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A Venomous Attack

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By Seema Mustafa

A Venomous attack on the Muslims by the BJP via the Congress this time. Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and seconded by able Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman whose abilities clearly lie outside her ministry. One spoke of the Congress being a party for Muslim men, and the other directed her venom at a meeting Congress President Rahul Gandhi had with Muslim ‘intellectuals’. Sitharaman suffering from a major Jawaharlal Nehru University hangover, being a product of it, spoke of this innocuous meeting as what she liked to describe as a ‘tukde tukde’ policy. Clearly the term carries some import for the woman heading the Defence Ministry.

 

 

Of course there is nothing of the tukde tukde in the BJP policy where the two senior leaders of the government keep a stoic silence when it comes to the lynchings that continue—cow, braids, child abduction— as mobs are deliberately directed towards innocents the roads, who then are beaten and killed with bestial ferocity. Even as Sitharaman was hissing out her anger against the Muslims per se, an innocent man with two others was set upon by a crazed mob in Karnataka, he was killed and the other two seriously injured. As these lynchings have demonstrated over and over again the police force is either complicit, or outnumbered in each case where the mob has its way, and terror spreads across the countryside.

 

But this of course, is not tukde tukde. Perhaps Sitharaman, so evocative with her words, might like to break her silence and find some terms to describe this mob frenzy, and these lynchings with more and more impunity given the felicitation by her esteemed colleagues of those released on bail for similar crimes in say Jharkhand (Jayant Sinha) and still in jail in Bihar (Giriraj Singh) .

 

I, predictably my colleagues tell me, was not on the list of Muslim intellectuals invited by Salman Khursheed for a tete a tete with Rahul Gandhi. He put me out of a quandary really (call it sour grapes if you want) as I would not have known whether to accept or decline the invitation. Simply because of my longstanding opposition to the Congress party’s insistence on labelling what needs not to be labelled?

 

Let me start with another invite I did receive. As a Muslim of course, What else? Now in this current discourse no other identity of mine matters. I am labelled a Muslim and with it a traitor, a Pakistani, a terrorist, take your pick. As I am no longer a journalist, a woman, a professional, an India—I am plain and simple a Muslim. The BJP has taken this to inhuman levels, lynching and killing to segregate the Muslims and project them as the ‘enemy’, the ‘other’ threatening the ‘us’. The Congress has not gone that far but created the ground for this kind of vicious exploitation. And by all accounts has not learnt, that there is a word ‘secular’ in the Preamble of the Constitution that cannot be strengthened by such politics, but can only acquire meaning when the equality and rights of all are defended vigorously, and justice dispensed without partisanship.

 

So the invite was for an iftar party by Rahul Gandhi. And of course the Minorities Cell of the AICC conferred the honour on me. I had to politely decline. This was easy. As I never go for iftar or for that matter any religious parties. This does not make me better or worse than others, it is just a decision I took a long long time ago. Just like as a journalist working with good editors over the years I was taught that media space cannot be given to religious rituals and assertions for a host of reasons that can make for another article.

 

Several Muslim liberals did go, and yes insofar as the Congress was concerned it was a good intervention at a time when iftars are being frowned upon, and Muslims treated as dirt. A political statement that needed to be made in these trying times by a political party. Besides the effort by the AICC to reach out to a larger section of Muslims again indicated a break from the mullah-maulvi past, and gave comfort to many who did attend that at least “someone cares.” It is unfortunate that an iftar party becomes the “I care” message in a vitiated environment where the minorities are scared and isolated.

 

But then the meeting with Muslim intellectuals that has got Sitharaman’s goat. The Congress could have used this to shift from past practise, to stop singling out the minorities for such discussions, and realise there can be no minority strategy. There can only be an Indian secular democratic strategy to counter hard core communalism. And as such if intellectuals are seen as an important component then those of all communities—including Muslims–should have been invited for the brainstorming or whatever it was. And thereby made it clear to the minorities that they do not speak for themselves, but are indeed part of the pluralistic mix that is India.

