Monday, June 26, 2017

Why the BJP has no incentive to stop the lynching of Muslims in India. By Sushil Aaron

NB: The brutal nature of RSS politics and the Modi government has never been so clear as today. This is a government that openly sympathises with and protects hooliganism in the name of religion and 'patriotism'. The Indian Constitution and Article 21 - which protects a citizen's right to life - has been rendered a joke by this regime. If we do not protest this galloping criminalisation of India we will have ourselves to blame for what happens next - DS

There is no doubt that a form of medieval madness has taken over India in the shape of Islamophobia and regular lynching of Muslims in different states. The situation has moved quickly from not renting out homes to Muslims to refusing to tolerate their presence in public spaces. Muslims are being taunted on trains and streets, fights initiated and lynched. The lynchings have become so common that we do not know which one to respond to. Should we weep for Mohammad Naeem in Jharkhand or Hafiz Junaid in Haryana? How many remember the details of Pehlu Khan’s murder in Rajasthan? Mohammad Akhlaq is now just another milestone in this steady journey of wanton death. Many on social media who were horrified by Srinivas Kuchibotla’s murder in the US in February are strangely muted about the lynching of Muslims in India.

There is scarcely a word of condemnation from the BJP’s leadership. Forest fires in Portugal get more notice from this government than the ravaging of India’s social fabric that has taken centuries to nurture. Rather than express concern – let alone enforce the law – the Union Cabinet and BJP leaders found a way to signal to gau-rakshaks that they are on the same side. They skipped President Pranab Mukherjee’s iftar reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan in an unprecedented flouting of convention and political grace. The politicians are essentially conveying to the vigilantes that they too have such contempt for Muslims that they’d rather not be seen in public breaking bread with them.

The striking thing about vigilantism now is that there is no incentive for the BJP to make it stop. The Opposition is powerless, the police are bystanders, courts have not shown interest, the ruling party feels that it will no longer lose elections and so it has no dread of the hustings. There is also notably no fear of violent retaliation. Muslims in India are effectively hostages in their own land, unable to take on a section of the majority that is fortified by a State that looks the other way in the face of gratuitous violence. 

Vigilante violence also tests the bonds of transnational Muslim solidarity. Ordinarily, Pakistan and Pakistan-based terror groups would use violence or the threat of violence as leverage over the Indian government to bargain on Kashmir or relax anti-Muslim policies elsewhere. (The 1993 Mumbai blasts were a reaction to the riots that targeted Muslims in December 1992 and January 1993.) But Congress and BJP governments react very differently to terror attacks. The Congress is weakened by them while Hindu nationalists are bolstered by them. In the current climate attacks can provide the excuse for more bloodletting and subsequent consolidation of Hindu identity. That’s the bind Hindu vigilantes put Islamabad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in.

There is thus a deterrence at play here for the vigilantes to exploit. But deterrence breaks down sometimes, which also works for the BJP. The Pakistani army and the LeT may have a measure of geopolitical reason, groups like Islamic State may not (which is why we are hearing more about IS as a threat to India lately). When terror attacks happen in India or where there is a spike in militancy in J&K as is expected they can quickly change the direction of the debate and harden middle class attitudes towards Muslims in general.

To get a sense of this, consider what happened in Kashmir over the last year. Security forces reacted excessively to the outpouring of grief following Burhan Wani’s killing last July, firing live ammunition and pellets at civilian protestors that left about 100 people dead, blinded many and partially blinded hundreds. The debate has now moved away from the high civilian toll to a representation of stone-pelting youth as terrorists. This was achieved through sheer repetition in the public sphere, with no quarter given to Kashmir’s complex past or its suffering. Over the last month, the government has come under criticism over Major Leetul Gogoi tying Farooq Ahmad Dar to a jeep, but suddenly a crowd in Srinagar lynches deputy superintendent of police Ayub Pandith – an act widely condemned by Kashmiris – and now it becomes difficult to get the focus back on State action. In other words, one act is enough to draw an equivalence and gloss over a lengthy, bloody past and turn the debate in the direction the government wants.

We are likely to see more Ayub Pandith moments in Kashmir and other states of India. No one outrageous act will be allowed to build up for too long; there will either be another distraction, another outrage - either by design or the logic of circumstances. Paresh Rawal’s tweet on Arundhati Roy ensured that attention was diverted from pictures of Naeem drenched in his own blood. Lynching not only acts out hatred for Muslims, it also serves to generate support, acquiescence and fear among the different constituents of the Hindu middle class. The key sources where this cohort picks up independent, contrarian views – universities, media, writers, filmmakers and artists – are being tamed. Throw in the spectre of open violence on the street and its compliance is assured. It is very easy to silence people when there is no rule of law. A troubled conscience unsure of peer support is often no match for a frenzied and organised political force. 

Many will flit between fear and helplessness (about lynching) and rage (about violence in Kashmir). It’s a condition geared to produce moral flight and political apathy, which suits the BJP as it seeks to quickly consolidate Hindu identity. Sunil Khilnani famously wrote in The Idea of India that “in a fundamental sense, India does not merely ‘have’ politics but is actually constituted by politics.” Right now the possibility of politics is being threatened by organised fear.

see also
India's ruling party is sponsoring an assault on the Indian state // Tavleen Singh - Is this Hindutva

Sunday, June 25, 2017

How the Judiciary Defied the Government to Uphold Constitutional Values During the Emergency BY ASHOK H. DESAI

The declaration proclaimed on June 25, 1975, under Article 352(1) of the constitution that a grave Emergency existed whereby the security of India was threatened by internal disturbance was the declaration of a phoney Emergency. Its real cause was the erosion of Indira Gandhi’s hold on power. The occasion to declare it on that day was an adverse decision of the courts. On June 12, 1975, in the election petition filed by Raj Narain, Jagmohan Lal Sinha, justice of the Allahabad high court, had found Gandhi guilty of corrupt practices.

