Saturday, December 13, 2008

Xinjiang and the Uighurs


Maryam Sakeenah

"Xinjiang will always keep up the intensity of its crackdown on ethnic separatist forces and deal them devastating blows** without showing any mercy."

- Wang Lequan, Chinese Communist Party Xinjiang Secretary, quoted by China News Agency, January 14, 2003

“China is guilty of fierce repression of religious expression, and intolerance of any expression of discontent.”

- Rebiya Kadeer, Uighur rights activist, writing for The Washington Post.

The 2008 Olympics held in Beijing helped bring into the limelight the plight of ethnic minorities in China, subject to ‘gross human rights violations’, according to Amnesty International. This said, however, there was a clear duality in the international perception and approach to the two issues of ethnic persecution in China: the Tibetans and the Muslim Uighurs of the Xinjiang region in the North-West. While the Tibet issue received international attention, building up pressure on the Chinese government, the ethnic unrest in Xinjiang remained eclipsed and went quite unnoticed, even to the extent that Al Jazeera TV had to call it ‘China’s Other Tibet’* in order to garner public attention. This international inattention and apathy makes sense in the context of the War on Terror, considering the fact that China’s diplomacy has successfully managed to present the Uighurs’ struggle as ‘terrorism’. Regardless of the international attitude towards it, facts on the ground seem to support what Uighur human rights activist Rebiya Kadeer stated in an interview to Kate Mc Geown of BBC, “I believe the Uighurs are the most persecuted people in the world.”

Amnesty International reports on March 17, 2005: “Since the late 1980s, the Chinese government’s policies and other factors have generated growing ethnic discontent in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Thousands of people there have been victims of gross human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, unfair political trials, torture and summary executions. These violations are suffered primarily by members of the Uighur community and occur amidst growing ethnic unrest fuelled by unemployment, discrimination and restrictions on religious and cultural freedoms. The situation has led some people living in the Xingiang Uighur Autonomous Region to favour independence from China. Crackdowns in the region have intensified since 9/11, with authorities designating supporters of independence as ‘separatists’ and ‘terrorists’. Muslim Uighurs have been the main targets of Chinese authorities. Authorities have closed down mosques, detained Islamic clergy and severely curtailed freedom of expression and association.”
The holding of the Olympics in Beijing was used as a justification of a hard-hitting crackdown in Urumqi and other sensitive areas in Xinjiang. Uighurs have been jailed for reading newspapers sympathetic to the cause of independence. Others have been detained merely for listening to Radio Free Asia, an American-sonsored English-language station. Even the most peaceful Uighur activists, if they practise Islam in a way that the authorities deem inappropriate, risk arrest and torture. China regularly dubs Uighur historians, poets and writers “intellectual terrorists” and sends them to jail. In June 2003 Abdulghani Memetemin, a teacher and journalist, was sentenced to nine years in jail for “providing state secrets for an organisation outside the country”. What he had actually done was help the East Turkestan Information Centre (an NGO based in Germany and run by exiled Uighurs), with its work by sending it news reports and transcripts of speeches by Chinese officials. In 2005, Nurmemet Yasin, a young intellectual, was sentenced to a decade in prison for writing an allegory comparing the Uighurs’ predicament with that of a pigeon in a cage.

Amnesty International has documented that, since 2001, “tens of thousands of people are reported to have been detained for investigation in the region, and hundreds, possibly thousands, have been charged or sentenced under the Criminal Law; many Uighurs are believed to have been sentenced to death and executed for alleged “separatist” or “terrorist” offences.” AI has further reported that once imprisoned, detainees are subjected to types of torture from cigarette-burns on the skin to submersion in raw sewage. Prisoners have had toenails extracted by pliers, been attacked by dogs and burned with electric batons, even cattle prods.
Those held and routinely tortured usually have flimsy charges against them. Human Rights groups say many of those arrested ‘may have done little more than merely practice their religion or defend their culture’, says M J Gohel, a terrorism specialist at the Asia Pacific Foundation in London. The joint report ‘Devastating Blows’ by Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China reveals that more than half the detainees in Xinjiang’s labour camps are there for having engaged in ‘illegal religious activity.’ Sharon Hom, the Executive Director of Human Rights in China says ‘Religious regulation in Xinjiang is so pervasive that it creates a legal net that can catch just anyone the authorities want to target.’
Rebiya Kadeer was a successful Uighur entrepreneur who founded a trading company in Xinjiang and rose to a position of prominence. Her company helped train Muslim Uighurs and give them employment opportunities. She and her husband became spokespersons for the rights of the Uighurs, and used their international connections to further the cause. In 1999, Kadeer was arrested as she entered a hotel to deliver a speech on human rights, and sentenced to eight years in prison on the charge of ‘providing secret information to foreigners’, which happened to be some news clippings about human rights abuse in Xinjiang she wanted to pass on to her husband in the United States. These ‘secret’ documents, however, were from newspapers that were publicly available. Human rights groups globally campaigned for Kadeer, and her sentence was shortened. She was released in 2005 and today champions the Uighurs struggle as an advocate of their rights in USA. In a June 2005 interview with Kate Mc Geown of BBC, Kadeer says, “Since I came out of jail I have never stopped fighting for the freedom of my people. In prison I witnessed personally the torture and persecution of many Uighurs who were totally innocent of the crimes they were said to have committed. I wasn’t allowed to get a lawyer… My struggle is peaceful. I focus on human rights. China has used 9/11 as an excuse to crack down. It is easy for the government to say the Uighurs are terrorists, because they are Muslims. Many Uighurs have been falsely persecuted for this.”
While the unrest in Xinjiang is decades old, China always looked at it as a sort of ‘national embarrassment’, deflecting international attention and keeping mum. M J Gohel of the Asia Pacific Foundation says “China has been shy about the whole problem. It has now come out of the closet.” The ‘coming out of the closet’ comes as a policy change in the wake of the War on Terror, which provides the Chinese government with an opportune moment to gather international support. This it is doing by presenting the unrest in Xinjiang as terrorism, fomenting a link with terrorism elsewhere around the globe which the United States has committed itself to fight. Both Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China accuse China of ‘opportunistically using the post 9/11 environment to make the outrageous claim that individuals disseminating peaceful religious and cultural messages in Xinjiang are terrorists who have simply changed tactics.’
The international connection is easy to establish as Xnjiang enjoys deep ethnic, religious and cultural ties with neighbouring states including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. China has utilized this natural connection to the hilt. The government claims foreign nationals are in the region. At a press conference, Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan warned that the province was “under attack… In Xinjiang, the separatists, religious extremists and violent terrorists are all around us_ they’re very active.” Post 9/11, China has busied itself with convincing the world that there is indeed a direct link between the US-led War on Terrorism and China’s indigenous fight against separatists in Xinjiang. With Islam as the mainstream religion in Xinjiang, the ‘common link’ is easy to establish.
The common link has enabled China not only to seek international approval for its counter-terrorism methods but also to demand support and assistance for the same. China has already named more than 10 groups who it claims are supporting separatist ‘terrorism’ in the region, and all of which are based abroad. These include, besides the already banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the East Turkestan Liberation Organisation, the World Uighur Youth Congress and the East Turkestan Information Centre. The last two groups are based in Germany, and have been operating peacefully and legally since years. Mike Dillon, Xinjiang expert at the University of Durham says, “Whether the other groups on the list even exist is open to doubt. And whether groups demanding independence have links abroad is open to doubt.” Dru C. Gladney, President of the Pacific Basin Institute agrees: “The ETIM has no truly effective links with Al Qaeda, at least not any more, and is most probably defunct by now, as far as we know.” Like several others, Andrew Nathan of Columbia University believes China is by far exaggerating the danger separatism in Xinjiang really poses. Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer emphatically states, “I vehemently deny that our struggle is connected to Al Qaeda. I believe history will show we were never terrorists. My people will win.”
The fruits of China’s diplomatic labours are manifested by international unconcern and apathy towards the issue. The United States, usually bitterly critical of human rights abuse in China, has apparently agreed to maintain strategic silence over the issue. When compared with international censure over Tibet, the duality of standards becomes only too clear. One reason for this is that the Uighurs lack effective, dynamic leadership that can advocate their cause internationally. They do not have the Nobel Laureate ‘Dalai Lama’ that Tibet has. The other reason that goes deeper, is the connection China has been able to establish with global terrorism, which makes world public opinion apathetic. The connection, sadly, is fomented conveniently because Uighurs share their religion with other separatist groups around the world that are branded ‘terrorists’. International propaganda against Islam churned for politically expedient reasons in the context of the War on Terror demonizes Muslim populations struggling for rights. It takes away sympathy and concern over rampant human rights abuse, making criminals of us all.
Nicholas Bequelin is pessimistic about future prospects for a peaceful resolution for the oppressed Uighurs due to international unconcern: “There is absolutely no international pressure to change policy in Xinjiang now. So why would China make any changes?”

