By Farooque Chowdhury
Children in conflict zones are one of the most affected “parties” in today’s world. They, especially children from the poor-households pay the most.
A recently released report – Stop the War on Children (2019) – by the Save the Children, UK highlights many facts related to the children in conflict zones. It’s a commendable effort in defense of children.
The report presents many facts related to the problem – conflict. It’s an eye-opener for all – parents and guardians, teachers and activists, politicians and policy makers, and people living peacefully in areas far-away from armed conflict.
The facts tell: Much of the time – a brutal reality; greedy and powerful actors’ brutal moves on the chessboard of geopolitics.
The report has tried its best to stand on a sound methodology and rely on data sources considered reliable. It has estimated many figures. It’s an effective learning material.
The report tells: “Powerful international actors have influence over the war [in Yemen].”
“In this particular case”, the report says, “it is likely that the weapon used was not built in the country whose air force dropped it, nor in the country where it landed, but in a third country that profited from its sale. The commission of this potential grave violation was facilitated by international actors.”
It – Yemen – is not the only case. In all conflict zones, areas defined by the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO), within 50km of where one or more conflict events took place in a given year, within the borders of a country, the picture is broadly the same. The condition of the children in all the conflict-affected areas is the same.
The report reveals a startling fact: “The number of children living in conflict-affected areas has increased drastically since the end of the Cold War, significantly outpacing population growth, even though the number of countries experiencing armed conflict has remained stable.” [“The number … outpacing population growth”! Mr. Malthus, the plagiarist by […] profession, as Marx has identified the economist, has to think over the development.]
In support of the claim, the report says: “Today’s figure of 420 million is more than twice as high as at the end of the Cold War.”
Therefore, the question comes: Who are these “powerful international actors” having “influence over the war”, and over other wars? Who produce the weapons, and who trade with weapons? Who profit from trading with weapons?
And, to bring in devils of death in the lives of the children, the so-called Cold War is not needed. The Cold War-story is part of history, and a material to learn about imperialist strategies and tactics.
But powerful international actors are there; and they are enough to call in the merchants of deaths and destruction in regions.
These powerful actors are not a few handfuls of persons engaged with weapons production and trading. These powerful persons are not a few handfuls in the world of finance capital fueling the weapons business.
Along with these persons in the spheres of weapons and finance capital, there are parties in the politics- and geopolitics-spheres, and in the MSM – the “great” mainstream media. They are connected. They have their system; they have built up the system; and the name of the system is imperialism, the name the Save the Children report avoids to utter. And, the system is driven by a single hunger: endless stream of profit with ever-increasing rate.
The payment is made by the people in lands under the shadow of the system, not only in conflict zones. Children are especially vulnerable in this situation.
The conflict zones have not cropped up suddenly, spontaneously and accidentally. These were built up in an organized way. These were selected through painstaking research – potentials, economic and political. Proxies were organized and nourished. It took years to complete the process, from area and proxy selection, foe identification, proxy organizing and training to start the conflagration. The MSM extends its services to this “noble” effort, which it identifies, in cases, as “struggle for democracy”.
A number of these conflicts are identified by research circles as “Resource Wars”. It’s easy to identify in such an easy way, as there are simple one-dimensional data without connections, like this: “OPEC cashed $650 billion for 11.7 billion barrels of the oil it sold in 2006, compared with $110 billion in 1998, when it sold a similar quantity of oil at much lower prices.” (David G Victor, “What resource wars?”, The National Interest, November 12, 2007) Twelve years later, the same type of data, partial and isolated, will be cited and a single part will be mentioned. But the system – imperialism – will not be identified by the MSM and a major part of academia. A group of NGOs also will not identify imperialism.
