Inter Press Service » Religion http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 27 Feb 2017 08:11:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 Aid Arrives for Rohingya After Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:06:52 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149100 The Muslim Rogingya minority in Myanmar is being victimized by murders, rapes and the burning of their villages by police and military forces in Myanmar, a United Nations official said. Photo courtesy of European Commission DG/European Union/Flickr

The Muslim Rogingya minority in Myanmar is being victimized by murders, rapes and the burning of their villages by police and military forces in Myanmar, a United Nations official said. Photo courtesy of European Commission DG/European Union/Flickr

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

A Malaysian aid convoy has arrived in Myanmar with supplies for ethnic Rakhine civilians and Rohingya Muslims.

The Malaysian government sent hundreds of tons of food and other necessities including clothing and hygiene kits to Myanmar’s Yangon region which were then delivered to Rakhine State’s capital of Sittwe. Military ships also offloaded supplies in neighboring Bangladesh which has seen an influx of Rohingya refugees since violence was reignited in 2016.

Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts in October.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) , cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation. OHCHR said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations.

Approximately 90,000 people have since fled the area with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

In its annual report, Amnesty International said that there has been little improvement since the new government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, took power in 2015 including ongoing conflict and restricted humanitarian access.

Myanmar’s government reportedly tried to block the Malaysian aid ship, stating that it had not acquired official permission to enter the country. The government later only issued clearance for the port in Yangon, declining Malaysia’s application to deliver aid directly to Sittwe and the surrounding townships. They also required that supplies be delivered to both ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya in the region.

The Malaysian government has been particularly vocal regarding the plight of Rohingya Muslims.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on its Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis, stating: “The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place… We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have value.”

Violence first erupted in 2012 when Rohingya Muslims clashed with the Buddhist majority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Myanmar’s government is currently seeking to investigate the situation in the border state, while the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar is due to present her final report on her recent trip in March.

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Humanitarian Crisis, Result of Decades of Globalization with No Concern for Social Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 09:26:59 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149041 Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

Dr. Al Qassim' op-ed is issued on the occasion for World Day of Social Justice 2017. ]]>

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

Dr. Al Qassim' op-ed is issued on the occasion for World Day of Social Justice 2017.

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

The distressing images of desperate people making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkans to escape armed conflict, social tensions, discrimination and poverty harm the preconditions to achieve social harmony.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

This humanitarian crisis is the result of decades of freewheeling globalization with no concern for social justice in all countries. One of its consequences is social upheavals and mass exodus.

What remains today of the peace and its dividends that were supposed to accrue to the poorer countries as a consequence of the ending of the East-West conflict?

The proliferation of armed conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, further undermine the well-being of societies.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 4 million people have left Syria owing to the continued violence in the country. The majority of them live now in shelters and camps as internally displaced persons scattered throughout the region in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

The world has not witnessed mass exodus of this proportion since the end of World War II.

As the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (Geneva Center), I participated as a panel member in a side-event that was held 06 December 2016 by the Geneva Centre in relation to the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development.

During our panel deliberation, I observed that structural violence and the ongoing-armed conflicts and displacement were in contradiction with the vision expressed by the Declaration on the Right to Development.

The negative impact of violence tramples both human rights to life and to development.

Widening income equality also gives rise to social tensions that destabilize societies. Lack of employment opportunities stifle economic growth and result in poverty, which give rise to unemployment and social tensions.

Addressing social tensions requires adopting measures to eradicate poverty, ensure the promotion of employment and decent work, and eliminate the root-causes of inequality. By inequality, one should refer to both inequality in access to public goods, to income and gender inequality.

The realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a good starting-point. SDG 10 stipulates the need to reduce inequality between and within countries. SDG 8 similarly reminds the world of the importance of promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth to eradicate inequality. Lastly, SDG 5 specifies the need to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls through the elimination of violence and discrimination.

The 2030 Agenda is a bold roadmap for states to foster social cohesion and social harmony.

Another cause of social tension is the application of universal coercive measures. Such measures are discriminatory and hinder the capacity of governments to execute their functions in the interest of their citizens, and very often target the vulnerable segments of populations rather than the elites.

The denial of access to technology, food and patented medicines negatively affects the enjoyment of basic human rights.

Indeed, social development is central to the needs and aspirations of people throughout the world. The aim is to live in a peaceful, just and equitable society that ensures the fair distribution of income, access to resources and equality of opportunities for all.

We need to seize the opportunity to address the causes of social instability and economic backsliding. People must be empowered so as to enable them to realize their potential and take ownership of their destinies.

Identifying, addressing and eradicating the root-causes of social injustice will enable us to promote a more equitable development that puts the human being at the centre, and creates synergies between societal development and human security.

Addressing social injustice is in our common interest to promote a more sustainable international order.

I would like to end this statement by sharing a quote from Martin Luther King Jr:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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Confusion over U.S. Travel Ban Grounds Foreign Correspondentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 16:20:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149031 Confusion over the implementation of the US travel ban has left journalists unable to travel. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

Confusion over the implementation of the US travel ban has left journalists unable to travel. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

New restrictions on immigrants and refugees coming to the United States are also posing challenges for foreign correspondents covering news in the United States. Some have had to indefinitely postpone plans to report on conflicts in the Middle East while others have found an unfriendly reminder of their past treatment as journalists in less free countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order sent shockwaves throughout the world as citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees were barred from entering the country for 90 days and 120 days respectively.

Though the travel ban is temporarily on hold following a court decision to reject its reinstatement, President Trump stood by his policy, calling it “common sense” and promising to keep “the wrong people” out of the U.S. Trump announced Thursday that he would sign a new Executive Order next week which will address some of the legal issues raised by the U.S. courts.

Within the millions affected by the travel ban are journalists, many of whom were caught amidst the chaos and confusion as the initial Executive Order was implemented.

In the wake of the order, BBC journalist Ali Hamedani, an Iranian-born British citizen, was detained and questioned upon his arrival at Chicago’s O’Hare airport for over two hours.

“I was always dreaming to live here, to write stories here, to be able to travel to places and write whatever I wanted to write about without being persecuted,” -- Journalist Sama Dizayee.

He said his phone and computer were searched, including his social media accounts.

”It wasn’t pleasant at all. To be honest with you, I was arrested back home in Iran in 2009 because I was working for the BBC and I felt the same this time,“ he said.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, a dual American and Iranian citizen, also expressed his fear about the “major” impact of the new policy on his family, stating: “This isn’t the America I promised [my wife] when we were finally set free.”

Rezaian spent nearly two years in an Iranian prison after being arrested on charges including espionage and propaganda against the government.

CNN editor and award-winning journalist Mohammed Tawfeeq, who is an Iraqi national and legal permanent resident of the U.S., was detained in Atlanta where he was subjected to additional screening. He promptly filed a federal lawsuit challenging the executive order.

“We are concerned when policies adopted by countries restrict the access and movement of journalists…We believe that journalists should be allowed to enter countries, to report on them regardless of where those countries are,” Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch told IPS.

The ban also affects foreign correspondents covering the United Nations. Although there is a specific exception for journalists traveling as part of diplomatic delegations to the United Nations, the original executive order does not directly address any other media visas given to foreign media representatives traveling to or who are already in the country.

The restrictions have also concerned journalist Sama Dizayee, an Iraqi journalist who is a green card holding legal permanent resident in the U.S.

Dizayee told IPS that she had a trip planned to London but was forced to cancel it once the travel ban was implemented.

“I wake up and [saw] all of these people that were detained, deported back to their home countries…I was like oh my god I’m a legal resident here in America and I came all the way from Iraq here to pursue journalism, a dream that I always wanted and now my freedom is threatened,” she told IPS.

The Department of Homeland Security later clarified the policy in relation to green card holders, stating that U.S. permanent residents from one of the seven countries are not automatically barred from entry and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Despite this, Dizayee, who initially had refugee status before becoming a permanent resident, said she still did not want to take the risk.

“Do I really want to become subject to extra screening and hours of being held at the airport? Do I really want to be profiled as a Muslim Iraqi here in the U.S.? This is not an experience I want to remember,” she said.

Dizayee told IPS that she has always been subjected to extra screening due to her background, waiting for hours to be released.

“That really stays with you…and it has now become a law with this travel ban,” she said.

Dizayee highlighted that the stakes are particularly high for journalists whose work is now limited due to the inability to travel.

“[Journalists] go places to cover stories—they go to Iraq, to Lebanon, we travel all the time,” she said, adding that she had planned to travel to Iraq to cover the Mosul battle.

“I can’t be there now, I can’t write that story,” Dizayee continued.

CPJ issued a safety advisory for journalists, recommending that those who are from one of the seven countries with media visas in the U.S. should not leave within the time period covered by the executive order.

Radsch also advised journalists not to travel with mobile or other devices or to make sure confidential or important information is backed up rather than on their devices.

“This order is helping to highlight the importance of [digital security] for journalists,” she told IPS.

The U.S. order has already emboldened other governments to implement similar policies, including the Iraqi government which approved a “reciprocity” measure banning Americans from entering the Middle Eastern country, further restricting information flow across borders and journalists’ ability to report.

Radsch highlighted the need to get clarity on how the order is impacting journalists and what the regulations are.

She also told IPS that journalists have been subject to secondary screening and questioning at the border before this new policy, including Canadian photojournalist Ed Ou who was pulled aside and interrogated for six hours on his way to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. After refusing to surrender the password to his devices, Ed Ou was denied entry into the U.S.

Dizayee expressed uncertainty and apprehension regarding the future of the new travel restrictions.

“I was always dreaming to live here, to write stories here, to be able to travel to places and write whatever I wanted to write about without being persecuted,” she told IPS.

“I am not going anywhere for the next 90 days for sure,” Dizayee continued.

The immigration executive order, initially implemented at the end of January, was denounced by several human rights groups and politicians, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who said: “Discrimination on nationality alone is forbidden under human rights law. The US ban is also mean spirited, and wastes resources needed for proper counter-terrorism.”

Similarly, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Sarif, said the Trump Administration’s decision would be recorded in history as “a great gift to extremists and their supporters” while Swedish foreign affairs minister Margot Wallström said she was “deeply concerned” by a decision that “creates mistrust between people.”

Others expressed support for the move including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who stated that “”it is vital that every nation is able to control who comes across its borders.”

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Of Arabs and Muslims and the Big Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 10:35:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149025 This article slightly updates a previous one that IPS had published regarding the recurrent confusion about who are Arabs and who, Muslims.]]> Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

Now that President Donald Trump’s decision to ban citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States continues to drift into legal labyrinths about its legality–or not, it may be useful to clarify some myths that often lead to an even greater confusion regarding the over-written, under-reported issue of who are Arabs and who Muslims.

To start with, it is a common belief – too often heralded by the mainstream media – that the Middle East is formed entirely of Arab countries, and that it is about the so-wrongly called Muslim, Arab World.

This is simply not accurate.

