Recent ‘blasphemy’ protests in Jakarta

Protests against governor not only down to ‘blasphemy’ case; also down to accumulation of discontent over other incidents

Alwi Alatas

JAKARTA

On Sept. 27, 2016, the governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, gave a speech in the Thousand Islands regency in North Jakarta.

The complete speech was posted online by the local government. A shortened version of the same speech went viral spawning immediate controversy.

Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), or the Indonesian Ulama Council, subsequently issued a fatwa that the governor — a Christian of ethnic Chinese descent — had committed blasphemy. MUI is a top Muslim clerical body in Indonesia that represents all Muslim organizations, including Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah.

Following the fatwa, some people filed a police case, but seeing that the police were unresponsive and inclined towards protecting the governor, they started a rally for Ahok’s imprisonment. However, few Muslim intellectuals, most of whom are considered liberal, rejected the fatwa of MUI as well as the blasphemy claims.

Accusations

In Ahok’s speech, he suggested that Muslim opponents were using the Quran to deceive and fool Muslim voters by invoking a verse, Surah Al Maidah 51, as part of a conspiracy to delegitimize his position as governor and oppose his campaign for a second term on the grounds of religion.

While doing so, however, his speech — which appeared to have a derisive and demeaning tone — unnecessarily seems to have emphasized that the Muslim voters were themselves “gullible and foolish” to subscribe to such “seemingly obnoxious religious beliefs” in the first place, something that immediately angered many, who found it to be blasphemous. The translation of the part of his speech considered blasphemous is provided below:

“Ladies and gentlemen, you may not vote for me because you’re deceived by [people] using Al Maidah verse 51 and so on. That’s your right. So if you feel you can’t vote [for me] because you’re afraid to go to hell after you’ve been fooled, that’s fine. This is your personal calling. This program will continue regardless.”

Surah Al Maidah 51 talks about the prohibition for Muslims against taking the Jews and the Christians as allies, which consequently is a prohibition against taking them as leaders.

This is the meaning of the verse and the accepted interpretation among scholars in Indonesia. Thus, it immediately became controversial when Ahok belittled the interpretation of the Muslim Holy Book. Regardless of his real intentions, his speech offended not only common Muslims but also Muslim scholars.

After evaluating the video of the speech, MUI stated that Surah Al Maidah 51 explicitly prohibits Muslims from appointing Jews and Christians as their leaders and that it is the duty of Muslim scholars to convey the meaning of the verse to the Muslim community.

MUI categorized the speech of the governor as being akin to insulting the Quran and the Muslim scholars who had conveyed such an interpretation. It is important to note that Indonesian law has provisions for punishment against blasphemers, and takes into account the fatwas of MUI and public reactions. Several people have been imprisoned in the past for blasphemy, including some for claiming prophethood.

The governor, however, rejected the accusations and initially fought back, calling his opponents politically motivated and racist.

Later, however, he apologized to Muslims without clearly admitting to making a mistake. He stated that he had no intentions to insult the Quran and the Ulama, claiming his words were misunderstood. Many Muslims, however, believed he had intentionally offended the Muslim community and that despite his apology, he deserved to be punished.

Widespread protests and the president’s attendance

Several Islamic organizations initiated a new front in the wake of MUI’s fatwa. This front, Gerakan Nasional Pengawal Fatwa Majelis Ulama Indonesia (GNPF-MUI), or National Movement to Guard the Fatwa of MUI, has so far organized two demonstrations and a prayer gathering in Jakarta, with spontaneous public participation, alongside other demonstrations in several other Indonesian cities.

They gathered to urge the police chief and the president, both known to be close to the governor, to be fair and not to shield him from the due process of law.

The first protest in Jakarta was held Oct. 14, marching after Friday prayers from Istiqlal Mosque in the capital’s center, to City Hall. The second was held Nov. 4 and was attended by Jakartans as well as those from outside the city. It saw demonstrators move from Istiqlal after Friday prayers to the national palace to bring forward their grievances to the president, who, instead of meeting them, delegated other high officials to receive GNPF leaders — a move which caused anger and frustration among the demonstrators.

However, during a third gathering in the area surrounding the national monument (Monas) Dec. 2, the president joined the demonstrators just before Friday prayers. The gathering was also attended by people from outside Jakarta, from regions as far as Papua, at the eastern tip of Indonesia, to Ciamis, more than 250 kilometers (155 miles) away from the capital.