The Supreme Court had risen for its summer vacation and Justice Krishna Iyer happened to be the vacation judge. On the very day of the decision, the judge received a curious telephone call from the law minister H.R. Gokhale (popularly known as Balasaheb) that he wanted to call on the judge. On inquiry, Gokhale mentioned that it was about the verdict in the prime minister’s case. The judge declined to meet him, but advised him to file an appeal and seek an early hearing.

At the hearing on June 24, 1975, Gandhi’s counsel Nani Palkhivala pressed for a complete stay, urging that otherwise the very legitimacy of the prime minister would become an issue. The judge, however, followed the established practice and granted only a limited stay (Indira Nehru Gandhi vs. Raj Narain, (1975) 2 SCC 159). Now the citizens of India had the protection of a ‘double Emergency,’ because from December 3, 1971, we were already governed by an earlier proclamation that an Emergency existed whereby the security of India was threatened by external aggression.

At 9:30 pm on the night of June 25, 1975, the proclamation was sent to President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. No cabinet meeting had been held to discuss the matter, much less to approve of the measure. Gandhi evidently wanted even her colleagues to face a fait accompli. The president also did not insist on a cabinet meeting, but was persuaded to sign the midnight proclamation. It is a historic irony that the order of a judge keen on preserving the rule of law provided the excuse for its suspension.

The report of the Shah Commission and now the book The Emergency by Coomi Kapoor shows that the actual preparation for an internal Emergency had started much earlier. Gandhi was being advised by a core group close to her, namely Siddhartha Shankar Ray (chief minister of West Bengal), D.K. Barooah (Congress president), Rajni Patel (chairman of the Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee) and Balasahab Gokhale, the last two being the contribution of the Bombay Bar… read more:

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Reporter Recounts How a Mob In Delhi Assaulted Him When They Identified Him As Muslim

NBThis is what happened earlier this month to my student Malik Abdul Basit, who works for Caravan, when he went to cover a story. A criminal assault on an innocent young man doing his job, and of course we know what will happen to the case. I am horrified and appalled, even though it should come as no surprise. The poison of communal hatred that makes any person suspect because of his or her name or place of origin is destroying our humanity on a daily basis. Abdul Basit is a Kashmiri, working in Delhi. Does he have no right to live and work without fear? Some people shout night and day about national integrity - is this the way to keep the country united? Hindutva is the mirror image of the ideology of the Islamists, and is the most potent method to prove the two nation theory correct. My heartfelt sympathy and solidarity with Basit for having undergone such a terrible ordeal. Don't lose heart my young friend. Humanity shall prevail against all odds - Dilip

On 9 June, I was investigating the alleged demolition of a mosque in Sonia Vihar, in Delhi. A group of Hindus I was speaking to became violent when they learnt that I had a Muslim name.

The voter card I had handed over to the men included my middle name as well, which is Abdul. (As is the naming convention, it reads: “Malik Abdul Basit.”) “Saale Muslim!” one of them yelled, upon seeing the card. Then, one of them asked me how I had found out about the meeting. I told him that Bharat had asked me to come with him.  The members of the gathering began to question Bharat. “How could I have known he was a Muslim?” Bharat said… By this time, many other people had joined the mob surrounding me, and several others continued to enter the lawn. A man in the crowd, who was wearing a red t-shirt, asked me my name again. “Basit Malik,” I responded. “Nahi, Abdul Basit!” someone to my left yelled… The man in the red t-shirt slapped me. My spectacles slipped from my face, but I was able to catch them before they fell to the floor. Another person, whom I could not see, slapped the back of my head. My head started to spin. “Harami toh Musalman hai” -this bastard is a Muslim, Singh said loudly. “Hum yahan police se bhaag rahe hain aur tu hamari pareshaniyan badhana chahata hai”- we are on the run from the police, and you’re trying to make matters worse, he said. I told Singh that I had no such intention, and that I only wanted to listen to their accounts.

At close to 11.30 pm on 7 June, the news publication the Milli Gazette published a video to its Facebook page. The video showed a group of people demolishing a brick structure. According to the caption that accompanied the clip, this structure was a rudimentary mosque located in Ambay Enclave, a small basti near Sonia Vihar in Delhi, where 25 Muslim families resided. Finding themselves with no place of worship during the month of Ramadan, the caption said, these families had constructed a makeshift mosque. “Its existence began to pinch certain enemies of peace,” the caption alleged. On the morning of 7 June, a group of people attacked the structure, and razed it to the ground.

On the afternoon of 8 June, I went to Sonia Vihar to investigate the incident. That day, I spoke to several Muslim residents from the area. They told me that the Hindu residents of the area - primarily members of Thakur and Gujjar communities - were displeased with the construction of the mosque and had decided to demolish it. A Muslim woman residing in the basti told me that the mob was shouting slogans such as “Masjid todo, swarg banao”- break the mosque, and build heaven instead. A 23-year-old Muslim man who resides in the area said that members of the Muslim community earlier prayed in a small building that functioned as both a madrasa and a mosque, and was located down the lane from the demolished structure. This space was too small, the 23-year-old said. “We just needed a large space,” he added. He told me that the Muslim residents had then approached Akbar Ali, who owned a small plot of land, and obtained his permission to construct a four-walled structure that could function as a mosque on it. “It had only been nine days” since the structure had begun to be used, the 23-year-old said. Later that evening, I spoke with officials from the Sonia Vihar police station, but was unable to obtain a response. Subhash Vats, the station house officer, said “it was not my jurisdiction,” and directed me to the district and the assistant commissioners of police. Sudhir Kumar, the ACP, denied that any such incident had taken place. The DCP’s assistant asked me to return the next day.