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Salat: The Journey from Glorification to Surrender

Maryam Sakeenah

“Salat begins with Takbeer (glorification, acknowledgement of Greatness) and ends with Tasleem (Peace, Submission).” (hadith)
The declaration of faith_ 'La ilaha illallah' holds within it the essence of the dynamic journey to ‘Islam’ undertaken through recognition, acceptance, submission that progresses towards growth. And all this is symbolized in Salat. Its compulsive, regular performance reasserts the pattern of continuous onward progression that animates and vitalizes a Muslim's life.
Salat begins with proclaiming the greatness of Allah. When you begin to see and hear and feel and experience the exuberant panorama of life around you_ the miracle of Allah's creation, the honest soul declares and testifies the greatness of the Creator: 'Allahu Akbar'. It sings in His praise: 'Alhamdulillah i Rabb il aalameen'. And with that comes the submission, 'ruku', the falling down on knees when we experience the Presence; the 'sajdah' that teaches us to recognize our littleness and our need to submit to a Power on high greater than us, and to obey that Power to tame what is raw in our too human self; to submit the reason that suffocates if not made subservient to Faith. And with this, we rise to a station of rest and satiety, the 'qa'adah', where the human being can entrust his self to Allah, so that all action, all motives that drive them, all struggle, strife, effort is made for the One Being in whose keeping we give ourselves to secure a lasting peace. And with this statement of absolute Eemaan, we get the strength that makes us able to declare, amidst test and trial, 'Ash'haduallah ilaha illallah': 'I bear witness that there is no god but Allah'.
The moral action in Islam must seek its inspiration from the Sunnah and the lives of the Saaliheen (The righteous predecessors). When we bless them with peace in our Salat, we learn to acknowledge the invaluable worth of the 'shahadah' (testifying to the Oneness of Allah) that these people lived out in their heroic lives. In Islam, spirituality never implies social withdrawal or quietism but rather a building up of a fund of energy that finds its natural expression through social and communal action. Thus Salat teaches a valuable spirituality that not only sustains the individual but also his link with community. It prepares us for what is true moral action as we finish our spiritual experience by blessing with 'Islam' (Peace) those around us. The spirituality ignited through the supreme experience of Salat must radiate through the soul and express itself in behaviour and interaction with others.
Our lives have lost the Peace of Surrender, the integrity and uprightness that Salat trains us into. Rituals are performed like they were ends in themselves, and not established like they were means to the greater end of making our entire lives a testimony of Faith, and in turn, creating a better society. Our lives lack the ‘qiyam’ when we jump into the rat-race of procuring the most to get to the top of the endless ladder. They lack that ‘qiyam’ when we act so rashly and impulsively, trying to outdo others before the utilitarian system outdoes us. We lack a ‘qibla’ and a ‘kaaba’ for ourselves when the gods our world is so full of, win us to their side with wise lies. We lack the humility of ‘ruku’ when too much of the world invades our consciousness so that we become full of it, and when selfish desire fuels up the race towards Nowhere. We fail to fall in ‘sajdah’ out of gratitude when Allah works miracles in our lives and quietly blesses us. We are unable to reiterate the ‘shahadah’ when put to test. We fail to bless with ‘Salaam’ (the Peace of Islam) the ignorant with all their wiles on our left, and the friends in Faith to strengthen us on our right.
Life will come back to us when the spirit in Islamic rituals and the message of the Quran is translated into living experience, incorporated into our everyday lives. And we can get that life back by learning to be Allah-conscious every minute we live. We have to be the willingly surrendered: ‘Muslim’_by choice, not just by chance; people of deep thought and consistent action. The fullness of our empty lives is so distracting, it leaves us no time to think WHY we are here, what we are to do. And the end of it is abject loss as time steals by and we drown ourselves in all the pettiness. I am reminded of the message of Surah Al Asr, that miracle of the Quran which carries in its few words the essence of living life the right way: ‘By Time! Man is in Loss. Except those who believe. And do righteous good deeds. And exhort one another to the Truth. And exhort one another to Steadfastness.’
The consciousness of what is truly big and meaningful in life eludes us as we sail through, zombie-like, over life. The loss of that consciousness has been very costly. It has left us lifeless, bloodless. The Islamic belief-system and its spiritual dimension has a transforming power when established on the self. And that transformation doesn’t have to be visibly great and glorious, ambitious and idealistic enough to be beyond realistic doing. We have to get down and start from little everyday bits, and these will count for so much inshallah. Distances are travelled step by step, and each step taken makes up the whole journey onward. And then we have the reassuring Voice of Allah in our ears: ‘If you take a step towards Me I will take ten towards you. If you come to Me walking, I will go to you running.’ Subhanallah! What keeps us from taking that first step?
We have to learn to find the Truth by learning to look at the world clear-eyed, and by going inside the self to find its testimony; to turn heavenward when earthiness clouds over our souls_ and to come back rich and giving for the world that is in such dire need of help. The parched, barren Wasteland inside must receive its Rain, and the wastes we have reduced our world to will bloom, inshallah: ‘Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they change themselves.’ (The Quran)
"'When I am weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood,
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over...
Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch-tree
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped it's top and set me down again..."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ideologization of Contemporary Conflict


Maryam Sakeenah

The rule of thumb, like in Newtonian physics, is the inevitability of reaction. The frequently used label of 'terrorism' needs to be examined at a more insightful level. It is simply a violent expression of reactionary sentiment to victimization. It does not grow out of religious doctrine, but out of the psychology of the 'victim refusing to be victim.' (Arundhati Roy). Tragically, however, the deep-seated root-causes are never inquired into.

A lot is wrong with the way the ongoing conflicts involving religion are perceived and portrayed in the media monopolized by the West. This is important because this lack of sympathy and refusal to understand is what in turn fans religious sensitivities and reinforces the sense of being victimized and stigmatized, making us go farther away from resolution and peacemaking. Eric Brahm writes, "Popular portrayals of religion often reinforce the view of religion being conflictual. The global media has paid significant attention to religion and conflict, but not the ways in which religion has played a powerful peacemaking role. This excessive emphasis on the negative side of religion and the actions of religious extremists generates interfaith fear and hostility. What is more, media portrayals of religious conflict have tended to do so in such a way so as to confuse rather than inform, thereby exacerbating polarization." The tendency to throw around the terms 'fundamentalist' and 'extremist' is reckless and irresponsible. According to Karen Armstrong, "We constantly produce new stereotypes to express our apparently ingrained hatred of 'Islam'. The West must bear some measure of responsibility for why today many people in the Islamic world reject the West as ungodly, unjust, and decadent. . ."

The 'Clash of Civilizations' theory suggests the future larger role of religious conflicts generated by 'a clash between civilizations.' The theory however has been criticized for reasserting differences between civilizations. Edward Said argues that Huntington's categorization of the world's fixed "civilizations" omits the dynamic interdependency and interaction of culture based not on harmony but on the clash or conflict between worlds. The presentation of the world in a certain way legitimizes certain politics. Interventionist and aggressive, the concept of civilizational clash is aimed at maintaining a war time status in the minds of the West. Pope John Paul II observed: "A clash ensues only when Islam or Christianity is misconstrued or manipulated for political or ideological ends."

Secularism, especially in the context of contemporary politics, has assumed the form of an extremist 'ism' strongly opposed to religious belief and practice. The relentless imposition of Secularist principles by liberal regimes has often been offensive to religious sensitivities which have continued to live on as prized individual sentiment. According to Kosmin, "the hard secularist considers religious propositions to be illegitimate, warranted by neither rationality nor experience." An example is the banning of all religious expression in Secular France, including the Muslim headscarf. Secular Communism in China has brutally suppressed religious sentiment in Muslim Xinjiang province. The ruthless imposition of Secularism, therefore, has often exacerbated the sense of being unfairly treated by religious communities, fuelling tension and hostility in which lie seeds of conflict.

Today, with the West spearheading the liberal ideology and enjoying its zenith of power and influence, liberalism with its attendant ideologies of secularism and democracy have emerged as the de facto 'standard' ideological premise, de-legitimizing alternative ideologies rooted in Oriental tradition. The zeal with which the West imposes and exports its 'superior' brand of ideology has worked to alienate the Third world and non-Western communities whose indigenous alternative ideologies are undermined and slighted, and prevented from political expression. This is an underlying cause of disaffection and discontent within the non Western world. The West's ideological arrogance and a sort of ideological 'imperialism' that allows it to 'export' secular, liberal democracy all over the world through political interventionism lies at the base of ongoing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and numerous other global crises. According to Joshua Goldstein, "Democracies and non democracies may increasingly find themselves in conflict with each other if this trend continues."

The 'ideologization' of the War on Terror has eclipsed the true ground realities and the actual root causes of the conflict, turning attention away from them. This has made a resolution of the conflict more elusive than ever. Particularly regrettable is the inability to understand terrorism as a desperate reaction by the socially outcast, economically deprived and politically oppressed. Terrorism, in fact, is a tactic used by disaffected individuals and communities, not an ideology. Instead, terrorism is seen as an opposing, challenging, hostile and 'barbaric' 'ideology' opposed to all that the West stands for and believes in. This is extremely misguided and helps divide the world into opposing ideological camps, lending strength to the dangerous 'clash of civilizations' thesis.

George W. Bush expressed the grandiosity of this 'clash of ideologies' in a statement:

"We've entered a great ideological conflict we did nothing to invite." Margie Burns comments on this: "This statement should sound alarm bells for the nation and the world. What does Bush mean by an "ideological conflict"? All previous grandiose Bush pronouncements on global conflict have focused on terrorism and the "war on terror."

Bush is trying to present terrorism as an "ideology," in an us-or-them global conflict, with Terrorism replacing Communism. Every thinking person knows that terrorism is not an "ideology." Terrorist acts are a tactic. We know by now exactly who uses them, too: individuals and small groups use guerrilla tactics when other tactics are not available to them, against a much stronger governmental power or foreign power. So, regardless how much expense is poured into making Terrorism the new Communism, it may not fly.

When Bush mentions our ideological opponents, he is again referring to the "radical Islamists". This is inaccurate and dangerously uninsightful (as well as religiously prejudiced). Bush is referring to all of Islam, at least implicitly. There is enough ill will and bad faith out there for the hot-button buzzwords to produce campaign contributions, to pay lobbyists, and to distract the press from actual governance. This may be the scariest possibility, although admittedly it's a hard call."