Firstly, because such an Arab World (or Arab Nation) does not actually exist as such. There is not much in common between a Mauritanian and an Omani; a Moroccan and a Yemeni; an Egyptian and a Bahraini, just to mention some examples. They all have different ethnic roots, history, original languages, traditions and religious beliefs.

Example: The Amazighs – also known as the Berbers – are an ethnic group indigenous to the North of Africa, living in lands stretching from the Atlantic cost to the Western Desert in Egypt. Historically, they spoke Berber languages.

There are around 25-30 million Berber speakers in North Africa. The total number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is estimated to be far greater. They have been “Arabised” and “Islamised” since the Muslim conquest of North of Africa in the 7th century.

Secondly, because not all Muslims are Arabs, nor all Arabs are Muslims. Not to mention the very fact that not all Arabs are even Arabs. It would be more accurate to talk about “Arabised,” “Islamised” peoples or nations rather than an Arab World or Arab Nation.

Here are seven key facts about Muslims that large media, in particular the Western information tools, often neglect or ignore:

1. Not all Muslims Are Arabs

In fact, according to the most acknowledged statistics, the number of Muslims around the world amounts to an estimated 1.56 billion people, compared to estimated 2.2 billion Christians and 1.4 million Jewish.

Of this total, Arab countries are home to around 380 million people, that is only about 24 per cent of all Muslims.

2. Not all Arabs Are Muslims

While Islam is the religion of the majority of Arab population, not all Arabs are Muslims.

In fact, it is estimated that Christians represent between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the Arab combined population. Therefore, Arab Muslims amount to just around one-fifth of all the world’s Muslims.

Arab Christians are concentrated mainly in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Egypt, where they represent up to 13 per cent of the total population amounting to 95 million inhabitants according to last year’s census.

It is also estimated that there are more Muslims in the United Kingdom than in Lebanon, and more Muslims in China than in Syria.

3. Major Muslim Countries Are in Asia

According to the U.S-based Pew Research Center, this would be the percentage of major religious groups in 2012: Christianity 31.5 per cent; Islam 23.2 per cent; Hinduism 15.0 per cent, and Buddhism 7.1 per cent of the world’s total population.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010 there were 49 Muslim-majority countries.

South and Southeast Asia would account for around 62 per cent of the world’s Muslims.

According to these estimates, the largest Muslim population in a single country lives in Indonesia, which is home to 12.7 per cent of all world’s Muslims.

Pakistan (with 11.0 per cent of all Muslims) is the second largest Muslim-majority nation, followed by India (10.9 per cent), and Bangladesh (9.2 per cent).

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 20 per cent of Muslims live in Arab countries, and that two non-Arab countries – Turkey and Iran – are the largest Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East.

In short, a large number of Muslim majority countries are not Arabs. This is the case of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey.

3. Largest Muslim Groups

It is estimated that 75 to 90 per cent of Islam followers are Sunni, while Shii represent 10 to 20 per cent of the global Muslim population.

The sometimes armed, violent conflicts between these two groups are often due to political impositions. But this is not restricted to Arab or Muslim countries, as evidenced by the decades of armed conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.

4. Muslims Do Not Have Their Own God

In Arabic (the language in which the sacred book, the Koran, was written and diffused) the word “table” is said “tawla;” a “tree” is called “shajarah;” and a “book” is “ketab.” In Arabic “God” is “Allah”.

In addition, Islam does not at all deny the existence of Christianity or Christ. And it does fully recognise and pay due respect to the Talmud and the Bible.

Probably the main difference is that Islam considers Christ as God’s closest and most beloved “prophet,” not his son.

5. Islamic “Traditions”

Islam landed in the 7th century in the Gulf or Arab Peninsula deserts. There, both men and women used to cover their faces and heads to protect themselves from the strong heat and sand storms. It is not, therefore, about a purely Islam religious imposition.

Meanwhile, in the Arab deserts, populations used to have nomadic life, with men travelling in caravans, while women and the elderly would handle the daily life of their families. Islamic societies were therefore actually matriarchal.

Genital mutilations are common to Islam, Judaism (male) and many other religious beliefs, in particular in Africa.

Likewise other major monotheistic religions, a number of Muslim clerics have been using faith to increase their influence and power. This is fundamentally why so many “new traditions” have been gradually imposed on Muslims. This is the case, for example, of denying the right of women to education.

As with other major monotheistic religions, some Muslim clerics used their ever-growing powers to promote inhuman, brutal actions. This is the case of “Jihad” fundamentalists.

This has not been an exclusive case of Muslims along the history of humankind. Just remember the Spanish-Portuguese invasion of Latin America, where indigenous populations were exterminated and Christianity imposed by the sword, for the sake of the glory of Kings, Emperors… and Popes.

6. The Unfinished Wars between the West and Islam (and Vice-Versa)

There is a growing belief among Arab and Muslim academicians that the on-going violent conflicts between Muslims and the West (and vice-versa) are due to the “unfinished” war between the Christian West and the Islamic Ottoman Empire, in spite of the fact that the latter was dismantled in the early 1920s.

This would explain the successive wars in the Balkans and the Middle East, for instance.

7. The “Religion” of Oil

It has become too common, and thus too given for certain, that oil producers are predominantly Arabs and Muslims. This is not accurate.

To start with, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in (the under British mandate) Baghdad, Iraq, in 1960 by five countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. These were later joined by Qatar (1961), Indonesia (1962), Libya (1962), the United Arab Emirates (1967), Algeria (1969), Nigeria (1971), Ecuador (1973), Gabon (1975) and Angola (2007).

And here you are: OPEC full membership includes: Ecuador, Venezuela, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. None of these is either Arab or Muslim. They are all Christian states. As for Iran and Indonesia, these are Muslim countries, but not Arab.

Then you have other major oil and gas producers and exporters outside the OPEC ranks: the United States [which produces more oil (13,973,000 barrels per day) than Saudi Arabia (11,624,000)]; Russia (10,853,000); China (4,572,000); Canada (4,383,000, more than United Arab Emirates or Iran or Iraq); Norway (1,904,000, more than Algeria) and Mexico, among others.

Again, none of these oil producers is Arab or Muslim.

In short, not all Muslims are Arabs (these are less than 20 per cent of the total); not all Arabs are Muslims, and… not all Arabs are even Arabs!

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The Algerian Emir Who Set a Protection of Prisoners Code in 1842http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 13:17:59 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148944 Abdelkader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860. Painting by Jean Baptiste Huysmans. Public Domain

Abdelkader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860. Painting by Jean Baptiste Huysmans. Public Domain

By IPS World Desk
ROME / OXFORD, UK, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

As far back as the 1830s, Algerian Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy was known for having introduced, among others, rules concerning the humane treatment of prisoners, which developed in 1842 into his Code for the Protection of Prisoners.

“The Emir’s Code prohibited mistreatment of prisoners and the killing of unarmed enemy soldiers or prisoners. In the Emir’s jails, there were no ‘enemy combatants’ prevented from enjoying basic human rights,” explained Idriss Jazairy, the executive director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

“Henri Dunant, the great Swiss humanitarian activist is credited with having introduced the first code to protect war prisoners that led to the creation of the Red Cross. That was in 1863, some twenty years after the adoption of the Emir’s Code,” he added.

The executive director of the Geneva Centre made this statement during an event held on Feb. 15 on the historical importance of the 19th century Algerian leader, Emir Abd el Qader, and the universality of Islamic values, at the renowned Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies of Oxford University.

Jazairy also spoke about the Emir’s contribution to identify commonalities between Islam and Christianity in order to promote peace, social justice and inter-religious harmony between Muslims and Christians.

“He asserted in a letter of July 1862 to a French bishop, Mgr. Pavy, that the teachings of both of these faiths were the same and could be encapsulated in two principles: the worship of God and compassion towards His creatures. Our religions, he averred, only differ in the prescriptions provided as to how best to comply with these cardinal principles.

“This brings the Emir to the conclusion in his book ‘Reminder to the Thoughtful and Notice to the Oblivious’ that religions are complementary and all lead to tolerance,” Jazairy said.

During his presentation, he also referred to the example of the Emir’s action to save the Christian minority in Damascus, during civil strife in 1860 that was widely commended by world leaders at that time.

The Emir’s decision to provide protection to religious minorities reflect the Emir’s dedication to upholding what he called “the rights of humanity” an expression that preceded, and anticipated, the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 85 years later.

The executive director of the Geneva Centre also expressed his concerns that the world press, by calling the authors of terrorist action “Jihadis”, unwittingly provide religious legitimacy for their heinous crimes and accredit the idea that Islam inspires terrorism.

He argued that this was tantamount to “Islamising crime rather than denouncing the criminalisation of Islam.”

“This provides terrorist groups with recruitment publicity while stimulating in credulous people’s minds, both in the Middle East and in the West, a conflation of Islam with terrorism,” the executive director of the Geneva Centre warned.

By this standard, the Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy is very much alive today with city squares and streets across the world bearing his name and with even a city in the U.S. state of Iowa named after him, he explained.

Not a single year has elapsed in recent times without new books and innumerable articles being published about this towering international figure, said Jazairy.

“The Emir was honoured by no lesser world leaders of his time than Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander II, Sultan Abdelmajid I and of course Napoleon III. Praised also was he by no lesser writers and poets than Rimbaud and Voltaire, Browning and Thackeray.”

The Emir is known to have fought the French invaders of Algeria for 17 years from 1830 to 1847. He waged 116 battles and confronted, at times defeating them, five princes of the French Royal Household, ten field-marshals and 150 generals, Jazairy reminded.

“Despite the fact that the French army outnumbered 10 to 1 the troops of the Emir, despite the former’s resort to weapons of mass destruction of the times, the almighty mobile cannon, the French conquest was slow, even laborious. Its vagaries called for the replacement of the Minister of War in France 16 times during this period.”

He noted that Algeria has a long history of resisting foreign invasion and occupation. Jugurtha, born in 160 BC, for instance, a courageous leader of Algeria, resisted the Roman invasion for seven years.

“Algeria’s liberation war (1954-1962) also lasted seven years. In December 1847, the fighting officially ended leading to what Algerians refer to as a treaty to end hostilities. The French called it, not ingenuously, a surrender.”

By this treaty the French committed inter alia to the transfer of the Emir, his family and followers to Alexandria or Acre. However, the treaty was shamefully violated by France, Jazairy noted.

The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue is a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

The Centre works towards a value-driven human rights system, challenging politicisation and building bridges between different narratives thereon of the Global North and of the Global South.

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Mistrust Hindering Global Solutions, says Secretary Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 23:55:31 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148935 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

The global lack of confidence and trust is undermining the ability to solve the world’s complex problems, said UN Secretary-General during an international conference.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

The 5th Annual World Government Summit (WGS), hosted by Dubai from February 12-14, has brought together over 4000 participants from more than 130 countries.

Speaking at the second day of the conference, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted the growing lack of confidence in institutions, as many people feel left behind from progress.