The next morning, I called one of the Muslim residents that I had met during my visit to Sonia Vihar. The resident told me that the situation had worsened. He said that a Muslim barber who had rented his shop from a Hindu resident, had been asked by his landlords to shut the business for the day. He added that the Muslim residents were worried that they would not be allowed to set up stalls during the weekly market, which was to take place that evening. I decided to go to Sonia Vihar and to speak with the members of the Gujjar and Thakur communities who had allegedly been involved in the demolition… read more:

Apocalyptic Vandalism - ISIL blows up 800-year-old Nuri Mosque in Mosul. By Juan Cole

al-Hayat (Life) reports that on Wednesday evening around 9:30 pm local time, Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) blew up the Nuri Mosque in Mosul. The destruction of the 800-year-old edifice was undertaken at a time when Iraqi government troops were closing in on this area in Mosul’s Old City, the last remaining bastion of Daesh there, where 3,000 fighters are still keeping some 100,000 people as human shields. That is about a tenth the strength they initially had.
I once called the destruction by the US Air Force of the annex to the Iraqi National Archives where 19th century administrative documents were housed a “cliocide,” a killing of history itself. The razing of the Nuri Mosque is another act of cliocide. Ironically, I also once suggested that the main antecedent for Daesh, of a state that held both Mosul and Aleppo, was the Zangid polity before the rise of Saladin Ayyubi. Daesh emulated the Zangids geographically and now they have wiped out one of their major surviving architectural legacies.

Iraq prime minister Haydar al-Abadi remarked that the terrorist organization was by this act announcing its own defeat. This is a fair observation. Daesh was proud of having captured Mosul and of having taken that mosque, built in the rule of Nur al-Din Zangi, a Muslim ruler who held Mosul and Aleppo during the era of the medieval Crusades. They would not have destroyed the mosque where their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his claim to the caliphate (a lapsed medieval institution akin to the Christian papacy) unless they knew they were about to lose control of it.
Daesh has beheaded and otherwise slaughtered so many real, living human beings that it is perhaps wrong to concentrate on the destruction of a mere building.

But historical consciousness matters, and helps make us who we are. Mosulis were fiercely proud of the great mosque. Its minaret famously leaned, and that seems to have started happening soon after it was built. The medieval traveler Ibn Battuta spoke of seeing a leaning structure at the city’s citadel, and he likely was referring to this mosque. The siege of Daesh has gone on for months, and the Iraqi counter-terrorism brigades are exhausted. They continue to fight on, and will eventually liberate all of Mosul. Daesh sought support from sympathizers by falsely claiming that the US struck at the mosque. The US Air Force, however, denied that it was running any bombing raids in that part of Mosul.

We are seeing the slow destruction of Daesh as a territorial state. Eventually West Mosul will fall (though they have put up a more bloody-minded and dogged existence than anyone would have imagined.). Daesh believes that the last days are upon us, and its destruction of the mosque is likely an announcement of the near advent of the Judgment Day in their eyes. But actually we’ll all be around for a while to do ordinary non-apocalyptic politics. But the grievances that gave rise to Daesh and led to the establishment of this iniquitous city-date are still there. How Baghdad treats post-war Mosul will be crucial.

More posts on ISIS

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Meghalaya Legislative Assembly Unanimously Rejects Central Government’s Cattle Rules. By Raiot Collective

SHILLONG, JUNE 12: Cutting across political lines, the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly today unanimously resolved to demand the Centre to withdraw its recent notification on regulating of livestock markets which will impact the economy and food culture of the state. The government resolution on the Notification issued by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change with regards to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 was moved by Chief Minister Mukul Sangma during a special session convened here.

The Congress led government was supported by members of opposition political parties – United Democratic Party (UDP), Hill State People Democratic Party (HSPDP), National People’s Party (NPP) and independent MLAs. After taking the sense of the House, Assembly Speaker Abu Taher Mondal declared that the government resolution was approved and adopted by the House. Earlier while moving the resolution, Sangma said, “This House takes strong note of the shortcomings and infirmities in these Rules, as notified and resolves that the same may be withdrawn by Government of India with immediate effect, so as to maintain the federal & secular character of our Constitution or be faced with a situation ‘where law prohibits some activity while everyday-life practices it on a large-scale, due to hard economic realities’, a situation, surely to be avoided at all costs.”

The chief minister also informed that he had also written to all the chief ministers of the North East states as the notification will affect the entire region which its culture is linked to cattle. “This is keeping in mind the dangerous assault on the federal system.

DySP Mohammed Ayub Pandith beaten to death in Srinagar

NB: Lynching someone is a crime against humanity, no matter where and under what circumstance it is done, and by whom. My deepest condolences to the bereaved family of DSP Pandith. DS

An irate mob on Friday lynched a senior police officer Deputy Superintendent Mohammed Ayub Pandith near Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta area of Jammu and Kashmir’s capital Srinagar after he allegedly opened fire at a group of people who caught him clicking pictures near a mosque. Three people were injured in the firing. The incident happened during prayers at around 12 am. Curfew has been imposed in the area.

The deceased was allegedly making a video of stone pelting by locals, and objecting to this, the violent mob attacked him. Ayub opened fire through his service pistol in his own defence after the situation became out of control, according to the news agency ANI. Police reinforcements were rushed to the area to restore normalcy. As the officer was not in uniform, the police identified him after his family called his mobile phone, according to NDTV.

PTI quoting police sources said, “People tried to catch the man who allegedly fired several shots from his pistol, injuring three persons. The irate mob then caught hold of him and stripped him naked before stoning him to death.” Jammu and Kashmir police in a statement said, “Another police officer sacrificed his life in the line of duty. DySP Mohammed Ayub Pandith of Security attacked and beaten to death by a mob at Nowhatta last night.”
Immediately after the incident, Ayub’s body was taken to police control room for identification and other legal procedures. The situation in the old city has turned tense following the incident, police sources said. Muslims across Kashmir were observing Shab-e-Qadr (the night of power) with night-long prayers and supplications being made inside the mosques and shrines of the valley. As a precautionary measure, the authorities have already announced restrictions on the movement of people in seven police station areas of the city. A wreath laying ceremony will be held for the slain officer on Friday at 11 am

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Turkish schools to stop teaching evolution. By Kareem Shaheen and Gözde Hatunoğlu

Evolution will no longer be taught in Turkish schools, a senior education official has said, in a move likely to raise the ire of the country’s secular opposition. Alpaslan Durmuş, who chairs the board of education, said evolution was debatable, controversial and too complicated for students. “We believe that these subjects are beyond their [students] comprehension,” said Durmuş in a video published on the education ministry’s website.

