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Dissent & democracy: A real debate needed

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By Patralekha Chatterjee

Are citizens and dissenters two separate groups of people? How far will ordinary people be willing to resist when confronted with situations not to their liking? What role does fear play in the choices that ordinary citizens make?
The questions are more relevant today than ever.
A steady stream of reports about recent arrests and intimidation across the country is resurrecting fear in multiple ways among ordinary people. If the police can hold press conferences accusing well-known human rights campaigners, share documents and letters purportedly to establish links between the arrested persons and Maoist organisations, even as the Supreme Court is seized of the matter, how can ordinary people dare to speak truth to power?
It’s a different matter that the Bombay high court on Monday pulled up the Maharashtra police. “We are surprised at the press conference. How can the police do this? Isn’t the police aware that the Supreme Court is seized of this matter and the matter is sub-judice? Despite this, how can the police reveal information?” the bench had remarked.
But the damage had been done. In the social media and elsewhere, the reputations of many activists, lawyers, academics had already been muddied, aided and abetted by half-truths. One of the arrested persons, for example, a Mumbai-based human rights activist-lawyer, had been arrested earlier on charges of being a Naxal operative. He had spent years in jail. This was played up in the social media. What was not played up was the fact that he was eventually acquitted of all charges. Another activist recently arrested on charges of having Maoist links had his poems read out by a TV panellist sympathetic to the BJP. Does poetry conclusively prove guilt? Should all activist poets and writers be regarded with suspicion?
If dissent and ideological differences with those who are in power are equated with treason, what is an ordinary, politically-alert citizen to do? Many ordinary people I know have views, even strong ones, on issues affecting them or society at large. Many show shades of heroism in times of crisis. But so many have been bludgeoned into silence over the past few years.
These people aren’t cowards. But they lead ordinary lives. They aren’t full-time activists and don’t wish to put themselves at risk of going to jail or protracted legal battles. Often, they don’t have the resources, nor the connections nor, honestly speaking, the single-minded commitment to fight till the bitter end. They have to work, feed the family, look after the children, elders and so on. If they are picked up by the police on some ground or the other, most wouldn’t know a lawyer who can help, nor would they know journalists who can tell their story. When they see what is happening around them, it’s easy to understand why they are too scared to open their mouths.
Consider the case of the assistant professor in Bihar who was brutally thrashed by a group of people over sharing a Facebook post critical of Atal Behari Vajpayee after the former PM’s death last month. The matter didn’t end there. Two police complaints were filed against the assistant professor less than a week after he was assaulted. One complainant was a local resident who claimed the Facebook post hurt sentiments. The other was by a university colleague under the SC&ST Act, accusing him of harassment.
This week Sofia, a young woman research scholar, made headlines by getting arrested at Thoothukudi airport for shouting that the BJP was a “fascist” party. TamilisaiSoundararajan, Tamil Nadu BJP head and a fellow passenger on a flight from Chennai, made the complaint saying Sofia had shouted on board a Chennai-Thoothukudi flight. Sofia and her family say it was while disembarking from the plane. Still, Sofia was charged under Sections 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 290 (public nuisance) IPC and Section 75 of the Tamil Nadu City Police Act. A court released Sofia on bail. What I found most curious is the series of interviews by the BJP leader where she aired her views on the young woman at length, including her suspicion that some (extremist) organisations were behind Sofia’s actions, without offering any substantive proof.
It’s difficult to say how these cases will end, but there’s no doubt that cumulatively they are having a chilling effect on ordinary people who may want to speak out. The reason: India continues to have a plethora of laws on sedition, criminal defamation, hate speech, public order, etc, and these are often deployed against journalists, activists, artists, cartoonists and others to muzzle speech that is critical of those in power.
Nyaaya, an online initiative of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, puts the recent arrests of activists in perspective. It explains how arrests under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) are substantively different from other criminal laws in India. It gives wider discretionary powers to the police and courts. As a general rule, bail is granted in most criminal offences. But under Section 43D(5) of UAPA, a magistrate who “is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds to believe the charges against the person are true” can refuse bail, according to Nyaaya. And the person in charge of providing these “reasonable grounds” is the police officer investigating the case.
Some of the recent arrests were under UAPA, a law that turns on its head the principle that everybody is innocent till proven guilty. Tamil folk singer Kovan has been arrested twice — most recently for singing a song satirising the Prime Minister and the BJP, and also in October 2015 on charges of sedition, attempt to create enmity between social groups etc when he had taken on the Tamil Nadu government, then led by the late Jayalalithaa.
Such acts of suppression have a chilling effect on ordinary citizens. That it has happened before as well is quite well known. But we live in the here and now. Who dares dissent today if dissent is framed as treason by those in power?
Is this forced silence good for the country? That is a question all of us need to ask ourselves. At stake are India’s most prized attributes — democracy and pluralism.