All of the conflicts in the world today with a death toll of over a 1000 annually, are either ethnic, religious or ideological in nature.

The statistics are appalling and underscore the urgency of peaceful conflict resolution. For this purpose it is important to be able to reach down into the root causes of conflict. In case of conflicts based on intangible factors, the causes are deep-buried into the recesses of human psychology, beliefs, perceptions and ideas.

The solution is to create awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role of religion. It is important to fight ignorance of the true spirit of the Islamic faith and the ignorance of non Western cultures that leads to stereotyping and prejudices. Interfaith and intercultural dialogue has the potential to build the much-needed bridges of understanding. Learning about other religions, cultures and civilizations would be a powerful step forward. Communicating in a spirit of humility and self-criticism can also be helpful.

Every single human being needs to be recognised as an individual with a unique identity; everyone needs security and the freedom to be themselves. If these rights are withheld, people protest_ be they black, white, Muslim, non Muslim or whatever_ and this discontentment leads to rebellion and violence.

Cultures and values must not be exclusivist, and should not create 'otherness' for those that may be different. The cleavages of 'us and them' and the use of the language of discrimination, intolerance and hate must be rejected. Human beings need to create a society that does not see natural differences and human diversity as problematic but as valuable for social growth. The human race needs to redefine identitiy on the basis of a single, common humanity and universal values we all share as human beings. The focus should be shifted from differences to commonalities.

The Quran gives this necessary insight into conflict resolution through reinstating the singularity of humanity: "O Mankind! We created you from a single male and a female and divided you into nations and tribes so that you may identify one another." The Prophet of Islam (SAW) said in his Last Sermon: "(In the light of this verse), no Arab has a superiority over a non Arab, nor does a non Arab have any superiority over an Arab; and a black does not have any superiority over a white, nor is a white superior to a black, except by one thing: righteousness. Remember, all human beings are the sons and daughters of Adam (A.S), and Adam (A.S) was made from dust."

On the necessity of finding and holding on to the common essence, the Quran says: "And come to common terms, to that which is common between us and you, that is, we worship none but the One God…" (Surah Aal e Imran)

The return to the simplicity of this clear message is the need of the hour. We need to reach for the common essence, to respect the colours and shades of humanity as the Sign of the One Divine Being. This can help erase the false artificial divisions and make the barriers fall. It is only through following these universal directives that men can find the way out of the morass of hostility, hatred, prejudice, injustice, conflict and violence, in order to create a unified human brotherhood on the basis of a single Idea for the benefit of all creatures of the One Master.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008



The article 'Ladies As Hooded Bandits' by Khalid Hasan appeared in The Friday Times, October 20-26, 2006. In the article, the writer lampoons women who take up the veil as misguided. He claims that the Hijab and Niqab have nothing to do with Islam and are inventions of medieval clerics who wished to use it to subjugate women. Thus, these instruments of oppression must be rejected by modern liberated Muslim women.
Maryam Sakeenah wrote a response to the article, the text of which is as follows:

Dear Mr. Khalid Hasan,
This is in response to your article 'Ladies as Hooded Bandits' in TFT, October 20_26, 2006.
You have every right to have your views as in fact every human being does_ but when you feel you have the liberty to ascribe those views to Islam, one is compelled to set the record straight.
For starters, you say that 'anyone who has taken the trouble to read the right texts would know' that hijab and niqab 'have nothing to do with Islam', I only wish, sir, that you yourself had taken the trouble to read the 'right texts'_ not something spewed up by some downright typical feminist-orientalist, but the universal, original sources of Islam.
I quote: "O Prophet! (S) Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close around them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so they may be recognized and not annoyed. Allah is Ever Forgiving, Most Merciful." (The Quran, 33:59)
"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms and not to reveal their adornment..." (The Quran, 24:31)
It is very clear that these verses prescribe an Islamic dress code for women. As implied by the word 'jilbab' used here, this prescribed dress must be an outer loose garment to cover what attracts the attention of a male stranger. The word 'khimar' used in the second verse means a flowing mantle and its root is from the word 'khamr' meaning 'poured down as a liquid'. This is a telling metaphor for this outer garment as prescribed by Islam.
Those who claim that these verses do not imply covering the head must know that Arab women before Islam, according to a cultural tradition, already covered their heads. However, they left their neck, chest and the rest of the body not covered by an outer extra bit of loose clothing. Owing to this widespread practice, it was quite redundant to give a repetitive order asking them to do something they were already doing. The verse therefore mentioned only that which they were not doing and must do: to extend the head garment lower, so as to cover the chest and the rest of the body. It is reported in an authentic tradition that as soon as this verse was revealed, there was hardly a woman in Madina who did not take off her waistband to make with it a loose garment to cover her body, as is the clear directive of this verse. They did not notice, as you seem to have, that the verse leaves out the head covering and therefore abrogates an Arab tradition. They very much included the head when covering themselves, which was clearly approved of by the Prophet (S), whose own wives were the first to take it up.
The true understanding and practical application of these verses can be reached solely through related ahadith and sources showing how the Companions (R.A) of the Prophet (S) understood and applied this ruling in their lives and time.
There is plenty of evidence showing that Muslim women at the time of the Prophet (S) covered their heads and according to certain traditions even their faces as part of the Islamic dress code. In a hadith it is said that Asmaa bint Abu Bakr (R.A) visited the Prophet (S) wearing a diaphanous dress. The Prophet (S) turned his gaze away and said to her: 'O Asmaa! When a girl approaches the age of puberty, no part of her body may be seen except this and this (pointing to the face and hands).'
While covering the head is a clear, unequivocal and agreed-upon command of Islam, covering the face is a matter of some difference of opinion. Although the majority concedes that it is compulsory, there have been scholars of note like Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz and Imam Abu Hanifa (and some contemporary scholars) who have dissented, saying that it is not an obligation on all women. However, these dissenting scholars also unanimously agree that it is still a highly recommended practice as it was done by the blessed Mothers of the Faithful. When certain Companions of note (including Umar R.A) were asked about the way a woman ought to cover herself, they demonstrated by covering the whole body including the head and face, only leaving the hands and the eyes exposed. Ayesha (R.A) narrates in the hadith of 'Ifk' that when she lay alone in the desert and Safwan bin Ma'tal (R.A) spotted her there he said 'Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon', realizing that she had lost the caravan and was alone and helpless there. She heard his voice and woke up from her sleep and immediately pulled her garment over her face. Similarly, Ayesha (R.A) says that on her way to perform Hajj or Umrah when people passed by, the women in the Prophet (S)'s caravan used to pull their head coverings on their faces.
While its obligatory nature might be debated, certainly desiring to follow these noble ladies who are examples and ideals for all Muslim women is admirable and praiseworthy. Even if one does not subscribe to this view, I believe one must at least respect it as a Muslim.
However, in a derogatory way, you call women who follow this noble Islamic practice a 'hooded bandit.' I wonder how a practice followed and upheld by the noble ladies of the Prophet (S)'s house 'flies in the face of clear Islamic injunctions'!!! I wonder as a Muslim what you would have had to say about Lady Ayesha (R.A), Fatima (R.A), Zainab (R.A), Saffiyah (R.A), Umm Salamah (R.A), Hafsa (R.A), or Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus Christ (A.S)_ all of whom dressed up thus, as have all Muslim women in history since the time of Adam (A.S). I really wonder...
Needless to say that the people whose interpretation you give weight to and quote as Gospel Truths do not qualify as a credible authority on Islamic jurisprudence by any criteria. Their research, contribution, training and experience in fiqh matters is a straight nil, to say the least. It is ridiculous that their feather-weight opinions could be given precedence over those who spent a lifetime striving to develop Islamic knowledge and jurisprudence leaving behind a comprehensive body of research, analysis and juristic rulings. What is more, the figments of the imaginations of a handful of orientalists and feminists is taken as an authority over and above the understanding, opinions and practices of the Blessed Companions (R.A), the Mothers of the Believers (R.A) and the Prophet of Islam (S) himself!!!! I only invoke sanity, sir!
Having studied at Christian missionary institutions all my life and being raised in a secularized set-up, I have chosen, Sir, to wear the hijab, and even the niqab for what it symbolizes; what it preserves, shields and protects me from_ for the freedom and confidence it gives me. To you, the hijab seems to imply that males cannot tame their libido_ Well, I have not lived the male experience, but as a woman I always felt in my 'pre-hijab' days, to often unwillingly and without my consent be subjected to an onlooker's lustful gaze which my whole being protested against but had no means to beat back or keep at bay. I felt objectified, reduced to a 'thing with a pretty face', lesser than myself, valued only for the exterior, the trappings of the skin. What's more, I know of countless women who, considering physical exposure to be their freedom, suffer lewd remarks, gestures and even assaults and I pity them. As I confidently walk down the public street in the God-given protection I have, I feel safe and free, and I see the bystander's gaze humbled, lowered. I feel the lustful stranger averting his gaze, held back at a dignified distance. I have got him to respect and preserve my dignity and thereby, educated him. That is the power I wield over him. I command respect, I get my womanhood honoured and respected. My hijab is my armoury. And I thank Allah. You have to be a woman, Sir, to taste that joy!
To conclude, I quote my Muslim sister Dr. Rakhshanda Jabeen who writes: "My decision to wear the hijab is an expression of my love for the Prophet (S) and the women of his family. Those of you who make cocksure statements about my dress, have you ever asked a woman who covers herself the way Allah wants her to_ what she feels? You are so sensitive to women's feelings_ but which women's? Your sensitivity to the 'plight' of the woman in hijab only pains her! You speak only for the right to reject the hijab of the woman who never chose it for herself in the first place! Who does that woman shout from over the rooftops for? We don't need her clamour. We are at peace. But the one who has never tasted the sweetness of submission to Allah, what would he know how much joy it brings us? Have you ever cared to understand the sensitivities and feelings of the woman who has chosen the hijab? Who do you sympathise with the one who doesn't need, doesn't want your sympathies? To me, my hijab is safety, honour and respect_ unattainable for the one who cast it off. My Prophet (S) said: 'Islam began as a strange thing, and will end as a strange thing_ so give glad tidings to the strangers.' It is we who, with our very being and our presence help to dispel that strangeness. And it is our rapidly growing numbers that ensure the thriving continuity of the spirit of Islam in this society."