A few of the conflicts are identified as “War for Oil” or “War for Diamond” or “War for cobalt/coltan/ tin/tantalum/tungsten/water”, and of similar nomenclature. But there are relations embedded in mode of production/loot of resources and war. “The close relation between war and natural resources is of long standing.” (William K. Tabb, “Resource wars”, Monthly Review, January 1, 2007)
A few of these are now-a-days dissected as “because of climate crisis”. But the main reason – capitalist/imperialist system – is not identified by the mainstream discourse.
The toll the system takes is ionospheric: More than five million people around the world were killed in conflicts during the 1990s. (Michael Renner, “The Anatomy of Resource Wars”, Worldwatch Institute, 2002) “The 20th century”, writes Eric Hobsbawm, “was the most murderous in recorded history. The total number of deaths caused by or associated with its wars has been estimated at 187m, the equivalent of more than 10% of the world’s population in 1913.” (The Guardian, “War and peace”, February 23, 2002) “More familiar is the erosion of the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. The two world wars of the first half of the century involved the entire populations of belligerent countries; both combatants and non-combatants suffered. In the course of the century, however, the burden of war shifted increasingly from armed forces to civilians, who were not only its victims, but increasingly the object of military or military-political operations.” (ibid.)
And, “[d]uring 1990–2001 there were 57 major armed conflicts in 45 locations.” (UNDP, Human Development Report 2003, “Violent conflict and the goals”, Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford, 2003) The UNDP report said: “[S]ince 1990 conflicts have killed as many as 3.6 million people and injured many millions more. Particularly tragic is that civilians, not soldiers, are increasingly the victims — accounting for more than 90% of deaths and injuries. Shockingly, children account for at least half of civilian casualties.” (ibid.)
Therefore, it’s a worldwide business – the business of conflict and death. Without traders, this business cannot move. These death-traders’ group is composed of banks, companies trading with oil, non-oil minerals, timber, industries like steel, aircraft, shipbuilding, a type of politicians, diplomats and generals, the MSM, and a part of academia. A few in this group are owners while a few are on the owners’ payroll. “Since in the international sphere”, writes Paul Sweezy, “the interests of capital are directly and quickly translated into terms of state policy, it follows that these antagonisms assume the form of conflicts between states and thus, indirectly, between whole nations.” (The Theory of Capitalist Development, Principles of Marxian Political Economy, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1964) Borrowing from Sweezy’s discussions on militarism, it can be said: “The munitions magnets have a direct interest in the maximum expansion of military production; not only do they benefit in the form of state orders but also they are afforded safe and lucrative outlets for their accumulated profits. Hence it is these elements of the capitalist class which take the lead in calling for an aggressive foreign policy.” (ibid.)
So, writes Michael T. Klare, “none has so profoundly influenced American [US] military policy as the determination to ensure US access to overseas supplies of vital resources. As the American economy grows and US industries come to rely more on imported supplies of critical materials, the protection of global resource flows is becoming an increasingly prominent feature of American security policy.” (Resource Wars, The New Landscape of Global Conflict, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2002)
Many earlier works also relate war to control over natural resources. These include A Study of War (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1942) by Quincy Wright, The Economic Causes of Modern War: A Study of the Period: 1878-1918, (Mofatt, Yard, and Company, New York, 1921) by John Edwin Bakeless. Fourteen of the 20 major wars, Bakeless identified, were related to conflict over resources: “The rise of industrialism has led to the struggle for […] raw materials.” Thus, conflict zones and tension zones, areas tension being built up, crop up.
Today, there are proxies – mercenaries, armed and unarmed, recruited from the area of imperialist intervention/conflict/targeted for intervention, and engaged with a banner of political slogans like “democracy” designed by imperialism. These proxies play role in conflict zones/tension zones.
There are companies trading with armaments. “[T]he business of war remains a good one. The 100 largest arms producers and military services contractors recorded $395 billion in arms sales in 2012. Lockheed Martin, the largest arms seller, alone accounted for $36 billion in such sales during 2012.” (Time, “Here are the 5 companies making a killing off wars around the world”, by Vince Calio and Alexander E.M. Hess, March 14, 2014) The Time report said: “Arms sales have remained concentrated among the same small number of companies for more than a decade. The top 10 companies have largely remained in place because industry consolidation in the 1990s made them dominant players […].”