Questionable role of media and administration

The police tried hard to obstruct the gatherings and to prevent the participation of people from outside Jakarta, but to no avail. The two biggest Muslim organizations in Indonesia, NU and Muhammadiyah, did not advise members to join the protest, yet their members kept flooding the gatherings and protested alongside the other protesters.

The gatherings, however, were neither objectively nor actively reported by most mass media, but information about them rapidly spread on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — new tools to voice public dissent as well as a new battleground between opposition voices and those still backing the governor.

Some media reported that the number of people who attended the second and third gatherings were only in the range of thousands, at most 200,000 people, but others, such as Republika and Metro News, admitted that the protesters on both occasions numbered well over a million.

Peaceful protests and non-Muslim participation

The gatherings were generally peaceful, although some violence occurred during the second protest. In the third gathering, activists peacefully gathered around Monas in the morning and left the area soon after Friday prayers. By sunset, the area had been evacuated by protesters and cleaned of their accumulated trash.

There were allegations against some politicians of financially supporting the rallies for fulfillment of their political agendas, mainly directed against former President Susilo Bambang Yudoyono. While the involvement of some politicians in this protest movement is probable, there is no indication that they were in control of the masses and the agenda.

Despite the prevalence of public misgivings among Indonesian Muslims against the country’s largely Christian ethnic Chinese economic dominance, there were no observable anti-Christian or anti-Chinese activities in the protests. In fact, some non-Muslims and Chinese attended the rallies.

Enemy to the poor — controversial legacy of Governor Ahok

Outside of the blasphemy case, other factors have played a considerable role in the protests against the governor.

The public outburst is probably an accumulation of discontent over various incidents involving Ahok. Despite some of his policies being appreciated in Jakarta, the governor is seen by many Indonesian Muslims as very arrogant, rude and at odds with Muslim aspirations. He has tried to ban the practice of slaughtering animals in public places, such as mosques and schools, during Muslim sacrificial days (Eid al-Adha), the tradition of takbiran (saying the takbir — “Allahu Akbar”) on the streets of Jakarta at night at the end of Ramadan, and wished to legalize the selling of liquor and to localize prostitution.

He has also been accused of speaking offensively and displaying rude behavior on several occasions. In one live interview with Kompas TV, for example, he repeatedly used inappropriate words despite being warned by the host several times.

However, the most controversial of his actions may have been his economic policies that overtly favored the rich, especially ethnic Chinese, while adversely affecting and humiliating the poor. The governor fervently supports the reclamation of Jakarta Bay — the creation of an artificial island in the northern part of Jakarta to be filled with apartment buildings — despite court rulings to the contrary.

The governor has also worked towards forcefully evicting the poor from several areas in Jakarta — most of whom are indigenous Muslim locals — with the justification that they have no land titles, despite the inhabitant’s claims of having lived in these areas for several decades.

This policy may reduce the slums and make the city of Jakarta appear cleaner and more beautiful, but it does so at the cost of undermining the humanity of the underprivileged. The eviction moves have been violent and tended to ignore the voices of the poor. Although the government has provided flats for those evicted, these people still have to pay rent, but many of them have been dismissed from their previous occupations as they were located near their old dwellings.

Incidents such as these have deeply affected Ahok’s popularity, not only in Jakarta but also in other parts of Indonesia. Thus, when people heard his comments on the Quran, anger and fury spread quickly, culminating in several mass demonstrations in Jakarta and other cities in Indonesia. So far, they have expressed this anger through peaceful demonstrations and gatherings. But the question remains, until when?

Role of protests in achieving unity and a common platform

The demonstrations, aside from being a platform for the expression of Muslim discontent, have helped with something much more important. For many demonstrators, Ahok is no longer the main issue, issues faced by the Muslim community are now what really matter.

The demonstrations and the prayer gatherings have brought the Muslim community together, and helped them achieve something that was unthinkable and always viewed as impossible before. Many Muslim groups — for whom it had been previously impossible to stop criticizing or cursing fellow Muslims, let alone unite with them — are now setting aside their egos and walking together hand in hand for one purpose.