Wishing you Peace,

A Reader.

Dear Miss Maverick

I suppose it is part of your observance of hijab/niqab that you do not sign your name.
Your long reaction to my column in The FridayTimes is very well written for which I compliment you.
However, what custom was right for 7th century Arabia is not right for the world in which we live, nor are such part of the Quran intended for all times to come. This is neither the essential message of the Quran nor is it the spirit of Islam. I would urge you to read Dr Fazlur Rehman's book 'Islam' to clear your mind.
If according to you only full coverage of the body and face can give a woman power and dignity, then by that logic those who do not follow your practice have neither dignity nor power.
I wish you a pleasant weekend. You write very well and you should use this talent to produce more creative work.

Khalid Hasan

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sentiments in Kashmir


Maryam Sakeenah

Kashmir burns... It has been, since the maharaja's fateful manoeuvring in 1947 that sealed Kashmir's miserable plight; however, not perhaps with so much passion and fervour of the mass-man on the streets in the face of indiscriminate brutality perpetrated by the army of one of the world's biggest democracies.

The string of mass demonstrations started after Indian troops brutalized protestors against the land transfer of Kashmiri forest land for the expansion of the Amarnath Shrine that attracts hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims annually. A blockade was imposed on the occupied valley as protests intensified. The streets caught fire with the shooting by Indian police, of Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz during a demonstration.

As Syed Ali Shah Geelani commented, the land transfer was quite a non-issue. It merely acted as the glowing splint when it is inserted in a jar of highly inflammable substance. What is there today in the streets of Kashmir is public sentiment full of hurt, ire, helplessness, frustration and anger over the reign of terror and oppression unleashed in the region since its sixty-odd year old occupation. Today, the numbers of Kashmiri prisoners languishing in Indian jails suffering torture and abuse that is obscured by India's propaganda machinery is appallingly high. Kashmiris refuse to forget the fathers, brothers and sons killed or 'disappeared', the mothers, sisters and daughters raped. And the sentiment in the streets states clearly, 'we remember.' As the victimized always do. Leaders of Kashmir's freedom fighting movement labour in prisons; others including Yasin Malik are hurt or wounded, put under house arrest or with mobility strictly limited.

Yet the tide of popular sentiment refuses to be held in check by barricades or barbed wire. The people carry their leaders on their shoulders as they march through the streets braving batons and bullets, in the face of curfews, checkposts and routine Indian ruthlessness.

The message emerging from this spontaneous outpouring of raw grief and unafraid passion stands clear as day. Kashmir has suffered too long. It cries out today for freedom and the right to self-determination enshrined in the charter of the United Nations. Ironically, India lays claim to permanent membership of the United Nations' Security Council. Kashmir simply wants to decide its own fate_ a right given to it by all canons of international law.

The Indian government has perhaps kept its head buried in the sand too long. The convenient fiction of a militancy engineered by the ISI trained infiltrators into Kashmir at best sounds like an old joke too frequently told that fails even to make anyone laugh anymore. The recent events in the valley have shattered that fiction, and written in bold blocks: Azadi. As Arundhati Roy stated, 'it is the only thing Kashmir wants. Denial is delusion.' She observes and understands the meaning in the slogans that today have become the battlecry for a nascent Kashmiri revolution: "Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people swarm around places that hold terrible memories for them. They demolish bunkers, break through cordons of concertina wire and stare straight down the barrels of soldiers' machine-guns, saying what very few in India want to hear. *Hum kya chahte? Azadi*! We Want Freedom. And, it has to be said, in equal numbers and with
equal intensity: *Jeevey Jeevey Pakistan*. Long live Pakistan…Everywhere there were Pakistani flags, everywhere the cry, *Pakistan se rishta kya? La ilaha illa llah*. What is our bond with Pakistan? There is no god but Allah. *Azadi ka matlab kya? La ilaha illallah*. What does Freedom mean? There is no god but Allah…Another was *Khooni lakir tod do, aar paar jod do* (Break down the blood-soaked Line of Control, let Kashmir be united again). There were plenty of insults and humiliation for India: *Ay jabiron ay zalimon, Kashmir hamara chhod do* (O oppressors, O wicked ones, Get out of our Kashmir). *Jis Kashmir ko khoon se seencha, woh Kashmir hamara hai* (The Kashmir we have irrigated with our blood, that Kashmir is ours!). The slogan that cut through me like a knife and clean broke my heart was this one: *Nanga bhookha Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan* (Naked, starving India, More precious than life itself—Pakistan).

The street sentiment in Kashmir makes the truth about Kashmir_ which the Indian state propaganda machinery has been at pains to smother in lies_ only too obvious. The trouble in Kashmir is not about the ISI trained infiltrators fomenting an unpopular militancy. It is not about Pakistani 'terrorism' across the line of control. It is about the Kashmiris' rejection of Indian control over their land; it is about their rejection of an illegal occupation that has, over the sixty years, written their tale of woes in blood and tears; it is about an imposition of an unpopular, undemocratic and unscrupulous rule that needs the baton and the bullet to perpetuate itself; it is about the legitimate aspirations of a people who have been denied fundamental freedom; it is about foreign control that flies in the face of the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris which India itself committed to, through the promised plebiscite that was never let happen; it is about an occupation that never was, never has been, not is and never will be accepted by the people; it is about a people's desire to live the way they want, with dignity and freedom, beyond the shadow of gun-toting Indian soldiers.

India has covered up the reality in Kashmir with lies prepared by the State and fed into the public by its powerful media. Kashmiris today have broken through the fragile façade of state-authored fiction to show the world it is Kashmir against an aggressive, arrogant occupying power. The State is embarrassed by the outrage in the streets of Srinagar. In its shame-faced egotism, it intensifies its state-terror on a restive population. Kashmiris, however, have gone past the point where the hail of bullets could deter them. For them is Do or Die. Roy comments: "Raised in a playground of army camps, checkposts and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an epiphany. They're in full flow, not even the fear of death seems to hold them back. And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second-largest army in the world?"

By a more finely tuned analysis, this is embarrassing not merely for India, but the international community that recognizes India as an upcoming superpower, a secular responsible democracy and an aspirant to a permanent seat in the Security Council. The US actively seeks a strategic nuclear partnership with India as a 'responsible democracy', while condemning Iran for suspected nuclear ambitions. Where is the condemnation of India's blatant human rights abuse in Kashmir? Where is the concern for the thousands killed, imprisoned, tortured with impunity by Indian troops holding their 'license to kill' approved by their Secular Democracy? Where is the censure, the international pressure, the otherwise so oft-used threat of sanctions? Where is international law? Where is the UN Charter that enshrines 'the right of self-determination of all peoples'? Where are the Security Council Resolutions calling for that long-forgotten plebiscite? Where are the champions of human rights, peace and freedom? The world's silence on Kashmir speaks loud of double standards, duplicity, hypocrisy, narrow self-interest and the merely rhetorical commitment to human rights and self-determination held by those at the helm.

What Kashmir pines for today is just what Pakistan had stood for and advocated since its inception, before things went topsy-turvy. Yet the country's U-turn on its principled stance on Kashmir and its lukewarm support to the aspiration of Kashmiri masses in the wake of its own war in the tribal north signifies the collapse of its Kashmir policy. Pakistan has failed to cash in on the moment, to reciprocate the trust and the deep ties the Kashmiris feel themselves to be held by with Pakistan. Pakistan has teetered on Kashmir, kept mum or merely feebly whimpered on crucial concerns in its pursuit of a narrowly selfish 'Pakistan First' policy conjured up in the Musharraf era. No clear condemnation of the mayhem in Kashmir has been issued, no word of support to the leaders of the freedom movement, no appeal to the international community to take notice of the unabated violence. Most conspicuously, the Pakistani media, perhaps also desirous of viewership in India and of ties with the media giant, has given no significant coverage to the recent events in Kashmir. The Kashmir freedom leaders' expressions of solidarity with Pakistan and aspirations to unite with it become embarrassing for Pakistan as it has so miserably fumbled on its tottering Kashmir standpoint.

Kashmir today stands alone, but it stands with pride and heroism soaked in blood, tears and an undying idealism. And it puts to shame the torchbearers of democracy, human rights and freedom whose vision is characterized by that 'blindspot' on Kashmir, as they narrowly pursue the agendas of self-interest. Suffering Kashmir stands tall in a world maddened by "the twisted logic of a country that needs to commit communal carnage in order to bolster its secular credentials. Or the insanity that permits the world's largest democracy to administer the world's largest military occupation and continue to call itself a democracy." (Arundhati Roy)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cry, Lady Liberty!

