose if excluded by the common market ( Wolfgang Schauble,the German Minister of Finance, has declared that there would be no way that London would have special arrangements like Norway). Cameron made a speech about the crisis of pensions for its citizens. The financial sector, companies and the economic sector have all been financing the Stay campaign, indicating the economic damage it would entail to leave Europe. Cameron has got the international economic system, from the IMF to the World Bank, from the OECD to the G7, demonstrating how Brexit would damage not only Britain, but also all of Europe and the global economy. But the damage would be in any event, much greater for Britain.

The problem is that those arguments do not go far with the Brexit people. Like supporters for Trump, Le Pen and so on, polls show that they are the ones who feel neglected and left out, who are fearful about their families and their jobs, and have lower level of education and incomes.

According to YouGov, the polling group, the Remain campaign’s strongest geographical area of support remains Northern Ireland, which receives large amounts of financial aid, and Scotland and London, two rich regions. The more you move to the less prosperous regions, like East Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside, or areas of large immigration, like East Anglia, the more you find support for Brexit. And age groups confirm this also. Over 60, less educated, the large majority is for Brexit. And those under 25 think the opposite. The memory of the Second World War, and thus, the main reason for European integration, was to avoid new wars ravaging Europe, has now gone.

It is impossible to say who is going to win. The two camps are so close, that every poll brings different and contradictory results. And during my recent visit, I was impressed by how the fear campaign was having success. Nobody would listen to the evidence: The Turks were coming.

There is no doubt that Brexit will accelerate the process of disintegration of Europe. Next year there are elections in France and Germany, and Le Pen is now poised to win. The right-wing populist, nationalist and xenophobe parties are growing. Just look at the Italian elections, where the 5 Star movement is heading towards phenomenal increase. Nigel Farage, the UKIP anti-Europe leader, has just declared to the Italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera”, that Beppe Grillo and he are going to bury Europe. Poland and Hungary will be happy to continue in their nationalist path, and so will Eastern Europe. The Nordic countries will be tempted to follow Norway: not inside the EU, but with a special agreement for trade and finance.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have considerable interest remaining in Europe so it is generally considered that they will probably detach from England, to be re-admitted into the EU. The lack of an active campaign by the PM of Scotland, Nicola Surgeon, has been interpreted as a Machiavellian manoeuvre to have Brexit win, and be able to call for a new independence referendum. That will be the end of the United Kingdom, and England would lose its main historical conquests. Only small Wales would remain, to save the phrase “United Kingdom”.

There is no doubt that England will seriously suffer. To be cut out from a market of 500 million people will have serious consequences for its crucial financial sector, and many international companies will probably move out of London to remain inside Europe (Edinburgh is a serious candidate). And a diminished England will have much less international weight, starting with the United States.

What then is the positive side of Brexit? While I do not see any for Britain or Europe, this could have a great influence on the tide of history. It could give birth to a new Europe, much more homogenous, formed by what could be called the Carolingian Europe. Charles the Great, in the 8th century, was able to unify most of Europe, and made France and Germany the basis of the kingdom. As Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, he also brought the south of Europe into the Empire. That Empire was based on the values of Christianity, with the strong support of the Pope. This new Europe will have to discuss foundational values to be viable, beyond its economic basis. And the errors made during this present version of “Europe”, will have to be discussed and avoided in the new one. Eventually it could become attractive to those who have left, who will have mean while found out that integration is a crucial issue in our globalized world.

But more relevant, the turmoil and decline of England after Brexit, will be a extraordinarily message to other European countries. It will show that populism, nationalism and xenophobia, that the European integration was supposed to consign to the dustbin of history, can be useful tools for winning an election, but not to run a country. The England of the past will never come back, and reality will creep in. When England invaded China, to oblige its citizens to buy opium from the British Empire, there were 30 million British, and 323 million Chinese. Today Britain has over 60 million people, immigrants included, and China 1.374 millions. England was supposed to be a cradle of democracy. If a campaign of fear can win in a supposedly civilized country, it means more education must be done for a vibrant democracy.

There is only one problem in this scenario of hopeful thinking, and it is the Germany to which Lord Hume was referring 50 years ago. His dominant Germany, from which the only way to be free was to become second to the US, will be in place and more reinforced by the end of the Great Kingdom, and the exit of Poland and other countries. Today’s Germany is not the Germany of Bonn, cofounder of Europe, with European statesman like Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohll, placing Europe at the top of their priorities. Today’s Germany Is the Germany of Berlin, with politicians basically intent to achieving German priorities. They will have to solve a fundamental problem: they want to run or do they want to integrate? And Brexit would have the advantage of also bringing this issue to the fore..

]]> 0
The Orlando Massacre and the “Muslim Factor” Thu, 16 Jun 2016 14:42:25 +0000 Hasan Ferdous By Hasan Ferdous
Jun 16 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

When I first saw the news flash scrolling at the bottom of my TV screen, my first thought was, please God, not another Muslim!

With Donald Trump waging his own “jihad” against Muslims – all Muslims, including those who are American – I was hoping that the shooter was from another religion, any religion but Islam. My hope turned into a nightmare when the shooter was confirmed not only to be a Muslim, but someone who was born in New York and had gone to US schools. Omar Mateen was just a regular guy, it seems, who wore a bandana, loved taking selfies, dated a Pakistani woman, and even occasionally visited the same gay night club where he unleashed his vengeance. He may have been a closeted gay.

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Omar was also someone living amidst other Muslims. Some people might have known his darker side and could have stepped in to intervene. Nobody did, and now all Muslims living in the US are guilty by association. We are giving the Donald Trumps of the world a reason to gloat.

There could be a thousand theories to explain what motivated this “homegrown” terrorist to decide one night to gather all his guns and embark on a personal vendetta against a group of people he thought was different and deserved punishment. At the end of the night, his decision to play God left nearly 50 people dead and another 50 or so gravely wounded, and turned every Muslim in the US a marked person. Dana Milbank at the Washington Post has publicly wondered, how long would it be before American Muslims are forced to wear yellow badges featuring the star and crescent?

Donald Trump had already used his “Muslim card” to romp through the Republican primaries and to snatch the party nomination for president. Be fearful of Muslims, he had warned, while demanding a total ban on Muslims entering the US. Now, after Orlando, he is self-congratulating saying, ‘I told you so’.

Like it or not, this “Muslim card” is winning, as Trump’s words are echoing with many Americans. Six months ago, after the San Bernadino shooting carried out by another “homegrown terrorist” and his Pakistani wife, Trump cheerfully explained why he loved these mass shootings. “Whenever there’s a tragedy, my numbers go way up,” Mr. Trump gloated.

This time, he has amped up his attacks on Muslims, and even implicated President Obama, another “Muslim” in his estimation, for enabling such a massacre by refusing to condemn “radical Islam” as the real culprit behind all terror attacks. To many Trump supporters, Obama’s argument that terrorists use a perverted version of Islam to advance their political cause sounds hollow. “Look, he was a Muslim,” they now say, pointing to Mateen’s last minute declaration of allegiance to the so-called Islamic State.

“I told you so,” Trump smiles and gloats.