 

The Congress party is uncomfortable with Muslims. It has a heavy preponderance of Muslim leaders who too are uncomfortable with Muslims. And their advice, taken by the Congress top brass, swings from ‘hands off Muslims’ (invisibilization) to ‘go with Muslims’ policy, both that isolate the minorities and do little good. In Gujarat after 2002 a terrified Congress actually advised then party president Sonia Gandhi against even visiting the widow of slain Congress leader Afsar Jafri’s wife, lest it irritate the majority community. This policy was exercised by the Congress when it came to power in 2004, and particularly the second term, reflected in the ‘crackdown’ on Muslims (most acquitted by courts) in the wake of terror incidents; and through Kashmir and Pakistan with ‘no talks’ being the bottom line.

 

After 2014 the Congress moved into invisibilizing the Muslims, with elections being fought without even recognising this segment of the voters in speeches, in the campaign and even in terms of ticket distribution. It was as if the Muslim voter did not exist, and the community also accepted this cloak of invisibility telling visiting reporters during crucial elections in UP and Bihar for instance, “we are voting where we are, the others are more important.” Meaning “we know if we speak out the vote will be communalised so let us be.” Pragmatic but the question arose then and remains now: Why? Why is there such an environment that the minorities feel silence is their best option, and that even the so called secular parties are right in ignoring their existence but remaining assured of their vote?

 

Under Rahul Gandhi this policy has been discarded. Or there is clearly a re-think. But unfortunately the same Muslim leaders with little vision are in charge, and instead of parading Mullahs they are now bringing in Muslim intellectuals for discussions. Why? Solutions and understandings from a composite table of those concerned about the destruction of the idea of India will always be more dynamic, with the ability to withstand the rigours of time, than those emanating from identity tables. After all secularism in this country is being protected even now by the composite whole, and not by the minorities who neither have the capacity nor the ability to face the onslaught of the Hindutva brigade.

 

Secularism has been attacked by the right wing working overtime to destroy the concept. But it remains the red rag, protected so far by the Constitution of India, and adhered to by those who believe in a vibrant, pluralist, diverse and united India. This needs to be revived by the Congress and the Opposition with the minorities then automatically coming under the larger whole. Secularism means the protection of minorities, the implementation of rights and freedoms enshrined under the Constitution, for if this is done without partisanship the minorities like all Indians will flourish too. After all then India will not sit and watch a lynching or a wrongful arrest or threats and abuse silently, and raise a voice against it regardless of who is being targeted. In the process the minorities, the Dalits, women, the Adivasis, the poor of India will find their voice as they remain on the receiving end, with every passing day making their plight worse.

 

So Rahul Gandhi while one appreciates the shift away from the silent mode of the Congress, effort of any and every political party today wedded to the Idea of India that the Constitution should be to imbue Secularism with new meaning, and a radical strategy that cuts through the barbed wires that are currently enclosing it from swathes of Indian citizens.

(thecitizen.in)

 

 


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Opinion

A prayer for our times

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Rajeev Bhargava

As all of us ordinary citizens recovered from the carnage in Pulwama, and wondered how the government would respond to this latest instance of cross-border terrorism, one television channel showed us poignant images of grieving relatives of the fallen soldiers. While a few, driven by moral hatred for the perpetrators, were understandably crying for revenge, others, even at this moment of utmost suffering, spoke of the futility of retaliation. “It would only bring similar suffering to fellow humans,” said one widow from the rural hinterland. Hers was a cry for peace, not for vengeful violence. “War can only be the last resort, after everything else has failed,” she wisely counselled.

Yes, war is sometimes necessary, especially in self-defence. But one doesn’t have to be an unconditional pacifist to acknowledge the misfortunes it begets or to decry war mongering. Nor is readiness to go to war the only indicator of patriotism. True, patriots must be prepared to die in defence of their ‘patria’, their mother or fatherland. But one is not any less a patriot if one strives for everyone in his country living peacefully, happily, flourishing, leading life to its fullness. Fighting the daily challenges faced by their countrymen, seeking to improve their lot, always loving them and their habitat, and expressing this love in word or deed as the occasion demands is the everyday vocation of a patriot.

 

 A country at war is different. War is disruptive, and because it is lethal and involves human sacrifice, a patriot must eschew any bravado about it. This is particularly expected from contemporary leaders, patriots who never themselves go to war; quite unlike the past where the ruler who declared war was expected to always lead from the front on the battlefield. After all, it is our Army officers and jawans who die, not the ones who call for and support war. Our rulers move about with elaborate security to protect their own lives. If they don’t allow others to play with their lives, they must ensure that no one plays with the life of their countrymen, most of all our soldiers. Decisions on war must then be taken responsibly, without haste, not for spectacular effect or as tactical ploys in a game.