 

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Opinion

While the Dust is settling in New Zealand

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By SPAHIC OMER

While the dust is settling in the aftermath of shootings at two mosques in New Zealand, some rather bigger and more consequential truths and dimensions start emerging. Undoubtedly, the killed brothers and sisters are global heroes. They are also martyrs and Jannah (Paradise)-bound (Insha’Allah we most sincerely hope and pray for them).

Whereas the murderer will spend the rest of his miserable life in jail languishing therein (given that New Zealand since 1961 does not have the death penalty for murder), will die smaller and less significant than when he was born, and, ultimately, is Jahannam(Hell)-bound. Truly, the victims have been given a new and far better life, and so, have been in a certain way set free, while the killer and his agenda have perished as soon as they came to the fore of reality and started rearing their ugly heads.

 

What matters at the end of the day is to live and die with honour and dignity, irrespective of circumstances. What lies between and around those parameters is part of a bigger and to us incomprehensible ontological picture.

In the meantime, virtually the whole world – regardless of the level of many individuals’ and groups’ honesty, or otherwise – is propagating what the true Islam is and who the true Muslims are. In reality, everyone is promoting and preaching Islam, one way or another: from mosques and parliaments, to coffee-shops, homes and media. Debates about Islam, Muslims, the Qur’an, the Prophet (pbuh) and mosques continue – and will for a long time – unabated.

The situation is rivalled perhaps only by what transpired after 9/11.

The phenomenon is positively contributing to silencing the isolated pockets of perpetual hate, bigotry and bona fide terror, and is extinguishing the fading flames of their meaning, purpose and appeal. Despite the tragic and regrettable side of the events, the opportunity that such events presented should be leveraged and sustained. It is not always that most of the world is favourably disposed to the affairs of Islam and Muslims. Overtures are being received from all sides including such as were hardly imaginable before.

By making the most of the presented opportunities, the innocent lives would not be seen as lost in vain. The losses will thus become yet more meaningful as well as impactful. The victims’ rewards will also be greatly amplified thereby.

Hence, Muslims should become braver and more proactive in convincing the world as to who exactly they are, what their Islam is, and what they are living for and how. They should go on the offensive, rather than being perennially on the defensive. There should be no more place for excessive apologetic tendencies.

Such a strategy did not bring much sense, nor benefit, to anybody: neither to Muslims in advancing their Islamic civilizational cause, nor to non-Muslims in coming to terms with the same. Muslims should not unduly worry or be afraid, for a truthful person on an extraordinary mission fears nobody and nothing. Indeed, nothing but truth, light, and clarity of existential mission and purpose are identifiable with courage and gallantry, just as falsehood, darkness, and evil are identifiable with cowardice and its associates. Hence, the New Zealand murderer thought he was brave and would become a hero if he killed innocent and unarmed civilians (worshipers).

However, that is exactly what his victims are, and he, on the other hand, has already become a symbol of gutlessness, idiocy, and villainy. He is furthermore met with universal condemnation, disgust, and cursing for his cruel, inhumane, and barbarous acts that targeted defenceless and harmless civilians.

Moreover, Muslims have nothing to be ashamed of, nor hide. On the contrary, they have everything to cherish, be proud of, and share with the world. Muslims always were, and thus should remain, chief protagonists in generating universal civilizational and cultural goodness and beauty. Muslims should use the unfortunate New Zealand episode and its aftermath to come closer to one another and get united at all levels of their ummatic (collective) existence.