The wounds are still fresh and many of the dead have not yet been laid to rest, but he is already out there to collect a few extra votes.

Some opinion leaders have tried to redirect the conversation, focusing instead on the need for gun control. In the US, mass shootings – in which at least four people are killed or wounded – take place almost on a daily basis. In 2015, according to a Shooting Tracker Data, there were as many as 372 mass shootings in the US, killing 475 and wounding 1,870. That makes it more than one mass shooting per day throughout the year.

Mateen – who was known to FBI for his radical views – acquired his cache of guns legally. In any other country, in the aftermath of such a mass murder, the obvious action would be to impose stricter gun control, making sure that guns don’t fall into the hands of any deranged person, such as Mateen. Although there is strong support within the country for “common sense gun control”, the gun lobby is too strong and the politicians in Washington, in the view of The New York Times, “too cowardly.” So nothing happens, except for an occasional call for vigilance and prayer.

President Obama and some of his Democratic allies have tried for some common sense gun control measures. He tried again three days ago, after the Orlando shooting. “The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub,” he told a stunned nation.

Appearing exhausted and even resigned, he somberly said, “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

Clearly, Americans have already chosen the kind of country they want for themselves. They want to remain armed to the teeth. Bearing arms is a sacred right and an expression of their free will, guaranteed by an amendment to the Constitution.

“My numbers go up, way up,” winks Trump and many people clap.

Meanwhile, there has been an outpouring of emotions and expressions of solidarity all across America, beyond all social and cultural boundaries.

While there is no reason for any Muslim to own this dastardly act, it is important that they publicly condemn Mateen and others like him. After all, these attacks are carried out by people who claim to be Muslims and do so in the name of Islam. The Islamic State, for example, quickly claimed responsibility for the Orlando massacre. No sensible and self-respecting Muslim should allow a group of perverts to hijack their religion. Now more than ever before, they must – with every fibre of their being – condemn such mindless killings.

Unfortunately, no leaders of the Muslim world have risen. Not in one Muslim country has there been a public demonstration of protest or solidarity. Yet, the massacre was committed in the name of their religion.

We may now deny but Omar Mateen was our son, growing up in a Muslim family that sympathised with the Taliban. It is also entirely possible that Omar was bipolar and needed help. Shouldn’t the family and members of his own community have been the first to notice this and come together to aid him?

Clearly, they did not do their part.

The time to act is now. We must not allow the self-proclaimed Islamic State and its ideology to enter stealthily into our homes and turn our children into monsters. We cannot and we must not.

The writer is an author and journalist based in New York.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

]]> 0
Ramadan & Ramazan Schedule Tue, 14 Jun 2016 16:37:09 +0000 Jawed Naqvi By Jawed Naqvi
Jun 14 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

In the departure lounge near Gate No 308 at the Istanbul airport there’s a coffee shop, which has thrown a few chairs and tables near the exit to cater to its needy customers whose flights are delayed. It was here that I got an important glimpse the other day of how one can still frontally approach issues of religious sensitivities. The young Turkish waiter asked an old Arab man to place the order. The man said he was only waiting for his flight to be announced. “Not here, please. This is a coffee shop.” The Arab vacated the chair without fuss.

575ef4686668b__Next, the waiter turned to a well-heeled albeit younger man who could be from anywhere. Occupying a useful seat he was not generating a lira’s worth of business for the coffee kiosk. “I am fasting,” the man pleaded. “Please go and fast somewhere else. We are serving food to the hungry,” he was told politely. The man left without demur.

I believe this is how Kemal Ataturk would have liked his people to be. They should not flaunt their religion in public, and keep it preferably a private affair. Jinnah applauded Ataturk. Gandhi, on the other hand, as an advocate of the controversial Khilafat Movement, had little time for the Turkish hero’s secular politics.

In the Erdogan era, a marked deviation from the Ataturk vision of Islam seems to have crept in. The Turkish president was asked why he cut his last week’s trip to the United States short. He said he thought it would be “unnecessary” to stay until the burial ceremony of boxing legend Muhammad Ali after realising the event on June 10 would have “no religious aspect”.

A new vocabulary of orthodoxy is palpable today, which quickly mutates into extremism, and it is not limited to Muslims.

Even in the Erdogan era, however, there are limits to how far one can take the public display of religion. For example, travelling from Delhi on Turkish Airlines, I saw the bar nicely stocked with a range of drinks that would have pleased Ghalib. When I asked the plane’s chef on the Istanbul-Dakar sector why his bar was so completely depleted, the man smiled back. “We are a discreet airline. We are flying to a Muslim country.”

As far as Islam in Senegal goes it is the official religion. But try and find a woman in hijab in Dakar and you would not succeed though they will in all probability be scrupulously observing their Ramazan fast. With their beautifully assembled attire woven in a riot of colours, one can’t easily tell a Christian Senegalese from his Muslim counterpart. And yet both sides will be observing their faith with sincerity.

I drove to the Keur Moussa abbey on Sunday to listen to the fabled Gregorian chants its black African denizens sing for congregations every week. I remembered the late Muhammad Ali’s persistent questions to his mother at their Louisville church. Why were all the angels white, Ali would want to know. Well, he would have found both Mary and Jesus in their black African avatar at the Senegal abbey, an hour’s drive from Dakar. The angels hovering over them are black too. And the music, it is divine.

The situation in South Asia is fraught by comparison. Americans ‘skedule’ their appointments while the English ‘shedule’ them. The obvious reason for pronouncing schedule differently, the Americans will laugh, can be found in the different ‘shools’ the two attended. South Asia’s debate between Ramadan and Ramazan would reflect a similar unequal contest of receding and upwardly mobile cultures, had it not been usurped by its pervasive religious revivalism.

Given the mushrooming clusters of orthodox believers we face today, the chances are that those who prefer the Arabic Ramadan would be found to be the more assertive Muslims against the conventional lot who have stayed with Ramazan to describe the month of fasting. A new vocabulary of orthodoxy is palpable today, which readily mutates into extremism, and it is not limited to Muslims.

The syndrome exists among a growing number of north India’s Hindus, for example. They have migrated from the traditional and laid-back Jai Ramji ki as a social greeting over the years to Jai Shri Ram, the latter with pronounced religious and even militant underpinnings.

It is highly probable in my view that the mob that lynched Mohammed Akhlaq — whether he ate or did not eat beef — would respond to Jai Shri Ram rather than to Jai Ramji ki as a greeting. It is equally my instinct that the Pakistani policeman who assaulted an 80-year old Hindu man for eating outside his house in Sindh before sunset last week is a partisan of Ramadan over Ramazan. Check it out. My hunch derives from the pattern of vocabulary religious orthodoxy assumes.

Given my early exposure to Ramazan in Lucknow, it is difficult to accept that there is no music on the occasion today. Some of you will remember how in the mornings singers who would call out in unison to the fasting men and women, and their children for sehri, the last meal before sunrise.

On the other hand there was the legacy of Ghalib always offering his own insights with roots placed deep in realism: Iftaar-i-saum kii jise kuch dast gaah ho/ Us shakhs ko zaroor hai rozaa rakha kare/ Jis paas roza khol ke khaane ko kuch na ho/ Roza agar na khaaye to naachaar kya kare. (The one who has the means to break his fast/ that person should indeed keep the fast/ The one who has nothing to break his fast with/ What else can he do but to ‘eat the fast’).