“It is clear that globalisation has been an enormous progress…but globalisation had its losers,” Guterres said, pointing to the example of frustrated youth in countries unable to find jobs or “hope.”

“Lots of people [feel] they were left behind and that the political establishments of their countries have not taken care of them,” he continued.

The former High Commissioner for Refugees cited the migration crisis in Europe, stating that countries’ inability to implement a fair and coordinated response spurred a sense of abandonment, fear and frustration among the public.

“This is the best ground for populists, for xenophobes, for those that develop forms of anti-Muslim hatred, or anti-Semitism…to play a role in our societies. And I think that it is not enough to condemn xenophobia, it is not enough to condemn populism, I think we need to be able to engage in addressing the root causes that lead to the fact that to be populist is so simple in today’s world,” Guterres told delegates, urging for reform to reconcile people with political institutions and to empower citizens and young people.

He also noted that the deep mistrust between countries is contributing to the multiplication of conflicts and the difficulties in solving them.

Most recently, the U.S. blocked the Secretary General’s appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the new UN peace envoy in Libya after U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the UN has been “unfairly biased” for too long in favor of the Palestinian Authority.

Though he highlighted the need for impartiality, Guterres said that there was no valid reason to have rejected the nomination.

“[Fayyad] is the right person for the right job at the right moment…he has a competence that nobody denies and Libya requires the kind of capacity that he has and I think it’s a loss for the Libyan peace process and for the Libyan people that I am not able to appoint him,” he stated, adding that bringing an end to the conflict in Libya is in everybody’s interest.

When moderator and CNN anchor Becky Anderson asked about the new U.S. administration’s “America First” principle, Guterres noted the need for the UN to respect its values but also stressed the importance of multilateral solutions to global problems.

“In a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global – from climate change to the movement of people – there is no way countries can do it by themselves. We need global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role,” Guterres stated.

“That is where the other gap of confidence becomes extremely important,” he continued, proposing reforms in the UN system to help build trust in such institutions.

Despite 2016 being a “chaotic” year, Guterres followed after French diplomat Jean Monnet in expressing his hope for the future.

“I’m not optimistic, I’m not pessimistic, I am just determined,” he concluded.

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A Dire Vacuum in a World in Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/a-dire-vacuum-in-a-world-in-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-dire-vacuum-in-a-world-in-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/a-dire-vacuum-in-a-world-in-crisis/#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2017 13:21:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148875 Courtesy of the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue.

Courtesy of the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue.

By Baher Kamal
ROME/GENEVA, Feb 9 2017 (IPS)

“The world is in a crisis, not least because governing élites have estranged themselves from the needs and aspirations of ordinary people. This sense of being left behind has lead the latter to rebel against their country’s stratified governance,” warns a Geneva-based human rights and dialogue centre.

“At the same time, complaints about the unfairness of globalisation were hushed up or ignored when they hit the poor in the Global South but now that people in the Global North are feeling the pinch as well, the issue’s priority is moving up in media reports”, says the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue(GCHRAGD).

All these trends have exacerbated populist movements rejecting citizenship in favour of narrower concepts of identity related to dominant races or religions, the Centre continues, adding that on the other hand foreign military invasions in the Middle East, with the resultant casualties and exclusions, have created bitterness and have destroyed social mechanisms for conflict resolution.

“These developments have brought about a vacuum, which has been occupied by terrorist groups seeking legitimacy in a perverted interpretation of Islam… Thus for different reasons, the two main world religions have become embroiled in the rise of extremist ideologies and are increasingly being perceived as part of the problems underlying this world crisis.”

Now the GCHRAGD is in the process of launching a new initiative during the current session of the UN Human Rights Council (Feb. 27 to Mar. 24, 2017)—a side-event on March 15th a panel discussion around the theme “Islam and Christianity, The Great Convergence: Working jointly towards equal citizenship.”

According to the Centre, this initiative is aimed at creating a grand coalition to let these major world religions become part of the solution to the current crisis by unleashing their joint potential for peace at the service of equality in citizenship which implies a definition of identity based on citizenship rather than on religious, ethnic or other affiliations.

Thus could be addressed the issue of minorities, both Muslim ones in the West and Christian ones in the Middle East, let alone the parlous situation of Muslim minorities in parts of Asia or religious tension between Muslims and Christians in some parts of Africa as well as contemporary phobic language which tends to create more social tension, explains GCHRAGD.

“A side-event is only a first awareness raising opportunity which should be followed by other initiatives, hopefully in the Human Rights Council itself and beyond.”

The panel discussion will build on a series of events organised by the Geneva Centre in collaboration with various partners working on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Arab region and in Europe, as well as on extremist violence and Islamophobia.

In this context, the Geneva Centre organised in 2016 a number of conferences on four related themes: The Advancement of the Status of Women in the Arab World; Islamophobia and the Implementation of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18: Reaching out; De-radicalisation or the Roll-Back of Extremist Violence; and Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony.

According to its organisers, the side event seeks to ascertain religious diversity and consolidate the view of the Christian and Muslim religions as vectors of peace, by focusing on the great convergences between Islam and Christianity based on the commonalities of their basic values.

The Rationale Behind

The Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue explains the rationale behind the March 15th side event:

“Over the past few years, on-going armed conflict and indiscriminate terrorist attacks bringing bereavement principally to the Arab region and to parts of Africa, and spilling over to the Western world, have contributed to an exacerbation of human rights violations with a worldwide worsening human rights impact of unprecedented proportions not witnessed since the end of World War II.

“This can take form through the violation of human rights encompassing the freedom of worship, the freedom of expression, the freedom of movement, the restriction of education, the repression of women, and the violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

“Against this dire background, the world is witnessing a rise of right wing populism and extremist ideologies, resulting from increasing remoteness of the State from the electorate.

“Feeding on violence and dormant biases, Islamophobia has been increasing steadily and worryingly over the past years. For instance, only in the United States alone, hate crimes against Muslims rose by a staggering 67 per cent since 2015.

“The Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar has also witnessed ethnic cleansing and religious persecution by Buddhist extremists in the state of Rakhine that has largely been neglected and ignored by the world community.

“Other relevant examples of religious persecution can be extended to include the genocide committed by the Bosnian Serbs on the Bosniaks of Bosnia-Herzegovina in which the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, largest massacre in Europe after the end of the Second World War, was carried out in the town of Srebrenica resulting in the killing of more than 8,000 Muslims.

“During the late 1980s, the Bulgarian Turks experienced widespread human rights violations by the Bulgarian government that launched a campaign to erase the ethnic and religious identities of the Bulgarian Turks.

“Moreover, the demolition of the Baburi mosque by Hindu extremists in 1992 gave rise to heightened Muslim-Hindu tensions in India. Likewise, the distorted representation of Muslim communities as well as of Islam itself in the media has been playing a malevolent role in strengthening xenophobic trends around the world, by perpetuating stereotypes and negative portrayals of Muslims.

“We can explore ways in which the media can mitigate their role in presenting a distorted picture of religious minorities, and more fully contribute to increased tolerance and inter-religious understanding by promoting peaceful messages to the public.”

The primary outcome of the side event could be the adoption of a draft agenda for an international conference to be held on the same subject for which a first draft is attached as an annex to the concept note.

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Human Rights For Rohingya Worsening, Warns Special Rapporteurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 21:59:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148862 Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

A UN Special Rapporteur has expressed grave concern over escalating violence and discrimination against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Following a fact-finding mission, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed concern over atrocities committed against the Rohingya, as well as the government’s denial of allegations.

“For the Government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the Government appears less and less credible,” she said during a press conference.

Lee added that this response is “not only counterproductive but is draining away the hope that had been sweeping the country,”

After half a century of military rule, Myanmar saw its first democratic elections when Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win. However, she faced criticism for failing to protect Myanmar’s minority groups, namely the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have since enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Violence once again reignited following attacks on border guard posts in October in Rakhine state, prompting Myanmar’s military to conduct an ongoing offensive.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation.

In one incident, an eyewitness told OCHR that the military beat their grandparents, tied them to a tree and set them on fire. The UN office also found that more than half of the 101 women interviewed experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence, including pregnant women and pre-adolescent girls.

The attacks “seem[ed] to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity,” the report stated.

Approximately 90,000 people fled the area since the attacks with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

Lee said the government’s response to her regarding the military attacks was that it had “rightly launched a security response.” Though authorities must respond to such attacks, Lee noted that the response must be in full compliance with the rule of law and human rights.

“I saw with my own eyes the structures that were burnt down in Wa Peik, and it is hard for me to believe that these are consequent to actions taken in a hurry or haphazardly,” she stated.

OHCHR found that hundreds of Rohingya houses, villages and mosques were deliberately burned down with one eyewitness noting that only Buddhist houses in her village were left untouched.

Human Rights Watch estimates at least 1500 buildings were destroyed, further driving Rohingya from their homes.

The government has denied these allegations, telling Lee that it was villagers who had burnt down their own houses in order to lure international actors to help build better houses. Authorities also said that this was part of the Rohingya’s propaganda campaign to smear the country’s security services.

“I find it quite incredible that these desperate people are willing to burn down their houses to be without a home, potentially displaced…just to give the Government a bad name,” Lee said.

“I must remind again that these attacks took place within the context of decades of systematic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya population,” she continued.

Those that do flee face further challenges in host nations. Bangladesh has been one of the primary hosts of displaced Rohingya, but due to population pressure and security concerns, the South Asian country has been pushing back on refugees. According to Amnesty International, Bangladeshi authorities have denied Rohingya refugees asylum and have detained and pushed hundreds back to Myanmar.

The government had also proposed a plan to relocate refugees to an island.

“We cannot just open our doors to people coming in waves,” said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In a country of an estimated 160 million people, her government has its own share of issues to take care of.

The crisis has prompted international groups and leaders to call for actions including unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of northern Rakhine state.

Though Myanmar’s government announced the creation of a committee to investigate the situation in the border state, Human Rights Watch also urged the government to invite the UN to assist in an impartial investigation.

“Blocking access and an impartial examination of the situation will not help people who are now at grave risk,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director Brad Adams said.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also called on Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis.

“The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place,” Razak said while protesting violence against the Rohingya minority.

““We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have values,” he continued.

In addition to accepting assistance from international actors, Lee encouraged the Government of Myanmar to “appeal to all communities…to be more open and understanding of each other, to respect each other instead of scapegoating others for the sake of advancing their own self-interests.”

“I stand ready to assist in the journey towards a more free and democratic Myanmar,” Lee concluded.

The Special Rapporteur is due to present her final report on her trip to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

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Trump’s Muslim Ban a Test for Unity and Solidarityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 16:14:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148766 Outgoing African Union Chair described the Muslim ban as a test for unity and solidarity. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Outgoing African Union Chair described the Muslim ban as a test for unity and solidarity. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK / UNITED NATIONS, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Outgoing African Union Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has described the United States ban on refugees and immigrants from seven countries as “one of the greatest challenges and tests to our unity and solidarity.”