There is no political, social, or sectarian issue that can supersede in importance the above. Everything must be in the service of the former.

Why must Muslims wait for tragic events, such as this one, to come out together as one? Why don’t they do so as soon as possible as a sign of a drastic paradigm shift, whereby many future yet more tragic events could be thwarted, or at least significantly mitigated? Once united, Muslims’ performances in such critical fields as education, politics, economic development, science and technology, as a consequence, would dramatically improve as well. They will not then have to harangue the world on how Islam is the religion of truth, peace, progress, enlightenment and justice. Such will be embodied in concrete deeds, policies, and civilizational initiatives and achievements, and will be there for all to see and benefit from.

It goes without saying that Muslim unity and the unity of their ontological mission and purpose denote a precursor, yet a cause, of any remarkable civilizational consciousness and growth of theirs. The relationship between the two realms is causal, the former always being the cause and the latter the effect. Even though the whole world is sympathetic now, if Muslims do not take the matter into their own hands – and by the scruff of the neck – the sentiment will quickly cool down and subside, and we will be back to square one. Nobody will help Muslims if they do not help themselves. The roles of others can only be secondary in nature, playing second fiddle to what Muslims actually do. Likewise, nobody will respect Muslims unless they respect themselves. That is the root cause of all good – and evil – associated with Muslims.

Muslim civilizational destiny ought to be their own and nobody else’s business and concern. It is therefore only them who is answerable to the Almighty for it.

And as a bit of not-so-coincidental symbolism, since the New Zealand tragedy took place in mosques, it might be just appropriate that a Muslim change of fortune should start exactly in relation to the mosque as a concept and sensory reality. Reviving the mosque institution as a community development center and as a symbol as well as locus of Islam’s and Muslims’ spiritual and physical being will definitely go a long way in successfully charting future development courses not only in the Muslim world, but also elsewhere. Mosques should be turned into sources of and facilities for practicing and disseminating the authentic truth, peace, harmony, equality, and justice. They should be beacons of hope, optimism, cooperation, tolerance, and dialogue. Especially in the West, mosques and the infinite universe of messages and values that they typify, should be promoted via most appropriate means and channels as much to non-Muslims as Muslims. That way, there will be no better, friendlier, and more effective ways of da’wah (inviting people to Islam). Nobody will be able to accuse anyone of proselytizing, or any other perceived wrongdoing. Rather, the efforts will regularly be praised and encouraged by all relevant parties. For the sake of fostering peace, harmony and dialogue, to Muslims through the mosque phenomenon, the sky is surely the limit. That could likewise be a reason why the New Zealand criminal targeted precisely mosques and the day, occasion as well as the time synonymous with mosques’ dynamism and multidimensionality.

And finally, Muslims must actualize and live up to the implications of the Qur’anic archetype according to which only believers and everything they epitomize will in the end be successful, despite numerous trials and challenges along the way. On the other hand, the opponents of truth, oppressors of all kinds and criminals, and everything they characterize, will in the end fail and be dire losers, notwithstanding some ostensible temporary triumphs along the way.

What matters most is a true happy ending primarily in the metaphysical sense of the word, and that life does not turn out to be merely nihilistic, hedonistic, and anticlimactic an affair.

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Opinion

The Roots of the Christchurch Massacre

The Kashmir Monitor

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By WAJAHAT ALI

For Muslims, Friday Prayer is like Sunday Mass for Christians. It’s the day of community prayer. We travel to our local mosques, our religious sanctuary. Our families gather in the early afternoon to pray as a community. Kids run through the halls as the imam recites the Quran in Arabic. We eat together and mingle outside.

This week, as those of us in the United States attend Friday Prayer, the Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, are preparing for funerals.

 

People around the world are praying for the dead in Christchurch after terrorist attacks at two mosques. The authorities say a 28-year-old Australian walked into two mosques with assault rifles and killed at least 49 people. New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, called it “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”

Thoughts and prayers are not enough. These attacks are the latest manifestation of a growing and globalized ideology of white nationalism that must be addressed at its source — which includes the mainstream politicians and media personalities who nurture, promote and excuse it.