Three years later, another report said: “National security and warfare are big business. The U.S. government spent $598.5 billion, over half of its discretionary budget, on military and weapons technology in 2015. The 100 largest arms-producing and military services companies across the globe sold an estimated $370.7 billion worth of arms that year.” (msn.com, “20 companies profiting the most from war”, by Samuel Stebbins and Thomas C. Frohlich, May 31, 2017) The report said: “U.S.-based companies continue to dominate the defence market, a trend that is unlikely to change meaningfully any time soon.” So, the story appears same: war-profit-war, a circuit of profit where war is investment by the profit seekers.
Today, a group of companies directly engages armed gangs in areas of competition to grab resources triggering hot conflicts. These gangs sometimes don cloak of political slogans. Studies are there on the issue.
And, now, there are private companies contracted to carry on war; and, the companies are for profit.
And, today, there are moves to privatize war – an unmasking of imperialist war. Thanks should go to imperialism for unmasking itself.
All are for profit.
And, the victims? The people in the war-ravaged lands, the children in the war-demolished countries.
Thus, it’s found:
“There are 639 million small arms in the world, or one for every ten people, produced by over 1,000 companies in at least 98 countries.
“16 billion units of ammunition are produced each year – more than two new bullets for every man, woman and child on the planet.
“It is estimated that 80-90 per cent of all illegal small arms start in the state-sanctioned trade.
“In World War One, 14 per cent of total casualties were civilian. In World War Two, this grew to 67 percent. In some of today’s conflicts, the figure is even higher.
“One third of countries spend more on the military than they do on health-care services.
“An average of US$22 billion a year is spent on arms by countries in Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America. Half of this amount would enable every girl and boy in those regions to go to primary school.
“[I]n the same minute in which one person dies from armed violence, 15 new arms are manufactured for sale. (Amnesty International, Oxfam, IANSA Control Arms Campaign Media Briefing: key facts and figures, October 9, 2003)
And, children – the future, the future of humanity – find themselves as victim while the villain – capital that moves brutally to “heroically” conquer and control everything on the earth – carries on its war business.
Theology of Presence
Amir Suhail Wani
“O you who believe! Remember Allah With much remembrance”: Al Quran
To believe is to be in a state of presence. Presence, though not the climax, but is, one of the most cherished states and authentic manifestations of belief. To let God stay far away in the realm of abstraction and beyond-ness not only dilutes the spirit of worship, but it brings under scrutiny the very notion of belief. Religion, in its finest form, aims at invoking in man the spirit of presence, so that the believer may feel and experience the himself in presence of divine and may thus be able to envision a living and existential relationship with his creator and his object of devotion. Religion, even in its basic etymological connotation invokes the sense of “connectedness and attachment” with the object of devotion. It is in the very essence of man that he wants to be greater than what he is and when submitting before the divine, the individual, finite and subjective ego undergoes an existential, psychological and spiritual transformation of unique nature which expands its contours beyond those of physical perimeters. In any act of worship, the subject envisages the object of devotion as infinite and it not only pays homage to that infinite by bowing to it, but it very much desires to expand its own finitude under the radiance of that eternal infinite. This is what is meant by the philosophical benediction that “make me Thou, not an it”.