Durmuş said a chapter on evolution was being removed from ninth grade biology course books, and the subject postponed to the undergraduate period. Another change to the curriculum may reduce the amount of time that students spend studying the legacy of secularism. Critics of the government believe public life is being increasingly stripped of the secular traditions instilled by the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The secular opposition has long argued that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is pursuing a covert Islamist agenda contrary to the republic’s founding values. Education is a particularly contentious avenue, because of its potential in shaping future generations. Small-scale protests by parents in local schools have opposed the way religion is taught.

There is little acceptance of evolution as a concept among mainstream Muslim clerics in the Middle East, who believe it contradicts the story of creation in scripture, in which God breathed life into the first man, Adam, after shaping him from clay. Still, evolution is briefly taught in many high school biology courses in the region.  The final changes to the curriculum are likely to be announced next week after the Muslim Eid or Bayram festival at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The draft changes had been put forth for public consultation at the beginning of the year.

The subject of evolution in particular stirred debate earlier this year after Numan Kurtulmuş, the deputy prime minister, described the process as a theory that was both archaic and lacking sufficient evidence. Reports in Turkish media in recent weeks, based on apparent leaks of school board meetings, have also predicted a diminished role in the curriculum for the study of Atatürk, and an increase in the hours devoted to studying religion. Durmuş said that a greater emphasis would be placed on the contributions of Muslim and Turkish scientists and history classes would move away from a “Euro-centric” approach.

The changes were based on a broad public consultation in which parents and the public played a key role, he said. The Islamist-secularist debate is just one of a series of divides in a country that two months ago narrowly approved a referendum granting President Erdoğan broad new powers. Many in the religiously conservative element of the president’s support base admire his piety and see his ascension as a defeat of the elite “White Turks” – a westernised elite that used to dominate the upper echelons of society and was accused of looking down with disdain on poorer, more religiously inclined citizens. The secular opposition worries that the president and his party are reshaping Turkish society and clinging to neo-Ottoman ideals that see Turkey as the vanguard of a greater Islamic nation.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Saeed Kamali Dehghan - Rift between Iran's ayatollah and re-elected president widens

Tensions are mounting between Iran’s supreme leader and the country’s president after the latter’s landslide victory in last month’s election.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 78, has sharpened his criticism of the reformist president, Hassan Rouhani, including humiliating him in a meeting of the country’s most senior officials. A hardliner keen to preserve his legacy, Khamenei is believed to have tacitly backed Ebrahim Raisi, Rouhani’s rival, in the election.

The president, who increased his mandate by 5m votes when he won his second term, fired back this week by saying that the political legitimacy of a religious leader is determined by the “people’s will and invitation” – comments that supporters of Khamenei, whose position as supreme leader is a lifelong appointment, have received with disdain. Clerics sympathetic to Khamenei argue that the legitimacy of the leader, or the rule of the Islamic jurist (Velayat-e-Faghih) is divine.

Rouhani’s comments come after Khamenei delivered a withering speech last week to an audience of senior officials including Rouhani, the judiciary chief and the parliamentary speaker. “Mr President has talked at great lengths about the country’s economy and well, he’s said ‘this should be done’, ‘that should be done’,” Khamenei said. “But who is he addressing by mentioning the ‘should dos’?” the ayatollah asked, before responding: “Himself.” A video circulating online of that moment shows the audience bursting into laughter while Rouhani smiles uncomfortably.

Khamenei continued: “In 1980-1981 the then president polarised society in two camps, and divided the country into opponents and supporters; this should not be repeated.” The ayatollah was referring to the first post-revolutionary president, Abolhassan Banisadr, who was impeached and later exiled after clashing with the clerical establishment. Rouhani’s supporters view the leader’s comments as a warning that he may face a similar fate.

Ali Ansari, director of the Institute of Iranian Studies at St Andrews University, said Khamenei was attempting to curb Rouhani’s rising popularity after his election success. “After the elections Khamenei was unhappy with the results and they’re trying to contain it,” Ansari said. “It’s all standard stuff that we heard in 2000, 2001 when they got a bit panicky and worried about what [former reformist president Mohammad] Khatami would try and do. They want to send a message to Rouhani to get back into your box.” He added: “He’s interestingly saying, I’m not.” 

The power struggle has also seen Rouhani forced to defend his success at the ballot box. Addressing a group of university professors, he referred to Ali ibn Abi Talib, the prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, a revered Shia figure also respected by Sunnis, who became a caliph only when people showed him support.  “We are not following western beliefs when we’re holding elections and going after people’s votes,” he said, insisting that democracy was not a western gift. “We belong to a religion in which [Imam Ali] based his leadership on people’s will and people’s vote.” .. read more:

Afghanistan: It’s Too Late. By Ahmed Rashid // Trump in the Middle East: The New Brutality\

When Donald Trump’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, was called before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week to testify about the conflict in Afghanistan, he was unusually blunt: “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” he said. The Taliban have been on a dramatic offensive, he acknowledged, the security situation continues to deteriorate, and the Afghan government holds considerably less territory than it did a year ago. In other words, prospects for any sort of positive outcome are as remote as they have been in this sixteen-year war—the longest war in American history.