In Delhi, there were poetry soirees during Ramazan where the congregation would conclude with the morning meal. Apparently, a couplet would lure the audiences: Mushaira bhi hai, sehri ka intezam bhi/ Daawat-i- aam hai, yaarane nuqtadan ke liye. (This mushaira will end with sehri. Friendly critics and commoners are welcome for both).

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

]]> 0
AIDS Meeting Was Bold but Disappointing, Organisations Say Mon, 13 Jun 2016 20:37:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage A Rainbow flag is displayed in the window of the United States Mission to the United Nations during LGBT Pride Month. Credit: Phillip Kaeding / IPS.

A Rainbow flag is displayed in the window of the United States Mission to the United Nations during LGBT Pride Month. Credit: Phillip Kaeding / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Though the High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS ended with the adoption of bold and life saving targets, many organisations have expressed their disappointment in its outcomes.

During the meeting, the international community adopted a new Political Declaration that lays down the groundwork to accelerate HIV prevention and treatment and end AIDS by 2030.

UN member states committed to achieving a 90-90-90 treatment target where 90 percent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 percent who know their HIV status are accessing treatment and 90 percent of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads. Reaching the treatment target will prevent 75 percent of new infections and ensure that 30 million people living with HIV (PLHIV) have access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) by 2020.

Though many organisations that IPS spoke to were encouraged by the commitments, they also expressed concern and disappointment in the Declaration’s shortfalls.

“I think what the high level meeting showed us was the gap between reality and politics at the UN,” said International Women’s Health Coalition’s (IWHC) Director of Advocacy & Policy, Shannon Kowalski.

“The Political Declaration didn’t go far enough to address the epidemic that we face today,” she continued.

“If we are serious about ending AIDS, we need to go far beyond what is in the Political Declaration." -- Shannon Kowalski

Many were particularly concerned with stripped and exclusionary language on so-called key populations in the document.

“When we saw in the Declaration that key populations were less mentioned than 5 years ago…it is a real setback,” Alix Zuinghedau from Coalition Plus, a French international union for HIV/AIDS organisations, told IPS.

Among these key populations is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Though the LGBT population continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, they are only mentioned once in the Declaration.

Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership Lucica Ditiu told IPS that the document mentions vulnerable populations in relation to tuberculosis (TB), but that it should have been extended throughout the Declaration.

“We have a saying in my country: With one eye I laugh, with one eye I cry. Because that piece was missing,” she said.

The Declaration includes a target to reduce TB-related deaths among people living with HIV by 75 percent by 2020.

Amirah Sequeira, Associate Director of Health Global Access Project’s (GAP) International Campaigns and Communications, also noted the lack of language and commitment to decriminalize key populations including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers.

“The exclusion of commitments to decriminalize these populations will hold back the ability for the world to reach the bold new targets that the Declaration committed to,” she told IPS.

When asked about these concerns, the Deputy Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), one of the main organisers of the meeting, Luiz Lorres told IPS that this exclusion will impede efforts to achieve the 90-90-90 treatment target.

“I acknowledge that more needs to be done,” he said.

Organisations have also pointed to issues around financing.

Through the Declaration, governments have committed to increasing funds for HIV response to $26 billion per year by 2020, as estimated by UNAIDS. However, Sequeira noted that not only is there a $6 billion funding gap, but also donors tend to flat line or reduce funding despite pledges.

“[Reaching the goal] will not be possible if donors continue to do what unfortunately they have been doing which is flat lining or pulling back funding from global AIDS programs,” she told IPS.

Though she applauded the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s (PEPFAR) newly launched $100 million Key Populations Investment Fund, Sequeira stated that PEPFAR needs a $500 million increase each year between now and 2020 in order for the U.S. to provide its fair share of needed financing.

Zuinghedau told IPS that without additional funding to scale up programs for key populations, the goal to reduce infections and end AIDS will not be possible.

“It is very frustrating to see countries say, yes we want to end AIDS but we’re not going to add any more funding. It’s a contradiction,” she told IPS.

The government of Canada recently announced a pledge of almost US$615 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for the next three years, a 20 percent increase from its previous pledge.

Kowalski applauded the move, stating: “If Canada can do it, we know that other governments can do it as well.”

Though the Declaration highlights the need to increase domestic resources for countries’ own HIV response, Ditiu stressed the need to ensure that governments continue to invest in vulnerable groups because they are often the first ones to “fall between the cracks.”

She added that it is important to include key populations in the implementation of commitments.

Sequeira also urged for the implementation of strong accountability mechanisms to ensure that commitments are translated into effective responses.

Though the Political Declaration is not “perfect,” Kowalski noted that it provides the bare minimum required to take HIV response to the next level.

“If we are serious about ending AIDS, we need to go far beyond what is in the Political Declaration,” she said.

]]> 0
Politics of Numbers Fri, 10 Jun 2016 14:54:40 +0000 Zubeida Mustafa By Zubeida Mustafa
Jun 10 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The Pakistan Economic Survey 2015-16 reminds us of our ticking population bomb.

We are told that today the country`s population stands at 195.4 million 3.7m more than it was the previous year. We have regressed.

The population growth rate stands at 1.89pc in 2016. It dropped to 1.49pc in 1960-2003.

Yet few express serious concern about the threat we face from our rapidly growing numbers that are undermining our national economy and destroying our social structures.

Many myths have been propagated to camouflage the official apathy vis-à-vis the population sector. Thus, it is said that there is population resistance to family planning on religious grounds. Another myth goes that people are ignorant of birth control and prefer large families.

These myths have been exploded by the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey of 2007 and 2014 which established that only a handful of women cited religion as a factor in their failure to limit pregnancies.

As for ignorance, practically all women questioned knew of at least one or more contraceptive methods. It cannot be disputed that irrespective of the views expressed from the pulpit women are now ready to plan their families. According to the two demographic surveys, there is also a substantial unmet need. That means there is a big chunk of the reproductive age female population 40 pc according to some estimates who want to limit their family size but cannot.

Then why are we failing in this sector? Of course, there is the usual absence of political will, ineptitude and corruption that marks the government`s working in the social sectors.

Policies are there but implementation is not.

The number and performance of population welfare centres that were set up to provide access to contraceptive services leave much to be desired. Media reports indicate that they are either non-existent or non-functional in many remote areas. Poor performance of official service institutions impacts mainly on the underprivileged, the worst sufferers. This is visible in the large family size of the poor.

There is a lot of focus on awareness-raising and research when the key issue to be addressedis thatofeasy access tocontraceptive services for potential acceptors. It is a pity that many who do not want more children cannot avert births because family planning services are beyond their reach.

There is also the need to integrate the population sector with the health system. This was suggested many years ago by Dr Nafis Sadik, the first executive director of the UN Population Fund, to the Pakistan government. But for reasons not known, Islamabad could never understand why a holistic approach was needed for a successful familyplanning programme.