CRY, LADY LIBERTY! – Maryam Sakeenah

Shortly after the disappearance of young Dr. Afia Siddiqui and her three minor children from Karachi in 2003, the American news channel NBC reported that she had been arrested in Pakistan 'on suspicion of facilitating money transfers for Al Qaeda.' Both Pakistani and US intelligence agencies, however, have since sworn an oath of silence over the issue. Senior Pakistani ministers have denied knowledge of her whereabouts. The Pakistani authorities have, however, insisted that Dr. Siddiqui 'was connected to Al Qaeda,' and that 'you will be astonished to know about her activities.' No evidence of these suspicious activities, however, has ever been shown the light of day.

Lord Nazir Ahmed, British MP, raised the issue in the House of Lords, highlighting the rampant human rights abuse the prisoner was subjected to. He held that this woman prisoner from Pakistan was 'physically tortured and continuously raped by the officers at the prison, to the extent that she had lost her mind.' Soon after, on July 6, British journalist and revert to Islam Yvonne Ridley who authored the book 'In the Hands of the Taliban', appealed to the Pakistanis to secure her release. She said: Today I am crying out for help – not for me, but for a Pakistan woman who you and I have never met, but she is our sister in Islam and she is in desperate need. She has been held in isolation by the Americans in neighbouring Afghanistan. As you know I was also held in Afghanistan, in prison for 10 days at the hands of the Taliban in September 2001. My story made international headlines, front page pictures and major stories on television. I was released on humanitarian grounds without charge even though I was guilty of entering the country without a passport or visa.But there has been not one word, not one paragraph about Prisoner 650 – the Grey Lady of Bagram … a murderous detention facility under the control of the US Military and intelligence services. I call her the Grey Lady because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continue to haunt those who heard her."

Yvonne Ridley quoted from former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Beg who authored 'Enemy Combatant', in which he recounts: "I began to hear the chilling screams of a woman next door. My mind battled with questions I was too afraid to ask. What if it was… my wife? Eventually I did agree to say whatever they wanted me to say, to do whatever they wanted me to do. I had to finish it. I agreed to be their witness to whatever. At the end of it all, I asked them, "Why have you got a woman next door?" They told me there was no woman next door. But I was unconvinced. Those screams echoed through my worst nightmares for a long time. And I later learned in Guantánamo, from other prisoners, that they had heard the screams, too, and believed it was my wife. They had been praying for her deliverance." Other detainees from Bagram have attested to the same. In an interview on TV, a former Bagram detainee confirmed he had heard a woman's screams, and also that he had seen her. He told that the other prisoners in Bagram had gone on hunger strike for six days to pressurize those incharge to stop torturing the woman. Yvonne Ridley continued: "Today I am making a demand that the US military hands over the Grey Lady immediately. We do not know her identity, we do not know the state of her mind, we do not know the extent of the abuse or torture. What I do know is that this would never happen to a western woman – what is wrong with the US military? Don't they value a Muslim woman, is her life worthless, does she not deserve to be treated with respect? In truth I don't think any of us with a conscience can rest until she is released. Sadly, she is not the only one."

Weeks later, due to the overwhelming media attention on the issue, a frail, battered, badly wounded and immobilized Dr. Afia Siddiqui was produced in a US court. Her Lawyer Elizabeth Fink stated: "She is complaining of abdominal pain. She understands she lost part of her intestine, and suffers from continual intestinal bleeding. She has been here, judge, for one week and she has not seen a doctor, even though they (U.S. authorities) know she has been shot." In view of the fact that Dr. Siddiqui had a serious wound in her abdomen and stitches all the way up her torso, the judge ordered that she must immediately be seen by a doctor. The explanation offered for the enormous and untreated bullet wound in her abdomen was that she had been 'allegedly trying to fire on a group of U.S. troops who had come to question her in an Afghanistan prison.' How a woman who could not even move, let alone walk, talk or even lift a gun shoot straight at an armed security officer defies any explanation. Ridiculously, the U.S. prosecutor told the court in an effort to explain, that this was 'a complicated situation,' and because of her 'alleged attack on an American officer', the decrepit woman was considered a 'high-security risk.' The US authorities pull a straight blank regarding the whereabouts and condition of Dr. Siddiqui's three minor children. There have been conflicting statements about whether they are alive and if so, where. While the unforgivable brutality inflicted on 'Prisoner 650' has been shamelessly justified on the grounds of her 'suspected involvement with Al Qaeda', no amount of 'logical discourse' or 'legal argument' can ever attempt to justify how and why her baby and two toddler sons have been 'punished.' So much for America's commitment to fundamental Human Rights and basic justice.

And yet, there are those who would jump in defence of this naked viciousness and barbarism, those sitting on high seats in prestigious offices of the great and mighty empire of the United States of America. Ms. Anne Patterson, US ambassador to Pakistan writes: "Ms. Siddiqui is accused of seizing a weapon and firing_ unprovoked_ on US personnel during questioning… At no time was Ms. Siddiqui mistreated or abused in any manner whatsoever… The United States has no definitive knowledge as to the whereabouts of Ms. Siddiqui's children… She is charged in a criminal complaint filed in New York with one count of attempting to kill US officers and employees, and one count of assaulting US officers and employees. If convicted, she faces a sentence of 20 years in prison on each charge."

After 9/11, the United States granted exclusive powers to the Executive to detain suspected terrorists for indefinite periods, denying judicial review of evidence on the basis of which a suspect is detained. The appalling truth, however, is that despite years of detention, the investigating authorities have utterly failed to produce any tangible evidence about involvement in terrorism, except for a minuscule percentage. The evidence found, however, in most cases, only proved that a number of detainees were being held without having any past record of links to terrorism, on the basis of mere suspicion.

With the issuance of John Yoo's famous 'torture memos', certain methods of torture for interrogation of suspected terrorists were also licensed. These "torture memos," advocate enhanced interrogation techniques. They attempted to make these war tactics acquire legality by refuting the Geneva Conventions altogether, so that violating them was no longer required. The government has authorized coercive interrogation methods publicly for non US citizens detained outside the US. For this purpose, the State has sent foreign terror suspects to locations outside the US where coercive interrogation (even involving torture in most cases) can be carried out. The US government holds an undisclosed number of detainees (presumably over 2000) at undisclosed locations. The CIA and FBI as a matter of course hand suspects over to foreign intelligence services for intensive interrogation. One US official was reported to have said, "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job."

In 2004, horrifying images from Abu Ghraib prisons in Iraq were released into the media showing humiliation and abuse of prisoners. Shortly after, similar information about widespread prison abuse at Bagram prisons in Afghanistan was revealed. It afforded a glimpse into the inhuman barbarity unleashed on suspects and detainees that had been going on unabated behind the scenes.

The fact remains, however, that the Geneva Conventions signed and ratified by the US prohibit torture of prisoners of war even if obtaining information can save lives. The evidence that torture has in fact been used in US prisons has steadily built up revulsion in the public mind regarding the USA's counter terror strategy and its unscrupulous conduct. President Bush, however, remained on denial amidst allegations of the use of torture: "The United States of America does not torture. And that's important for people around the world to understand."

Military lawyer Alberto J. Mora reported that policies allowing torture methods were officially handed down from the highest levels of the administration. ABC News reported on April 9, 2008 that "the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency."

According to the New York Times, "What happened at Abu Ghraib was no aberration, but part of a widespread pattern. It showed the tragic impact of the initial decision by Mr. Bush and his top advisers that they were not going to follow the Geneva Conventions, or indeed American law, for prisoners taken in antiterrorist operations. The investigative file on Bagram showed that the mistreatment of prisoners was routine: shackling them to the ceilings of their cells, depriving them of sleep, kicking and hitting them, sexually humiliating them and threatening them with guard dogs -- the very same behavior later repeated in Iraq."

Steven C Welsh writes: "Under the Geneva Convention it is the United States as a nation which must confront its responsibility for the actions of the men and women representing it in its prisons."

The horrendous exposition of unabated use of the vilest torture on detainees, the latest of which that has come to light is the nightmarish tale of Dr. Siddiqui has left ugly, deep scars reaffirming the image of the US as a state not befitting of its gigantic role in world politics. With leadership comes responsibility. Abu Ghraib, Bagram and the suffering of Afia Siddiqui has taught us that the 'saviours' are no better than the 'terrorists' they fight. The gaping black hole of moral depravity at the heart of the War on Terror stands exposed. Perhaps uglier still is the façade of a superior civilization that the US chooses to put up, and to which Ms. Anne Patterson chooses to play along: "The US justice system is based on the abiding principle that defendants are innocent until proven guilty… We would encourage you to remain open-minded but skeptical of sensational allegations that have no basis in fact." Ms. Patterson's 'blind spot' towards the utterly miserable physical, emotional and mental state of Dr. Siddiqui who is as of yet legally unconvicted is only too obvious.

Prominent writer Bob Herbert rejects attempts at 'making over' the ugly face of the U.S like Ann Paterson has chosen to do: "... There is also the grotesque and deeply shameful issue that will always be a part of America's legacy -- the manner in which American troops have treated prisoners under their control in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. There is no longer any doubt that large numbers of troops responsible for guarding and interrogating detainees somehow loosed their moorings to humanity, and began behaving as sadists, perverts and criminals."