Though the leaders of some Muslim organizations have felt reluctant in joining the protests in the open, their members have unhesitatingly joined the other protesters. They have managed to unite under one leadership, taken to the streets in large numbers and showed that they are able to convey their aspirations in a very dignified manner.

Yet, the road is a long one, with no destination in sight and many challenges lie ahead.

After the third protest, Habib Rizieq, the main leader of GNPF, warned the government that a revolution will occur if Ahok is not punished for his blasphemy.

Is Indonesia going to witness a revolution in the near future, like in the Middle East, or will it be a different kind of revolution? Will it benefit Muslims and Indonesians in general, or not? Or will a legal decision against Ahok influence the case to move into another socio-political direction?

With hope, anxiety and earnest prayers, Jakarta and the whole of Indonesia is still waiting to see what will happen in the future.

*This article originally appeared on December 31, 2016 as an opinion piece for Anadolu Agency

*The writer is historian and social observer, and author of 26 books on history, religion, society and other topics.

Advertisements

Dr. Maung Zarni on the Rohingya Muslim Genocide in Buddhist Burma/Myanmar

28 November 2016

By Maung Zarni

A journalist asked me a few questions to get sound bites and quotes.  I turned them into a more comprehensive interview. Thought this may serve as a succinct backgrounder if you are interested in the contextual view of the current annihilation phase of the Rohingya genocide.

Why do you as a Buddhist and Burmese support Rohingys when your whole country, the military, the NLD and the society, hate and want to evict them as a group?

Historical evidence clearly indicates today’s Rakhine coastal region to be an ethnically and religiously diverse shared homeland for both Rakhine and Rohingya for centuries.  This is also the region that had far greater historical interaction and inter-mingling with the Bay of Bengal-based communities of present-day east coast of India, Bangladesh (East Bengal) than the central plains of Burma, where today’s dominant, ruling group, the Burmese,  have been based. I therefore support unequivocally the right of return for Rohingya people – close to a million by now – whom the Burmese have purged since the first army-organized large scale operation in 1978. There are more official reasons which compel me to support the Rohingyas and their cry to live in Northern Rakhine.

First, the governments of Burma, including the senior most leaders of the Burma Armed Forces embraced officially and verifiably Rohingya people as one of the ethnic minorities of the Union of Burma.  Second, Rohingyas are like any other ethnic minorities along Burma’s porous and long borders with China, India, Thailand and Bangladesh, whose presence and identities predate the emergence of present-day Burma. Burma as we know it is a colonial product of negotiations amongst the Burmese nationalists, ethnic minority leaders and the British colonials, and its borders were drawn artificially, splitting up these borderlands communities into members or citizens of new nation-states. As early as 1950’s the Burmese leaders, both civilians and military, acknowledge the presence and adjustable identities these borderlands people.

I know this because my own late great-uncle was a senior commander stationed in Rakhine, who was Deputy Chief of the predominantly Rohingya administrative district named Mayu District, after Mayu River in Northern Rakhine.

In addition, there are over 1,3 million Rohingyas – by Burma’s official, conservative estimate – that continue to live in what you may call ‘vast open prisons’ where the ethnic cleansing is taking place. The Burmese government of ex-general Thein Sein proposed to the visiting UNHCR head in August 2012 to effectively evict them and transmigrate them to other countries, with UN financing.  UN rejected the proposal on grounds that Rohingyas are not refugees. They are the country’s people, born and bred there, and it is the Burmese state’s responsibility to look after them.

Even without discussing the genocidal acts committed by the Burmese regime, the fact that it refuses categorically to register the birth of every single Rohingya new born makes Burma a major violator of international law, for instance, the Child Right Convention, which entitles all new-born infants, the right to a nationality. My country is verifiably in the wrong, in terms of facts and international law, not to mention on grounds of Buddhist principles of compassion and human kindness.

Is Aung San Suu Kyi ignoring the plight of the Rohingyas?

Aung San Suu Kyi is not simply ignoring or lukewarm about the plight of Rohingyas.  She is personally complicit and now officially guilty in making their plight worse by the day.

She is reportedly very “racist” towards the Muslims, and she unilaterally made the decision to NOT allow any Muslim MP in her party during the 2015 election, effectively pandering to the majoritarian anti-Muslim electorate. She shares the Burmese generals’ concern about the growth of Muslim population and she shares their military’s institutionalized view that Rohingyas are illegals or just colonial era migrants with no root in the country. By cleansing her now nominally ruling NLD of all Muslim MP candidates and representatives, she has practically aligned herself with the army, her key partner.