The inner workings of the human mind are mysterious, however. For it is not these thoughts that crossed my mind when I saw those moving images on television. This reasoning is retrospective; thoughts that have occurred to me now, post-facto. At that time, a strange melange of emotions — feelings of grief, despair, shame, nostalgia — curdled up and then suddenly, from nowhere, the lyrics of an immortal song by Sahir Ludhianvi, set to tune by Jaidev and sung melodiously by Lata Mangeshkar in the 1961 Dev Anand classic Hum Dono, came unbidden to mind: “Maangon ka sindoor na chhutey, maa behenon ki aas naa tootey (may no one be widowed; may no mother or sister lose hope of their loved one returning).”

In the film, these lines are part of a prayer for peace led by the wife and mother of a Major of the Indian Army missing in action — a prayer not only that their own loved one returns home safe but that no wife, mother or sister may lose loved ones in war. Death in war is an interruption, an anomaly. It takes away from us young, active, lively persons who have not yet lived their full life. When a soldier dies in the prime of life, he leaves many tasks unfinished, many relationships incomplete, millions of desires unfulfilled. And according to popular belief, when a person at the height of his powers meets a bloody, violent, untimely end, his prana or atman remains in limbo, trapped in no man’s land; it leaves the body without reaching wherever it is meant to go and keeps hovering around us. May this never happen to anyone, says the poet. “Deh bina bhatke na praan (may the spirit not abruptly detach from the body and wander restlessly).”

But this mellifluous song is more than a comforting prayer for peace. It subtly points fingers at those who injudiciously push us into war, at the economically strong and politically powerful who bring war upon us for their own benefit, to serve their own nefarious purpose. “O saare jag ke rakhawaale, nirbal ko bal dene waale, balwaanon ko de de gyaan (jnana) (you, who watch over the entire universe, you who empower the weak, may you also grant wisdom to the mighty).”

Jnana here refers not simply to knowledge, but to wisdom, moral insight, indeed to conscience. May the rulers rule with a conscience! May they be able to distinguish right conduct from wrong. Really, only such people should guide us when we are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to undertake morally retributive action.

And this is not all. The prayer then becomes a plea that we all be endowed with sanmati — to put our intelligence to good use, to have sound judgments, that all have a conscience. Why? Because unsound judgments, faulty moral reasoning and suspension of good sense are not the lot of leaders alone but also of those who support them and legitimise their actions. It is after all we, ordinary folks, who are swayed by war hysteria. Those without good sense get the leaders they deserve. May the gift of sanmati be bestowed on us. For only people with sanmati can rein in leaders who have lost all sense of good and bad, right and wrong.

But who is this prayer addressed to? “Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam (You, whose name is both Allah and Ishwar). In this, his masterstroke, Sahir invokes not only Gandhi, but an entire, centuries-old religio-philosophical legacy of the subcontinent in which all traditions are believed to share the same semantic universe that enables the god of one religion to be translated into the god of another. This is inclusive monotheism at its best, where god is one but referred to in different traditions by different names. And so, the prayer is addressed to Allah, Ishwar, and implicitly to the god of every religion.

With men spewing venom, not satisfied with fighting a war with their own fellow countrymen, itching to go to war with others, nothing (empathy, reason, dialogue) seems to work. Helpless spectators, no longer in control of their collective life, in sight of a looming disaster on the horizon, often break into a prayer. What else can those stripped of agency do but hope that somehow good sense may prevail, that all of us be delivered from the collective insanity that shows no sign of loosening its grip? Thus, those who believe in one god, invoke him; those who believe in gods and goddesses, invoke them; and those who believe in neither, hope for some good fortune to fall in their lap! This is why this is a prayer for our times: we offer this prayer to you, Allah to some, Ishwar to others, that you miraculously bring an end to needless killings, wisdom and conscience to the rich and powerful, and peace and good sense to everyone.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

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Opinion

The ‘Clash of Civilisations’ Thesis Stalks the World

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Ram Puniyani

The horrific massacre in Christchurch on March 15 has shaken the world. The killer, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, is an Australian citizen. Nearly 50 people died in the attack in which Tarrant attacked two mosques. Those killed include nine from India.