Yet Trump - and Mattis’s - solution to this unwinnable war seems to be once again to send more troops. On Tuesday, Trump announced that the military itself would be given full authority to decide how many troops it needs. (By leaving all decisions in the hands of the military, he has abandoned the usual inter-agency consultations, especially with the State Department.) And Mattis is talking about a review to be completed in July that could add as many as 5,000 troops. It may be too late.

Afghanistan now faces a far deeper crisis than many seem to understand. Warlords and politicians - including cabinet members - are calling for the resignation of President Ashraf Ghani and his security ministers, accusing them of incompetence, arrogance, and stirring up ethnic hatred. There are as many as ten public demonstrations a day in the streets of Kabul, carried out by young people and by relatives of those killed in recent bomb attacks.

In early June multiple suicide bombings in Kabul killed over 170 people and wounded some 500. Terrorists managed to get a massive truck bomb into the heavily guarded diplomatic quarter, where it exploded, killing mainly civilians—a clear indication of collusion with security officers. Neither the Taliban nor the Islamic State claimed responsibility. The Taliban have now launched ground offensives to take more territory and to capture the northern city of Kunduz, a city of almost 300,000 that they tried twice last year to seize. If it falls now to the Taliban it would be the first major city they have re-occupied.

Afghanistan’s neighbors, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly restive about the US-led counterinsurgency: Pakistan continues to give sanctuary to the Taliban leadership, including the Haqqani group - the most vicious arm of the Taliban - while Iran and Russia are also providing support (the exact amount is unknown) to the Taliban. These regional powers believe that the Taliban could provide a bulwark against the spread of ISIS into their territories and do not want Pakistan to monopolize influence over the Taliban. They want to limit US power in the region. The influence of ISIS in Afghanistan, which was once relegated to the single eastern province of Nangarhar, is now expanding, and the group claimed responsibility for a horrendous early March attack on Kabul’s military hospital in which fifty patients and doctors were killed and ninety wounded.

Still, even more dangerous than the deteriorating security situation is the political crisis now unfolding in Kabul.. read more:

see also
Trump’s growing dependence on a military strategy around the world will reduce US influence with its allies and all major powers. It also makes it less likely that they will join what Trump hopes will be a crusade against the Islamic State. Autocrats around the world will follow the American example and be encouraged to abandon diplomacy and politics and use force to get their way. We will be left with a US that is set on inflaming conflicts rather than ending them, a US that abandons any sense of global responsibility and pays no regard to international agreements. A new global era has begun in which American allies can no longer rely on American leadership. It may be the most dangerous period we have seen in our lifetimes...
US nears $100bn arms deal for Saudi Arabia in time for Trump's visit

Jacques Camatte: The Wan­dering of Humanity

Summer in the Forest

We are obsessed with power. A French village shows life needn’t be this way: Christina Patterson 
Summer in the Forest, a breathtakingly beautiful new film celebrates a community that gives strength to people at the bottom of the pile.  If you want beauty and kindness, then go and see this truly important film. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry

When a Canadian naval officer-turned-philosopher arrived in Trosly-Breuil in 1964, he made a change to his life that started a revolution. Jean Vanier invited two men with learning disabilities to share his home. When the local priest retired, Vanier was asked to take over the running of a home for 30 men with learning disabilities in the same village. There was violence. There was noise. Hardly a day went by when there wasn’t a broken window. “It was to discover,” he says in his calm, clear voice, “that in humiliation there is something terrible.” It took a long time, he says, for Le Val Fleuri to “become a place of peace”. This was the beginning of L’Arche, an international movement that now has 149 communities in 37 countries: communities where people with and without learning disabilities live and work together. Over half a century later, there are a number of these communities in the UK, but their way of life and ethos is not without its critics: they argue that those with learning disabilities aren’t given sufficient opportunity to exercise personal choice, and should have a greater right to self-determination.

In Randall Wright’s breathtakingly beautiful film – largely set in the community at Trosly-Breuil, but also offering glimpses of Ma’an lil-Hayat, in the occupied territories in Bethlehem, where Palestinian Muslims and Christians live and work together – the keynote is joy. Residents laugh, sing, dance, arm-wrestle, picnic and play together. Sara, a Palestinian who suffered brain damage as a baby when she fell out of a car window, is one of those who is always smiling and laughing. “If someone is unhappy,” she says simply, “I always try to help them”.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The invisible women farmers - Agriculture cannot survive without them. By Mrinal Pande

An ex-company executive-cum-economist turns to the anchor during a discussion on the farmers’ agitation. “Overpopulation is destroying the farming activity. There are simply too many mouths to feed and the farms are shrinking. We must look to the urban areas for creating new jobs,” he says. The man at the local paan shop tells no one in particular: “Yaar, none of the farmers’ children want to dirty their hands anymore. They wear jeans and own mobiles. They will sell the land as soon as they inherit”. A respected Hindi anchor turns to a farmers’ representative, “Kaka (uncle)”, he says, “Our agriculture minister is out somewhere performing yoga asanas with some baba as our farmer brothers suffer. What do the farmers really want from the government?” Kaka thinks for a bit. “The farmer has traditionally never wanted anything from a government except a fair support price,” he says.

What do these pictures and dialogues have in common? They have males talking to males about what is being seen as a totally male problem, to be tackled by males. By now one is used to such responses from people about the enormous churn going on in our farming communities. They are only reacting to and repeating messages such as the ones above. What can life as a woman farmer, daily-wage labourer mean if women were to start talking?

As women who came of age in the campuses of the Sixties, many of us avidly read the first ever (1974) national report on the state of India’s women, Towards Equality, cover to cover. It revealed, in no uncertain terms, that the rural agricultural sector was the biggest employer in India. However, unlike male farmers and cultivators, their female counterparts remained doubly burdened during their peak productive period with their reproductive role seen as fundamental to their gender while the duties it entailed were socially created. So even as women laboured in fields, they continued to have and rear children almost single-handedly, the report showed.