Why is there so much majoritarian racism towards Rohingyas and Muslims?

It is important to note that the ground-swell of Islamophobia is to a large extent the outcome of decades of Myanmar military’s anti-Muslim propaganda.   The generals turned racists and purged the armed forces of Muslims at all levels.   and they turned sight on to the society at large.  Beyond communal prejudices between Buddhists and Muslims,  the hatred, fear of Muslims among the majority Burmese, as well as other non-Rohingya non-Muslim minorities is just unprecedented. This anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim popular hatred is akin to Nazi Germany’s popular and official anti-Jew sentiments.     That is why, Aung San Suu Kyi, pandering to the military and popular racism towards Rohingyas is extremely troubling.

Have the international communities not actually created enough pressure on Myanmar to treat the Rohingyas fairly?

The mythical international community has known the persecution of the Rohingyas for decades – in fact since 1970’s.   There is plenty of evidence and documentation from the Rohingyas, from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights, embassy reports, UN reports, etc.      But the UN has failed to take any real and concrete measures or actions to stop a member state violating blatantly all major international human rights laws and treaties – like the Rome Statute Article 6 (Genocide Convention of 1948), Child Right Convention, CEDAW.

The failure of the UN and the failure of the Burmese leaders to address the needs of the ROhingya to lead a peaceful normal productive community life in their own homeland of N. Rakhine is going to have major negative ramifications for Burma, region and the world. In an otherwise fractured Islamic world, Rohingya genocide is the one issue that anger 1.7 billion Muslims around the world.  That anger will in due course translate into radical actions to end the Rohingyas’ plight.

Maung Zarni is a Burmese democracy advocate, human rights campaigner, and a former research fellow at the London School of Economics. He lived and worked in the United States for 17 years.

OPINION – How huge China investment in Bangladesh affects region

$38 billion Chinese investment in Bangladesh: Changing dynamics in geopolitics of South Asia?

Mohammad Hossain

KUALA LUMPUR 

In a major move of its kind, Bangladesh and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding on strengthening investment and production capacity cooperation in mid-October, with Bangladesh set to receive $24.45 billion in bilateral assistance from China for 34 projects and programs.

Combined with a further $13.6 billion in Chinese investment in the form of 13 joint ventures, the sum of $38.05 billion is the biggest ever assistance pledged to Bangladesh by any single country.

The agreement is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s initiative to promote and implement China’s Silk road economic belt under its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative — a trade and infrastructure network for connecting at least 60 Asian countries with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes.

The agreement is highly significant, not just because of the purported economic benefits that it will bring to both Bangladesh and China, but also because of the substantial geopolitical implications that it portends. This becomes all the more important in light of the changing political and economic dynamics within the South Asian region, shaped by the interests of emerging superpowers, such as India, in addition to those of existing heavyweights, such as China and the United States.

Back in March, Bangladesh and India signed a $2 billion agreement to implement socio-economic development projects in Bangladesh and strengthen bilateral relations, in what had been hailed as the “biggest line of credit that India had extended to any country so far”.

At the time, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the move as “clever and unexpected”, and a “checkbook coup” that would bowl the Bangladeshis completely in the face of China’s checkbook diplomacy.

Furthermore, in accordance with the “Make in India” policy of Modi — whereby under the line of credit a minimum of 75 percent of goods and services needs to be of Indian origin and must be procured from India — the agreement is expected to create 50,000 jobs in India.

The latest Bangladesh-China agreement, however, dwarfs that, leading to speculation of a “zero-sum game” being played out between India and China over Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, however, dismissed that when asked Oct. 14 in an interview with Indian daily The Hindu whether that investment could jeopardize ties with India.

Hasina said Bangladesh would maintain “good relations with everyone”.

“The purchasing power of our people will increase, and who will be the bigger beneficiary of that in our region? India. India is best poised to benefit from the Bangladeshi market.”

Despite China’s deep pockets, its interests in Bangladesh are less strategic and more economic and commercial. Unlike India, whose relationship with Bangladesh is strategic-cum-military, and is seen as a mark of its supremacy and ambitions in the South Asian and Indian Ocean regions.