Another aspect that has been ignored is the need to focus intensely on the status of women.

It seems that the progress made by the feminist activists in the 1980s and 1990s in empowering women has been pushed back. With daughters held in low esteem, family planning has suffered a setback. Parental preference for a male child remains pronounced.

Itappears thatithasbeenlefttoahandful of NGOs to sustain Pakistan`s population programme. The biggest of them is RahnumaFPAP, the oldest organisation in the field.

Having been launched in 1953 when Pakistan did not even have an official population programme, it has an impressive delivery network of 10 family health hospitals, 10 mobile service units and thousands of clinics. It has created referral mechanisms with a number of government and private clinics and practitioners and thus claims to cover an area of 77,910 square kilometres and a population of 12.5m.

Rahnuma`s dynamic and committed president, Mahtab Akbar Rashdi, tells me that her organisation has made all its programmesholistic and integrated. She herself is a staunch advocate of family planning and agrees that low esteem for women is a deterrent to progress in this sector.

HANDS is another large NGO that was launchedin 1979 with the mission of improving health and education, with a focus on mother and child and reproductive health. It claims an outreach of 25m people in 42,000 villages. Its Marvi model involving community-based health workers visiting women in their homes was conceptualised in 2007. HANDS claims that it is making an impact.

But can NGOs with their limited resources and capacity achieve what is essentially the government`s responsibility? Mahtab Rashdi complains that `visible political commitment from the provincial governments is yet to be seen`. She specifically identifies Punjab, Pakistan`s most populous province, where the government`s family planning programme `reaches only 17pc of people in the reproductive age`.

This leaves one wondering if family planning also has a political dimension as the census that has been blocked since 2008. After all, doesn`t a big population translate into a big constituency? That is a political bonus in a country where ethnicity determines electoral results.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

]]> 0
The Art of Covering Up in Somaliland Fri, 10 Jun 2016 09:49:23 +0000 James Jeffrey Hasna (left) and Marwa (right), nurses in their early twenties, were reluctant to be photographed on the street—primarily because of attention this drew from male Somalilanders—but were more comfortable in a quiet café. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Hasna (left) and Marwa (right), nurses in their early twenties, were reluctant to be photographed on the street—primarily because of attention this drew from male Somalilanders—but were more comfortable in a quiet café. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
HARGEISA, Somaliland, Jun 10 2016 (IPS)

Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Hargeisa, Somaliland’s sun-blasted capital, women in various traditional Islamic modes of dress barter, argue and joke with men—much of it particularly volubly. Somaliland women are far from submissive and docile.

Somaliland’s culture is strongly influenced by Islam—Sharia law is included in its constitution—while this religiousness appears to co-exist with many signs of a liberal free market society, a dynamic embodied by Somaliland women whose roles in society and the economy undercut certain stereotypes about women’s Muslim clothing equalling submission or coercion.

“The West needs to stop obsessing about what women are wearing—whether those in the West who are wearing less or those in the East who are wearing more,” says 29-year-old Zainab, relaxing in a new trendy café after her day job as a dentist in Hargeisa. “It should focus on what women are contributing to the community and country.”“It’s about what’s inside your head, not what’s over your head.” -- Zainab, dentist.

Somaliland has had to develop a strong entrepreneurial streak since 1991 and its declaration of independence from Somalia never being recognised by the international community, leaving it to rebuild its shattered economy and infrastructure alone following a civil war.

Today, many small businesses are run by women, who in addition to bringing up large numbers of children are often breadwinners for families whose husbands were physically or mentally scarred by the war.

“Here women are butchers—that doesn’t happen in many places. It shows you how tough Somaliland women are,” Zainab says. “It’s about what’s inside your head, not what’s over your head.”

The issue of how the Quran, the central religious text of Islam, instructs women to dress is a source of continuing debate around the world, although a traditional stance is taken in Somaliland with all women covering at least their hair in public.

“Everyone is free to follow their religion and this is what the Islamic religion says: that a woman should cover their body,” says Kaltun Hassan Abdi, a commissioner at the National Electoral Commission, responsible for female representation in elections.  “It’s an obligation, so women don’t see it as discrimination or violation of rights.”

But some Somalilanders express concern about a steady drift toward Islamic conservatism in Hargeisa: music no longer blares out from teashops; colourful Somali robes are increasingly replaced by black abayas; more women are wearing niqabs—face veils—than a year ago; and no woman goes about town bareheaded as happened in the 1970s.

“The last 15-18 years have witnessed a dramatic change in the extent to which religion influences how people live their daily lives,” says Rakiya Omaar, a lawyer and chair of Horizon Institute, a consultancy firm that works on strengthening the capacity and self-reliance of institutions in Somaliland. “There is pressure to live as a serious Muslim—it may be subtle or overt; it may come from family or it may be the wider society that you interact with.”

But it’s hard to find a woman in Hargeisa who says she feels pressurised by Islam or society’s adherence to it (women in smaller towns or rural areas are more likely to face increased religious conservatism, Omaar notes).

“I asked myself why I wear the hijab, and decided because that’s Allah’s will, and it’s part of my religion and my identity, and since then it’s been a choice,” Zainab says.

Zainab at work n Hargeisa, Somaliland. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Zainab at work n Hargeisa, Somaliland. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

During Mohamed Siad Barre’s communist-inspired dictatorship throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, Islam was suppressed in Somalia. Since Somaliland broke away, Islam has been able to reassert itself—including the flourishing of madrassas, Islamic religious schools—with positive effects, according to some.

“There are problems for women here but they’re not due to religion rather they are Somali cultural problems,” says Khadar Husein, operational director of the Hargeisa office of Transparency Solutions, a UK-based organization focused on capacity building in civil society.

“The man is mainly dominant in Somali society—things like domestic violence go back to that culture but has no root in Islam. Getting a more religious society means eliminating those cultural problems.”

But religion doesn’t appear to be easing restrictions on women in Somaliland’s political life.

“Without a women’s quota I don’t think there will be any more women in parliament,” Baar Saed Farah, the only female in the 82-member Lower Chamber of parliament, says about current lobbying to give 30 seats to women from forthcoming elections in 2017 (no women are permitted in the 82-member House of Elders in the Upper Chamber).

“In normal employment there is no differentiation between genders but when it comes to political participation it becomes very difficult for women because of a culture that favours men,” Farah says. “It has been there for a long time—even women may not accept a woman running for election as they’re so used to men always leading and making decisions.”

Somaliland remains a strongly male-dominated society. Polygyny, where a man can take several wives, is widely condoned and practised. Marriages are frequently arranged between the groom and the family of the bride—without the latter’s consent—and it’s easier for men to initiate a divorce. The prevalence of female genital mutilation in the Somalia region stands at about 95 percent, according to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund.

And while Somaliland women may be a force to be reckoned with among markets and street-side trading, they still face many limits to full economic opportunities.

“They only operate small businesses, you won’t find many rich business women here,” says Nafisa Yusuf Mohamed, director of Hargeisa-based female empowerment organisation Nagaad Network. “For now there aren’t many alternatives, but this could change as enrolment in higher education is improving.”