Nearly two decades later, working with a group of women on Shram Shakti (the first government report on India’s women workers in the unorganised sector), this fact was reconfirmed. The farm sector, even in 1989, employed the largest number of women workers both as cultivators and daily-wage labourers. But women remained outside the formal definition of “worker” in the census reports.
Cut to the the 21st century. The latest census figures list only 32.8 per cent women formally as primary workers in the agricultural sector, in contrast to 81.1 per cent men. But the undeniable fact remains that India’s agricultural industry, which employs 80 to 100 million women, cannot survive without their labour. From preparing the land, selecting seeds, preparing and sowing to transplanting the seedlings, applying manure/fertilisers/pesticides and then harvesting, winnowing and threshing, women work harder and longer than male farmers.

Maintaining the ancillary branches in this sector, like animal husbandry, fisheries and vegetable cultivation, depends almost solely on women. So where are these women while the male farmers and their kakas furiously debate the future of farming, loans, subsidies and irrigation matters? Men get more than their share of visibility on TV, in governmental publicity material and within the banking sectors but millions of women farmers have no spokesperson from their ranks.
The primary reason for this is that they are usually not listed as primary earners and owners of land assets within their families. .. read more:

Monday, June 19, 2017

Alon Mwesigwa - Jailed for calling Ugandan president a 'pair of buttocks', activist Stella Nyanzi vows to fight on

A few minutes into our interview at one of Kampala’s hotels, Stella Nyanzi’s lawyer tells us the place is no longer safe for her and she needs to leave. She is constantly monitored by security agents these days, she says, which is perhaps not surprising as the academic and activist is one of the fiercest critics of the Ugandan government. But she is not about to back down.  Not even the 33 days she spent in the country’s maximum security Luzira women’s prison for describing the president, Yoweri Museveni, as a “pair of buttocks” could change her stance.

“My language will grow sharper if the government continues to oppress us,” says Nyanzi, who was suspended from her job at Makerere University for “abusing” the first lady and education minister, Janet Museveni. Nyanzi called her a “big-thighed cow” with an “empty brain”.   Fury over arrest of academic who called Uganda's president a pair of buttocks  Read more On top of that, she has accused the Musevenis of raping the country and leaving millions of Ugandans in poverty during their three-decade rule.  “I am a critic of government and I choose the words to use [carefully],” she told the Guardian while out on bail.  “If you are going to stand with the powerless against the oppression [by] the powerful, someone will not like it. That person is usually the powerful.”

Nyanzi, who usually turns to Facebook to vent her wrath, was arrested in April and charged with cyber harassment for her criticism of the president. Her arrest followed an event for her campaign Pads4girlsUG, which is raising money to buy sanitary towels for girls who can’t afford them. She started it after the first lady told parliament earlier this year that the government did not have money to fulfil her husband’s election campaign pledge to provide free sanitary pads to schoolgirls.

At least 30% of teenage girls in Uganda miss school when they start having their periods.  The campaign has proved a success, with donations pouring in. Nyanzi wrote on Facebook that Pads4girls was her “most powerful achievement” of the past year.  Her arrest elicited widespread condemnation, with Human Rights Watch describing it as “the most flagrant attack on free expression in many years and a vengeful use of Uganda’s justice system to silence a government critic”. She is currently barred from travelling out of the country... read more:

Tessa Milligan - Stop Treating The Young As Political Nobodies - We Decided This Election After All

Having just read yet another condescending article, this one titled “Let’s stop treating the young like political sages”, I am feeling quite insulted and patronised, as are most people my age. No, we don’t want a lollipop as a reward for voting - we want to be politically acknowledged. We took our political power and we wielded it. No more taxation without representation. What the big political commentators seem unable to understand is that maybe, just maybe, a vote for the Labour party this election was not a symbol of indoctrination into some cult, but instead a vote against the Conservative Party.

The Tories have inadvertently been cultivating a generation which doesn’t like them. Policies from the last seven years which have targeted the young - and yes, tripling tuition fees have played a big role in shaping how we feel about you - have created a bitter group of voters. And we’re bored of the “magic money tree” lies we’ve been fed that tell us to “live within our means” despite the fact Tory chancellor George Osborne tripled the national debt by spending £500 billion+ (on god knows what, because we didn’t see any of that money!) We also didn’t like your manifesto by the way. Fox hunting, Hard Brexit, taking our grannies’ houses - they’re not very fashionable proposals amongst this generation. Plus it was a poorly written document with hardly any facts or figures to substantiate it’s points. I’d grade it a U. No points for no effort.

We may seem stupid to you, but as long as you had 20/20 vision and were literate, you could see that the Labour manifesto had full costings, whilst the Conservative manifesto had none. Right-wing commentators like to blame Corbyn for single-handedly creating this huge resurgence in youth voter turnout, but that would be far too easy. It gives them comfort to think that as soon as Corbyn is gone, the mass anti-Tory youth vote will go with him. It won’t.

And they like paint us, at best, as some “hopelessly naive” school kids who once watched a cartoon about socialism and liked it or, at worst, some crazed Red Army of teenagers baying for the blood of pensioners who voted to Leave the EU. The truth is, this was an anti-Tory vote. This was a shout to the political establishment. And we demanded to start getting political respect, or get out of Downing Street. Laughing in our faces and sending us on our way with threats to raise the minimum voting age to 21 is not going to help you. But feel free to carry on belittling us. Because as long as you do, the Tories will never win a majority again. Understood?

see also

Sonia Jabbar on the Gorkhaland agitation

NB: This pithy comment on the ongoing crisis in north Bengal was posted by Sonia Jabbar on her Facebook page and is placed here with her permission: DS

For nearly 30 years the Darjeeling Hills suffered a near war situation because of the Gorkhaland agitation. TMC came to power and an energetic CM brought peace to the hills. There was grumbling from time to time by the GJM that found itself regularly upstaged and outmanoeuvred by Mamata Bannerjee, but they did not have the guts or resources to challenge her. Here in the District of Darjeeling we have been witness to the machinations of the Centre. Modi is not satisfied with UP. The RSS has tasted blood in Assam. In the last two years they have sent their minions out to buy property and the loyalty of people and the media. Money is not an issue. Hundreds of crores have been spent in Bengal in an attempt to widen its base. 