This apparent competition between India and China over Bangladesh is part of a much wider rift between the two countries on the international stage.

In what can only be termed as conflicts of political and economic interests of two rising superpowers, India’s Look East policy, which aims to balance India’s relationship with the West and the East, are at odds with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Moreover, India is not keen on the idea of joining in on Beijing’s proposed economic corridor linking Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and Northern India as part of the Belt and Road initiative.

The tensions between the two countries were evident in the context of the recently held BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) conference in Goa, India, where the issue of Pakistan figured in pivotal terms in defining Sino-India relations.

China’s strong ties with Pakistan via the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, its move towards blocking India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group and its blocking of India’s attempt to add Masood Azhar (the founder and leader of the terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, active mainly in the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir) to the UN’s list of terrorists, clearly sets the tone from its side.

India, on the other hand, has had deteriorating ties with Pakistan, most recently over the issue of Kashmir and its refusal to join the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Pakistan, and its emphasis towards trying to strengthen strategic ties with the U.S. and Russia, instead of China.

Moreover, the BRICS-BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) Outreach Summit, held after the main BRICS summit Oct. 16, was more than a move towards potential synergizing between the two frameworks — it was meant to signal the rise of India as the “leader” of BIMSTEC while at the same time downplaying the continued relevance of SAARC in light of the increasingly strained India-Pakistan relations.

It is in this context that the Chinese move to woo Bangladesh, traditionally seen as a strong Indian ally in the subcontinent, through massive investments, will be of concern to India.

India’s growing strategic relations with the United States — itself historically more of an ally of Pakistan instead of China — speaks volumes regarding how India perceives its relationship with China.

Incidentally, recent U.S.-Pakistan relations have been relatively weak compared to U.S.-India relations, considering the strategic weight of India vis-a-vis China in the eyes of the U.S.

Former U.S. Ambassador to India Frank Wisner, speaking at a recent Conference on Foreign Relations (CFR) event entitled New Geopolitics of China, India, and Pakistan, said India was “hugely important” in maintaining a balance of power throughout the Asia Pacific for the United States, and that it was a two-way street.

“India sees the United States and its relationship with us as part of its ability to secure itself in the long term and manage its own relations with a rising Chinese power,” Wisner said.

In the meantime, the role of Bangladesh has not been just that of a passive recipient of foreign developmental aid from either India or China.

The government of Sheikh Hasina has actively responded to Modi’s Look East policy, the most recent manifestations of which have been its being part of a coordinated effort at boycotting the now-postponed SAARC summit in Pakistan and its pro-India stance on the issue of unrest in Kashmir.

At the same time, Bangladesh has balanced its act with China through bilateral trade; China is the largest trade partner of Bangladesh, while Bangladesh is the third largest trade partner for China in South Asia.

In this light, a close Bangladesh-China partnership, whether as part of increased BRICS-BIMSTEC economic cooperation or the proper utilization of the recent Chinese funds as planned, will surely ensure continued close, if not greater, Bangladesh-China collaboration in the future.

Bangladesh premier Hasina, now in her seventh consecutive year in power, can be credited with setting up a stable regime in Dhaka, through tight control on socio-economic activities, activities of the political opposition and the media. Stable long-ruling autocratic governments have long been seen as conducive to trade and developmental activities in the Asian region, and recent investment activity alludes to the realization of just that perception.

Another of the wild cards in terms of regional diplomacy is the role that counterterrorism can play in bringing countries closer, and Bangladesh’s recent counterterrorism efforts have resonated with regional and global powers India, China and the U.S., despite being criticized by international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International as being sweeping and misdirected at political opponents.

The political opposition in Bangladesh, namely the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Islamists led by Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, have not been able to effectively counter or circumvent the strict and at times oppressive measures of the government.

Their lack of strong alternative leadership and farsighted planning, coupled with a strong government clampdown on political opposition, has rendered them weak and unable to carve a voice in the rapidly changing dynamics of the country or the region.