Expanding female education is also affecting Somaliland’s increasing religiousness, Mohamed explains, as today’s young women better understand than their mothers the Quran, becoming more avid adherents in the process.

She notes how many young Somalilanders such as her 17-year-old daughter, who recently started wearing the niqab of her own volition, use social media to discuss and learn more about Islam once they finish attending madrassas.

There are also other more prosaic reasons for wearing the likes of the niqab, observers note. Some women wear them because they are shy, or want to protect their skin from harsh sunlight, or want to fit in with friends wearing them.

Changing Muslim clothing trends may be most noticeable to the outsider, but other developments also illustrate Somaliland’s increasing religiousness: the extent mosque prayer times affect working hours, both in the public and private sector; the higher proportion of adults praying the full five times a day; and the increasing numbers of mosques built.

“These changes are also a response to wider regional and international developments which have affected the Muslim world, in particular the growing perception that life in the Western world is becoming more hostile to Muslims,” Omaar says.

Although for most Somalilanders, exasperation with the West appears to primarily stem from how countries such as the UK—Somaliland was a UK protectorate until 1960—continue to not recognise its sovereign status, resulting in enormous financial drawbacks for the country.

Hence, as Somaliland celebrates its 25th anniversary of unrecognized independence this year, its economy remains perilously fragile, with poverty and unemployment rampant among its roughly four million-plus population.

“If you look at the happiness of Somalilanders and the challenges they are facing it does not match,” Husein says. “They are happy because of their values and religion.”

]]> 0
The Ali Shuffle Wed, 08 Jun 2016 14:17:22 +0000 Mahir Ali By Mahir Ali
Jun 8 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

There was the incredible Ali Shuffle in the 1960s when a restless young athlete danced around his opponents in the boxing ring, delivering potent blows but taking few in return, the heavyweight champion of the whole world, as he frequently liked to put it.

`The Greatest`, as Cassius Clay dubbed himself even before he had unexpectedly defeated the notionally unbeatable Sonny Liston to claim the crown.

Then, a couple of decades later, there was the Ali shuffle, when the physical faculties of the man who could once `float like a butterfly, sting like a bee` had been depleted to the point where his gift of the gab was largely a thing of the past, and his growing lack of dexterity was manifested in the way he appeared in public.

His dignity was never at risk, though. It wasn`t just retained; if anything, it was enhanced during the years when Parkinson`s disease took its unfortunate toll. The incredible outpouring of grief when Muhammad Ali shuf fled of f the mortal coil last week testified to his status as a global folk hero.

He acquired it initially by standing up to the government of the United States 50 years ago, by his refusal to participate in the obnoxious war against Vietnam. `No Vietcong ever called me a nigger` is how he is believed to have justified his refusal to answer the call to arms.

It is vital to remember that this came before the antiwar movement in general, and draft resistance in particular, had picked up pace. It wasn`t until a year later, in 1967, that Martin Luther King Jr plucked up the courage to explicitly denounce the Vietnam War and his nation`s status as the primary purveyor of violence in the world, citing Muhammad Ali`s resistance in the process.

Ali was promptly stripped of his title and the right to pursue his profession anywhere in the US. This unprecedented vindictiveness transformed him instantly into an international figurehead of resistance against American imperialism.

It is seldom mentioned that Ali`s conviction that his African American compatriots had far better cause to be engaged with the battles that needed to be fought at home almost exactly echoed the stance Paul Robeson had taken while addressing a 1949 peace conferenceinParis.

Like Ali, Robeson too was consequently deprived of the right to earn a living in his homeland. The pioneering athlete, actor and, above all, exquisitely powerful singer was at the time the best known African American globally. He, too, was a fighter and eventually regained his rights after a decade, but it was too late to arrest the deterioration of his intellectual well-being. Robesonspent his last dozen years in seclusion and was effectively written out of history.

Ali, of course, staged a tremendous comeback. Cut down in his prime, he was never again quite the same fighter. His unexpected victory in 1974`s Rumble in the Jungle was more than an athletic triumph, though.

Regaining the heavyweight crown also represented a vindication of his political stance.

Like millions of others, I can clearly recall arising at an unearthly hour to watch the live transmission of the fight from Kinshasa, and the tension as All miraculously absorbed the blows from his formidable opponent, and then, in a transcendent moment, floored George Foreman with a flurry of devastating blows.

In comparison, his third crown, retrieve d from Leon Spinl(s, was something of an anticlimax. He ought to have retired before then. Ali himself designated his experience during the torturous Thrilla in Manila against Joe Frazier as the closest thing todying. By the time of the ill-advised bouts against Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick in 1980-81, the signs of Parkinson`s were already clearly visible.

If it`s a tragedy that Muhammad All found his place in the world via a brutal sport, it is perhaps equally unfor-tunate that his politicisation owed a great deal to his membership of an organisation that called itself the Nation of Islam (NoI) and that he chose the wrong side in relinquishing his friendship with Malcolm X, opting instead for the cult of Elijah Muhammad.

This led him to expound some obnoxious views over the years: during an interview with Playboy published in 1975, the interviewer appropriately remonstrated, `You`re beginning to sound like a carbon copy of a white racist.

To his credit, though, Ali eventually recanted some of his earlier views and, more broadly, transcended them with his inspirational humanitarian impulses. His lapses were already but a memory by the time he lit the flame at the Atlanta Olympics. The fact that erstwhile foes were willing to embrace him didn`t mean he had changed, so much as it was a tacit acknowledgement of his role in changing the world. Ultimately, it indeed turned out that `the elements` were `so mix`d in him that Nature might stand up/ And say to all the world, `This was a man!“


This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

]]> 0
On Secret Marriages Wed, 08 Jun 2016 14:00:32 +0000 Rafia Zakaria By Rafia Zakaria
Jun 8 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

It happens far more often than anyone is willing to admit or acknowledge. A woman who is a widow, or whose family owes a debt, or who has caught the eye of a lecherous boss, or who is no longer very young, or who fails to fit the fair and lovely demands of the usual suitors, is approached by an older man for marriage.

This type of male suitor is already married, often with grown children and successful business interests. Creeping into advanced years, he wants to add something new to his life, and given his means and money, he can afford for this freshness to be a new marital arrangement.

Given the fact that four wives are permitted in Pakistan, there are no legal obstacles to his desires.

There is, however, the prospect of the ire of the existing wife and her family, or drawing the censure of a community that may giggle and snicker at an aging groom`s mid-life marriage. The answer is a secret marriage, legally valid but socially surreptitious, a recipe for the man of means to really have it all. Not only is the man newly married a second time, he is also now a secret saviour, rescuing some hapless woman from the absolute horror and hell of remaining husband-less in a society that worships men.

Not all secret marriages follow this pattern; some are conjured in secret because the parties not previously married believe that their families will be opposed to the match. Other cases more and more prevalent given Pakistan`s large expatriate worker population involve men working abroad who have wives at home and at work. Often, the second wife knows about the first; usually the first wife is completely unaware of her husband`s secret family.

When the secret wife produces children, they too bear the burden of being secret children, whose surreptitious father sires them but will not publicly claim them. If and when the secret marriage is discovered, the secret wife and her children face huge risks of divorce and repudiation, leaving them in an even more vulnerable position when the secret husband/father abandons them.