Abdul Malik Mujahid, understanding the degeneracy of a civilization represented through the horrors at US 'anti-terrorist' detention camps in an Islamic context, laments the loss of what Islam calls 'haya' in the West. 'Haya' implies an inner sensibility creating a sense of aversion from what is evil, obscene and indecent. It is a retraining influence that keeps the distinction between right and wrong, not letting it blur into a mishmash of confused morality. The Prophet of Islam (SAW) called it the 'distinctive feature of Islam.' Mujahid comments: "The photos of American soldiers abusing prisoners have stunned and disgusted the world. While such images shocked America, most Americans may not be able to comprehend what type of cultural threshold has been crossed in terms of dealing with Islam and Muslims. In a culture that sometimes values life less than honor, we have done the ultimate act of dishonoring people. May God forgive us. There certainly is a big cultural gap in the way people in the West deal with modesty and privacy of the body, and the way individuals in the Muslim world do, regardless of their level of Islamic practice. This Islamic sensibility of considering the human body part of a very personal realm is connected to the concept of honor, dignity and privacy. This should explain the deep pain, shock and horror over the nightmare of physical abuse and perverted sadism that went on in Abu Ghraib, (and that has victimized Dr.Afia Siddiqui and others like her). Unlike what some in America lead us to believe, no one hates America in the Muslim world because of democracy and freedom. It is the immorality of America (championed by Hollywood), along with American foreign policy which defines the conflict between the Westernized elite and religious elements in Muslim societies. Graphic images of this criminal behavior by some members of the most organized and educated army of the only superpower in the world are bound to become the most dominant images of this new "Crusade" in the collective psyche of Muslims."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Witnesses of History

The Witnesses of History and the Textbook-Suffocated Generation

Maryam Sakeenah

Having witnessed History unravelling before your eyes is a rare privilege. The few greying ones among us who Saw It All, lived the decisive moments are distinguished by the ‘undying flame’ in the ‘fine old eyes’, the glint and the sparkle as they relive it, sharing it with a less fortunate younger lot who have their history spelled out in books for them, having to be rote-learned, reproduced, graded, approved. The witnesses of history, it is quite remarkable, have an altogether different story to tell from what our bespectacled intellectuals and scholars would have us believe, with all the SAARC rounds, Agra and Delhi visits, intercultural exchanges and border vigils to their credit. This much was clear to me as I heard Professor Muzaffar Mirza speak on the Two Nation Theory a few days ago, presenting a refreshing, rare, unadulterated vision on the subject. The Professor discarded as nonsense all enlightenedly moderate attempts to nullify or denigrate the ideology of Pakistan, which, according to him, is indistinguishable from the ideology of the Quran. The Quranic ideology, he said, presented the revolutionary concept of the brotherhood of faith superceding the ties of blood and kinship. To him, the struggle for Pakistan was a sacred mission, a rare instance of a State coming into existence with Islam for its ideological premise, as stated by the Quaid e Azam: "Pakistan does not only mean freedom and independence for the Muslims of India, but also the glorious Islamic ideology which has come to us as a precious gift and a treasure." And again, "I cannot understand a section of the people who deliberately want to create mischief and make propaganda that the constitution of Pakistan would not be made on the basis of Shariah... Islamic principles today are as applicable to life as they were 1300 years ago. Non-Muslims have nothing to fear... Islam has taught us democracy. Let us make it the future constitution of Pakistan. We shall make it and we will show it to the world."
The Professor traced these ideological roots from the days of the earliest reformers of Muslim India who did the spadework: Sayyid Ahmed Shaheed and Shah Ismail Shaheed, Shah Waliullah and Haji Shariatullah, to name a few. To the younger lot, Prof. Mirza advised keeping alive the memories of the sacrifices involved- the millions slaughtered, raped and looted_ and to understand that the home we strove for was ‘not presented on a golden platter.’
Forging the connection with Pakistan Today turns rather poignant. It brings to the fore a stark contrast as a skewed doctrine of Enlightened Moderation, ‘axing the very basis of Pakistan’, as Prof. Mirza said, becoming a justification for a relentless ‘Operation Rah e Haq’ on the ‘militants’ who had won for us Azad Kashmir paying with their lives, and whose freedom had been guaranteed to them by the Quaid e Azam himself. Despite lamenting with a deep sense of hurt the loss of Pakistan’s sovereignty, the Professor refused to give up hope, quoting what the Quaid e Azam had said: “Pakistan is the will of God and must be fulfilled. It shall come into existence and will stay forever.” He advised us to forge a deeper and more vital bond with the Quran and to help take the country to the fruition of its sacred goal: to take a leadership role for the Muslim ummah in the years to come.
The Professor sets high standards for his country’s youth_ but perhaps not quite without justice, extracting his relentless Idealism from his witnessing of a glorious history, with the ‘khudi’ undimmed, refusing to fail him. It is perhaps this self-pride, this realization of the rich, glorious heritage of Pakistan that springs forth from the Quranic mission that explains and justifies the unfaded hope, vibrant optimism and visionary idealism of the witnesses of history. As Iqbal said through a dialogue by Satan in “Satan to His Allies”, “The starving wretched one who is utterly fearless of death, extort the Muhammadan spirit from his self.”
Again, it turns poignant to find this spirit amiss in the textbook-fed younger generation. As both a student and a teacher, this concerns me deeply. History is a treasury of our rich legacy to extract the jewel of a vital selfhood from. The teaching of history is the means to pass on the invaluable heritage, the legacy of millions. Sadly, however, I see failure on this front, which is paradoxically the triumph of the ‘Macaulayesque’ system, geared towards the mass production of an English-speaking, English-thinking elite ‘brown in skin, white in the mind,’ to perpetuate the sway and the agenda of the Occident. I see us carrying out the agenda like Macaulay’s envisaged efficient clerks.
For one, the entire thrust of the education system is to create efficient clerkish employees enabled with their degrees to swiftly rise up the social ladder and generate capital to make life comfortable. That is the highest goal the education system cannot see beyond, sans vision. Owing to this mislaid priority, the emphasis is on subjects that can get one a job with a good round salary. History and the Humanities altogether are at best a compulsive grind, unimportant non-utilities in the capitalistic rat-race.
On a cursory survey of currently available texts, there seem to be two parallel systems: the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) Ordinary Level for the English speaking upper middle and elite classes and the Matriculation system for The Rest. The texts for the latter are generally unattractively written and fail to create interest by way of the diction and the presentation of the content. The content is utterly unsuited to the child’s mind, being subjective, verbose and unpalatably and too obviously didactic. There is an absence of objectivity of fact and analysis, reflecting a lack of insight into a young mind. The heavy subjective discourse makes it too much learning and almost no opinion-making, conceptualization, analysis and debate leading to conclusions.
On the other hand, the O level and pre-O level textbooks come colourfully and attractively laid out with the ‘authenticity’ of Christian/Western names whose absolute convincing power to a mentally colonized people has an effective lure. The reason for the conspicuous absence of Muslim-Pakistani work on devising History texts is not just that we have a preference for the authoritative seal of a Western name, but also the fact that our researchers and writers have neglected this extremely important area, mired up in confusions, doubts and prejudices clouding over the question of our very identity. There are, again, gaping differences in the content/subject-matter in the Matric and O level sets of prescribed books. Only one such difference is that no O level text approved by the Cambridge International Examinations available in the market even mentions the subject of the ideology of Pakistan. Dissolved into controversies regarding if an ideology of Pakistan worth the name even exists, the writers seem to have done away with the theme altogether. Its implications, however, are shocking indeed. Taking away the ideological basis of Pakistan trivializes the Pakistan Movement, swallowing it up in a tangle of doubt and confusion. It robs the country of the raison de etre of its existence, takes away its fundamental premise we are to build on, the direction we must steer forth towards. It minimizes the history of the Pakistan Movement as merely a separatist struggle which ended up in the butchered millions in the bloody year 1947. It blurs the distinctness of our identity the Two Nation Theory was based on, which ought to do us proud. It is here that a stunting apologia, identitylessness and a confusion of values takes root; it is this that is the crowning glory of the Macaulayesque system eating into our roots; and it is this that lends strength to ‘Enlightened Moderation’ as the student is led to conclude that to make amends for the maniacal separatism of Partition rooted in religion, we must turn towards Secularism to redeem ourselves.
This same myopic thesis is rubbed in through other ways. Jinnah is characterized as a Westernized secularist character. O level texts demonstrate a complete absence of verbatim quotes and references from the Quaid himself to support the secular view ascribed to him, probably because the overwhelming mass of his statements supports the Islamic ideological base that nullifies the secular proposition in one blow. There is a stray excerpt, however, that is repetitively quoted, referenced, inscribed, embossed and rubbed in in almost all O level texts, taken from the Quaid’s 11th August speech in which he said “you are free to go to your mosques, you are free to go to your temples and you are free to go to your Churches, that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” This is done in an effort to justify and create grounds for holding the belief that Pakistan was meant to be a secular state. The fact that a state guaranteeing freedom of worship and belief for all minorities is nothing but Islamic_ as made amply clear by the pluralism of the first Islamic State at Madinah_ does not matter; nor does it matter that there exist several more statements by Jinnah by the dozen which make his vision of an Islamic state with a democratic culture and with the welfare of its people as its priority sufficiently clear. This is what he meant when he spoke his historic, ideology-setting lines: “It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great law-giver, Prophet Mohammad (SAW) of Islam. Let us lay the foundations of our democracy on the basis of true Islamic ideals and principles. Our Holy Book has taught us that our decisions and affairs of the State shall be guided by discussions and consultations.” The emphasis on the single statement from the 11th August speech is disproportionately emphatic, laying bare the ulterior purpose in doing so.
In the majority of the pre-O level textbooks of History being taught in English medium schools, pre-Pakistan Movement heroes of our history are not only dwarfed and trivialized but implicitly maligned, their portrayals tarnished with Orientalist prejudices. Defined by Nine Eleven standards, men of integrity and valour like Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali, Mahmud Ghaznavi and Muhammad Ghauri are presented as not-so-grand-after-all, but rather as intolerant and violent plunderers and extremist fanatics. Short of a clear statement, the tact used by the writers is to drown them in a cauldron of debate and controversy stopping short of a clear conclusion, leaving the student with more queries than answers.
The abysmal state of the teaching of history at the secondary school level is not likely to better itself as our intellectuals and scholars sink deeper into opposing polarities of perspectives rooted in prejudice and the effects of intellectual colonialism. The presentation of Muhammad bin Qasim as a Muslim hero and pioneer, and his advent into the subcontinent as the dawn of our national history is called into question, and the origins of our history traced back to pre-Islamic names like Asoka and Maurya. We are at pains to distort history to forge closer ties somehow with South Asian culture and heritage, calling it our own to a degree more meaningful than our ties to the first Muslim community at Madina. The effort here is to create cultural cohesion with Hindu India at the cost of severing ties with ‘foreign’ Islamic Arabia. This strikes at the heart of the Two Nation theory that severed the territorial link with Hindu India for the sacred, deep ideological affinity with Islam; that springs from the desire to hold on to the tree of the Muslim millat in order to seek strength to rise again with self-pride, resist the colonizer’s sway and develop a vision for the future. It was the Muslim Way that made the decisive difference, overcoming all ties of earth and blood. And it is this that made us rise again to our feet, galvanizing us from a frustrated mass of people into a nation with a future. It is this that enabled us to win the freedom to live by our own way through a historic epoch, an earth-shaking revolution with the battlecry of ‘Pakistan ka matlab kiya, la ilaha il Allah.’ And it is in the realization of and reversion to the same that will rid us of the pettiness of vain prejudice against ourselves, making us discover and appreciate what is truly us, sans the self-imposed trappings of vanity and falsity.
Sadly, today the Verdict on us is ‘Guilty.’ Today we are bent double under the burden of the guilt for having failed to safely deliver to the future the treasury of our history; and for having cluttered it up with so much of prejudice and confusion that the treasure lies lost somewhere, while the lies cloud over it with all their deceptive sheen. We are the sinners against History, and I wonder if we even deserve a future?
I look at the news strip on TV, the saddening headlines. I am not surprised. This is the Revenge of History.