Mamata skilfully brushed off the challenge on several occasions, making new friends, even winning the civic elections from Mirik. The people of Mirik were simply thanking her on delivering on promises.  What went wrong? The TMC's decision to make Bengali compulsory in schools. What she was slow to clarify was seized by the BJP-GJM combine and exaggerated: Bengali would be made compulsory even in Nepali speaking areas like the Darjeeling Hills, Gorkha identity would get eroded, Mamata was trying to wipe them out. In short, every trick used by separatists was used here. No amount of pacifying and clarifying was going to help, because now the GJM has decided and the Centre agrees that nothing short of Gorkhaland will suffice. 

So where there was peace and prosperity now there is murder, mayhem and anarchy. And this is being supported by sections of the media. Grand articles have appeared in national dailies on how Bimal Gurung is the undisputed leader of the Hills. But then so is Yogi Adityanath in UP. And then our Hon. PM. No word of these gentlemen's unsavoury past. Or the fact that each commands an army of thugs to terrorise the people into submission.

Bimal Gurung has openly challenged the law to try and arrest him for the murder of his rival, the gentle and erudite Madan Tamang. He threatens that the Darjeeling Hills will burn for a hundred years if they do. Please understand who you are supporting when you are supporting the GJM to "teach Mamata Bannerjee a lesson."

Other articles have mushroomed on the history of Darjeeling and how it was never part of Bengal and how it was "unnaturally appended" to Bengal by the British. Those who advocate its separation on historical grounds, please be ready to extend your largesse to Kashmir, because this is the same argument made by Kashmiri separatists who cite the Treaty of Amritsar between Britain and the Dogra Raja Gulab Singh as an unjust imposition.

Second, the articles citing the history of the Darjeeling Hills fail to mention that the "Gorkhas" are not the original inhabitants. If Bengalis, Marwaris and Biharis, those who have made Darjeeling their home in the last century and toiled to make it what it is today are outsiders, so are the Nepali speaking people. Darjeeling was thinly populated by Lepchas when the British "discovered " it. When they began planting tea the Lepcha population was too small to help so they settled Nepali speaking people from the relatively more populous Nepal.

These Nepalese settlers have long outpaced the Lepchas who are today a minority in Darjeeling as well as in Sikkim. It is not for nothing that Bhutan keeps a hawk eye on its Nepali migrants. Those advocating a separation from Bengal and a return of land to Darjeeling's original inhabitants would do well to remember it is the Lepchas who are the original inhabitants and who are quite comfortable being part of the state.

Those who don't give a damn about the facts and just want to see Mamata's nose bloodied know that you are lighting a fire where there was none. Know that India no longer has the kind of influence it once did in the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal and that from Gorkhaland to Greater Nepal under the benign suzerainty of China is only a step or three away.\

Indians facing identity crisis in US under Trump

 40% of US colleges are seeing a decline in applications from international students. The largest drop reported was from India and China, who together made up 47% of the international students in the country in 2016.

A college student has shaved off his beard. A techie with a work visa is afraid he’ll never get another job. A young woman says she will never see Republicans the same way. It’s a confusing time for Indians in America. And while there is support within their neighbourhoods, and often outrage against the ‘tell them to go home’ attitudes surfacing in pockets of the country, the sense of being different, of standing out from the crowd, has become heightened since the start of the Trump administration.

Take Sushovan Sircar, a student at Georgetown University in Washington DC. He used to sport a luxuriant beard that completed his hipster look. Last month, the 28-year-old student of cybersecurity policy decided to shave. “I have become acutely aware of my skin colour in the last few months, after the rise of alleged hate crimes against Indians and Indians mistaken for ‘Arabs’,” he says. “The last two months have seen three violent attacks against people of Indian origin in Kansas city, Kent and South Carolina, which resulted in two deaths. I didn’t want to stand out any more than I already do, and my family back home has been worried too. So I shaved off my beard, and the absurdity of this fear is saddening,” he adds.

Development professional Apala Guhathakurta, 24, describes New York as a “safe bubble”. “The most notable change for me is that, anyone new I meet or make eye contact with, at parties, in the street, on the subway, I wonder who they voted for. I wonder if they think I don’t belong, that I should ‘go back to where I came from’,” says Guhathakurta, who moved to the US with her family at the age of 6... read more:

Jane Martinson - A question for a dystopian age: what counts as fake news?

In 1984, the truth was whatever Big Brother wanted it to be. In 2017, the truth is whatever Trump and other politicians want it to be, with screams of “fake news” when it isn’t... It may not be the most useful question amid such death and despair, but if the media is to do its job and if we are to avoid losing a vital part of democracy, we should at least ask what counts as fake news. 
There are many reasons why dystopian novels appear to be having a moment in 2017. Amid catas-trophe and political chaos, Brave New World, 1984 and Atwood’s own The Handmaid’s Tale have all reached the top of the Amazon charts on both sides of the Atlantic in the past year. A TV adaptation of Atwood’s story of a totalitarian, misogynistic state is being keenly watched for echoes of our own world by more than 2 million people a week in the UK on Channel 4 and on the streaming service Hulu in the US.  “When they blamed terrorists and suspended the constitution, we didn’t wake up,” said the narrator of The Handmaid’s Tale in the episode just before Theresa May offered to take her frustration over the Manchester and London Bridge attacks out on human rights legislation.