This human urge of finding means of self expansion by submitting before the divine is the greatest expression of human will and self sacrifice. But this spirit is rendered meaningless and antithetical when religion, in its state of decline, reduces to mere theology. In this reductionism, God remains no longer a living reality in the life of believer. He is rather replaced by a set of axioms and statements which fail to stimulate and satisfy the deepest spiritual yearnings of man and this deepest spiritual yearning is nothing but an aspiration to come in living contact with the divine and transcendental. Islam and for that matter most of the religions strongly condemn the deistic notions about God for it leaves absolutely no scope for religious indoctrination and creates an unimaginable void in the realm of Transcendence. It is in response to nuances like these that the notion of presence assumes multifold importance. It is not only prayer but our entire life that demands, by virtue of its spiritual dimension, that we live perpetually under the spell of divine. Thus religions teach us not merely to pray and thus make prayer a part of our life, but they come to turn our entire life into a sort of prayer. This transformation of life itself into prayer is what has best been embodied by Islamic teachings which reiterate time and again that all acts shall be done according to the law/s prescribed by God and at the beginning and end of each of our activity, the name of God shall be invoked. Not only this, the orations we recite at various instances from entering a washroom to starting our prayer are nothing but a beautiful way of making God a perpetual and living presence in our lives. None of our activities shall be divorced from Transcendent and while we are bodily constantly engaged in acts of world and matter, our heads, hearts and souls shall be perpetually turned to the divine. This act of remembering God in world of forgetting paves the way for “discovering God through material representations”. The highest form of this discovery is prayer and within prayer itself it is dua that marks the height of living relationship between God and believer. The purpose of prayer, as has been narrowly appropriated lately is not merely to make God change his mind and to bring our naive desires to fruition. Prayer is in fact the testimony of our living and real time relationship of servitude and dependency on God. Thus when God asserts “If My servants ask you regarding Me, I am indeed Near. I answer the call of those who call upon Me when they call. So let them answer My call and let them believe in believe in Me–in order that they be truly guided.”, he makes us understand in most emphatic and explicit way that he is very much existentially related to us and responds to our prayers. This response to prayer shall not be seen as the fulfilment of our prayers in material realm (which is true on its own), but it shall invoke in us the existential quest and inspire us to awaken our slumbering spiritual sensibility so that we may truly feel that God is indeed responding to us as our creator and as an object truly worthy of our devotion and worship.
This notion of presence has been subjected to double irony. The religious centric people lost sight of this appeal and dedicated their energies in confining and codifying God in their formulae of logical atomism. They rigidly tried to fix God in their self made definitions made out of untenable language as if trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. While as the role of this intellectual cum theological process can’t be belittled, but their overemphasis on making God comply to their abstractions and creating an unsurpassable chasm between the creator and creation surely set them on too rigid a path. The aftermath of this theorization of God not only created uncompromising hostility among different religions, but within the same religion it gave birth to unending clashes, unforseen intolerance and created such shameful examples that served the purpose of latter day anti religious forces. The second threat, and that is more dangerous, to this “theology of presence” has come from movements like new age spirituality, occult practices and pseudo spiritual shopping malls. Whereas traditional religion and traditional metaphysics taught us to see this world as a reflection and reverberation of transcendental realm, the new age spirituality has tragically represented the divine realm as an “extended expression” of human realm and this immanent universe. This has been sort of shifting the frame of reference and with this shifting of frames, the meaning of spirituality and metaphysics is inverted on its head. This misplaced mysticism and consumerist spirituality is far dangerous than no spirituality at all. In absence of spirituality, one may set out to discover the genuine and true spiritual traditions, but the presence of fake and pseudo spirituality creates a halo effect around man and his genuine thirst and quest is buried under the garb of this “materialistic spirituality”.
There are no palatable solutions to this malice that has invaded our religious obligation of perpetual presence and taught us to be satisfied with rituals without knowing their meaning. What one can do is to read, if one can, the religious scriptures and try to get to the roots of these scriptures. Look out for commonalities among scriptures and try to make a sense out of these commonalities. Another suggestion is to read the authors like Rene Guneon, Frithjof Schoun, Martin Lings, William Chittick and others of their class. What is special about these authors is that they speak about traditional metaphysics in contemporary idiom with an insight that is both inspiring as well as awakening. Finally we must note and note it seriously that life is not a profane activity sprinkled with events of sacred prayers, rather life is sacred as a whole and the existential realisation of this axiom is fundamental postulate on which all religions stand.
