Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fighting Agents of Intolerance

Sadly, the news of intolerance, abuse and hate crimes, continue to pour out of various parts of South Asia and the Muslim world. Unfortunately, the threats are issued and crimes committed in the name of religion or tradition or ethnicity. What gets reported is probably only the tip of the iceberg, but here's a sampling of what has caught my attention recently:

Top Saudi Judge on Satellite TV operators:

According to media reports, Saudi Arabia’s top judiciary official has issued a religious decree saying it is permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV networks that broadcast "immoral" content.

The 79-year-old Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan said Thursday that satellite channels cause the “deviance of thousands of people.” ...

Al-Lihedan was answering listeners’ questions during the daily “Light in the Path” radio program in which he and others make rulings on what is permissible under Islamic law. One caller asked about Islam’s view of the owners of satellite TV channels that show “bad programs” during Ramadan.

“I want to advise the owners of these channels, who broadcast calls for such indecency and impudence ... and I warn them of the consequences,” he said.

“What does the owner of these networks think, when he provides seduction, obscenity and vulgarity?” he said.

“Those calling for corrupt beliefs, certainly it’s permissible to kill them,” he said. “Those calling for sedition, those who are able to prevent it but don’t, it is permissible to kill them.”

Pakistani TV Host Calls for Ahmadis' Murder:

According to Asia Human Rights Commission, the host of the religious talk show 'Alim Online', Dr. Amir Liaquat Hussain--also former federal minister for religious affairs--declared the murder of Ahmadis, members of a minority sect excommunicated by fundamentalist Islam, to be obligatory (Wajib ul Qatal) according to Islamic teachings, because its followers don't believe in the last prophet, Mohammad. Dr. Hussain repeated his instruction several times, urging Muslim listeners to "kill without fear".

While on air the host also pressed two other Islamic "scholars" (from two different sects) on the program to support the statement. This resulted in a unanimous agreement among the "scholars", on air during the popular television show, to urge lynching of Ahamdis. This was not the first time Mr. Hussain has done this. On September 9, Mr. Hussain answered a query with the comment that blasphemers are liable to be put to death.

According to media reports, at 1:15pm on September 8, 18 hours after the broadcast, six people entered the Fazle Umer Clinic, a two-story hospital at Mirpur Khas city and two of them went to the second floor and asked 45 year-old Dr. Abdul Manan Siddiqui to come downstairs to attend to a patient in crisis. Dr. Manan left his office and descended into an ambush. He was shot 11 times and died on the spot. His private guard was also shot and is in a serious condition. A woman was also injured by firing. The killers remained at the hospital until the doctor was declared dead, then they walked out of the building's front entrance. Police registered the killers as unknown.

On September 9, 48 hours after the broadcast, Mr. Yousuf, a 75 year-old rice trader and district chief of the Ahmadi sect was killed on his way to prayer in Nawab Shah, Sindh province. Yousuf was fired on from people on motor bikes, and sustained three bullet wounds. He died on the way to the hospital. The assailants had taken a route past a police station. No one was arrested.

Thackeray Threatens Bollywood's Bachchan Family:

A star-studded premiere for Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan's new film, The Last Lear, has been scrapped in Mumbai, India, because of security concerns for guests, after the Shiv Sena chief made threats against the Bachchan family. Mr. Bal Thackeray has vowed not to allow any film starring any member of the Bachchan family from being released in the state of Maharashtra of which Mumbai is the capital, according to media reports. Mr. Thackeray has rejected repeated apologies from Mr. and Mrs. Bachan over their reported remarks denigrating Marathi language.

So who is Bal Thackeray and why is he so feared? According to a Wikipedia entry, Bal Keshav Thackeray (born January 23, 1926), popularly known as Balasaheb Thackeray, is the founder and chief of the Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist, Marathi ethnocentric and populist party active mainly in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. He is also referred to as Hindu Hridaysamrat (lit. "Ruler of Hindu hearts") and Sher (Tiger) by members of the Shiv Sena.

Thackeray is very vocal in his opposition to people who migrate to Mumbai, to non-Hindus (especially Muslims), and to Bengali Muslims he believes are Bangladeshis. In the late 1970s, as part of his "Maharashtra is for Maharashtrians" campaign, Thackeray threatened migrants from South India with harm unless they left Mumbai.