Speaking to African leaders on Monday Zuma asked why “the very country to whom our people were taken as slaves during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, have now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries.”

On Friday 27 January United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily ceasing entry to the United States for nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order also suspended the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days and indefinitely blocked all refugees from Syria from entering the United States.

African leaders are not the only ones who see the ban as a test of unity and solidarity.

Others see growing anti-Muslim sentiment as a rallying point for solidarity between different religious groups, with American Jews questioning the “terrible irony” of the bill being signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

IPS spoke with Fadi Hallisso, a former Jesuit from Syria and Said Sabir Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and is involved in interfaith solidarity events between Jewish and Muslim people living in New York.

“Religion is a powerful tool, but instead of using it for destruction and hatred, we are going to use it to build bridges between different communities to pave the way towards a better community for our kids,” -- Fadi Hallisso

Hallisso, is the co-founder of Basmeh and Zeitooneh a Syrian NGO, whose five founders include three Christians.

“Our work in Turkey and Lebanon is almost 100 percent with Muslim Syrians,” Hallisso told IPS. “I think working hand-in-hand with different people from different religious backgrounds is what we need right now.”

“Religion is a powerful tool, but instead of using it for destruction and hatred, we are going to use it to build bridges between different communities to pave the way towards a better community for our kids,” he said.

Trump’s order also states that once the U.S. refugee program resumes it will prioritise claims from religious minorities – prompting some to believe that Christian refugees from these Muslim majority countries will be prioritised.

However Hallisso, himself a Syrian Christian, disagreed that in the case of Syria Christians are more persecuted than Muslims.

“We are all human beings suffering from an impossible situation that we wish to have an end to soon,” he said.

Hallisso described the women’s marches that occurred the day after Trump’s inauguration as an important act of solidarity.

“I wish we can in the coming few months and years to expand this solidarity to become global solidarity movement,” he said. “If the people of goodwill do not work together and the bad guys would have the last say.”

Said Sabir Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and now lives in New York told IPS that he has seen a growing movement of people of different background in the United States bridging divides.

Ibrahimi is part of a group which organises interfaith solidarity events between Jewish and Muslim people living in New York.

“We sense open Islamaphobia and subtle anti-semitism – not to mention the anti-women rhetoric and more,” Ibrahimi told IPS.

“The good news is that some Muslim-Jewish and other faith or non-faith groups have come together to voice their concerns about this whole chaotic policy shift and we have witnessed these groups showing up in protests in large crowds, across the country, in unprecedented ways probably since the 1960s during the Vietnam war.”

Meanwhile, the White House has also been criticised for failing to mention Jewish people in its statement issued on Holocaust Memorial Day.

“I think it’s so bizarre to talk about the Holocaust and not mention Jewish people,” said Ibrahimi. “It was the Jewish people who had suffered the most during those horrific times of World War Two.”

He said that people are drawing connections and associating significance with the marginalisation of minorities in Nazi Germany and the events unfolding in the United States.

For some American Jews, it was no coincidence that the dramatic change in US immigration policy was announced on Holocaust Remembrance Day:

Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of Liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street said that it was a “terrible irony” that Trump signed the order on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“The fact that President Trump’s order appears designed to specifically limit the entry of Muslims evokes horrible memories among American Jews of the shameful period leading up to World War Two, when the United States failed to provide a safe haven for the vast majority of Jews in Europe trying to escape Nazi persecution,” said Ben-Ami.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that she was ready to register as a Muslim in response to Trump’s proposed Muslim Registry – which as yet has not been enacted:

“I was raised Catholic, became Episcopalian & found out later my family was Jewish. I stand ready to register as Muslim in #solidarity,” said Albright who came to the United States from Czechoslovakia as a refugee.

Hallisso expressed dismay that the United States a country “built on immigration,” and “built by immigrants escaping religious persecution in Europe” has begun “portraying all immigrants and refugees as potential terrorists.”

“To see this coming from Americans now, some American leaders, is for me devastating because it is like someone ignoring all of the history of his own country,” he said.

“But also it is problematic for us in the Middle East for a number of reasons, because for God’s sake, how do you expect countries like Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey to continue to receive more than a million refugees if 10,000 Syrian refugees coming to the United States are a problem?”

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The US War on Muslim Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 16:23:00 +0000 Salil Shetty http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148723 Salil Shetty is Secretary General of Amnesty International]]> People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

By Salil Shetty
LONDON, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

The gloves are off. With today’s Executive Order on “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” President Donald J. Trump has declared war on Muslim refugees around the world.

With the stroke of a pen, the President has – among other actions – banned Syrian refugees from the USA and has also effectively prevented anyone (including refugees) from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the USA. These seven countries have two main things in common: they are predominantly Muslim, and they are the countries from where the majority of people seeking asylum from serious human rights violations like persecution or torture are trying to escape.

Were it not so disturbing and dangerous, this Executive Order would be pathetic in its absurdity.

It is ludicrous because there is no data to support the view that refugees – Muslim or otherwise – pose more risk of committing acts of terrorism than citizens. A refugee is not a person who commits acts of terrorism. It is someone fleeing people who commit acts of terrorism. Under international law, perpetrators of these crimes are automatically disqualified from refugee status. Additionally, the US Refugee Admissions Program puts refugees through the most rigorous and detailed security screenings of any category of persons – immigrant or visitor – to enter the USA.

The Executive Order is preposterous in its irrationality. But no one should be laughing about it.

This is a deeply frightening document. Faced with a global emergency in which 21 million people have been forced to flee their homes, one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries on earth responds by obliterating one of their only avenues for hope: “resettlement.” This is a process whereby vulnerable people (such as survivors of torture, or women and girls at risk) trapped in dire circumstances in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, and Pakistan, are allowed to move to a country such as the USA. In sum, this Executive Order abandons host countries and punishes the most vulnerable among an already vulnerable group.

Does the Executive Order explicitly ban Muslim refugees? No. But the anti-Muslim rationale is brazen. All the countries subject to these severe restrictions are predominantly Muslim. With this action, President Trump has sent a clear message that the USA needs to be protected from Muslim people, and that they are inherently dangerous.

Also, the text identifies one of the exceptions to the new restrictions as people with religious persecution claims, but only if they are part of a religious minority. A plain reading of this provision is that the Trump administration will resettle Christians fleeing predominantly Muslim countries. This provision cloaks religious discrimination in the language of religious persecution. It is even conceivable that this favoured treatment could accentuate a risk to Christian minorities in some countries where they face discrimination and violence on grounds of allegedly belonging to a foreign or American religion.

All in all, this Executive Order would function admirably as a recruitment tool for armed groups such as the Islamic State – groups keen to show that countries like the USA are inherently hostile to Muslim people.

Make no mistake: people will lose their lives because of this Executive Order. Countries hosting large numbers of refugees, feeling aggrieved and abandoned by the international community, will begin or increase their forcible expulsions of refugees. Vulnerable women, men and children who would otherwise be able to move to the USA, and who are trapped in unbearable situations, will “choose” to return home to a risk of torture or death.

It is important to remind ourselves who these people are. In 2016, 72% of the refugees resettled to the US were women and children. In my view, the term “refugee” doesn’t do justice to the people who have braved deadly seas, deserts, and human-caused dangers, in the hopes of restarting their lives in peace. I have had the privilege of meeting some of these people, and have always been humbled by their resilience in the face of almost unimaginable adversity. Any country, including the US, would benefit from welcoming them.

Your gloves may be off, Mr. President. But – in solidarity with the 21 million refugees in the world today, and the countless people and organizations who work alongside and for people seeking protection – so are ours.

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UN Meeting Says No to Anti-Muslim Hatredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 23:49:48 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148538 Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit:  UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

The rise in anti-muslim attitudes around the world prompted a special UN meeting Tuesday, just days before the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump whose controversial policies have drawn on anti-Muslim sentiments.

As if to illustrate just how easily noble intentions are misinterpreted, co-opted and misused, the event’s hashtag #No2Hatred was quickly taken over by nefarious social media actors and became an outlet for angry political diatribe.

“Anti-muslim hatred does not occur in a vacuum,” said David Saperstein, American Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom at the event. “The rise of xenophobia across the world creates challenges that focus our attention and the data leaves us no doubt that this is happening.”

Saperstein quoted studies showing a massive rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, France has seen a 223 percent increase in attacks on Muslims between 2014 and 2015, the British investigative group TELL MAMA reported a 326 percent increase in abuse and public attacks on Muslims in the UK over the same period. A 2016 study found 72 percent of  Hungarians admit to a negative view of Muslims.
"Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence," -- Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada.

“Underreporting is a very serious structural problem that obscures these numbers. The silencing effect is enormous and we must resolve to confront this,” Saperstein said.

“I sincerely regret just how necessary these deliberations have become,” said Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada. “Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence.”

Panels looked at civil society building how governments could best combat anti-Muslim discrimination, and positive narratives to promote inclusion. Several topics recurred for discussion; how best to engage with political actors and organisations of different beliefs, and how to counter misinformation online.

The American Jewish Committee’s Muslim-Jewish relations director, Mr Robert Silverman reinforced the idea of creating powerful messages by finding alliances and shared priorities with unlikely groups.

“Too often initiatives result in people speaking within bubbles to each other. In a country like the United States or in a place like Europe, we need to get out of our bubbles and reach out to the unlikely and unorthodox partners.”

“You should focus on the common ground,” he continued. “Don’t try to bring in an issue like climate change. Just focus narrowly on the common grounds.”

European Commission Coordinator on Combating anti-Muslim hatred David Friggieri outlined his meeting with the heads of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google where “open and frank discussion” lead to the enforcement of the European Union’s free speech laws in an effort to counter anti-Muslim sentiment. The ‘red line’ agreed to by the companies and the European law, he told IPS, was one of incitement.

“We have a law prohibiting incitement to violence or hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity or nationality,” said Friggieri. “We are monitoring the situation with them every few months. We have had our first monitoring and there are some improvements but we look forward to seeing more.”

“In terms of the really bad type of hate speech such as incitement to violence, we look at: how are they taking it down? How long before they take it down? What responses does the company give to individuals who notify and to trusted flaggers? Ultimately the aim is to take down (from the internet) the worst type of incitement to violence.”

In a similar effort to address the recent increase in hate speech and anti-Muslim rhetoric, Moiz Bokhari, advisor to the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation spoke of the Center for Dialogue, Peace and Understanding a newly established website that provides foundations to deconstruct dangerous narratives. The site is aimed at addressing the potential for crimes, radicalisation and to “counter all types of radical extremist discourse in order to delegitimise the violent and manipulative acts committed in the name of religion, ideology or claims of cultural superiority.”

 The High Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred was dominated by discussion of how to address anti-Muslim sentiment and increase the  message of tolerance and inclusion. The forum was convened by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations and the Permanent Missions of the United States and Canada.

UN Secretary General Antònio Guterres used his introductory address to reaffirm the recently-launched initiative Together – Respect, Safety and Dignity for All. An outcome from the Summit for Refugees, the strategy is designed to strengthen the bonds between refugees migrants and host countries and communities.