(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Kathua verdict: fact, fable and fiction
Finally some relief has been accorded to the family of the victim, Asifa by the trial judge Mr Tejwinder Singh by convicting and punishing the guilty. But it is too little if not too late. The investigating agency has undoubtedly done a commendable job in piecing together the evidence against the odds and succeeded in obtaining conviction for criminal conspiracy, gang rape, poisoning and murder of 8year old Asifa on 17th of January 2018 in Rasana village near Kathua in Jammu. Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. The National Crime Records Bureau of India suggests a reported rape rate of 2 per 100,000 people, much lower than reported rape incidence rate in the local Indian media. However, Times of India reported the data by National Crime Records Bureau unveiling that 93 women are being raped in India every day. Every year 7,200 minors are raped as the statistics suggest without unreported ones. Rape is, surprisingly a weapon of punishment in India. In 2014, in Jharkhand village elders ordered the rape of a 14year old. The husband of the woman who was assaulted sexually was told to carry out the rape. As the woman’s husband dragged the girl to a nearby forest, villagers only looked on. Earlier West Bengal village reportedly ordered the gang rape of a 20 year old woman for falling in love with a man from another community. Even in case of Kathua, two BJP ministers stood in favor of the accused. Sexual crimes being committed with impunity not even sparing foreign tourists led to issuance of rape advisories like women travelling should exercise caution when travelling in India even if they are travelling in a group, avoid hailing taxis from streets or using public transport at night. India feels like it is going through an upsurge of sexual violence against children and after several incidents including Asifa’s, received widespread media attention and triggered public protest. The Prime Minister condemned it and UN Secretary General, Antonio Guiterres said “guilty must be held responsible” describing the incident “horrific”. This led the Government of India to reform its penal code for crimes of rape and sexual assault. As such India’s cabinet approved the introduction of death penalty for those who rape children. The executive order was cleared at a special cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Modi. It allowed capital punishment for anyone convicted of raping children under the age of 12. India’s poor record of dealing with sexual violence came to fore after 2012 gang rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus. The four men involved were sentenced to death. The Supreme Court maintained the death sentence of the convicts; Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh. Rejecting their appeal Justice R Banumathi said the men committed “a barbaric crime” that had “shaken society’s conscience”. It is worthwhile to mention that the death penalty to the said persons was given in the year 2013 while as the executive ordinance came in April 2018 after Asifa’s incident and of a 16year old girl in northern Uttar Pradesh by a member of BJP, Kuldeep Sengar (ironically, victim’s father was arrested and thereafter killed by the Kuldeep’s supporters.) Prior to 2012, there was no single law specifically dealing with children as victims of sexual offences. Then came Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in 2012, India’s first comprehensive law to deal specifically with child sex abuse and surprisingly the number of reported cases of child abuse rose by nearly 45% the next year.
The new amendments enable a court to hand out a death penalty to someone convicted of raping a child under 12, even if it does not result in death. In countries like China, Egypt, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, rape is punishable with nothing short of death by hanging, beheading or firing squad. Despite the changes to the law and arming Indian courts, there is reluctance to carry out the death penalty. Is there anything wrong with the collective Indian psyche that deters even courts from putting curbs on sexual crimes against even minors? One feels disgusted for the punishment not being exemplary in Asifa’s case when on trial crimes like gang rape and murder were proved. The court was saddled with the law and verdicts of Supreme Court where death penalty awarded was not interfered with and also its observations emphasizing the gravity of such crime with its impact on the society. Do the laws also have a fiction value? When do we really implement them? Is something more needed to shake society’s conscience? It is more likely that the convicts in this case will go in appeal to the higher court against the judgement. The verdict of the lower court also calls for a counter appeal by the prosecution seeking enhancement of punishment to death of the convicts.