*This article originally appeared on November 10, 2016 as an opinion piece for Anadolu Agency

*The writer is a political analyst and researcher in the Department of History and Civilization at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)

ANALYSIS: Kashmir is burning

The death of Burhan Wani in July this year has focused attention on conflict between Indian forces and Kashmiris

Dr. Abdullah Al Ahsan

KUALA LUMPUR

Kashmir is again burning. Since the killing of Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old Kashmiri, by the Indian security forces on July 8 every day one or two Kashmiris are being killed.

“Who Was Burhan Wani and Why Is Kashmir Mourning Him?” — a Huffington Post article — provides some background information.

According to the article, on YouTube on 7 June this year, about a month before his death, Burhan Wani explained why he took up arms against the Indian authorities.

Although the Indian authorities took little notice of Burhan Wani’s warning, the people of Kashmir seem to have taken him seriously. That is why the Indian authorities are currently experiencing trouble in maintaining what they call law and order.

Why did Burhan Wani take up arms against India? One needs to know history of the territory, how Indian troops got involved in Kashmir and what kind of treatment the people of Kashmir receive from the Indian occupying forces.

Indian involvement in Kashmir

The story of Kashmir dispute is long and well-known as one of the oldest unresolved conflicts in UN history. In 1948 alone, the UN Security Council adopted six resolutions on Kashmir but achieved little in securing peace on the ground.

In one resolution the UN decided to hold a plebiscite for the Kashmiri people to decide their future, but this never happened.

The first chief of the UN mission in Kashmir, Sir Owen Dixon — a senior Australian judge — later wrote in a report he was not able to hold the plebiscite because of the presence of “large numbers of regular soldiers of the Indian Army as well as the State Militia and police” in the state.

“I could not expose a plebiscite conducted under the authority of the United Nations to the dangers which I believed certainly to exist,” he said.

India landed its regular troops in Sri Nagar, Kashmir’s capital city, on Oct. 27, 1947 on the pretext of helping the Maharaja to quell a tribal revolt. Ignoring UN resolutions on the subject, in October 1949 the Indian Constituent Assembly incorporated an article in its constitution declaring Kashmir within Indian jurisdiction.

In 1951 India conducted an election in which 73 out of 75 seats in Kashmir Assembly were elected uncontested. Why and how so many seats were won uncontested? The authorities simply did not allow any opposition to join any democratic process. Then in October 1956 the same Assembly adopted a resolution declaring Kashmir as an integral part of India.

However, it must be noted that not all Indian officials working in Kashmir were brutal and cruel. B. K. Nehru, who served as Delhi’s appointed governor of Kashmir from 1981 to 1984, said in a statement: “From 1953 to 1975, Chief Ministers of that State [of J&K] had been nominees of Delhi. Their appointment to that post was legitimized by the holding of farcical and totally rigged elections in which the Congress party led by Delhi’s nominee was elected by huge majorities.”

In fact, the situation in Kashmir did improve significantly for some years. However, it deteriorated significantly after 1987 when the Delhi administration went back to its old ploy.

A Newsweek article has pointed out that: “When New Delhi has used a heavy hand — most notably, throughout the 1990s — this has resulted in increased popular alienation and increased Pakistani support both for indigenous Kashmir militants and for non-Kashmir attackers infiltrated across the LOC Line of Control between Azad Kashmir which is administered by Pakistan and Indian-occupied Kashmir.”

However, the Indian authorities continued to blame Pakistan for the unrest in Kashmir. Recently the conflict escalated following Burhan Wani’s death.

Surgical strike

In response to the uprising of the people of Kashmir, India again accused Pakistan of sponsoring Kashmiri fighters from across the border. But the surgical strike seems to have backfired. Ever since the strike not only the violence has increased in Kashmir, it has created political uproar between the government and the opposition.

On Sept. 30 India claimed to have conducted and killed scores of “militants” in a surgical strike inside Azad Kashmir. Indian press and opposition parties were full of praise for the Indian Army. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal praised Narendra Modi “for strikes on militant bases across the Line of Control”.

He also “asked the prime minister to expose Pakistan, which has flatly denied the army operation across the de-facto border”.

Soon, however, this turned out to be a political controversy between the opposition and the government. Kejriwal was accused of being “Pakistan’s spokesperson”.

Prime Minister Modi also joined the debate. According to The Hindustan Times: “His word of caution came against the backdrop of demands that the government should present proof about the cross-LOC raids to counter the smear campaign by Pakistan.”