According to Dr Mohammed Fadel, professor of law at the University of Toronto, who specialises inIslamic jurisprudence, some schools of thought consider secret marriages to be technically legal on the basis that they fulfil all stipulations of an Islamic marriage contract. However, others are more sceptical of such an arrangement.

What may be technically legal, however, is not necessarily moral and may actually be quite far from being good. In his discussion of secret marriages, Dr Fadel points out that while Islamic marriage emphasises consent to ensure that the two individuals entering into marriage are happy withthe arrangement, individual happiness is not the one and only goal of a Muslim marriage.

Indeed, as Fadel argues, the technicalities of an Islamic marriage contract, the requirement of mahr and of witnesses, can be seen as safeguards that point to the necessary involvement of the community in the relationship. While secret marriages can skirt this requirement by finding witnesses (and guardians on the female side) who are willing to keep the marriage secret, this can be seen as a contravention of the purpose of witnesses themselves.

The prescription to publicise and celebrate marriage can be seen as existingforthe express reason that when a larger number of people know of the relationship, and support and celebrate it, the chances of abuse and neglect are reduced. In secret marriages, no such checks exist on the behaviour of men. Predators know their prey; most women who enter these surreptitious arrangements are already vulnerable; the underhanded nature of the arrangement further exposes them as well as their childrento abuse, shame and neglect.

In a patriarchal society, where men dominate, arguments against secret marriages are quickly transformed into promotions of polygamy. If secret marriages are wrong, eager adherents of multiple marriages argue, then it is the task of women, of first wives (and consequently second and third ones), to readily hand out permission for subsequent marriages. It`s a clever trick that, like secret marriages themselves, looks to reduce faith and its following to technicalprescriptions(andhence self-servingloopholes) rather than the larger principles of love and compassion Some attention to these values, so routinely ignored by Muslim men, would suggest that marital unions in which the wife feels subdued, coerced, used and manipulated can never be the foundation for the just society that is envisioned by the Islamic faith. A revival of love and compassion as the foundation of all marriages would require an end to both secret marriages and polygamous marriages. Both these forms may technically be allowed to exist and persist (given that the vast majority of Muslim jurists have been and continue to be men) but they would be absent of the sort of affection that exists between freely choosing partners. A compromise born of circumstances, a situation that dictates the assent of most women who become a part of such a relationship, is not the same as a choice.

In countries like Egypt, the state informs first wives when their husbands marry again, since registration of marriages is a requirement. In Pakistan, many marriages are not registered, and even if they were the state is not required to make such information available. As a result, all women, those who are married and those who may marry, are vulnerable to being duped by men who manipulate the technicality of marital requirements to suit their desires for new or more wives, while paying no attention at all to the moral requirements of a Muslim marriage.

The writer is an attomey teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

]]> 0
Reproductive Violence Tue, 07 Jun 2016 14:20:52 +0000 Tahir Mehdi By Tahir Mehdi
Jun 7 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Two things happened in Islamabad on the same day recently, one pertaining to the Council of Islamic Ideology and the other to Pemra, the electronic media regulator. CII sanctioned `lightly beating` of wives and Pemra banned (and then partially withdrew) advertisements of contraceptives.

The two seemingly unrelated events have more than their timing in common. Their relationship is intriguing and intense and covered by the same ignorance that so many in our society defend in the name of religion and culture.

But before I dilate on the link between the two, let me first contradict the maulanas who topped their shenanigans by declaring that wife-beating does not exist in our beloved country which is inhabited by pious Muslims. It not only exists, it is rampant.

There is no doubt that this areais understudied and lacks specific data and information but whatever little is available makes it evident that wifebeating is the rule and not an exception. A small study (which I helped to conduct) a few years ago in two villages of central Punjab revealed that two in every three women were beaten by their husbands.

A quarter of them were not only slapped, boxed and shoved but beaten with sticks and shoes at a frequency of `often` to `regularly`. Nine of the 190 women who were interviewed reported having bled at least once as a result of being beaten, and seven had one of their bones broken in a single bout.

If these horrendous statistics could be extrapolated to the 38 million or so married women of the country, the picture becomes extremely grave. But that`s not what one sees from the windows of the CII office in Islamabad.

Besides attempting to quantify the practice of wife-beating, information was also sought on the marriage age of respondents, the number and sequence of male and female children born and perceptions about who was at fault, what triggered the incidents, their mitigation strategy and which family member played what role during and afterthe act of violence. That`s where links between wife-beating and misplaced concepts about reproductive performance of the couple become evident.

As a rule, women in Pakistan are married young.

Young men entering a marriage are under pressure to produce evidence of their male prowess and what better proof than a pregnant wife? The young brides are thus expected to conceive immediately and if they fail owing to any natural or healthor age-related factor, the men take it as an affront.

There were incidents reported in the study when men started beating their wives for months after the marriage but stopped when the woman became pregnant.

The average Pakistani male`s understanding of sex and reproduction is at best at the level of what it used to be in the mediaeval ages. Male egos thrive in this sea of ignorance. It is impossible for them to accept that their wife`s failure to conceive can also be due to some reversible or irreversible problem at their end. It is the women who have always been faulted and who must bear the brunt.

Two middle-aged men in the study, who savagely beat their wives, took second wives as the first ones did not bear them any children, but their second wives remained issueless too.

When a bride is finally pregnant; her next `assignment`is to give birth to a male child. Women giving birth to girls first or to more girls than boys are considered inferior. Such women lose the sympathy of even their close circles and their `poor` husbands are seen justified in venting their frustration.

There was considerable difference in the pattern of violence involving women who were proud mothers of sons compared with those who bore only girls. No one has a clue about the scientific fact that it is the man who is responsible for whether the offspring will be male or female. This fact could only become part of common knowledge if talking about sex and sex education were not taboo.Almost half of the women (mostly in their 30s) beaten by their husbands reported that they were no longer beaten. But that comes when the man`s age is close to 40 and his children have reached adulthood. Most women of this group reporte d that when their husbands intend to beat them, their sons tell them not to. There were women in this group, however, who said that their husbands had stopped beating them as soon as the coveted male heir was born.

This, however, is not to say that the archaic understanding of reproductive matters is the sole instigator of such violence. But if the ego of a large section of Pakistani males is deconstructed, their poor understanding of sexual matters will be found as one of its important factors.

Ignorance breeds ignorance. Our young men and women have no institution to fall back on for guidance on such matters. Sex education in schools gets an even stricter rebuke from the authorities than the Pemra ban on contraceptive ads.

This chosen ignorance then becomes a huge market for quacks offering dangerous quick fixes and for `pirs` bestowing amulets and other more hazardous prescriptions. There is a reason why every village wall is painted with their advertisements.

A few vertical programmes related to reproductive health have attempted to raise communities` knowledge base but they too face stiff resistance from the guardians of public morality. These programmes are implemented by young worl

It is ironic that the acts that deprive them of this clout, damaging their cause, come from the highest level of government that is actually supposed to lead these campaigns with vigour and resolve.