Speakers throughout the day highlighted bipartisan interfaith success stories: the Canadian town that raised money to rebuild a mosque that had been burned down following the Paris terror attacks, the Norwegian mosque that was protected from attack by Oslo’s Jewish community, the power of positive stories of Muslims in the news and popular culture, and the success of Sadiq Khan who overcame a campaign rife with xenophobic rhetoric to become the first Muslim Mayor of London.

“Politics is moving against us, but local politics not so much,” said Catherine Orsborn, director of interfaith anti-Islamophobia campaign group Shoulder to Shoulder.

Several panellists highlighted the importance of establishing relationships with local political and law enforcement agencies so that any future instances Islamophobia could be dealt with more effectively.

Friends of Europe’s Director Europe and Geopolitics Alfiaz Vaiya ended the discussion on civil society and coalition building with an optimistic note: “The political climate is very toxic, but it’s about politicians being able to sell and be confident in selling a strong narrative on inclusion and diversity. I think youth are the way forward, we see how they vote we see how they follow progressive trends and we should encourage more youth to get involved in conversations like this.”

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Rohingya Refugees Trapped in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:35:50 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148012 The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Amid growing persecution by Myanmar’s military, thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in its western state of Rakhine have fled their frontier villages and are languishing along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border for lack of shelter and emergency supplies.

In response to alleged coordinated attacks on three border posts on Oct. 9 that killed nine guards, Myanmar troops swarmed into areas along the country’s frontier with Bangladesh, forcing the Rohingyas to leave their homes."Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.” -- John McKissick of UNHCR

London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), a political group based in Rakhine state (Arakan), Myanmar, said on Nov. 28 that Myanmar security forces have killed over 500 people, raped hundreds of women, burned down over 2,500 houses, destroyed mosques and religious schools, and perpetrated other abuses in the latest round of violence.

The international community and rights groups, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have expressed grave concern over the brutalities in Myanmar. They termed the operation the most serious since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in Rakhine in 2012.

Up to 250,000 people are said to have been displaced so far and thousands more affected by the recent operation. Both Myanmar’s military and government deny the allegations by the rights groups and the displaced minority.

Amid the evolving situation, Bangladesh, a next-door neighbour of Myanmar, is unwilling to allow the entry of more Rohingyas, as it has already been hosting some 300,000 undocumented Rohingyas since 1977. The Bangladesh government says it is not its lone responsibility to give them refuge.

In an Nov. 20 interview with United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent news agency, director general of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Abul Hossain said Bangladesh would not allow anybody to enter its territory illegally.

Terming the Rohingya crisis an international issue, Maj. Gen. Hossain said Bangladesh has already been hosting a large number of Rohingya refugees and managing them has become a problem. “We’re trying to manage our border efficiently so that any illegal intrusion, including the entry of militants and terrorists, is prevented.”

The Myanmar government has denied them citizenship even though they have been living there for generations, as the Buddhist majority of Rakhine state considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

On Nov. 24, Amnesty International said the Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers have been forced into hiding across the Na’f River that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar, and they are now suffering for lack of food and medical care.

Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Rohingyas were also entering Bangladesh through remote hilly areas and it was difficult to stem the flow.

“We hope that the Myanmar government will come to a solution soon,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has appealed to the government of Bangladesh to keep its border with Myanmar open and allow safe passage to any civilians fleeing the violence.

According to the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, some 9,000 Rohingya people have already entered Bangladesh with the help of smugglers who know how to dodge the Bangladesh border guards (BGB). Bangladesh has reinforced both its border and coast guards since the escalation of operation by the Myanmar military and sent back many people. Some 3,000 Rohingyas are also said to have fled to China.

Prothom Alo, a leading Bengali national daily, reported that some 1,100 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh on Nov. 28 alone, with Myanmar’s military burning down their houses and firing shots indiscriminately.

Amid international pressure to accept the newly displaced Rohingya people, the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh summoned the Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka on Nov. 23 and conveyed its deep concern at the military operation forcing Rohingya Muslims to flee their frontier homes.

Later, in a statement, Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry said it had asked Myanmar to “ensure the integrity of its border and to stop the influx of people from Rakhine state. Despite our border guards’ sincere efforts to prevent the influx, thousands of distressed Myanmar citizens, including women, children and elderly people, continue to cross the border into Bangladesh.”

Though the Bangladesh government is unwilling to accept the Rohingyas, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of Bangladesh’s two major parties, has been urging the government to give shelter to the displaced Rohingya people on humanitarian grounds.

In a statement, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, who is also a former Prime Minister, said, “Many Rohingya refugees have long been staying in our country which is densely populated and witnessing a shrinking of livable land. We’re also facing various social problems for it. Despite that, I call upon the authorities concerned to give the Rohingya refugees shelter as much as possible on humanitarian ground to save their lives.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has denounced the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar and also asked Bangladesh not to push the fleeing Rohingyas back across the border.

“The Rohingyas are being squeezed by the callous actions of both the Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities. Fleeing collective punishment in Myanmar, they are being pushed back by the Bangladeshi authorities. Trapped between these cruel fates, their desperate need for food, water and medical care is not being addressed,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia director.

In Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, thousands of people took to the streets on Nov. 25 in protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. The protesters also burned an effigy of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a flag of Myanmar, carrying banners that read ‘Open the border to save the Rohingyas’.

A vigorous social media campaign is also underway to put pressure on Bangladesh’s authorities to allow the displaced Rohingyas to enter the country.

UNICEF has said thousands of malnourished children are suffering from lack of medical care and in danger of starving.

Amid the horrific situation, the UNHCR head in Bangladesh, John McKissick, on Nov. 24 told BBC Bangla that “Rohingya Muslims in Burma are being ethnically cleansed. Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.”

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Zaw Htay responded that McKissick “should maintain his professionalism and his ethics as a United Nations officer because his comments are just allegations.”

Last week, Human Rights Watch released satellite images showing that over 1,000 Rohingya homes have been destroyed in five villages of Rakhine state.

The New York-based group in a statement that satellite images taken on Nov. 10, 17 and 18 showed 820 destroyed buildings, bringing the total number it says it has documented to 1,250.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, the United States reiterated its call for a full, formal and transparent investigation into violence in Rakhine state and laid emphasis on international community’s participation for finding a solution there.

A human rights icon whose activism earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, Suu Kyi is now being criticised globally for her silence over the dire situation in her own country.

The first democratic election in 25 years was held in Myanmar in November last year, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) winning it with a thumping majority. Though she could not assume the presidency due to a constitutional bar, Suu Kyi is considered a de-facto leader as she serves as State Counsellor.

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Release of Chibok Girls Rekindles Pressure to Free Last 196http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/release-of-chibok-girls-rekindles-pressure-to-free-last-196/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=release-of-chibok-girls-rekindles-pressure-to-free-last-196 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/release-of-chibok-girls-rekindles-pressure-to-free-last-196/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 12:50:36 +0000 Ini Ekott http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147721 Hundreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York City in May 2014 to demand the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. International pressure helped lead to the release of 23, but most remain in captivity. Credit: Michael Fleshman/cc by 2.0

Hundreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York City in May 2014 to demand the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. International pressure helped lead to the release of 23, but most remain in captivity. Credit: Michael Fleshman/cc by 2.0

By Ini Ekott
ABUJA, Nov 11 2016 (IPS)

The Nigerian military announced the rescue of a missing Chibok schoolgirl Saturday, bringing to 23 the number freed since Boko Haram seized 219 girls from a secondary school in the country’s northeast in April 2014.

The latest rescue came about a month after the Islamist group released 21 girls in a deal with the government. Earlier in May, Amina Ali became the first amongst the missing girls to be rescued.Boko Haram has also abducted hundreds of men, women and children. But the abduction of the Chibok girls drew international attention, galvanized with the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

The releases riveted people around the world, and the government has flaunted them as political coups. But they have also rekindled demands from activists campaigning for greater government action for the release of nearly 200 girls still in captivity.

“It’s day 933 of abduction; 197 girls (are) still in captivity under your watch Mr. President @MBuhari. Time to bring them home,” Maureen Kabrik, a member of the BringBackOurGirls group, tweeted to President Muhammadu Buhari days after 21 of the girls were released early October.

The BringBackOurGirls group, set up to publicise the plight of the girls amidst international outrage in 2014, announced it would release on November 14 a report of a six-week monitoring of the government’s effort to rescue the girls.

The group accuses President Muhammadu Buhari of not doing enough to rescue the girls despite his electoral promise a year ago. Alongside other campaigners, the group has held protest marches in the capital Abuja for months.

Between August and September, it staged 78-hourly marches on the presidential villa and threatened to increase the pace to 48-hours in November. Now, it is promising to do even more to press for the girls’ release.

“Our obligation to demand (the) rescue of the rest 197 of our Chibok Girls is ever stronger,” said former Education Minister and World Bank executive Oby Ezekwesili, who co-founded the group.

Boko Haram, which has waged a seven-year insurgency aimed at carving out an Islamic caliphate in the northeast, seized more than 276 girls from their school in April 2014. The group opposes Western education and has killed over 20,000 people, among them teachers.

In September, U.S.-based 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative and the Stefanus Foundation said in a report that 611 teachers died as a result of the crisis since 2009. The report said 19,000 teachers had been displaced, 1,500 schools closed down, and 950,000 children denied the opportunity of accessing education.

Boko Haram has also abducted hundreds of men, women and children. But the abduction of the Chibok girls drew international attention, galvanized with the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

President Buhari campaigned on the promise of fighting corruption, defeating Boko Haram and rescuing the Chibok girls. But rights campaigners have long criticised the administration’s pace at getting the girls home.

In September, under pressure from activists, the government released details of its attempt to swap the girls with Boko Haram fighters. Information Minister Lai Mohammed said talks began barely two months after President Buhari took office in May 2015.

He said the swap deal failed to go through at the last hour even after Buhari assented to the “difficult decision” of freeing the militants. The president believed that “the overall release of these girls remains paramount and sacrosanct,” Mohammed said.

An attempt to restart the process in December 2015 also failed, in part due to a leadership crisis in Boko Haram’s ranks.

Cold comfort

After 21 girls were released in October in a deal brokered by the Red Cross and the Swiss government, the Nigerian government assured that some 83 more would be freed “soon”. Presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu said talks had reached an advanced stage.

But as weeks passed by with the girls still in captivity, the demands have intensified, and the initial euphoria has gradually given way to disenchantment.

“It is cold comfort that 197 of the girls are still in the den of their abductors more than 900 days after,” the country’s Guardian newspaper said in an editorial on Nov. 1. “No one can be fully relieved of the terrible bruises inflicted on the girls, their parents, this nation and its foreign friends, until all the girls return.”

The BringBackOurGirls group said while there has been some improvement, the government still must do more to rescue all the girls.

Daily, the group circulates on social media figures reminding the government how long the girls have been in captivity, and how long they have been held under the Buhari presidency.