With patriotic sentiment running high amid soaring tensions with Pakistan, Union minister Uma Bharti said leaders who cast “doubt over the army’s surgical strike should take Pakistani citizenship”.

The “surgical strike” claim has also attracted international attention. The New York Times reported: “On Saturday, Mr. Rustam, 22, pointed in that direction and said the Indian troops never left their posts. ‘They are lying,’ he said. ‘They never crossed the LOC.’ A group of villagers standing nearby nodded in agreement.”

University of Chicago professor Paul Staniland in a Washington Post article has pointed out that: “The India-Pakistan crisis is not occurring in isolation.” He also highlighted how Pakistan was trying to downplay the escalation.

Indian diplomacy, propaganda

India, however, seems to have been engaged in a war in all fronts. On Sept. 22 Malaysian intellectual and human right activist Chandra Muzaffar made an appeal to the international community to stand up in support of the people of Kashmir.

In response, one Malaysia-based Indian diplomat wrote a letter in The Sun Daily claiming “the article is misinformed, misleading and lacks objectivity”. The Sun Daily conversely declined to publish a response to the diplomat.

Indian authorities are simply ignoring the real issue. The Newsweek article on the subject has rightly pointed out that: “For India, the key lesson is to address the root cause of its problem in Kashmir rather than merely blame its woes on Pakistani meddling. The root cause is Delhi’s inability to make the population of Jammu and Kashmir feel that they are truly part of the Indian nation.”

Naturally this approach has created frustration among the youth and there has been a sharp rise in extremism and violence in the region. Burhan Wani is a perfect example of the sort of frustration that the Muslim youth suffers today. The Huffington Post article narrates:

“Speaking to Youth Ki Awaaz, Muzaffer Ahmed Wani, Burhan’s father, explained why his son couldn’t be held back: ‘Almost everyone here has been beaten up by the Army. You also must have had your share. But everyone didn’t become a militant. It depends on how much one can take. Yeh aap ki ghairat pe depend karta hai (It depends on your self-respect). Someone’s ‘Ghairat’ got challenged time and again, so he decided to answer back. Others decided to stay quiet. My son couldn’t bear to see the atrocities and the humiliation, so he was forced to choose the path which he is on right now.’”

Rise of extremism

There is no doubt that extremism and fanaticism are on the rise in the world today. And yes, many Muslims are involved in many extremist and fanatic activities. The war on terror has only created more terror.

However, one must also admit that the world body, the UN, has failed to resolve the world’s two oldest conflicts — Palestine and Kashmir — to the satisfaction of Palestinians and of the people of Kashmir. Since the beginning of the new century conflicts have spread to Afghanistan, Iraq on the initiative of some Western powers and to Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and to many other parts of the world with the participation of many Muslim governments.

Attempts have been made to introduce democracy in the Muslim world which has ended up only with hypocrisy. Kashmir is a good example of such democracy. Some are suggesting to the people of Kashmir as well as to Pakistan to learn how to live with a big neighbor. The way Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim have accepted Indian supremacy; Pakistan also should learn to adopt a pragmatic approach toward India.

One fundamental matter that many observers and counter terrorism ‘experts’ do not seem to understand is that Islam not only rejects the idea of human beings are not born with sin and they are not born in lower-caste families because they committed sins in their previous life, Islam stands very strongly for human dignity and promotes justice, equality and transparency.

Burhan Wani seemed to have been motivated by Islamic teachings but unfortunately he did not receive proper guidance about how to respond to injustice, dishonor and indignity in his homeland. The faster the Indian administration and the rest of the civilized world learn to respect and implement human values such as human dignity and transparency, the faster they would recover from the current catastrophe.

*This article originally appeared on October 11, 2016 as an opinion piece for Anadolu Agency

*The writer is a professor of Comparative Civilization in the Department of History and Civilization at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). 

How an iPhone defeated the tanks in Turkey

David Hearst

As the people of Turkey battled for their future, there was a crashing silence from Western leaders whose brand image is democracy. The French consulate had closed two days earlier. Did it know something Turkey did not?

To mount a coup, senior Turkish army officers from the commando units, land forces, the first and fourth armies, and the airforce went to extreme lengths to seize power.