Women Buried Alive in Baluchistan:

Baba Kot, a village 50 miles from Usta Mohammad town of Jafferabad district in Baluchistan, is where this recent tale of tribal terror began.
The media reports and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) indicate that it was here that Mr. Abdul Sattar Umrani, a brother of Mr. Sadiq Umrani, a Baluchi tribal leader and a serving PPP provincial minister, came with more than six men and abducted five women at gun point. They were transported in a government vehicle to another remote area, Nau Abadi, near Baba Kot. Upon reaching Nau Abadi, Abdul Sattar Umrani and his men took the three younger women out of the jeep and beat them before opening fire with their guns. The girls were seriously injured but were still alive after the shooting. Sattar Umrani and his men pushed them into a wide ditch and covered them up with dirt and stones. When the two older women protested and tried to stop the burial, the attackers also pushed them into the ditch and buried them alive. After completing the burial, they fired several shots into to the air so that no one would come close and left the scene.

According to media reports, the five female victims were Fatima, wife of Umeed Ali Umrani, Jannat Bibi, wife of Qaiser Khan, Fauzia, daughter of Ata Mohammad Umrani, and two other girls, aged between 16 to 18 years, whose names have not been published. At the moment they were abducted, the women were preparing to leave for a civil court at Usta Mohammad, district Jafarabad, so that three of the girls could marry the men of their choice. Their decision to go to to court for a civil marriage was contrary to the wishes of the elders of the tribe.

The live female burials took place a month ago but the police have neither registered a crime report nor taken any action. There have been no arrests yet. Minister and tribal chief Sadiq Umrani confirmed the incident took place but insisted that only three women had been killed by unknown people.

India's Guantanamos and AbuGhraibs:

An essay on by Yoginder Sikand describes the deteriorating human rights situation of Indian Muslims. America's 'global war on terror' has provided a convenient cover to the Hindutva lobby and to fiercely anti-Muslim elements within the Indian state machinery to launch a concerted campaign of terror against Muslims. Large numbers of Muslims in various parts of India continue to languish in jails on trumped-up terror charges, suffering brutal torture as well as routine insults to their religion by police officials. Meanwhile, Hindu terrorists, often in league with the police and the state machinery, are allowed to run riot, unleashing violence and bloodshed on a frightening scale, while the state, the police and the courts take no firm action against them. Bomb blasts that are now occurring with frightening frequency, whose perpetrators remain unknown, are automatically blamed on Muslims, while some of these might possibly be engineered by Hindutva outfits or by elements within the state apparatus, or even by foreign intelligence agencies like the CIA or the Israeli Mossad who have a vested interest in demonizing Muslims and thereby driving India closer into the deadly American-Israeli embrace. That, in brief, was what numerous social activists as well as dozens of Muslim victims of police and state terror testified to at a public hearing on brutalities against Muslims in the name of countering 'terrorism' recently organized in Hyderabad by a group of noted human rights' activists. Going by their depositions and the verdict of the jury of eminent social activists, journalists and retired judges, it appears that powerful elements within the state apparatus are deeply implicated, along with Hindu terrorist groups, in a witch-hunt of India's Muslim citizens.

Aafia Siddiqui 11-year old son in detention:

According to media reports and Human Rights Watch, Ahmed Siddiqui, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui's 11-year-old son, is being held under inhumane conditions by the Afghan authorities. While considerable doubts remain about the US and Afghan accounts of Dr. Siddiqui's arrest in Ghazni, most human rights activists see no justification for holding her son in custody.

Call For Action:

How can we, as individuals, fight this scourge of rising intolerance, abuse and hate crimes? In addition to supporting organizations that fight for human rights such as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Commission, etc, each of us should raise our voice against it through whatever platform is available to us. We can blog about it, write to newspaper editors, join the call-in shows and sign petitions to officials. Whatever it takes, it is important that we speak up for the basic rights of our fellow human beings everywhere in the world.


Riaz Haq said...

BJP's subsidiary Bajrang Dal is committing atrocities against Christians in Karnataka, according to BBC. Here's an excerpt from recent report:

The police in Karnataka say that churches were attacked by mobs in the districts of Udupi and Chikmagalur on Sunday.