“Day 939 of #ChibokGirls‘ abduction. 196 still in captivity. Day 529 under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch,” it posted on Twitter on Nov. 7.

The government says it is not relenting. “Whatever it takes to get the Boko Haram situation under control, we will do it because there are still more girls in captivity,” Information Minister Mohammed said last week.

The government has also undertaken full responsibility for the girls rescued so far. “Aside from rescuing them, we are assuming the responsibility for their personal, educational and professional goals and ambitions in life,” President Buhari said while receiving the 21 girls. “These dear daughters of ours have seen the worst that the world has to offer.”

Experts warn that the girls face stigmatisation following their ordeal at the hands of Boko Haram.

“Frequently, returning to their families and communities is the beginning of a new ordeal for the girls, as the sexual violence they have suffered often results in stigmatization,” said a statement by the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

But the presidency denied the girls had been abused or raped during their during two-and-a-half years’ captivity.

On Wednesday, Thompson Reuters Foundation quoted a confidential report prepared based on interviews with the girls as saying that while they were all encouraged to marry the militants, they were neither forced into doing so or converting to Islam.

Reuters Foundation reported that 61 had married Boko Haram militants, while those of them who did not agree to marry were used as servants.

Security analysts have also warned about the possibility of the girls being indoctrinated.

“We are concerned by reports that dozens of the girls may have been indoctrinated and do not wish to return to Chibok,” said Cheta Nwanze of SBM Intelligence, which provides analysis of the Nigerian socio-political and economic situation. “We are optimistic the second batch of the release would provide more intelligence about the condition of the remaining girls.”

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Peace Fails to Bring Prosperity in Eastern Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka/#comments Mon, 07 Nov 2016 11:07:34 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147667 Worshippers pray inside the Meera Mosque in Katankuddi, in front of the bullet-riddled wall dating back to an attack that killed over 100 people 25 years ago. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Worshippers pray inside the Meera Mosque in Katankuddi, in front of the bullet-riddled wall dating back to an attack that killed over 100 people 25 years ago. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KATANKUDDI, Nov 7 2016 (IPS)

It is a Tuesday afternoon and only a handful of devotees have flocked to the Meera Grand Mosque in Katankuddi, about 300 kms east of the capital Colombo.

As they prostrate in prayer, the wall in front of them is anything but pious. It is pock-marked with hundreds of holes bored into it when attackers opened fire using automatic weapons on Aug. 3, 1990. Suspected Tamil Tiger separatists attacked the Meera Mosque and another smaller prayer center Husainiya Mosque close by. By the time the attackers fled, 103 people were dead.“During the war, we had less people here. Now there are more people, more cattle and more elephants fighting for the same water and the same land.” -- villager Wickrama Rajapaksa

The mosque committee and villagers have kept the bullet-riddled wall as a reminder of the regions bloody past. For over 30 years, Katankuddi was in throes of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil strife. A Muslim enclave surrounded by Tamil villages, Katankuddi suffered terribly. Its population felt besieged and was waiting for the first opportunity to flee. As in most of Sri Lanka’s North and East, where the war left over 100,000 dead, millions were displaced and the region suffered billions of dollars in damages and losses.

But the nightmare ended seven years back, when government won its war with the Tamil Tigers. Since then, towns like Katankuddi have adjusted to peace — and with it, to a whole new set of problems.

For starters, not many people want to leave Katankuddi, but hundreds want to somehow find a home there. It was never a village with much open space to spare. Because of its ethnic composition, Katankuddi was always jam-packed. Now it is bursting at the seams.

In a land area of 3.89 sq km, there are 53,000 residents and a population density of 13,664 per sq km, over 20 times the national average of between 300 to 400. According to M.M. Shafi, the secretary of the Katankuddi Urban Council, in the last five years alone, at least 500 families have returned or relocated to Katankuddi.

“People now don’t want to leave,” he said.

Peace has brought with it a huge, stinking garbage problem. Shafi and other public officials have to find ways to dispose of a daily garbage collection as high as 30,000 metric tonnes. They do have a small compost plant, but it is no match for the daily collection.

During wartime, the Urban Council began dumping the garbage in the lagoon. Nowadays, that dump is a massive man-made island extending 75 metres into the lagoon. The landfill has also provided a playground to a nearby school and with its exceptional growth rate, it can easily provide for more.

“The Muslim nature of this town can not be changed, it something that is very important. But we do have a land problem — a big problem,” said Mohamed Zubair, vice president of the Katankuddi Mosque Federation.

It such a massive problem that land value here is equal to some outlying areas near the capital Colombo. “When the war was on, the demand for land was manageable. Now it is going through the roof,” public official Shafi said.

Children ride bicycles home from school in Welikanda, Sri Lanka, which has seen a large influx of settlers since the end of the war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Children ride bicycles home from school in Welikanda, Sri Lanka, which has seen a large influx of settlers since the end of the war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Even in poorer areas of the region, land and resources like water have become scarce. In Welikanda, about 70 kms west of Katankuddi, the villages are much more spread out and the green cover is more conspicuous — but so is the poverty.

Public official Harsha Bandara says that even the Welikanda division is facing a serious shortage of water and agricultural land. In the last six months, it has suffered a major dry spell. By end of October, over 35,000 people were reliant on transported water in the division.

“The problem is that since the war’s end, people are not leaving. They will plant crops throughout the year and look for new land as well. On top of that, the rain patterns have changed, so we have a situation here,” said Bandara, who is the divisional secretary for Welikanda.

For villagers like Wickrama Rajapaksa, the drought means double trouble. “Elephants, they keep coming into villages, because dry earth makes the electric fence faulty and they know that. They also know that there are no firearms in the villages since the end of the war, but that where there are humans, there is food and water.”

He said that thousands of cattle from other parts of the country have been relocated to Welikanda and adjoining areas since the end of the war by large dairy companies.

“During the war, we had less people here. Now there are more people, more cattle and more elephants fighting for the same water and the same land.”

The government is drafting a new constitution that it plans to finalise before the end of the year and put to a public vote in 2017. But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recently said that the draft will protect the special place accorded to Buddhism in the existing charter, leading to fears that the Tamil minority will continue to be second-class citizens.

“The political history of modern Sri Lanka is one of missed opportunities by the Tamils and broken promises by the Sinhalese,” Mano Ganesan, Minister of National Co-Existence and Official Languages, told the Indian Express this month.

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Boko Haram: Recruited by Friends and Familyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/boko-haram-recruited-by-friends-and-family/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boko-haram-recruited-by-friends-and-family http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/boko-haram-recruited-by-friends-and-family/#comments Wed, 12 Oct 2016 00:32:35 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147312 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/boko-haram-recruited-by-friends-and-family/feed/ 0 Murders, Crackdown Create Lingering Climate of Fear in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:03:15 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147144 Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
DHAKA, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

Like the living room of any proud family, the one in Ajoy Roy’s house boasts photos of the eldest son, Avijit.

A large framed portrait which has a powerful presence in the room hangs on the mint-coloured wall as Ajoy, a retired physics professor who at the age of 80 is frail but still very mentally alert, sits in a chair below it, sipping tea.

It is the image of a popular Bangladeshi writer and bio-engineer, tragically murdered for his beliefs along with scores of other atheist writers, bloggers, publishers, gay activists and religious figures by suspected Islamist militants in the predominantly Muslim country over the past few years.

“Avijit wasn’t an activist on the streets, but he used his pen to protest against social injustice, religious fanaticism and propagate the idea of secularism, the main theme of his writing,” Ajoy, wearing a traditional lungi around his waist, told IPS. “It’s a terrible loss. It cannot be compensated for.”

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

More than 50 writers, activists and others have been killed in Bangladesh since 2013, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Avijit, 42, a U.S. citizen who lived in America with his wife Rafida Ahmed, was hacked to death after the pair went to the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka for a book festival in February 2015.

There have been many more killings since then.

This July, 23 people, including 17 foreigners, were killed at a bakery in the diplomatic zone of Dhaka, in one of the worst terror attacks ever in Bangladesh.

Five of the involved suspects were killed in a police operation at the eatery, while one survivor was arrested and remanded, and another jailed, the Dhaka Tribune later reported.

The suspected ringleader of the attacks and his two affiliates died in a police raid in August, but the search is still on for a coordinator, the arms suppliers and funders of the attacks.

After the murders of two other activists, LGBT campaigners Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, in April, the government, under international pressure over the spate of killings, arrested about 14,000 people.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW, said despite no further attacks since the brutal bakery murders, there were “concerns” that the crackdown was leading to “an arbitrary rounding up of usual suspects”.

The drop in incidents meanwhile “suggest that the state could have acted effectively earlier” to prevent the killings, she said.

There was still a “climate of fear” in Bangladesh among writers and members of minority groups, said Ganguly.

“Some have been able to leave the country, but many more, still in Bangladesh, fear that the government will not do enough to protect them,” she said.

Maruf Rosul, 29, a secular writer, photographer, filmmaker and activist who pens for various outlets, including freethinking site Mukto-Mona, set up by Avijit and now being run by his successors, said Islamic extremists in the country had been silenced.

“But the government has not taken the proper action to uproot these evil forces,” Rosul, who said he was on an extremist group’s hit list, but as a “frontier activist” couldn’t go into hiding, told IPS. “I am worried about the future.”

His anxiety was growing ahead of the Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival for south Asia’s Hindu community, which will begin next week, on Oct. 7.

Rosul said “every year” during the festival there were attacks by Islamic extremist groups in Bangladesh, yet officials did nothing but issue “sympathetic statements”.

“As there is no strong law enforcement, we are worried about our Hindu friends,” he told IPS. A Hindu tailor, hacked to death in April, is among those who have been killed in the country.

The sixth edition of Dhaka Literary Festival (DLF) is also due to take place in mid-November. Director Ahsan Akbar told IPS that preparations were in “full-swing”.

“We have had only a couple of cancellations so far, citing security fears, but the encouraging news is our speakers are really looking forward to the event and we expect no more cancellations,” he said.

Given the recent wave of murders though, Akbar said “writers in the country today are unfortunately self-censoring and thinking twice about what they write and publish”.

“Bangladeshi writers outside of the country are deeply sympathetic and doing many things to raise the awareness amongst the international community, such as engaging with PEN International,” he said.

“It is astonishing how we sometimes forget the interconnectivity in of all this: an attack on a writer in Bangladesh is – in a way – an attack on a writer in the West or anywhere else for that matter.”

Olof Blomqvist of Amnesty International told IPS that “the investigations into the targeted killings are ongoing, and there have been arrests made in some of the cases. Genuine justice will of course take time, but it is worrying that the perpetrators have so far only been held to account in one case, the killing of Rajib Haider in 2013.

“The authorities must ensure that those responsible are held to account, but also do more to protect those people at risk,” he said, adding that, “We still get desperate pleas on a weekly basis from people who have received threats and are afraid for their lives if they stay in Bangladesh.”