Farewell to reality

The appalling tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire last week illuminated many of the worst divides in 21st-century Britain and highlighted the extent of social and economic inequality in its capital city. It also highlighted a lack of trust in a media too often felt to be on the side of the wealthy and the powerful against the poor and powerless. “Why did they not come here before?” shouted one man at Channel 4’s Jon Snow, who found himself surrounded by residents who had had to watch people burn before getting the chance to air their grievances on national television. Anger over the lack of official help and fear that improvements would be delayed by an inquiry turned to suspicion that the media was under-reporting the number of dead. Lily Allen accused the media of being complicit. Skwawkbox, a blog that says it aims to “present information and analysis that will rarely make it into the mainstream media”, first ran and then rescinded a story claiming that an official DA notice had been issued to prevent the media from reporting the facts.

On its front page on Saturday, the Telegraph accused leftwing blogs of ramping up tension, under the headline “Corbyn supporters spread ‘fake news’ about Grenfell Tower death toll”. The report suggested the allegations should be the subject of an ongoing parliamentary inquiry into “fake news”.
Really? Forget the allegations that Sun reporters are up to very old tricks by lying to get into hospital wards or even the complaints against the Mail that it seemed to blame one man’s failure to buy a new fridge for dangerous housing, this cannot be the way for mainstream media to show it cares for people too long ignored and voiceless. It may not be the most useful question amid such death and despair, but if the media is to do its job and if we are to avoid losing a vital part of democracy, we should at least ask what counts as fake news. Given the failure of algorithmic curation to differentiate between truth and lies, it is surely anything that acts as a deliberate, viral spreading of misinformation for commercial or political ends. The story about Hillary Clinton and thousands of bogus votes, made up by a 23-year-old who earned $5,000 for doing so, was as fake and fictional as anything Huxley wrote. In 1984, the truth was whatever Big Brother wanted it to be. In 2017, the truth is whatever Trump and other politicians want it to be, with screams of “fake news” when it isn’t. read more:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Civil society mobilises: UK / USA

Labour members built networks. Now Corbyn must too. by Zoe Williams
Ed Miliband rewrote the rules of Labour’s membership, and for a long time that was held as his greatest error, destroying not just his own vision for palatable leftism but also the party he cherished. Now that Corbyn has gone from Labour’s high sparrow to its saviour, the decision to give the members real power over the leadership, power to defy the parliamentary party and laugh while doing it, is suddenly Miliband’s great legacy. In fact that decision – effectively, the party went open source – won’t mean anything unless it’s followed through. It was far more radical than anyone allowed at the time, far more meaningful than simply inviting the naive and the Trotskyists to make decisions that their youth or extremism made them unqualified to make. It opened up the possibility of politics as a co-creation, one in which the members were more than just a beard-army ready to deliver leaflets for you, then moan about your centrism in the pub.

The members took this seriously: repeated attempts to evaluate Momentum along binary and adversarial lines – are they loony lefties, and if so, how loony? – missed the really interesting bit of what was going on. This was an intellectual movement as much as an activists’ one. At their conference, The World Transformed, held alongside the Labour conference last year but so different in atmosphere it could have been another decade, another continent, they asked searching and difficult questions…read more:

Victories against Trump are mounting. Here's how we deal the final blow.  By Rebecca Solnit
In this moment, populist intervention is everything, not as hate and attack but as an expression of popular will and power. Or as love, since we defend what we love. It is an extraordinary moment, an all-hands-on-deck emergency in which new groups and coalitions are emerging along with unforeseen capacities in many people who didn’t previously think they were activists. It is saturated with possibility, as well as with danger. Of course there are also people resident in the US who love the dismantling of healthcare, education, environmental protection, and the bill of rights, but they are an increasingly small minority. The most recent Gallup poll found nearly twice as many people – 60% disapprove of the president – than approve (36%). The graph shows a growing chasm between the minority that approves and the rest of us, and nearly half the public likes the idea of impeachment. Republican approval of the direction the country is going fell an unprecedented 17% in a month, according to a new Gallup poll. 

People who don’t like democracy and civil rights don’t think what the public thinks matters; that includes the Trump administration which seems to have thought that power would be inherent in the presidency, rather than dependent on honoring relationships with institutions, allies, with rules and laws. What the public thinks matters, if we turn thoughts into actions. The great conundrum of this crisis is that if people believe that they have the power to change this nation’s destiny, they will act; and if they don’t they won’t. .. read more:

Lynching of Zafar Khan: Three days on, No Arrests, No compensation. Another example of justice in shining India

Jaipur / New Delhi, June 18: Social activist Zafar Khan, 55, was beaten to death allegedly by staffers of municipality in Pratapgarh town Friday morning when he objected to them clicking pictures of women defecating in the open. Despite police lodging named FIR against the assaulters with murder charges soon after the incident, no arrests have been made till this report is being posted now, nor has the victim family got any compensation from the district authorities or government.

In the FIR lodged by in Khan's elder brother Noor Mohammed, civic employees called Kamal Harijan, Ritesh Harijan, Manish Harijan and municipal commissioner Ashok Jain were made accused. Four of them were detained as a huge crowd of the locals thronged to the civil hospital Friday noon where Khan's body was kept and the police persuaded the family and locals to allow post-mortem and funeral and assured them that the accused would be formally arrested, says Nadeem Ansari, president of Pratapgarh Congress Minority Cell. But soon after the post-mortem and funeral, all the four were let off, he alleged.

"They were detained just to pacify the anger of the locals. Four out of five people named in the FIR were kept there. The police persuaded us to allow post-mortem and they will arrest the four who were detained. We believed their promise even though District Magistrate or Superintendent of Police had not arrived there. But soon after post-mortem and funeral, the police changed their attitude," Ansari told over phone. "While the state Home Minister said that three-four people have been arrested, the SP told media yesterday that no arrests have been made and investigation is going on," he added.

Today is the third day of the incident, but neither accused have been arrested nor has the family - widow and their 14-year-old daughter - got any compensation as announced by the civic authorities.