Over 60 people have been detained after outraged Christian groups protested and called for a shutdown in the coastal city of Mangalore, which is the worst affected by the violence.

Last month more than 2,000 schools run by Christian organisations in Karnataka shut down for a dayin protest against the anti-Christian violence in Orissa.

Karnataka is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has close ties with the Bajrang Dal.

"The BJP is responsible for the attacks. It is creating social disharmony," the main opposition Congress party leader Mallikarjun Kharge said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts from a piece by Beena Sarwar on the role of Pakistani media in the aftermath of Gov Taseer's assassination:

... To top it all, how was the opportunity created to transform Qadri into a celebrity? Who informed people about his court appearances, resulting in crowds gathering, chanting slogans and showering him with rose petals? Television cameras broadcast all this, further glorifying the murderer. These slogans, and the banners and posters supporting Qadri that have cropped up around the country, have not only turned this man’s cowardice – in shooting at an unarmed victim – into some kind of heroism, it has resulted in further intimidation of anyone who supports amendments to the controversial, man-made ‘blasphemy laws’.

Such was the manufactured hype and the propaganda around Qadri’s supposed act of valour that a group of lawyers (mostly supporters of the PML-N and PML-Q) hailed him as a hero and vowed to fight his case pro bono. And these are the people who are supposed to uphold rule of law.

Then there was the preposterous video clip of the murderer in police custody, singing a ‘naat’ (religious song), apparently filmed by policeman on his cell-phone and released to the media and the internet.

The glorification of Qadri’s criminal act of murder could not be possible without the vilification of Salmaan Taseer’s supposed ‘blasphemy’ – for which there is not an iota of evidence anywhere. The build-up to the murder owes much to the Pakistani TV talk shows and channels that perpetuated this false propaganda against the Governor. This propaganda is what led to the widespread belief that the Governor was somehow, preposterously, guilty of his own murder – in much the same way that attention is diverted to what a rape victim was wearing or doing.

The media editors and bosses belatedly realised the effect that the constant exposure of Qadri was having. According to a senior inside source at a major TV channel, they have since got together and agreed informally to cut down on such coverage that was serving only to glorify the murderer.

The 24/7 news channels amplified the outrageous propaganda of the ‘religious right’ that preceded the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer apparently because he took up the case of Aasiya Noreen, the poor Christian woman sentenced to death by a sessions court for ‘blasphemy’. Taseer tried to obtain a presidential pardon for her even before her case came up for hearing before the Lahore High Court, which must confirm the death sentence or acquit an accused. Taseer did not say anything that human rights organisations like the HRCP have not been saying for years but he was flamboyant about it, while being a political thorn in the side of the Punjab government.

There was propaganda also against Sherry Rehman, the PPP parliamentarian who has submitted a bill to amend the ‘blasphemy laws’ in order to prevent their abuse and misuse. The propaganda against her included the outright lie that she was acting alone and had not taken other parliamentarians into confidence. The truth is that she had lobbied extensively behind the scenes and even got the opposition PML-N to agree not to oppose the bill once it was tabled.

The agreement of the TV channels to avoid publicising Qadri’s words and deeds, although belated, is a welcome step. The next step is to take criminal action against all those indulging in hate speech and incitements to murder. Some citizens have begun to register such complaints with the police. Will the government stand by them?

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Times of India report on the deprivation of Muslims and Dalits in Gujarat:

NEW DELHI: Muslims in Gujarat have a long way to go. A new study shows there's deep-rooted poverty and income inequality among the state's lower castes and Muslims. The latter, in particular, fare poorly on parameters of poverty, hunger, education and vulnerability on security issues — nowhere benefiting from the feelgood growth story of CM Narendra Modi's state.

In the study titled "Relative Development of Gujarat and Socio-Religious Differentials", economist Abusaleh Shariff used the NSSO, NCAER's human development data and the Sachar Committee report, among others, to tabulate the status of Gujarat's Muslims. "Estimation of poverty by social group is rare, but the NCAER survey data, and NSSO, allow for such estimates," says Shariff, also chief economist at National Council of Applied Economic research (NCAER).

