Indonesia Minister, Clerics Clash over Hajj Swine Vaccine’ Requirement

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

JAKARTA, June 15 — The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and the health minister are now at odds over a requirement for hajj pilgrims to take an anti-meningitis vaccine which allegedly contains a swine enzyme before travelling to the Holy Land, Antara news agency reported.

“Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari’s statement that MUI has no right to decide whether meningitis vaccine is ‘halal’ (allowed in Islam) or ‘haram’ (banned) can mislead and create unrest among Muslims,” MUI Chairman Amidhan, said yesterday.

According to the MUI chairman, the health minister as a state official should not have made the statement as it would create unrest among Muslims. The minister made the statement at a meeting of the Aisyiyah women wing of the Muhammadiyah Muslim organisation in Yoyakarta yesterday.

“I read her statement in the running text of a television broadcast Sunday morning,” Amidhan said.

MUI has the authority to decide whether or not a product is halal or haram based on Law No. 7 / 1996 on Food. One of its articles clearly stipulates that the halal certification of a product would be issued by MUI.

MUI is equipped with two institutions in this case. One is the Institute for Assessment of Food, Drug and Cosmetics (LPPOM) and the other one is the Commission on Edicts and Legal Affairs.

“Before MUI decides whether a product is halal or haram, its team will check it in the field and test it in a laboratory, the results of which would be taken to and discussed with the edict commission. We have the experience to handle such a problem for 20 years,” Amidhan said.

At the Aisyiyah meeting, Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said that Indonesian would-be hajj pilgrims were obliged to receive a meningitis vaccine before they left for Saudi Arabia because the Saudi government had decided to oblige pilgrims to have one.

“The Saudi government obliges all hajj pilgrims to have meningitis vaccine in order to protect them from cerebral membrane inflammation,” the minister said. She was responding to a rejection by a hajj pilgrim organiser group to provide meningitis vaccine as the vaccine was suspected to contain swine enzyme.

The minister said that the requirement set by the Saudi government to have meningitis vaccine for would-be hajj pilgrims was final. Pilgrims should be injected with the vaccine if they wanted to travel to Saudi Arabia.

“I have told the Saudi health minister about the pros and cons on the use of the meningitis vaccine which was suspected to contain swine enzyme but the Saudi government maintained its policy and required meningitis vaccination for hajj pilgrims,” the minister said.

Therefore, Indonesia’s would-be hajj pilgrims should receive meningitis vaccine injection in the first place before they could depart to Saudi Arabia. Without taking the meningitis vaccine, a would-be hajj pilgrim would not be allowed to go to the Holy Land.

“So far, there is only one kind of meningitis vaccine used by hajj pilgrims. This vaccine is produced by a US pharmacy. So far, no other pharmacy has produced meningitis vaccine,” the minister said.

The minister said that the US company was going to produce another type of meningitis vaccine. They claimed the new product was an innovative version of the previous one.

“Therefore, the price of the new vaccine which was claimed to be free from pig enzyme is far higher than that of the previous vaccine,” the minister said.

With regard to the present vaccine, the minister said that the institution that had the right to assess the substance of the vaccine was the ministry of health, not the MUI. So, MUI had neither right nor authority or competence to assess the substance of the meningitis vaccine and decided that it was halal or haram.

“MUI may decide that swine is halal or haram, but as far as a vaccine is concerned, the institution which has the right and competence to assess its substance is the health ministry,” Minister Supari said.

However, it was reported that MUI had received the very information on the swine enzyme substance in the meningitis vaccine from the health ministry itself, namely its Advisory Council on Health and Religious Legal Affairs (MPKS).

Amidhan said that MUI had the information from the MPKS which held a meeting with the meningitis vaccine producer. It was learnt from the results of a meeting between MPKS and the vaccine producer Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK), that the vaccine contained swine enzyme.

The producer even admitted that the meningitis vaccine contained swine enzyme.

“That is why we say that the vaccine is haram,” the MUI chairman said. MUI has sent a letter to the Saudi government with regard to the requirement for pilgrims to have meningitis vaccine.

The highest Islamic regulating council took the step because all parties involved in the organization of hajj pilgrimage in the country had agreed that the vaccine contained pig substance.

“We are waiting for a response from the Saudi government. However, if the Saudi government insists on its decision to require pilgrims to take meningitis vaccine, then we will use it based on the principle of emergency. Of course this would continue to create unrest,” Amidhan said. — Bernama

11-26

Minister: Indonesia, Egypt to Boost Trade Cooperation

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda said the visit of Mohamed Elzorkany, Egypt`s assistant foreign affairs minister for Asia, was aimed at boosting bilateral trade cooperation between the two countries.