“Police must create a climate where activists who have been threatened feel safe to approach police and not fear further harassment,” Blomqvist said.

Ganguly also said in order to prevent more attacks, the Bangladeshi authorities needed to deliver a message that they believe in “peaceful free expression”.

“They should not recommend to those at risk that they self-censor to avoid hurting religious sentiment and becoming targets for retribution,” she said.

In 2015, after the killing of writer Niladri Chatterjee Niloy, Bangladesh’s police chief warned bloggers that “hurting religious sentiments is a crime”.

Police killed one of the key suspects involved in Avijit’s murder in June, but two others escaped, they said, and are still at large.

Following his son’s death, Ajoy, who said Avijit had been targeted by extremists in the few weeks before his death, and that he had warned him not to return to Bangladesh, could be forgiven for going into hiding.

But he said he was continuing “my activism” against fundamentalist groups, and had been invited to speak at various institutions.

“I’m not scared,” said Ajoy. “I have lost my son, after that I have nothing to care about.”

Ajoy said he wanted Avijit to be remembered as a “courageous young man who would face any hard situation for democracy, for secularism, for free-thinking”.

It was his wish that “the younger generation follow in his footsteps”.

“I would not discourage these courageous young people to quit blogging, speaking your mind, because Bangladesh is constitutionally a secular, democratic country so we must uphold the constitution,” said Ajoy.

“We have to make the common people understand that this is not an anti-Muslim country, it is liberal,” he said. “Although a large number of Muslims are here, they’re also liberal.”

IPS made several attempts to contact the Bangladeshi police and government for comment, but they did not respond.

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Muslims in Europe: Can There Be Social Harmony ?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/muslims-in-europe-can-there-be-social-harmony/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=muslims-in-europe-can-there-be-social-harmony http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/muslims-in-europe-can-there-be-social-harmony/#comments Mon, 19 Sep 2016 18:46:15 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146993 The Geneva Centre held a panel discussion on the theme “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony” today, 19 September.

The Geneva Centre held a panel discussion on the theme “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony” today, 19 September.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

Although 20 million Muslims reside in Western Europe, establishing social harmony between the Muslim community and their European counterparts has proved exceedingly challenging.Much to the dismay of international humanitarian agencies and anti-racism activists,the language of exclusion and prejudice persists.

Since the turn of the century, Muslims, the world over, have been subjected to harsh discrimination and harassment. This was triggered by the 2001 terror attacks which rapidly spread anti-Islamic sentiments across the US.The fear surrounding Muslims and the “brute terror” they are widely thought to inflict, has now resulted in the widespread diffusion of religious racism across Europe.

According to Dr.Zidane Meriboute, author of the book “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony”, prior to the extremist-led terror attacks, there was a relative lack of concern for minority groups in Europe. Now, the growth in animosity directed at the Muslim community is increasing at a robust rate.

The modern phenomenon of Islamophobia can be related to leading literary critic, Edward Said’s, theory of “orientalism” wherein Arabs and other Muslims were traditionally labeled as the “other.” In other words, what Dr.Zidane describes as being “the scapegoat for Western society’s ills”. This also draws back to the 19th-century theorist, Arthur de Gobineau’s, description of an age-old “reciprocal repulsion” between Muslims and Europeans.Across Europe, Muslims continue to be the victims of ethnic profiling, violence, and discrimination.

Nowadays, we can see these “archaic” racist doctrines emerge and re-establish themselves in a modern context ,through sustained racism against Arabs and Muslims which may be characterized as Dr.Zidane explains, none other than “Contemporary European Phobic Discourse”.

In France, the 20th-century writings of political theorist Charles Maurras are still prevalent today. Maurras was instrumental in setting up the movement “Action Française”, whose primary objective was the restoration of the French nation through the presence of a strong monarchy powered by Catholicism.

Maurras xenophobic rhetoric targeted Jews and Mediterranean foreigners amongst a host of other minorities. His writings have acted as a major “intellectual” influence of contemporary Far-right movements including the French “National Front.”

The rise of Far-right movements in France is particularly perilous to the Muslim community, whose numbers now exceed 4 million. Muslims become the targets of these political movements, subjected to discrimination, assumed to be affiliated with extremist groups due to media manipulation and fear-mongering.

The anti-Islamic prejudice, accentuated by a series of terror attacks, was brought to light this August when the French State Council attempted to ban the wearing of the “burkini”. Although the ban has been suspended, Dr.Zidane believes that the mindset that created an environment conducive to such an extreme measure indicates a deep societal divide between Muslims and Westerners.

According to Dr.Zidane’s study on “Muslims in Europe”, in Italy, the Muslim population now surpasses 1.5 million. In spite of this vast number and a wider acceptance of secularism , both the Italian state and society remain committed to Catholicism and thus far, a move towards the recognition of Islam has not been made. In addition, there is a range of far-right political parties which are deeply opposed to Islam.

In both France and Italy, racism is commonplace. Discriminatory acts against Muslims are encouraged by the phobic discourse of Far-right parties. In France, for example, 756 anti-Muslim aggressions were enumerated in 2014. There has also been an increase in anti-Muslim violence perpetrated by police in both countries.

Even in Germany, which Dr.Zidane describes as a “model of tolerance”, there are now stirrings of extreme right-wing movements which run counter to the mainstream. The UK, home to some 3 million Muslims, remains the European country where Muslims are best protected by the law and the activities of the police. In spite of this, there has been a rise in Islamophobia triggered by right-wing movements such as the British National Party.

Across Europe, Muslims continue to be the victims of ethnic profiling, violence, and discrimination. Today, 19 of September, The Geneva Centre for Human Rights and Global Dialogue Advancement and Global Dialogue hosted the conference “Muslims in Europe: the road to social harmony” which aims to establish the illegality of racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance against Muslims. The Geneva Centre advocates for a prohibition on the incitement of religious hatred and violence and the recognition that Islamophobia should specifically be the object of sanctions under international law.

In the opening of today’s “Muslims in Europe” conference , Chairman of the Geneva Centre, Dr. Hanif Al Qassim, remarked that the meeting was called as an expression of solidarity with all victims of blind terrorism which targets Muslims and Westerners alike.

Dr. Al Qassim emphasised that all world religions encourage peace and harmony, but distorting their message in order to use them as instruments of conflict is a sham. Muslim communities are today being caught between a hammer of the imminent danger of terrorist groups and the anvil of growing Islamophobia and the emergence of xenophobic populism in some European countries.

He concluded by stating that the meeting should act as an opportunity to discuss the path towards social harmony in Europe for Muslims, whilst keeping with the Geneva Centre’s key objective of fostering interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

According to the former head of a United Nations agency, Algerian diplomat and Secretary General of the Geneva Centre, Idriss Jazairy, “social harmony begins at school.”Jazairy emphasised that teaching our children about the benefits of social harmony lies at the heart of the European Enlightenment.

The French philosopher Voltaire once said that while you may not necessarily agree with what someone has to say, you must “fight to the death” for them to have the right to say it. Jazairy encourages us to apply Voltaire’s philosophy in the context of rising Islamophobia.

In this way, future generations will practice the belief that, in spite of religious or ethnic differences, everyone has the right to live in a globalised world free from the setbacks of racism and prejudice.

Source: Dr.Zidane Meriboute, “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony”. The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue & Z.Meriboute, 2015.

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Islam Right Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/islam-right-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islam-right-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/islam-right-now/#comments Tue, 06 Sep 2016 13:26:35 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146798 The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Sep 6 2016 (IPS)

Watching Christianity nearly a century–fundamentalist Christians fighting ritualistic Christians fighting secularism, generally moving fundamentalism–>ritualism–>secularism–maybe the same for Islam? Their similarities make “Islam right now” a repetition of Christianity; their differences shout, Watch Out! Let us see where this leads us.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

Violence-prone fundamentalist evangelical Christians are still on top of the USA and some Nordic countries; but much less in ritualistic Catholic-Orthodox Christianity, meaning by far most of Europe.

Beauty of worship, the psychology of confession, less verbalism; all help.

Secularism makes faith so metaphorical for many that Christianity becomes only a ritual for Christmas-Easter, baptism-marriage-funeral (if there are no secular alternatives). Result: empty churches.

Our secular age makes literal faith in dogmas difficult, and that tears at the faith. But this is where two major differences enter:
• Islam is much less dogmatic, there is much less to tear at, only the readily acceptable shahada, faith in one Alla’h and his prophet Muhammad;
• If that faith turns metaphorical, Islam has the other four pillars of Islam to fall back upon: prayer together, sharing, fasting, pilgrimage, every day, a whole month every year, once a life.

The point of gravity in Islam moves more easily from faith to practice; and may stop there. There is much built-in outer practice that will survive a decrease in inner faith. Result: full mosques.

Moreover, the four pillars are compatible with key secular values:
• prayer together: with more we-, less I-culture less loneliness;
• sharing: with more altruism, less egoism;
• fasting: with more solidarity for those in misery and self-control;
• pilgrimage, with the sharing of something sacred, above our selves.

A “good Muslim” does all that; what does a “good Christian” do? Going to mass and to the confession booth are church, not social, answers. The clear social answer is monastic orders, monks and nuns dressing, living apart from others, doing Samaritan work. Others are invited to do the same, but where-when-how? Easier leaving it to the state.

The West should stop talking about jihad and jihadism as “holy war”, even if also abused by some Muslims, and try to understand[i]. Jihad means “to strive, exert oneself in the path of God”[ii].

There are four aspects: inner, greater jihad fighting the evil in oneself; spreading Islam by the word; by good deeds, like honest business; and defensive jihad if Islam is trampled upon with moderate retribution. No aggression: “Fight in the way of God against those who fight you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggression.” (Qur’an 2:190).

Jihad accommodates honest business a religious duty. Like chosen people, promised land (Genesis 15:18) in Judaism makes fighting for Israel from Nile to Euphrates a religious duty. Like warfare to protect the West is a Christian duty, for God, King and Fatherland.

God is divine, King semi-divine as rex gratia dei, Fatherland not. The gap between Christianity and secular Fatherland has been bridged by preventive war as sacrament[iii]; reactive war against attack not needed. In EU, however, there is a mix of Fatherlands with no King and no God. Hence Br-exit for her to continue to Rule the Waves, for God or not.

Imagine Muslims abusing a Western sacred word, democracy, calling Western wars “democratism”.

They would be right because people who profess democracy also often go to war. And they would be wrong by missing the whole idea. Like “jihadism”, “democratism” would locate the cause of war on the other side, and not in the relation between them; making the relation even worse instead of appreciating the profundity.

Christians give to Caesar that of Caesar and to God that of God, opening for secularism. Islam does not, but moves from fundamentalist true faith to ritualistic true practice are compatible with secularisms.

Such as democracy, in Muslim Egypt and Turkey; Islam embracing “all equal under the law” as a special case of “all equal under Alla’h”. USA did not like it but preferred a military coup. To Washington, national evangelist, “true” democracy means “pro-USA” democracy.