Disturbingly, and surprisingly, says Shariff, Gujarat's levels of hunger are high alongside Orissa and Bihar, with only Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh having higher hunger levels. Urban poverty among the state's Muslims is eight times more than high-caste Hindus, 50% more than OBCs.

Muslims are educationally deprived: despite 75% enrolment of Muslim children in primary school, a mere 26% reach matriculation. This is against 79% enrolment of 'others except SCs/ STs', 41% of who make it to matriculate levels.

Shariff points out that while FDIs and investments are channeled into the organized sector, self-employment — where most Muslims make their living — is "not a growing sector". Says Shariff, "Income growth in self-employment has only marginally increased compared to other sectors in Gujarat."

The study says that Gujarat's is hunting ground "for NRI and corporate politics", and that "the FDI hype" is designed to facilitate tax subsidies, cheap licensing and under-priced land.

Concluding that Muslims in Gujarat face high levels of discrimination and deprivation, Shariff adds, "Even on roll-out of NREGA, Gujarat is at the bottom of the pile."

The study is a first in series of studies of various states on similar lines, says Manzoor Alam of the Institute of Objective Studies that organised its presentation. The purpose is to cut through rhetoric and evidence the state of Muslims across states. "We get lost in the talk on 'appeasement'. It's important to see the actual status of Muslims. So, Muslims know where they stand, and it will help governments formulate policy," says Alam.

State of Gujarat Muslims
* 60% live in urban areas; their poverty is eight times more than high-caste Hindus, 50% more than OBCs
* 12% have bank accounts. But their share of total loan amounts is low at 2.6
* Gujarat among worst performers in NREGA-implementation. Only Rs 540 million distributed at a wage rate of Rs 50. Only 4.9 rural households participated.

(Source: Relative Development of Gujarat and Socio-Religious Differentials by Abusaleh Shariff)

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excepts from Sherbano Taseer (Salman Taseer's daughter) interview with Pakistani Islamic scholar Javaid Ahmed Ghamidi as published in Newsweek Pakistan:

Are Islam and democracy compatible?

Yes, of course. Islam favors democratic societies. In the West, they have created democracies, which may have their shortcomings, but where people listen to one another, tolerate each other's opinions, and engage in dialogue. The majority opinion is made into law, and these laws can be criticized, debated freely, and amended based on people's beliefs.

There is furor in Pakistan over the blasphemy laws. What does the Quran say about punishing those who are proven to have committed blasphemy?

There is no punishment prescribed for blasphemy in the Quran or in the sayings of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). Some clerics cite the case of Ibn Akhtar, but they misinterpret that incident and make it about blasphemy. Man can make laws, and these should not be misused to unfairly target or victimize anyone. Islam specifically says that taking the life of an individual is tantamount to taking the life of all humanity. It is a crime. It is wrong. Allah says true Muslims are those in whose hands others are safe.
Do you feel Pakistan can contain the extremist threat?

Let's start by not losing hope. We can contain it if we unite. There needs to be a new movement, by educated people, who can put pressure on the government so that, for one, education returns to being the responsibility of the state. Otherwise, this cancer of extremism will continue to spread. Pakistan has over 12,000 madrassahs with more than 2 million students. The countless clerics at these schools have immense sway, they have formed communities around themselves and they have weapons. And when power comes into the hands of such people—when we give them that power—you get what we have happening right now. There is nothing in the Quran or the Prophet's (peace be upon him) sayings to justify what the extremists are doing. We need to enter the playing field and correct this, and turn their arguments on their head. I have challenged them on every occasion for the past five years or so, and told them what they are saying is incorrect. They can only stay silent in return. Even in the matter of blasphemy they could not refute me, but I feel I am alone in this.
So how do we change things?

People need to understand Islam themselves, there is no other way. We need to understand the religion and launch a movement to reform society. In the West, there was a reformation movement which needs to be replicated in the East. There is strength in our arguments. You can reason with these people if you reason strongly and with facts. Islam was initially spread by a handful of people. This is how you will get success and nobody will be able to refute it. The media has a lot of power and must use this power positively, spreading the message from house to house. But the reality is that we are not ready to take up this cause. The secularists and the elite are not ready to take this up, they are not ready to talk and engage especially about beliefs.