The bilateral relations between Egypt and Indonesia was limited to the political field so far, and therefore the ties would be expanded to include economic, social and cultural fields.

“The close political relations between Indonesia and Egypt will be intensified and translated into cooperation in other fields, including trade,” Wirajuda said.
Elzorkany visited Jakarta as parts of his Asian tour which included China, Mongolia, and Malaysia.

During his two-day visit in Indonesia, the Egyptian official held meetings with Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda, Trade Minister Marie Elka Pangestu, and National Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo.

Elzorkany at a dinner reception hosted by the Egyptian ambassador to Indonesia, here on Monday evening, said that Egypt and Indonesia had big potential to intensify the bilateral cooperation in the trade and investment fields.

Indonesia and Egypt had close bilateral relations and both nations had set up a joint commission to improve cooperation in various fields, especially trade and investment, he said.

Egypt which recorded an economic growth at 7.1 percent last year, was a gate to Africa, Europe and other Arab countries, he said, hoping that Indonesia could use his country`s potential to penetrate those regional markets.

The bilateral trade value of the two countries reached US$1.1 billion, with Indonesia enjoyed a surplus of US$900 million.

Egypt`s exports to Indonesia include phosphates, cotton, fruits, and carpets, while its imports from Indonesia are among other things crude palm oil (CPO), rubber, paper, and tires.

Elzorkany believed that the two nations had huge potentials to achieve progress in the future.

Indonesia and Egypt as developing countries also supported each other in various international forum including in G-15, he said.

11-26

Thailand Accused of Mistreating Muslim Refugees

January 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Simon Montlake, The Christian Science Monitor

2008-05-06-Rohingya_1
The Rohingya Muslim people, subject to horrible state persecution  in Burma, have sought refuge in Bangladesh; recently hundreds were refused entry into Thailand.

BANGKOK, THAILAND – Hundreds of Muslim refugees from Burma (Myanmar) are feared missing or dead after Thai troops forced them onto boats without engines and cut them adrift in international waters, according to human rights activists and authorities in India who rescued survivors. The revelations have shone a spotlight on the Thai military’s expulsion policy toward Muslims it sees as a security threat.

Nearly 1,000 refugees were detained on a remote island in December before being towed out to sea in two batches and abandoned with little food or water, according to a tally by a migrant-rights group based on survivors’ accounts and media reports. The detainees, mostly members of Burma’s oppressed Rohingya minority, then drifted for weeks. One group was rescued by Indonesia’s Navy, and two others made landfall in India’s Andaman Islands.

Photos of refugees on a Thai island show rows of bedraggled men stripped to the waist as soldiers stand guard. In a separate incident, foreign tourists snapped pictures of detainees trussed on a beach. Thailand’s Andaman coastline, where the abuses took place, is a popular vacation spot.

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva has launched an investigation. Military officials have denied any ill treatment of refugees, while offering conflicting accounts of how they ended up lost at sea. The military has accused the Rohingya, who often travel via Thailand to Malaysia to work or seek asylum, of assisting a Muslim-led insurgency in southern Thailand.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is pressing Thailand for access to 126 Rohingya that it says are in Thai custody. These include 46 boat people reportedly detained on Jan. 16 and handed over to military custody. It said a second group of 80 Rohingya, which reportedly had previously been pushed out to sea and drifted back, had been transferred to the tiny detention island.

There was no sign Thursday of any detainees there, said a Western source in the area. Villagers said boat people had been held there by local guards under military command, before being towed out to sea by fishing vessels. Rickety vessels said to have carried the refugees were beached on the island, the source said.

Amid accusations of a military cover-up, the Thai government has promised a full accounting. “The military has agreed to a fact-finding investigation … [but] we’re not dependent on their input alone,” says Panitan Wattanyagorn, a spokesman.

That probe will expose Mr. Abhisit’s weak command of the military, which sees the Rohingya and other undocumented Muslims as a threat, says Paul Quaglia, director of PSA Asia, a security consultancy in Bangkok. He says there’s no evidence that the Rohingya, who speak a Bengali dialect, have joined insurgents in the Malay-speaking south, where more than 3,500 people have died since 2004.

“Abhisit is … beholden to the military for getting his job – and keeping his job,” he says.