Friday, July 4, 2008

U.S Counter-terrorism policy: A Critique


Maryam Sakeenah


A lot has changed since September 11, 2001. In its immediate response to the 9/11 terrorist attack, the USA took up an offensive posture full of the bravado and the rhetoric of 'war.' America announced its 'war' on terrorism, which was going to be relentless. The use of the word 'war' has been extremely misleading, disproportionate to the strength, the means and the nature of the enemy the US perceived itself to be pitted against. It acted as a justification for the ill-planned and unsuited strategies taken up by the US to defeat the enemy. The word 'war' reeks of militarism. Calling the US response strategy a 'war on terror' meant the use of decisive military force against a dissipated, hard to identify and unconventional enemy. According to Philip Heymann, "The danger is that for several reasons, the use of the term 'war' leads us in the wrong direction. The very term suggests a primacy for military force; that is what war has been always about. We are captives of the dictum, 'to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.'" Resultantly, the military has put in all its pride and strength into an asymmetrical, ill-advised struggle against a threat which needs to be tackled more insightfully and wisely, not merely by muscle-power.

The phrase "War on Terror" has been referred to as a false metaphor. Linguist George Lakoff has argued that there cannot literally be a war on terror, since terror is an abstract noun. "Terror cannot be destroyed by weapons or signing a peace treaty. A war on terror has no end." Jason Burke opines: "There are multiple ways of defining terrorism, and all are subjective. Terrorism is after all, a tactic. The term 'war on terrorism' is thus effectively nonsensical." A "war" against terrorism is plainly wrong since terrorist attacks are considered criminal acts like murder and therefore should be investigated by the police with the perpetrators brought to justice and given a fair trial in a court of law.

The US adopted the pre-emptive strategy, as made clear in several speeches and statements by the US President, the adoption of the maniacal 'National Missile Defence' system or the 'Patriot Act' and a host of other legislation legitimizing all ways the regime deemed fit to be used in its righteous crusade against terrorism.

President George W. Bush articulated the goals of the "War on Terrorism" in a speech, in which he said it "The war will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." He also called the war "a task that does not end." The idea of a 'perpetual war' floated by the US is justified as the enemy against which the state is at war is a phenomenon, an ideology, a tactic_ an abstract entity no firepower can defeat. For rooting it out, a crusade without end is necessary.

Besides, the terminology here helps keep the nation supportive of the state's methods and means for keeping up the fight_ after all, America is at 'war' with a great evil murderous gang out there. It whips up jingoism and patriotic fervour which wars help create, as a support base for the government's foreign adventures. Public opinion keeps mum.

Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld reinforces the argument: "I say that victory is persuading the American people and the rest of the world that this is not a quick matter that's going to be over in a month or a year or even five years. It is something that we need to do so that we can continue to live in a world with powerful weapons and with people who are willing to use those powerful weapons. And we can do that as a country. And that would be a victory, in my view"

The government took an aggressive posture, yet all the while, the ignorance at the base of the rhetoric and war planning remained there. Perhaps this is why the counter terrorism strategy devised by the gurus at Washington fell flat. Assessing the precise nature of a terrorist threat requires understanding the motivations and grievances of the terrorist, their mode of operation and their capabilities. The American public, and even the government were pitifully ignorant of all of these on many counts. Those at the helm too were unable to answer some fundamental, crucial questions. They knew little about the socio-political dynamics, the cultural imperatives, the history and background of the peoples and the lands they set out to conquer.

Philip Heymann comments: "Faced with uncertainties, the Bush administration defined the dangers we faced as 'war', demanding and justifying a radical shifting of our domestic and international priorities."

An important feature of this 'radical shift' was the overturning of America's traditional assumptions about democratic freedom and the supremacy of law. The decision making process did not require the sanction of the Congress, or even any Congressional procedure. The policies and strategies were 'Pentagon-centric.'

America's allies were afforded no options as the US decided to dictate its terms with an imperious arrogance: 'you are with us or against us.' You had to go the American Way, or be the enemy. Full Stop. The justification given for the invasion of Iraq (prior to its happening) was to prevent terrorist or other attacks by Iraq on the United States or other nations. This was the pre-emptive doctrine at the base of the war.

However, the war becomes a 'wrong' because the justifications given for US interventionism in the War on Terror do not fulfill any of the criteria of a just war. The pre-emptive war-mongering has undermined international law and the authority of the United Nations. Being clearly in defiance of the UN Charter which, in Article 2, clearly forbids 'the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state', this can be termed as a war of aggression. What makes it more heinous is that the strategies employed in the war have been underhand and dirty, justified by the logic of 'collateral damage.' These are unequivocally categorized by international law as war crimes. There exist several treaties, primarily the Geneva Conventions providing for the protection of prisoners and victims of war or any armed conflict. For this reason, according to international law, officials and members of the Bush administration are potentially criminally culpable under their command responsibility.


After 9/11 things began to look curiously like the uncanny world of 'Nineteen Eighty Four' predicted by George Orwell, where 'War was Peace', and 'Ignorance was Strength.' Big Brother was always watching.

The war took a huge toll on civil liberties within and without America. At home, particular groups were subjected to exceptional steps of investigation. The focus was exclusively on immigrants from Muslim countries, which increased their sense of alienation. This had a major impact on the sense of shared community, which determines much of an individual's security and sense of well-being in the place of his residence. Immigration and civil laws were heavily altered through the 'Patriot Act'. The media and official rhetoric worked hard to keep the fear level at home on an all-time high through propaganda and exaggeration so that the public accepted the radical shift as a patriotic necessity.

The Bush Administration restricted civil liberties and created a culture of fear. The USA Patriot Act legislation was introduced shortly after 9/11, which significantly expanded U.S. law enforcement power. President Bush also proposed 'Total Information Awareness', a federal program to collect and process massive amounts of data to identify behaviors consistent with terrorist threats. The Orwellian world of Big Brother watching every move finally materialized as mass surveillance destroying civil liberties and intruding into private spaces was massively carried out. Many fear that the government is systematically removing civil liberties from the population and engaging in racial profiling. This approach has increased public hostility to dissenting voices by encouraging the view that whoever dissents is 'unpatriotic' and treasonous for disagreeing with government policies, which, as the media convinces us, are 'in the best interests of the nation.'


In order to step up defences against further terrorist attacks, the US government began to devise ways to detain people 'where there was a real possibility of involvement with terrorism.' However, ironically, this possibility in most cases of detained individuals, was either absent altogether or very low indeed.

This said, shortly after 9/11 the President issued a 'military order' permitting the secretary of defense to direct indefinite detention of any alien (foreign national), who has been found to support international terrorism of any sort. This was followed by an extension of the detention powers even to US citizens.

This raises deep concerns about freedom within the United States. The State has granted exclusive powers to the Executive to detain citizens for indefinite periods, which is clearly unconstitutional, as any such major changes in domestic laws have to go through the due legal process through the legislature. It must also be noted that the new detention laws explicitly deny the right of judicial review of evidence on the basis of which an individual can be detained. This clearly means that detention under US counter-terrorism laws required no burden of proof and that there is absolutely no requirement of presenting public evidence for crime before detention.

This gaping loophole has led to widespread misuse of the law, which has even ordered indefinite detention at undisclosed locations of aliens guilty of unauthorized stay within the US. Philip Heymann writes, "There are about 20 million aliens within the US at any given time, most of whom are at least technically in violation of one or the other of the many visa regulations. This fact is now being used as a device for holding suspects_ most hardly linked to terrorism in any way_ for purposes of interrogation or incapacitation." Taking on from here, the government is also empowered to detain people as 'witnesses' or 'prospective witnesses' before a jury.