What role do you see religious scholars playing to improve our society?

They, like doctors and engineers, are experts in their field. Their role is not to pick up guns, but to argue with facts and to present their arguments logically and calmly. Their role is not to threaten or to preach in a hostile or forceful manner in the streets, but to inform and show people the right Islam. The unfortunate reality here is that those who claim to be adherents of Allah's word are actually quite unfamiliar with the faith.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an article by Mehreen Farooq and Waleed Ziad in Foreign Policy Mag detailing campaign against radicalization in Pakistan:

In a pristine, remote valley in Kashmir, far from the theaters of war, some families are abandoning their religious and cultural traditions in favor of extremist ideologies. The trend began after the 2005 earthquake, when several Islamist organizations - notably Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD) - came to the forefront, providing food, shelter and health supplies to devastated communities. A village elder lamented, "Many of us were impressed by their sophisticated ambulance services, and families willingly joined in their relief efforts." Most of these families had no idea that JuD was in fact a front for the banned militant organization, Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pakistanis, particularly in such remote areas, require tools to recognize extremist ideologies and terrorist organizations so that they can create counter-movements within their own communities. We travelled throughout Northern Punjab and the Hazara region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to learn how certain grassroots organizations have designed effective awareness campaigns within a religious paradigm that are palatable even to the at-risk population.

We began with the leaders of Pakistan's moderate religious networks. Since 9/11, dozens of religious scholars have issued public statements and fatwas against terrorism. Dr. Raghib Naeemi -- son of Dr. Sarfraz Naeemi who was killed in 2009 after he publically denounced terrorist activities as un-Islamic -- appears regularly on TV to promote peace and social cohesion.
150 miles south, in a village near Bhera, a father learned that his son was being brainwashed by a fundamentalist community member to believe that he would enter paradise if he became a suicide bomber. The father, supported by the Dar ul-Uloom community, rescued the children by publically exposing the radical mullah. He challenged the mullah: "After sending my child to paradise, why don't you send your own son to join him so that mine won't be lonely?"

Even some segments of the population that had been involved in militancy are now condemning extremism. Irfan, a former "toll collector" for a militant outfit along the Pakistan-Afghanistan Durand Line explained, "After the Taliban bombed the shrine of the Rahman Baba, the great Pashtun poet-saint, I realized that militants are destroying our country." Now as a taxi driver, Irfan makes it a point to lambast the Taliban in conversations with all of his passengers.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a DNA report describing Gujarat Muslims as "outcastes":

The 2002 communal riots not only drove Muslims into new ghettos all over the state, they also reduced them to the status of second-class citizens who do not seem to exist for the government. This is the finding of a city-based NGO, Janvikas, which conducted a survey on the status of the minority community in the state after the riots.

The survey has revealed that Muslims are the new outcastes who, more often than not, are denied basic facilities which are available to people of other communities. Not only that. It appears that this neglect of the community is officially sanctioned for the riot victims find no mention in government records as people who need help.

The neglect of the minority community is evident even in efforts to resettle them as little has been done to provide them access to government schemes, health facilities and loans.

About 16,000 Muslims displaced by the riots are still living in relief colonies that are denied even the most basic amenities.

The riots displaced more than 2 lakh people across the state.

These people remained displaced for almost two years after 2002. However, NGOs and Muslim relief organisations settled a total of 16087 people in 83 different relief colonies.“These are the people who cannot or dare not return to their original place of residence and have been living in shelters for the last 10 years,” said Vijay Parmar, CEO of Janvikas.

The 83 relief colonies that were built after the riots are almost all located in Muslim majority areas. Fifteen of them are situated in Ahmedabad and the support they receive from the state government is negligible.

"The government did next to nothing for creating awareness about social security schemes meant for Internally Displaced People (IDP)," said Khatunben, a resident of Citizen Nagar, a relief colony in Ahmedabad.

The houses in which the displaced people have been living since 2002 have not been formally transferred to their names.

There has also been a sharp decline in the earnings of almost every displaced individual. The survey has revealed that the average annual income of displaced Muslims in Ahmedabad has come down by 31% as compared to their income before the riots.