Tarrant had fixed a camera on his head so as to live stream the massacre. The Christchurch terrorist was consumed by intense racism and hatred of Muslims. He posted a long statement online, a “manifesto” of “white nationalism” before undertaking the dastardly act.

 

New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern, who at 38 years of age is among the youngest heads of government in the world, was the first to term the shootings an act of terrorism. Arden declared that the victims, many of whom may be migrants or refugees, “are us”, and the shooter “is not”. The overriding theme of the Prime Minister’s statements was that her country represents “diversity, compassion and refuge”.

The Pope in a touching speech said, “In these days, in addition to the pain of wars and conflicts that do not cease to afflict humanity, there have been the victims of the horrible attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand… I am close to our Muslim brothers and all that community… ”

As in India, the phobia of Islam and Muslims is founded on the narrow version of history. This phobia against Muslims around the world gained momentum after the 9/11 Twin Towers attack in New York.

This phobia has by now constructed its own History, selective and distorted, that centres around Muslim invaders and their alleged crimes in the medieval past. This History generates endless accusations. It singles out and exaggerates, holding a large and diverse group of people collectively responsible for these acts.

It is tragic that Tarrant’s hateful note is being supported by those who believe in this notion of politics and history. Again, taking revenge for the past is one of the dimensions of the agenda governing these ideologues: “To take revenge on the invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history.”

Again, the radicalisation of the likes of Tarrant is due to the rabid propaganda current in the Western media – and many places besides – where Muslims are constantly presented in a negative light. Many newspapers and media groups – owned by a few – like the Daily Mail in the UK and Fox News in the USA have taken the lead in spreading negative perceptions against Muslims.

Such propaganda, along with many anti-immigrant and xenophobic websites, is spreading hatred against Muslims which in turn is the foundation of the attacks on Muslims. Muslims are also being demonised in terms familiar from anti-Semitism, portraying them as less than trustworthy, lesser citizens and inferior humans or not humans at all.

Many such biases and myths are prevalent in India also. In the Western mode of propaganda Muslims are now being portrayed as people whose wearing of the hijab is sufficient proof that they are against the norms of the West – against the US Constitution, for example. Similarities with prevalent perceptions in India!

One recalls the Norwegian Christian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik at this point of time. In a carefully planned attack in 2011, Brevik killed 69 youth with a machine gun and other assault weapons. He also had issued a manifesto, in which he said his primary goal was to remove Muslims from Europe.

Breivik also called for cooperation between Jewish groups in Israel, Buddhists in China, and Hindu nationalist groups in India to contain Islam. He wrote, “It is essential that the European and Indian resistance movements learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical.”

We must note, that there are strong parallels between Tarrant’s and Breivik’s manifestos and the ideology of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, on the question of the nature of Islam: Muslims and coexistence with Muslims. Much like rightwing parties in the European mainstream, the BJP in India does condemn the violence for name’s sake, but participates in spreading the underlying ideology which is based on Islam-phobia.

Worldwide, this despicable politics is in a way the outcome of the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis propounded by Samuel Huntington. At the end of the Cold War, with the collapse of Soviet Russia, Francis Fukuyama stated that now Western liberal democracy would be the final form of political system.

Building on this, Huntington stated that now the primary conflict would be around civilisations and cultures. Nation-states would remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics would occur between nations and groups belonging to different ‘civilisations’.

“The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” As per this manifesto Western civilisation is faced with a challenge from backward Islamic civilisation, providing the basis for the American policy of attack on many Muslim-majority countries like Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Iran among others.

To counter this thesis the United Nations undertook the initiative for an ‘Alliance of Civilisations’ when Kofi Annan was Secretary-General. The high-level committee he appointed gave a report which argues that all the progress in the world has been due to the alliances between different cultures and civilisations.

Today we are facing times where American politics of ‘control over oil wells’ led to the formations like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. After the 9/11 attacks perpetrated by men whom the US government formerly supported and armed, the US media popularised the phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’. What we are witnessing today is the fallout of this policy, which was pursued simply to control oil wealth.

The Islam-Muslim phobia this generated, in the West and elsewhere, has led in due course to White Nationalism. Like other forms of majoritarianism and violence, this needs to be countered ideologically, by demonstrating the inherent tendency of alliance between diverse cultures found throughout human history in the world.

