It had been more than 20 years in the making, and finally Tamil cinema superstar Rajinikanth delivered on innumerable past overtures when he plunged into the troubled waters of Tamil Nadu politics.
The big question on everyone’s mind is this: will he be a force to reckon with after he cobbles together a party apparatus with aspirations of political mobilisation, or will his democratic dream simply fade away after this foray comes a cropper against the jagged edges of the Dravidian parties’ electoral juggernauts? Hard to tell with any certainty, but an analysis of his entry in the context of Tamil Nadu’s colourful political past, its frustrating, dysfunctional present, or its ominously cloudy future yields some clues.
Tamil Nadu has always been a standout State. It was home to a unique social movement that was also one of India’s most successful experiments in populist mobilisation and pioneering social welfare policies. Dravidian politics surged to the fore in 1967, when the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) unseated the incumbent Indian National Congress and in doing so, forever altered the State’s political terrain.
Few Indian States have so purposefully used the motifs of ethnic identity, so adroitly deployed them through the silver screen, and so rigorously converted caste politics into a practical class mobilisation.
Over time the social radicalism of Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, C.N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi, under the aegis of the anti-Brahmin, anti-Hindi campaigns of the DMK, gave way to a more inclusive style of governance under the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) founder M.G. Ramachandran (MGR), and later his protégé Jayalalithaa.
Against this arc of Dravidianist-mobilisation history, Mr. Rajinikanth’s entry in some sense reduces him to a fish out of water, an aspiring wild card entrant seeking to make a lateral move despite lacking direct participation in the defining political movement of the State.
This matters considerably, not only because he now faces enormous pressure to define his politics, but also because, sans party association, he must embark on the unenviable task of building an organisation structure that is robust enough to take on the muscle of the AIADMK and the DMK.
It is true that he will not be building it from scratch, the way Periyar and Annadurai did, in the mid-20th century. According to some estimates, Mr. Rajinikanth enjoys the unflinching support of at least 50,000 fan clubs scattered across the cities and towns of Tamil Nadu, with each having at least 25 die-hard admirers of their “Thalaivar”. Yet it is an open question as to whether the millions of his fans are at all inclined towards hard-nosed political campaigning and mass mobilisation. All they may care about are his movies!
This brings us to another dimension of Tamil political history that poses uncomfortable questions for Mr. Rajinikanth: is he capable of being the sort of “benevolent” autocrat, the patronage-inclined “soft-authoritarian” like others before him, including Jayalalithaa, MGR and Mr. Karunanidhi?
Rajinikanth certainly commands attention based on his legendary charisma, yet on the flip side he has been painfully publicity-shy over the four decades that he has spent in the cinema world. Thus, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that he will smoothly transition into an aggressive leader capable of marshalling party members and resources towards orderly execution of campaigning, fundraising, lobbying efforts and much more.
Coming to the present scenario in Tamil Nadu, among the most widely touted reason for betting on Mr. Rajinikanth as the cure to what ails State politics is the fact that both Dravidian parties have faced an untimely loss of leadership capacity, the AIADMK owing to Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016 and the DMK owing to Mr. Karunanidhi stepping back from an active role after his health declined in recent years.
In the context of this power vacuum, the State may be Mr. Rajinikanth’s to lose. The vacuum, however, holds lessons for any aspiring entrant. First, the AIADMK has imploded in spectacular fashion since Jayalalithaa’s death because it is being torn asunder by bitter factional squabbling. That was a natural consequence of the weak-kneed leadership that has been thrust into the hot seat overnight, after decades of rule by an iron-fisted politician who degraded four rungs of leadership within her party to nix all potential challengers.
The second lesson for Mr. Rajinikanth is the fumbling of the DMK. The AIADMK clearly stole a march on its older rival since 1977 (the AIADMK has ruled for 26 years and counting, the DMK only for 12 years, of the past 40) owing to a more durable party ideology and broader social base, both of which geared its agenda towards mass distribution of welfare goods. While these are derided by some as “freebies,” social scientists consider them factors contributing to Tamil Nadu’s relative outperformance on human development and poverty reduction indices. When will Mr. Rajinikanth delve into these complex socioeconomic and policy questions?
Finally, on the murky future that awaits any party that the superstar may float, he will have to be nimble on the radioactive subject of Hindutva politics, and in that regard the tactical question whether to align with the BJP, for several reasons. First, Hindutva politics as such never made headway in India’s southernmost State given the Tamil people’s consistent record of rejecting the Hindu-North Indian-Brahmin matrix as a single, unwanted political package. They considered this matrix a product of north Indian hegemony, one that the Nehruvian state and then other dispensations in a distant New Delhi sought to thrust upon the “Tamizhan,” the quintessential Tamil man (or woman). That feeling of “Tamil-ness” is still very much alive.
Second, Mr. Rajinikanth may have struck a chord with some voters when he spoke of “spiritual” politics – yet he has more to clarify on whether he intended that phraseology to convey the anti-thesis of corruption, or whether it was an overture to Hindus and Hindutvavadis across the State and in New Delhi. If it is the former, it would be most welcome at this nadir of democratic politics in Tamil Nadu, a dark period of grand larceny and covert institutional looting of the public coffers.
If Mr. Rajinikanth went out on a limb to take on politically connected corruption, shadow corporations and the massive rent-seeking network that has permeated every corner of the government and has led to capital flight to neighbouring States, the people of Tamil Nadu would flock to him.
Third, he may do well to give thought to whether his political foray would simply end up playing spoiler for either Dravidian party and prevent both from forming a strong, stable government. In such a scenario, wouldn’t his efforts only delay the long-awaited return of good governance?
Like many heroes of the silver screen, Mr. Rajinikanth’s entry into politics is a test of fire. He lacks many vital political appurtenances and a living link to an important historical chapter of this State. His very announcement of entry has spurred vicious attacks on his purported intentions, his character and his personal life.
Yet he stands – humbly, one must grant – at what might turn out to be a momentous crossroads for Tamil Nadu: its past political glory depleted in the gradual decline of the AIADMK and DMK, its people now pray for a political renaissance. Thalaivar to the rescue, perhaps?
While the Dust is settling in New Zealand
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.
The Roots of the Christchurch Massacre
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.
Massacre in Christchurch Mosques
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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