The appalling truth, however, is that despite years of detention, the investigating authorities have utterly failed to produce any tangible evidence about involvement in terrorism, except for a minuscule percentage. The evidence found, however, in most cases, only proved that a number of detainees were being held without having any past record of links to terrorism, on the basis of mere suspicion. Heymann comments: "Subjecting this vastly larger class to detention makes a fundamental change in the relation of American citizens, resident aliens and visitors to those governing the United States. This change has been made without offering any explanation. However, even with an explanation, any such change should be made by legislation, not by the Executive. This has only been tolerated by Americans because it is limited to a specific group. To which most Americans do not belong."

According to the Presidential Order, the trial of detainees is supposed to take place before a military tribunal. This requires no public display of evidence which in normal cases, US courts demand as of necessity. The military tribunal is formed by the Defense Secretary, and does not involve trial before a judge or jury. The proceedings are not made public and the proofs presented need not satisfy traditional rules of evidence. Identity of witnesses remains hidden and convictions are made without the requirement of unanimity of opinion. Penalties according to the discretion of the tribunal can be awarded, including the death penalty. Importantly, there can be no judicial review of the sentence by a civilian court of law.

One wonders why the laws had to be meddled with when civilian courts of law and an effective justice system within the United States exists. The only reason explaining the creation of special courts with a different set of rules and unmitigated powers is to be able to convict with lesser or a different sort of evidence. The stringent requirements of standardized judicial proceedings need not apply to hinder counter-terrorism measures.

Those detained outside the territory of the United States at Guantanamo are termed as 'enemy combatants', who do not have the same rights as those of prisoners of war granted by the Geneva Conventions. The same is also true for anyone held by the use of immigration laws. The Bush administration maintains that there can be absolutely no judicial review of those non-citizens held at locations outside of the US. American citizens detained within the US, however, have the right to a barely minimum form of judicial review. However, none of these have the right to seek access to a lawyer. The families of detainees are in most cases unaware of their internment location, and have no access to them at all. The period of detention is unspecified and indefinite. This makes clear that the US government is unwilling to even give the most basic judicial protection to those held on terrorism charges. It is a blind justice.

There is no record of details of arrests made submitted to the legal institutions. The administration only reports arrests to intelligence departments. Interestingly, however, the intelligence committees complain that they are not given adequate information regarding detainees and the legal proceedings.

Adam Clymer wrote in the New York Times, "The Bush administration has put a much tighter lid than recent presidents on government proceedings and the public release of information, exhibiting a penchant for secrecy that has been striking historians, legal experts and law makers of both parties." According to Senator Patrick Lahey, "I've never known an administration that is more difficult to get information from."

Another major issue of concern connected with this is the strategy of coercive interrogation through sophisticated technology. The government has authorized coercive interrogation methods publicly for non US citizens detained outside the US. For this purpose, the State has sent foreign terror suspects to locations outside the US where coercive interrogation (even involving torture in most cases) can be carried out. The US government has sent foreign suspects to 'allied' countries where torture is a routine practice. The US government, for reasons unexplained, holds an undisclosed number of detainees (presumably over 2000) at undisclosed locations.

There has been some debate over the issue of legalizing some forms of torture for investigation within the United States as well, which has up till now been a signatory to several treaties prohibiting torture. Although the US accepts torture to be illegal, yet it allows its intelligence agencies to use it in 'dire circumstances when no other means are available for extracting necessary information to urgently defuse an emergency threatening human lives.' The fact remains, however, that the Geneva Conventions signed and ratified by the US prohibit torture of prisoners of war even if obtaining information can save lives.

The evidence that torture had in fact been used in US prisons has steadily built up revulsion in the public mind regarding the USA's counter terror strategy and its unscrupulous conduct. This, however, has been delayed because its victims have only been a much-maligned 'alien' group of Arab-Muslims Americans do not identify with. US Courts have, finally, looked into the matter and have ordered accounting for detainees held without judicial review. Courts have also ordered that deportation hearings must be made public and families of detainees given information of it. The American Bar Association has condemned changes made to immigration laws to legalize the 'incommunicado detention of immigrants in undisclosed locations.' Recently, in the middle of this month (June 2008), the US Supreme Court ruled that detainees on terror charges must be given the right to seek access to lawyers and that their trials must be conducted by mainstream civil courts. This is a heartening development, although it has met with whimpers of disapproval from the White House.

The loss of civil liberties and undermining of the supremacy of law in post 9/11 USA has done great damage to America's democratic tradition. The US Senate stated: "Unjustified investigations of political expression and dissent can have a debilitating effect upon our political system. When people see that this can happen, they become wary of associating with groups that disagree with the government and more wary of what they say and write. The impact is to undermine the effectiveness of popular self-government. If the people are inhibited in expressing their views, a nation's government becomes increasingly divorced from the will of its citizens."

Steven C Welsh writes: "Regarding Abu Ghraib there are, of course, the questions of criminal culpability, and how far up the chain of command it is imposed, as well as questions of command responsibility and accountability for problems that resulted, as U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged, "on my watch." At the same time, under the Geneva Convention it is the United States as a nation which must confront its responsibility for the actions of the men and women representing it in Abu Ghraib prison.

Beyond the sheer inhumanity of the atrocities, with respect to the Geneva Conventions, there also has been on the part of the perpetrators and their command structure, an apparent ignorance, a lack of basic knowledge, of the Geneva Conventions and related U.S. military regulations. Given the explicit requirements of the Geneva Convention to instill its principles in essentially all military personnel, as well as the general population of the United States, one might be led to ask just how well the United States has honored that mandate."


Abu Ghraib came and went. Yet it has left ugly, deep scars reaffirming the image of the US as a state not befitting of its gigantic role in world politics. With leadership comes responsibility. Abu Ghraib taught us that the saviours were no better than the 'terrorists' they fought. Perhaps uglier still, behaving in grotesque ways behind the façade of a superior civilization.

The law of command responsibility as well as unequivocal evidence clearly establishes the complicity and connivance of some of the bigwigs in the highest echelons of US policy making. The gaping black hole of moral depravity at the heart of the War on Terror stands exposed.

It has also brought in its wake some painful realizations_ of the fragility of international law to stay the oppressor's hand, when the oppressor happens to be a heavyweight on the world scene. The audacity with which the conduct of US policy flies in the face of Geneva Conventions and Human Rights legislation poses some serious questions about the efficacy of law.

The exposure of rampant, inhuman prison abuse under the nose of the world's greatest democracy at pains to usher in a 'New World Order' has exposed America's feet of clay. It takes away all bases of moral leadership from under its feet, and breaks the myth of a 'superior civilization', fed on which the world lets the fiction of good guys heroically saving the world from the evil guys_ brown-skinned, Arabic speaking_ go on duping them.

The adoption of the Utilitarian amoral ethic by America has taken its toll. It negates the fact that morality has to be the basis for conducting politics. The criterion for legislation no more remains the universal human ethic but 'utility' and 'interest': "the best is that which is useful." Nothing holds_ but, 'What We say, goes', as the American President so honestly observed. Morally unjustifiable warfare becomes necessity for making the Superpower 'stronger, safer, better', in order to be the fittest one around in the forest.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Another Day in Paradise

Maryam Sakeenah

Just another day with its crippling sameness
That makes criminals of you and me_
Harmless; You can let us walk about on the loose.
It serves- that iron bitt in the mouth-
That keeps the unspoken, the unheard Word
Stuck in the throat.
We the lost herd: Lost-
But without a Loss
To wound the heart, to bloody it, to ennoble;
A losing without the Loss, the Pain…
Or with one too great to make itself felt
In the empty spaces that make us.
We are free, you know.
What though the wings that make us soar be clipped?
We are the Earthbound. And earth does not grow wings,
No, not the stony rubbish of the Wasteland.
There are gods on high-
Feeling forever the tail between the legs,
The feet of clay.
‘Dust to dust…’ 
Little gods, creepy-crawly
But gods all right:
For ‘they shall inherit the earth.’
Per force.
Their decree makes us free- 
Democracy, human rights, ‘laissez faire’
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’
All that jazz.
‘Man is condemned to be free.’-
To feel the tail between the legs,
The feet of clay.
The tin rooftop comes sloping down like a vault,
And over it, from afar, a cry is heard-
Muffled, quivering, broken-
Like from another world
Somewhere in the world-
But not in here…
In here
We are free!
Like birds in gilded cages
In here it is warm with the gas-fire
And the central electric heating-
The trappings of civilization
That subsume our reality.
If you shut the window, the cold draught with its steely stab
Won’t come in.
Shut the window.
Don’t let the gale in,
For it might bring bits and pieces of the world-
The glass and stone, wood and plastic in burnt fragments
And maybe,
A spattering of reddened dust- Blood Red-
To hurt the eyes
And shatter the little fiction
That keeps us comfy
Near the warm hearth (well-insulated),
With news alerts flashing on the telly
So rhythmically.
And a coffee-table copy of the Washington Post
Telling of far-off places, distant lands-
‘People we do not know.’
But they look so much like me!
My eyes, my body, my throbbing heart, my battered soul…
Why, oh why?
Not my race, nor colour, skin nor country.
Faraway tales of the faraway folk.
The woman there, mirrors a pain I have felt, known too well!
The dark lonely child has the stars in his eyes…
Not yet dimmed by Death’s fell sweep..
Why, oh why?
I am In Here.
Listening to the comforting drone of the air conditioner
Here and Now. All I will ever need, ever want.
A square yard of the earth to bury myself in
And bide my time.
In Here I am safe,
I am the free citizen
Like the bird in the richly gilded cage
The song of the soul
Stuck in the throat.