If the gunman’s 74-page manifesto and social media posts are to be believed, he was inspired by a thriving online ideological structure that recruits and radicalizes mostly men to save “Western civilization” from a foreign “invasion.”

We’ve seen this before. The gunman’s justifications for his act of terrorism were similar to those in the 1,500-page manifesto that the Norwegian Anders Breivik posted before he killed 77 people in 2011. Mr. Breivik wanted to punish Europe for its multiculturalism and welcome of Muslim immigrants. His manifesto and attacks are said to have inspired the white nationalist Christopher Hasson, who was recently arrested on charges of stockpiling weapons with the desire to commit mass murder, especially against Muslims.

If the idea that Muslims are a threat sounds familiar, it’s in part because it was used by President Trump to argue for a wall to protect America from a “caravan” of Central American migrants seeking asylum. He asserted that “Middle Easterners” were in the caravan, a claim he admitted he could not back up. During a summer trip to England, Mr. Trump warned that Britain was losing its “culture” and that immigration had “changed the fabric of Europe — and unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was.”

Arguing for his travel ban aimed at mostly Muslim countries, Mr. Trump said, “I think Islam hates us,” lied about seeing Muslims celebrate the Sept. 11 attacks, and retweeted a fringe anti-Muslim group’s fake videos of Muslim refugees committing violence. No wonder the Christchurch manifesto praised Mr. Trump as “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”

It’s clear that the dangers of white nationalism aren’t limited to the United States. This attack is a reminder that this dangerous ideology also threatens immigrant communities worldwide, and that it’s fuelled by leaders around the world.

Australia, where the gunman is said to be from, has plenty of its own anti-Muslim, xenophobic rhetoric.

In 2015, a movement called Reclaim Australia organized protests against the “enforcing of Shariah law in Australia” and “the teaching of Islam in government schools.” The Conversation reported that placards displayed by the group at a rally read “Islam is an enemy of the West.” A key policy goal of the far-right political party Australian Liberty Alliance is to “stop the Islamization of Australia.” Its website warns, “Islam is not merely a religion, it is a totalitarian ideology with global aspirations.”

While Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, described the suspect as “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist,” an Australian senator, Fraser Anning, responded to the Christchurch attack by blaming “the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”

It seems the senator shares similar sentiments with mass murderers.

In his manifesto, the gunman, who referred to himself as a “regular white man,” wrote that he was carrying out the attack to “directly reduce immigration rates to European lands by intimidating and physically removing the invaders themselves.”

The manifesto reveals an obsession with white supremacy, discussing the Battle of Vienna in 1683, which is glorified by white nationalists and Mr. Breivik as the critical moment when Europe staved off the Ottoman Empire’s advance and protected itself from Islam. Text scrawled on the gunman’s weapons appears to refer to military battles such as the 1189 Siege of Acre, a victory for the Christian Crusaders seeking to retake Jerusalem from Muslims. He mentioned Alexandre Bissonnette, who shot and killed six people in a Quebec mosque in 2017 and was a known white nationalist with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim resentment.

His ideas — and their sources and supporters — were familiar to me. As a researcher for the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s 2011 investigation “Fear Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” I connected fringe anti-Muslim conspiracies — such as the made-up threat of Shariah law in America — to the funding sources, think tanks, media personalities, grass-roots groups and politicians who created and promoted them.

These entities have worked together to reinforce the message that Muslims Americans are inherently radical and represent a “demographic time bomb” that will overtake the white population. Mr. Breivik repeatedly cited these groups and people, many of them now closely linked to the Trump administration. Although they should not be blamed for Mr. Breivik’s violence, Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer and a consultant on terrorism, said Mr. Breivik nonetheless emerges from the same ideological network.

Among white nationalists’ major motivators is “the great replacement” conspiracy theory. They fear that Jews, blacks and Muslims will replace white people and eventually subordinate them. Jews are often viewed as the diabolical head of the cabal, the nerve center, who use their infinite wealth and power to reduce and weaken the white man.

In October, Robert Bowers walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 Jewish worshipers. He posted on the right-wing social network Gab that the Jewish refugee resettlement agency HIAS “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people” and “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.” He also re-shared a post about punishing “filthy evil Jews” for bringing “filthy evil Muslims into the country.” This echoed the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jewish billionaire George Soros funded the migrant “caravan” — a lie that was promoted by President Trump and other prominent conservatives.