How about IS, is it more I for Islamic faith, or more S for State with institutions for the other four pillars? It could be both, making transitions from true believers to true ritualistic practitioners easy. The problematic word is not “Islamic” but “State”. Pitted against USA and EU IS may take on their attributes; after Brexit more USA than EU.

The historical record is terrifying and long-lasting, including:
• Islam expanding East-West to the Iberian peninsula 711-1492, north but beaten at Tours (732), Lepanto (1571), Vienna (1683); stopped in the Balkans;
• The Catholic Christian Crusades 1095-1291 against Muslims but also against Orthodox Christians and Jews;
• Three centuries across the Mediterranean to Barcelona-Genoa-Napoli to catch Christian slaves for heavy road work[iv];
• West colonizing Islam (except Iran) 1830-1960, starting with Algeria;
• The massive US-led coalitions attacking in Afghanistan from 2001 and in Iraq from 2003 with 9/11 as a pretext, killing, displacing millions;
• IS now killing a small fraction, as retribution with moderation[v].

Six violences, three by each. The first four lasted centuries, a bad omen for the last two. But have a second look. In the first two the two religions played major roles; in the last two the state system, United States vs Islamic State[vi].

State wars are shorter; decades, not centuries. However, the wisdom of challenging US as an Islamic state rather than as an invincible ummah with provinces can be disputed[vii].

We have given reasons that Islam will survive secularization better than Christianity, having much to fall back upon; how about IS vs US?

We might argue that both will lose because the state system itself is yielding to regionalism and localism. Islam is ready, with ummah regionalism and imam localism.

Christianity, however, is split between Latin and Anglo America, US and EU, Catholic-Protestant and Orthodox Europe–much more than Sunni vs Shia and Arab vs non-Arab. And local churches are more for spiritual, not also for mundane affairs[viii].

On top of that: the world, even USA, is tired of endless warfare. Let Islam settle. The West and Christianity have serious work to do.

NOTES:

[i]. Gary Wills, the famous columnist, took the trouble to understand: “My Koran problem”, NYRB, 24 March 2016. His Koran problem was that he knew nothing: “–we Christians begin with the greatest deficit of knowledge /whereas/those who know the Koran have quite a lot of knowledge about Torah and Gospel, since Allah sent them both to earth before he sent the Koran.–we Westerners cannot even remember it unless we learn something about the Koran. It’s about time”. Indeed.

[ii].Professor Mohammad Hashim Kamali, chairman of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia, in a lecture and in articles like “Concept of ‘jihad’ misunderstood”, New Straits Times 14 July 2014.

[iii]. Look at who comes to the funerals of Norwegian soldiers with mandate to kill in Afghanistan: the King, top bishops.

[iv]. Robert Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters. White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, Palgrave Macmillan.

[v]. Sarah Birke, “How ISIS Rules”, NYRB, 5 Feb 2015: armed resistance being difficult, the alternative from the inside was silent resistance, or migration. Or what we have now, open US/IS warfare.

[vi]. But religious discourse did not wither away, here are two:
* George Bush 10 Feb 2003, on a possible attack on Iraq: “Liberty is God’s gift to every human being in the world”. (Washington Post, 10 Feb 2003);
* Osama bin Laden 11 Feb 2003: “victory comes only from God, all we have to do is to prepare and motivate for jihad”. Audio message conveyed by jorgenj@peace.uit.no.

[vii]. For a deep analysis of the present situation, see Abbas Aroua, “The Salafiscape in the Wake of the Arab Spring”, www.cordoue.ch.

[viii]. In a play, Maria og Magdalena; Lidelseshistorien og kristen=dommen (the Passion Story and Christianity) Oslo: Kolofon 2016, this author tries to liberate Crist, driven by conscience and compassion, from the Church as Mary’s son, not God’s begotten by the Holy Spirit–as inspiration for us all.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 September 2016: TMS: Islam Right Now

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Myanmar Turns to Kofi Annan for Help on Festering Rohingya Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2016 16:06:01 +0000 Sara Perria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146697 A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
YANGON/LONDON, Aug 27 2016 (IPS)

Myanmar’s government has responded to pressure from the international community to tackle religious tensions and persecution of Muslims in Rakhine State by appointing former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan to head a commission to advise on “a sustainable solution” to the crisis.

The northwest region bordering Bangladesh has been under close scrutiny from western governments and some U.N. agencies since clashes erupted in 2012 between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority."It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved..., but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism." -- Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project

The violence, in which extremist monks are accused by human rights observers of playing a role, resulted in over 200 deaths, mostly Muslims. Since then, more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined in IDP camps or ghettos. Access to medical treatment, education and jobs are so heavily compromised that thousands from the community have undertaken the risky journey to nearby southeast Asian countries, at the hands of human traffickers.

A 2015 boat people crisis laid bare the existence of mass graves near the border between Thailand and Malaysia, triggering a worldwide call for action to end the Rohingya persecution.

“The Myanmar government wants to find a sustainable solution to the complicated issues in Rakhine State, that’s why it has formed an advisory commission,” the office of Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of government, said in a statement announcing Annan’s appointment on Aug. 24.

The Nobel peace laureate, who scored a landslide election victory in November 2015 and took office nearly five months ago, has until recently attracted criticism from outside Myanmar for her reluctance to address openly the issue. Fellow Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, were notably critical last year.

Even as leader of the opposition to the previous military-backed government, Suu Kyi was accused of not speaking out for the 1.1 million Rohingya minority despite her status of human rights icon following 15 years under house arrest.

Her supporters point to the sensitivity of the issue and the risk of triggering further conflicts to justify what others call a dismissive attitude at best. Suu Kyi did however repeatedly call for a quick and transparent solution to the Muslim minority’s lack of status, which has dragged on since 1982 when the military junta under Ne Win stripped many of their citizenship.

The National League for Democracy leader explicitly avoids using the word Rohingya, a controversial term of some historic dispute which triggers fierce responses from nationalist politicians of the Arakan majority who form the largest bloc in the Rakhine State parliament.

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

In May, the Myanmar government advised foreign embassies, including the US, not to use the term. However at a later meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Suu Kyi also said that she would avoid using the term Bengali, adopted by the previous government and rejected by the Rohingya, as it identifies them as illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, rather than long-term residents.

A statement by the Kofi Annan Foundation in Geneva also chose not to use the term Rohingya.

“I am pleased to support the national efforts to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Rakhine,” Annan said. “I look forward to listening to the leaders and people of Rakhine and to working with the State and central authorities to ensure a more secure and prosperous future for all.”

The statement says the overall objective of the commission, assisted by the Kofi Annan Foundation, is “to provide recommendations on the complex challenges facing Rakhine.”

The commission is to “initiate a dialogue with political and community leaders in Rakhine with the aim of proposing measures to improve the well-being of all the people of the State.”

These will contemplate “humanitarian and developmental issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine”.

The final report and recommendation will be submitted next year directly to the Myanmar government.

The commission is to meet for the first time next month. It also includes former U.N. adviser Ghassan Salamé, Dutch diplomat Laetitia van den Assum, and representatives of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and human rights and religious groups.

A top official in Suu Kyi’s party was reported by local media as saying that “Mr Annan is influential in international politics, and we need his support to steer a real peace in this country.”

“We need his advice, whether he’s a foreigner or not,” he added.

However, the choice has already hit raw nerves.

According to Eleven Myanmar, a local newspaper, the move has sparked anger from the Arakan National Party.

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

“We cannot accept these developments only after internal issues have been made an international issue,” said ANP chairman Aye Maung. “If tax revenue could be derived from the natural resources in our state within the framework of rights and privileges of our own people, we want to try to develop our region in cooperation with the global community. I don’t accept that the State can develop only after flattering the international community.”

Reaction on social media to Annan’s statement highlighted a harsh debate over which community in Rakhine should be helped, reflecting in some cases the view of extremist Buddhist movements such as 969, which is driven by Ashin Wirathu, a prominent Mandalay-based monk, and the nationalist Ma Ba Tha – the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion.

These groups have in the past years exacerbated tensions, calling for the defence of the country against foreign influence and organising rallies in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Wirathu, who has a large following on Facebook, has repeatedly stressed how Islam is penetrating the country, threatening the existence of the Rakhine majority.

Such nationalist messages have resonated across Myanmar, with some 90 per cent of the population estimated to be Buddhist. Muslims, who come from various ethnic backgrounds and are not all Rohingya, are estimated to make up about one third of Rakhine’s 3 million people. The state is one of the poorest in Myanmar.

One of the first challenges for the newly established commission will be how to balance the urgent need to find a solution to the desperate situation in which the Rohingya have been forced and an improvement in living conditions for the general Rakhine population.

This balancing of human rights and development issues have been at the heart of a debate raging within the United Nations which has yet to be resolved.

According to a non-profit CDA Collaborative Learning Projects report on conflict sensitivity by Gabrielle Aron, a concentration of humanitarian help since the 1990s within the Muslim areas of Rakhine State has led to the perception of an imbalance in aid disadvantaging ethnic Rakhines. As a result, international intervention has evolved into a trigger for ethnic tensions.

For Suu Kyi’s government, which is in effect sharing power with the military, the thorniest issue will be how to grant some form of citizenship to the Rohingya community that will allow them greater integration with Myanmar as a whole without antagonizing Buddhist nationalists. Meanwhile military leaders casting themselves as protectors of Myanmar’s Buddhist identity are sticking with the term Bengali and have taken a tough line on citizenship.

While the establishment of the commission is seen by many as a positive step, Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project and a respected expert on the conflict in Rakhine, says it leaves many questions open, starting with its unclear mandate.

“Other reports have already come out with ‘recommendations’. But what is needed now is action, and the implementation of what has already been recommended so far in terms of freedom of movement and access to healthcare, for example,” she tells IPS. Lewa is also sceptical about the timeframe, arguing that one year is far too long to come out with suggestions on how to solve the situation.

“I am a bit worried that the commission will not be meaningful. It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved to raise the profile of the mandate, but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism,” Lewa says.

Meanwhile the situation in Rakhine and in the camps has not changed much since the NLD has taken over from the military-backed government. Conditions inside the camps are miserable, with temporary bamboo houses now falling apart and too old to offer acceptable living conditions.

Most importantly, the key issue of freedom of movement to allow access to healthcare has not been tackled. “The central government has to take action to end this situation. They need to find a way and force the Rakhine to accept the Rohingya,” she says.

The Arakan Project director, however, also highlights a number of small positive steps undertaken by Suu Kyi, such as the rejection of the term ‘Bengali’.

Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, points to the lack of Rohingya representation within the newly-established commission as its main limitation: “We welcome the commission, but it is quite disappointing that the Rohingya are not included in it,” he tells IPS.

“We want to know how they will consult with the Rohingya community… We are also worried about how the government will act following the recommendations [next year]. People cannot wait for food,” he says.

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The Counter Narrative to Terror and Violence is Already Among Ushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 05:13:43 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146552 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us/feed/ 0