The writer works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in govemance and democracy

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

]]> 0
LGBT Communities Silenced in HIV Reduction Efforts Thu, 02 Jun 2016 20:54:38 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 Recent Killings Tarnish Bangladesh’s Tolerant Image Wed, 01 Jun 2016 15:19:15 +0000 Fakhruddin Ahmed By Fakhruddin Ahmed
Jun 1 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Not only the European Union, but the rest of the world is also beginning to express concern about the spate of killings by extremists in Bangladesh over the last three years. News organisations such as the BBC and CNN feature these killings prominently in their newscasts. The initial killing of bloggers has now escalated into killing of foreign aid workers, religious minorities and academics. In April and May alone, a university professor in Rajshahi, two LGBT activists in Dhaka, a Hindu tailor in Tangail and a Buddhist monk in Bandarban were hacked to death.

Photo: deviantart

Photo: deviantart

Although the so-called Islamic State has claimed responsibility for most of these attacks, the Bangladesh government blames the opposition parties and insists that there is no presence of ISIS in the country. Mere accusations are not enough. If the government has proof that the members of opposition parties are indeed responsible for these heinous crimes, it should arrest and prosecute the perpetrators. Until that happens, one has to take ISIS’s claim of responsibility seriously. Brutality is ISIS’s modus operandi.

In the aftermath of some of these savage murders, especially that of bloggers, the government seemed to imply that the writings of the victims may have had something to do with their fate. After a horrendous murder, everyone’s sympathy and empathy should be focused entirely on the victim and his family. It is unseemly to imply that the victim was somehow complicit in his own murder. It is preposterous to suggest that the murdered minorities were somehow “insulting Islam.” Extremists do not seem to understand that the tenets of Islam, the world’s fastest growing religion, are far too powerful to be perturbed by the utterances of its detractors. Besides, the holy Qur’an repeatedly states that there is no compulsion in religion.

There is a reservoir of goodwill for Bangladesh in the world. Bangladesh is applauded for spearheading women’s empowerment, democracy and communal harmony. As a moderate Muslim-majority nation, Bangladesh is hailed as a paragon not only for other Muslim-majority nations, but also for the developing world as a whole.

Roughly twenty million Bangladeshis are Hindus. Bangladesh has the world’s third largest Hindu population, after India and Nepal. There are about a million Buddhist Bangladeshis – ranking Bangladesh among the top fifteen countries in the world in terms of Buddhist population. Bangladesh also has 700,000 Christians among its citizens. Exposure to citizens who practice the world’s top four religions – Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity – essentially makes Bangladesh a moderate and tolerant nation. This is Bangladesh’s most precious heritage. This is what ISIS is attempting to undermine. ISIS terrorists must not be allowed to spoil Bangladesh’s communal harmony.

The Muslim world made a huge mistake by considering ISIS as a theological force. 126 top Muslim scholars of the world issued a fatwa in 2014, denouncing ISIS’s misinterpretation of Islam. What a waste of time! ISIS does not give two hoots about the fundamental tenets of Islam.

ISIS or many Islamic extremist organisations did not arise out of a theological dispute among Muslims; it arose as a consequence of the Western invasion of the Middle East. The America-led war to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan spawned the Taliban. Gulf War in 1991 hatched al Qaeda, while the Iraq invasion in 2003 sired ISIS. Radical Muslim terror apparently did not exist in the US before the 1991 Gulf War.

The nomenclature “Islamic State” makes many in the West mistakenly believe that ISIS actually represents mainstream Islam. ISIS is a terrorist death cult that has very little to do with Islam. Thus, to win the propaganda war against ISIS, the world should refer to ISIS by its Arabic acronym, “Daesh.”

“Daesh” stands for “al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham” (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). ISIL or ISIS has threatened to “cut out the tongues” of anyone using the word, because two similar-sounding words, “Daes” (one who crushes something underfoot) and “Dahes” (one who sows discord) are considered derogatory in Arabic.

The terrorist organisation Daesh is a transient nuisance; it does not pose an existential threat to the world. Territories under Daesh’s control are continually shrinking in Iraq and Syria. Daesh will fail because there are not enough buyers for what it is selling – rape, mindless mayhem and brutality.

Daesh is a bunch of retail terrorists similar to two Muslim terror groups of the past – the “Assassins”, who operated in the modern day Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and the “Thugs” who terrorised the Indian subcontinent between 1356 and 1870. (An excellent account of the operations of the “Thugs” can be found in Dr. Nazimuddin Ahmed’s seminal book, Mrittyudoot, [Agents of Death], The University Press Ltd, 2004). The “Assassins” were obliterated by the invading Mongols, and the “Thugs,” who were devotees of the Hindu goddess Kali despite being Muslims, were infiltrated and crushed by the British. Like the “Assassins” and the “Thugs,” Daesh will also pass into oblivion, but only if the world stands up to it.

During my visit to Bangladesh in April and May this year, I noticed some reluctance on the part of the general public to confront the menace. The attitude that it does not affect me or my community, which thereby absolves one of their responsibility to confront these terrorists, is a harmful one. This attitude will sadly only act to prolong Daesh’s reign of terror. This mindset is reminiscent of the famous saying of Hitler’s foe, German Protestant pastor Martin Niemoller, who spent the last seven years of Hitler’s rule in a concentration camp: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist./ Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist./ Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew./ Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The writer is a Rhodes Scholar.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

]]> 0
Illiberal Democracy Rising Mon, 30 May 2016 18:14:33 +0000 Latha Jishnu By Latha Jishnu
May 30 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Indian democracy is quite often about the politics of visibility, the image most often replacing the substance. Political parties celebrate their leaders, both living and dead, in huge newspaper advertisements that cost an enormous amount. For leaders who have passed on, there is usually a remembrance on their birth and death anniversaries whereas in the case of serving politicians just about any occasion is an excuse to indulge in an extra splash of image building.

In recent days, the clash of ideologies and personalities of India past and present has been playing out even in the ad space with the BJP and the Congress marking anniversaries that commemorate critical milestones in India`s democratic journey. Loud and characteristically in your face was the advertising blitzkrieg unleashed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to mark the second anniversary of the Narendra Modi regime (May 26). And there was a twist. Most of the fulsome tributes came from party chief ministers in BJP-ruled states who, like the vassals of yore, lauded their chieftain for his `outstanding governance` or `great achievements` or the `innumerable achievements` of his `charismatic and visionary leadership`. So we know who picked up the tab for this anniversary extravagance apart from the government of India.

A day later, there was a much smaller ad and very few of them in memory of India`s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru on his death anniversary.

That commemoration did not come from the government of India as it should have; it was put up by the Congress party. This was all of a piece with the policy of the BJP regime which is trying to obliterate Nehru`s memory and legacy in mission mode, and not just because of his staunch ideological opposition to the politics of communalism. That legacy of his which kept India on the secular path for decades is being whittled away by a ferocious political campaign and in unsavoury ways by the saffron underbelly of the party. An entire online industry has sprung up to promote websites that spew venom against India`s first prime minister with gross calumny while its army of Internet trolls flood social websites with misrepresentations that only reveal their lack of history and culture.