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Opinion

Massacre in Christchurch Mosques

The Kashmir Monitor

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By ASLAM ABDULLAH


In what the Prime Minister of New Zealand described the darkest day in the history of the country, and the worst terrorist attack in the country so far 49 Muslims belonging to different nationalities and ethnic groups praying together in mosques were massacred by white supremacist terrorists. The Queen of Commonwealth, Pope and many other world leaders have sent notes of sympathy to the government.

This is what we know so far:

 

A white supremacist entered a mosque on Deans Avenue, Christchurch where Muslims had gathered to pray. He was carrying a semi-automatic weapon. He opened fire indiscriminately as there were so many targets busy praying. He was streaming the attack live. Another white supremacist entered a mosque in Linwood.

49 Muslims are dead as of now. 41 at the Central mosque, 7 at Linwood mosque and one in Christchurch hospital. 48 people have been admitted to the hospital with gunshot wounds as of now. Others have been sent to medical centers. The terrorist has been charged and would appear in the Christchurch District Court on Saturday morning.

He was arrested in a city street in a car with explosives and more guns inside. The terrorist described himself as 28-year old Australian Brenton Tarrant. The terrorists were not on the watch list of police either in Australia or New Zealand.

Tarrant had issued a manifesto glorifying white supremacy and had asked the people of the US and Europe to oust immigrants and build a pure white society. Police arrested four people initially, three including Tarrant are in custody. The fourth person was not related to the events, police said.

There was a chaotic scene at Christchurch hospital that has only 12 operating theatres in use for people requiring multiple surgeries. Families of the victims and others came to hospitals and at the mosques looking for their loved ones.

Families have shown up at the hospital and at the Deans Ave cordon seeking news of family members. The police have set up a missing people’s register. Witnesses have given detailed accounts of the horror of their co-coreligionists being killed. Victim support has launched an official fund to support the families of the victims.

Leaders from around the world have condemned this terrorist act. Pope Francis has denounced the “senseless acts of violence” in the Christchurch mosque shootings and said he was praying for the Muslim community and all New Zealanders.

In a telegram of condolences Friday, Francis offered his solidarity and prayers to the injured and those who are mourning lost loved ones and noted that it was a particularly difficult time for security and emergency personnel.

He said he was “deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life caused by the senseless acts of violence at two mosques in Christchurch, and he assures all New Zealanders, and in particular the Muslim community, of his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks.”

The message sent by the Vatican secretary of state ended by saying, “Commending those who have died to the loving mercy of Almighty God, Pope Francis invokes the divine blessings of comfort and strength upon the nation.”

Meanwhile, Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizations in the USA have issued press releases mourning the deaths of more than 40 worshipers gunned down in terror attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during prayers on Friday, and condemned the apparent anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate that motivated the attacks and urged mosques in the United States and worldwide to step up security measures.

The white supremacist author of the manifesto called himself a supporter of President Donald Trump, who he sees “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”

There has been an unprecedented spike in bigotry targeting American Muslims, immigrants, and members of other minority groups since the election of Donald Trump as president and has repeatedly expressed concern about Islamophobic, white supremacist and racist Trump administration policies and appointments.

Mosques and other Islamic institutions should take measures to protect the safety of people visiting places of worship. This is applicable to all institutions, regardless of the organizational mission. (See: What to do during an active shooting)

The white supremacist terrorist issued a 73 page manifesto justifying his massacre. In this he praised President Donald Trump. The manifesto published in a question and answer form asked the following:

“Were/are you a supporter of Donald Trump? The response: Sure, as a symbol of renewed white identify and common purpose? As a policymaker and leader? Dear God no.”

The manifesto has been removed from the website. The terrorist in 73 pages talked about American conservative commentator Candace Owens and says, “Yes the person that had influenced me above all is Candace Owens. Each time she spoke I was stunned by her insights and her own views helped me further and further into the belief of violence over weakness. Thus, I will have to disavow some of her beliefs, the extreme actions she calls for are too much even for my tastes.”

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