They occupied two airports and closed a third. They attempted to separate the European from the Asian sides of Istanbul. They bombed the parliament in Ankara nine times. There was a pitched battled outside the headquarters of MIT the Turkish intelligence agency. They deployed tanks, helicopter gunships and F16 jets.

To defeat the coup, the Turkish president used his iPhone. Mosques used their loudspeakers, broadcasting the call to prayer hours before dawn. Political leaders of all creeds, some staunch opponents of the president, called unambiguously for the coup to be defeated. Policemen arrested soldiers.

Unarmed people recaptured CNN Turk and the bridges across the Bosphorus, braving gunfire to recapture democracy for their country.

This was unambiguously a military coup. And yet the US Embassy in Ankara in its emergency message to US citizens called it an “uprising”.

Geopolitical Futures released an analysis saying the coup was successful. BBC Arabic, Sky News Arabic, El Arabiya TV, the ITN diplomatic editor, the US networks were all running commentaries saying Erdogan was finished, or had fled to Germany.

The Guardian ran a piece whose first headline (it was later amended) said everything about an author unable to contain his glee at the demise of a man he qualified as authoritarian islamist: “How Recep Tayyip Erdogan inflamed tensions in Turkey”.

As the people of Turkey battled for their future, there was a crashing silence from Western leaders whose brand image is democracy. The French consulate had closed two days earlier. Did it know something Turkey did not?

In his initial statement, US Secretary of State John Kerry used every word except the dreaded “d” one. He hoped for “stability and peace and continuity” within Turkey.

Nothing about supporting a legitimately elected president and a legitimately elected parliament. Only when it was already obvious that the coup was failing did President Barack Obama and Kerry issue a statement unambiguously backing Erdogan.

If you want to know why Europe and the US are a busted flush in the Middle East, why they have lost all moral authority, indeed any authority at all,  and why they are no longer the candle bearers of democratic change, look no further than the three hours of silence as they waited to see which way the wind was blowing in Istanbul and Ankara.

The Saudis waited 15 hours before issuing a statement supporting Erdogan. The Emiratis and the media they controlled spread the message that Erdogan had fled the country.

The exact opposite was the truth. Erdogan showed bravery getting into a plane and heading for Istanbul knowing F16s were in the air and that the runway at Ataturk airport could have been closed.

Only three countries in the world clearly supported Erdogan from the start – Morocco, Qatar, and Sudan.

What was particularly impressive were the statements of Turkish politicians who had every reason to want Erdogan to go, and who had themselves been displaced by him. To his credit, the leader of Turkey’s largest party, Kemal Kalicdaroglu of the centre-left People’s Republican Party (CHP), came out immediately against the coup in a series of tweets, saying the country has “suffered a lot” in past military takeovers.

Two AK Party leaders from the liberal wing, who had been displaced or recently sacked by Erdogan supported him. Former president Abdullah Gul told CNN Turk that “Turkey is not a Latin America country…I’m calling those who attempt to overthrow the government [they] should go back to their barracks.”

Former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Al Jazeera: “Turkey is a democracy…I don’t think this attempt will be successful. There cannot be any attempts to destabilise Turkey. We’re facing so many crises in Syria and other regions, it’s time to have solidarity with the Turkish people… At this moment people in different cities are in the streets, the squares [protesting] against this coup d’etat attempt.”

All these people could see what the Western consensus about Erdogan could not. That the process was more important than the man. That Turks, believe it or not, would fight and die for the right to elect their president, even though the majority clearly do not want him to have overriding presidential powers.

Turkey’s reaction last night was that of a mature democracy. The Western reaction was that of corrupted democracy, terminally tainted by its military and political support of autocracy.

The turning point in last night’s morality play in Turkey came when images of Erdogan speaking into his iPhone were broadcast and spread virally over social media.

Up until then, it looked as if the coup would succeed. He called for the people to come out onto the streets and stay out on them. And they heeded that call sometimes at the cost of their own lives. An iPhone defeated tanks.

Turkey proved it is not Egypt. If there is a lesson in these dark days for democracy in the Middle East, it is for the people who are living the other side of the Mediterranean and whose country is bleeding from the military autocracy it once hailed as a second revolution.

Not for the first time since 2011, autocrats across the region must be shivering today. The democratic forces which can disarm soldiers, can disarm them too.

This article first appeared in Middle East Eye and later in Middle East Monitor