(A leading lawyer and eminent poet, author contributes a weekly column. He can be reached at: email@example.com)
Let’s Become Environmental Protectionists!
Dr. Shahid Amin Trali
It’s very alarming to find the unending disturbances to our environment. Man’s foul play with the nature is not going well with the present as well as our future. The environmental problems are mounting towards a bigger trouble in future but we are yet to recover from deep hibernation/sleep mode. This menace of pollution has existed for centuries but increased at an alarming rate after industrial revolution in the 19th century. Pollution is one of the biggest global killers, affecting over 100 million people. The world’s population is ever increasing and the treasures of the resources are getting overexploited.
There is greater need that we must promote better and efficient use of resources. Mass production of plastics, which began just six decades ago, has accelerated very rapidly—most of it in disposable products that end up as trash. If business goes on as usual, plastic pollution will double over the next thirty years. That would mean there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastics have several health hazards, both for humans and animals. Not just that, it is detrimental for the environment too. We must encourage the reduction, recycling and re-use of wastes as raw material for new products. Our younger generation is highly creative and all they must be given is ample support and opportunities. We must promote ‘Jugaad’ creation, the idea of using the waste to make something novel and save resources. We need to set examples from our home places and re-use what we would easily throw away and conserve for a future. What we cannot recycle let us try not use them. Let’s promote paper products as they break down better in the environment and don’t affect our nature as much.
Learning to be more environmentally friendly is not that difficult task than we think. We must start by living with a greater awareness of the resources that we use in our daily life. For example we must turn off the lights as soon as we leave a room in our homes and offices or even schools and colleges. We must be environmental friendly when it comes to building our homes and buildings. Trees are necessary for us to survive. We must plant small trees around our home, don’t cut them unless it’s necessary, work with local environmental groups to plant more trees and educate others about the beauty and benefits of trees.
Water needs to be conserved. Few ways to conserve water are – take short showers, keep the running tap close while we brush our teeth, recycle water in our home, use water saving appliances etc. More good ways to contribute will be consume less energy, buy recycled products, and create less waste and many more. We must refrain from open burning as backyard trash and leaf burning releases high levels of toxic compounds. We must use public transit as much as possible. Let us walk more and drive less to conserve fuel and prevent auto-emission. Let’s use bicycles and scooters for shorter distances to save resources.
Cleanliness leads to cleanliness. We can easily find that a dirty place adds to its dirtiness. When we come across a fresh place, we think twice before turning it bad and dirty. It is sad when we think for our clean homes and hardly care for the roads, hospitals, educational institutions, offices, markets etc. Our mindset has to undergo a big overhaul that our public property is our own property.
India is one of the three worst offending countries when it comes to environmental performance. Corporate leaders have started joining the race to save the planet. Being environment-friendly, eco-friendly, going green are huge claims referring to goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies that inflict reduced, minimal, or no harm at all, upon ecosystems or the environment. But the attempts need to be strong and concrete. Small and medium sized companies in particular generate a lot of pollution and need awareness and support policies to safeguard the environment.
Individuals, organizations and governments need to join hands to protect our environment. Let’s educate others about the significance of living an environmentally friendly life. The more we will share an awareness of the richness of the environment, the more we can do together to protect it. Environmental love and care must receive an all time attention and priority. Let’s go beyond the model building exercises for safer environment and turn them into reality. Organizations must appreciate and reward the employees for their environmental care.
The Philippines recently has taken a unique and wonderful initiative. The island country passed a law under which every student there has to mandatorily plant ten trees in order to get their graduation degree. The law if it is implemented properly will ensure that over 175 million trees will be planted every year. The law will be applicable for college, elementary, and high school students as well. Our education system must owe greater responsibility towards environment and find some unique strategies to safeguard it. Let’s go green and pledge to protect our environment. (The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior, Youth Ambassador, International Youth Society. He can be mailed on: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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