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Opinion

The Sikh Empire’s Expedition to Balakot

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Ananth Karthikeyan

A few weeks ago, the Indian Air Force’s Balakot air strike using French-built Mirage-2000s bought India and Pakistan to the brink of war, and perhaps changed the regional dynamics forever. Balakot has a history which has been a subject of much interest in the past few days: it was the site of the end of Syed Ahmad Barelvi’s jihad at the hands of the Sikh Empire. Today we look at this history and another curious fact – this was not the first time that French weaponry has been wielded against Islamist fanatics in this region.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh (r. 1801-1839) was aware of the superiority of Europeans in technology and modern methods of war. He sought to close this gap by importing talent and building an indigenous capability. Ranjit Singh welcomed experienced scientists, engineers, mercenaries and officers from European nations to ensure that his kingdom could withstand any threat. Besides, the Afghan kingdom, the Pathan tribes and jihadis were threatening his western borders. French know-how became a major element in the defence of his realm. After Napoleon lost in Waterloo (June 1815) thousands of French and allied European soldiers were dismissed: the governments of Europe, including the new government of France, distrusted those who served under Napoleon. A few settled into civilian life, but most could not: fighting was all they knew, and they did not wish to waste the skills they honed fighting in three continents. Many offered their services to Asian kings who wished to modernize their backward militaries.

 

At this juncture, Ranjit Singh accepted talented Napoleonic officers such as Jean-Francois Allard, Jean-Baptiste Ventura, Paolo Avitabile, and Claude Auguste Court into his service. Besides such officers, there were chemists, doctors, engineers and soldiers of American, German, Italian, Polish and Irish extraction also. Many foreigners were given plum roles in the Empire. Claude Auguste Court was a product of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris and apparently knew the science of artillery. Paolo Avitabile also had considerable experience as an artillery officer. Court and Avitabile, along with the Sikh leader Lehna Singh Majithia (who possessed great skill in engineering), overhauled the Sikh artillery. They established the training program for the gunners. Court re-organized the artillery command structure and established arsenals and magazines on European lines. The existing weapon foundries and workshops (established by Ranjit Singh and Mian Qadir Baksh in 1807) were rebuilt with French know-how to manufacture a variety of high-quality guns and artillery. Ranjit Singh soon possessed a formidable artillery of about 500 pieces, including mobile horse-drawn artillery. Court was bestowed large cash awards and titles when he introduced his new shells, fuses and commenced full-scale production.

The meteoric rise of the Sikhs and the decline of the Muslim kingdoms of India had agitated many Islamic fundamentalists. The most influential of them was the popular preacher Syed Ahmed Barelvi, who hailed from present-day Rae Bareilly. In 1825, thousands of his followers from the Gangetic Plains took up his call for jihad against infidel powers and followed him to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Barelvi’s Jihad was supported by many Afghan chiefs, who were usually suspicious of all outsiders. Barelvi was able to field nearly 100,000 Mujahideen and launched a five-year guerilla war against the Sikh Empire.

However, Barelvi’s orthodox interpretation of scriptures and stern disregard of Afghan tribal traditions soon led to many Afghans leaving his cause. Barelvi suffered a crushing defeat in a battle with the Sikhs near Nowshera in March 1827. Later some Afghan tribes turned on Barelvi and massacred hundreds of his followers in Peshawar in November 1830. Barelvi and his loyalists now decided to move out and try their luck in Kashmir. However, a Sikh army led by Sher Singh surrounded the Mujahideen at a mountain fort in Balakot and annihilated them in May 1831.

Ranjit Singh’s French guns and artillery were widely used in such battles in the turbulent North West frontier. Artillery and firearms which performed reliably enabled the Sikhs to prevail against great odds. Perhaps even more critical was the discipline instilled in the new infantry battalions by the European officers. Officers such as Ventura and Court also led campaigns into the North West frontier. However, after Ranjit Singh died, neither their weapons nor their courage could save the Sikhs from civil war and treachery. During this chaos, the surviving Europeans returned to their homelands. Soon the British defeated the Sikhs and the Afghans also took back some of their lands.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region is still turbulent, and weapons from many nations are still used here in the name of pacification, anti-terror and innumerable internal conflicts. History is repeating in strange ways and there are irony and dark humour in the shadow of the mushroom cloud. India’s French Mirages are the latest entrants in this theatre — let us hope it is not a destabilising element.

(dnaindia.com)

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