It is undoubtedly galling for the BJP and its ideologues in the parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, that they can flaunt no heroesof their own from the freedom struggle. That they did not take part in the freedom movement is a historical truth they cannot undo. On the other hand, they have to contend with a Nehru who spent close to nine years in prison and was once paraded in chains by the British.

That is one reason why the Hindu supremacist BJP resents Nehru and the liberal, secular Indians who subscribe to his ideals. The most irksome is Nehru`s known opposition to religious fundamentalism which, like poverty, he believed to be the worstscourge of the country. But there are clearly more reasons for the Hindutva brigade`s implacable hatred of the man who steered India in the first 16 years of its independence, an extraordinary stint that was marked by visionary successes and some profound failures.

At the simplest level it is, perhaps, a class issue.

Nehru was British-educated and patently Westernised even if he wore khadi and a Congress cap along with his trademark bandhgala Modi`s attire, incidentally, is a flattering imitation of this attire, down to his churidars and he was suavely cosmopolitan. He wrote and spoke in elegant English and he was comfortable in the company of women. To add to his aura was wealth which he gave away, a fact that the class of people who subscribe to the saffron ideology probably find astonishing. Besides, he mattered greatly in the global scheme of things.

Today, when liberals ask why they are the target of the saffron brigade, the answer could be that for the most part they come from a similar background and champion the values that Nehru held dear. At least that comes across as a major grouse with the saffron lobby if you read their blogs and other online rants.

But there are obviously deeper reasons for the grow-ing chasm between the secular opponents of the majoritarian principles pushed by the Modi regime and the supposedly rooted Indian who prefers the vernacular, is proud to belt out Bharatmata kiJai (victory to Mother India) and is above all a proud Hindu.

As the saffron ideology becomes increasingly popular, specially with the middle class, there is a marked inability in the ranks of secular society to come to terms with this phenomenon. Their antipathy to Hindutva is also marked by a similar revulsion tinged with derision. Where, they ask, are intellectuals of repute who can make a persuasive case for the country`s rightward shift? Why does the BJP and its brotherhood of saffron suffer from such a striking intellectual deficit? They have no historians or even Sanskritists of repute. They might have some economists in their retinue but certainly no thinkers with a compelling vision for the country`s future.

One way for the Modi men to understand why Nehru`s legacy endures would be to understand his towering vision for the country. To start with they could peruse Nehru: The making of India, published in the centennial year of his birth (1988). The book is long but easy to read and it shows why Nehru is still important to the idea of a modern India. `His most important contribution in a life full of contributions was a clear establishment of a vision in which to lift India from the 18th century towards the 21st, explains M.J. Akbar, the author, who repeatedly emphasises Nehru`s conviction that communalism was the worst evil facing independent India.

`Having watched religious emotions play havoc with the unity of the country and the people, to stand up and take positions against what might be called fundamentalism, to seek to define a new language by saying that the steel mills and the dams were the temples of modern India, this required conviction, courage and the confidence that swaying them with religion was not just wrong but injurious … these were remarkable convictions that shaped India.

The author, once a Congressman, now has clout in the BJP. He is a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) and is national spokesman of the party. If he could he persuade Modi and his cabal to read his book, would it change the disastrous trajectory of current politics?

The writer is a joumalist based in New Delhi.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

]]> 0
Mapping Kashmir Thu, 26 May 2016 16:10:10 +0000 Sikander Ahmed and Abid Rizvi By Sikander Ahmed Shah and Abid Rizvi
May 26 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

This month the Indian ministry of home affairs released the draft of the proposed Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016. Still in its preliminary form, it has created a furore both at home and abroad.

The bill aims to regulate `the acquisition, dissemination, publication, and distribution of geospatial information of India which is likely to affect the security, sovereignty, and integrity of India`, and proposes severe penalties for the `incorrect` depiction of the `territory` of India by persons `within` India or Indians living abroad.

The bill represents a broad undermining of international law and a violation of the bilateral arrangement vis-à-vis Kashmir.

Pakistan`s ambassador to the UN, Maliha Lodhi, has raised concerns with the secretary general and Security Council that the bill seeks to unilaterally depict the disputed territories of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) as being within Indian territory, and to punish those representingthe correctscenario.

The Line of Control (LoC) is the current demarcation of territorial control within Kashmir. First established under the 1949 Karachi Agreement, it was further reified in the 1972 Shimla Declaration under which Pakistan and India agreed that the `line of control resulting from the ceasefire of Dec 17, 1971, shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognised position of either side. Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations` It further states that `[pjending the final settlement […J neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organisation, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peace and harmonious relations`.

The LoC is reproduced in UN maps, along with a legend describing it as agreed upon under the Shimla accord, with J&K`s final status remaining in dispute. While official maps published by the Survey of Pakistan do not reproduce the LoC, they correctly depict J&K as disputed. By contrast, the official Survey of India`s maps incorrectly depict the entirety of J&K as well as Gilgit-Baltistan as Indian territories.

Pakistan ought to adopt the UN`s practice of marl(ing the LOC on its own official maps with a legend unequivocally declaring the status of J&K as being undecided. Rather than compromising the Kashmiri cause, this would, instead, clearly state the ground realities: that the LoC exists and shall be recognised until such time as the territorial status of J&K can be resolved. This is critical; under international law, while official maps might not conclusively resolve a boundary dispute between two states, they nonetheless have probative value, and can be relied uponby states when attempting to advance their positions.

The proposed bill is yet another attempt by India to unilaterally assimilate J&K contravening international law. That the territorial status of Kashmir is unresolved is not in dispute; however, India, by its recent actions, has sought to force a resolution of the situation to its own benefit.

The attempt to construct a fence in Indiaheld Kashmir also violating international law is an example of India`s unsettling tendency to chip away at provisions of previous agreements. This latest attempt to undermine recognition of Kashmir`s status is another instance of India violating the Shimla pact in spirit and in operative text.

The accord is intended to maintain the status quo until a permanent solution is devised.

The bill seel(s to unilaterally alter this.

From a historical perspective, the Karachi Agreement was a multilateral one, mediatedby the UN; the Shimla pact concluded as a bilateral arrangement, with India choosing to expel the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan and maintaining that the Kashmir issue existed wholly between the two countries. Now it seems India is taking steps to force a permanent resolution one entirely for its own benefit, at the expenseof the Kashmiri people, and in violation of international law.

Kashmiris` right to self-determination has been recognised under international law and sanctified by numerous UN resolutions.

However, under this bill those living in India-held Kashmir can face criminal penalties for portraying that J&K`s territorial status remains unresolved, or be forced to accept the version of `truth`imposed by India all of which runs counter to self-determination andits peacefulfurtherance.

Under the international law for boundary delimitations, the doctrine of `acquiescence can come into play: if one state party knowingly does not raise objections to the other`s illegal act, it can be seen as having acquiesced to the other party`s illegalities.

Pakistan should strongly protest the bill which goes beyond the scope of domestic lawmaking into the realm of international law to ensure that India does not subsequently claim Pakistan acquiesced to its position.

Sikander Shah is former legal adviser, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and law faculty at Lums.
Abid Rizvi is an expert on international law.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

]]> 0