Thailand has long been a magnet for millions of economic migrants as well as refugees escaping persecution in Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Human traffickers often play a role moving both groups, exposing those on the run to egregious abuses. Thailand has a mixed record on hosting refugees.

Most Rohingya, who are denied legal rights in Burma, begin their journey in Bangladesh, where more than 200,000 live in unofficial camps. A further 28,000 are registered with the UNHCR. From there, men pay smugglers for passage across the Indian Ocean to Thailand, usually as a transit stop to reach Malaysia, a Muslim country with a sizable Rohingya population. Some Bangladeshis also travel there.

In recent years, boats crossing during winter months have increased. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of Rohingya detained by police rose to 4,866, up from 2,763, says Kraisak Choonhavan, a government lawmaker.

Some of these Rohingya have been repatriated to Burma. Others have paid smugglers to complete their journey to Malaysia, or become victims of traffickers, say rights activists. That appears to have changed as the military has got involved.

In security briefings, military officials repeatedly draw a link between Rohingya refugees and separatist violence in the south, says Sunai Pasuk, with Human Rights Watch, which has received reports of sea “pushbacks” since 2007. “This is not just an isolated incident. There must be a policy behind it,” he says.

Mr. Kraisak, a deputy leader of the ruling Democrat party, criticized the violation of human rights. But he said the outflow of refugees from Burma was a problem that Thailand can’t handle alone. “We have to confer on the international stage. Thais have been too tolerant,” he says.

In interviews with Indian security officials, survivors said uniformed Thai personnel shot four refugees and tossed another into the sea before forcing their group to board a wooden barge. Some 400 crowded onto the barge, which was towed to sea for about 18 hours with armed soldiers aboard. They shared two bags of rice and two gallons of water, according to a transcript in the South China Post.

The barge drifted for more than a week. Of 300 people who tried to swim to shore, only 11 survived. An additional 88 were rescued by the Coast Guard.

The Rohingya people are very oppressed in Burma.  The people, from western Burma’s Arakan State, are forbidden from marrying or travelling without permission and have no legal right to own land or property.

Not only that but even though groups of them have been living in Burma for hundreds of years, they are also denied citizenship by the country’s military government.

For decades this Muslim group of ethnic-Indo origins have been considered the lowest of the low in this mainly Buddhist country. In 1992, 250,000 Rohingyas, a third of their population, fled over Burma’s border into Bangladesh to escape the persecution. Years later more than 20,000 of them are still in the same refugee camps and around 100,000 more are living illegally in the surrounding area.

11-6

Mumbai Terrorist Attacks Awaken Bollywood

December 31, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

The India film stars dictate fashion and customs, but they usually aren’t politically active. The recent killings seem to have changed that.

Courtesy Anupama Chopra, LA Times

Reporting from Mumbai — Amitabh Bachchan slept with a gun. On Nov. 26, as 10 terrorists orchestrated mayhem at Mumbai’s landmark hotels and train station, Bollywood’s most enduring superstar pulled out his revolver.

The following day, he wrote on his blog: “As an Indian, I need to live in my own land, on my own soil with dignity and without fear. And I need an assurance on that. I am ashamed to say this and not afraid to share this now with the rest of the cyber world, that last night as the events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me, I did something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be in a situation to do. Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my licensed .32 revolver and put it under my pillow. For a very disturbed sleep.”

As the bloody face-off between the terrorists and Indian commandos continued for three days, Aamir Khan, another major star and avid blogger, wrote: “Terrorists are not Hindu or Muslim or Christian. They are not people of religion or God . . . an incident such as this really exposes how ill equipped we are as a society as far as proper leaders go. We desperately need young, dynamic, honest, intelligent and upright leaders who actually care for the country.”

A few days after the attack, Shah Rukh Khan, who is known to Hindi film viewers as King Khan and routinely described as more famous than Tom Cruise, told a leading television channel, “I have read the Holy Koran. It states that if you heal one man, you heal the whole of mankind and if you hurt one man, you hurt the whole of mankind. . . . There is an Islam from Allah and very unfortunately, there is an Islam from the mullahs.”

This impassioned, unflinching outburst is rare for Bollywood. Mumbai’s Hindi film industry produces 200-odd films each year for an estimated annual audience of 3.6 billion. Bollywood and its stars dictate fashions, language, rituals and aspirations for millions of Indians and non-Indians around the globe. In Britain and the U.S., Bollywood box office is largely driven by Indian immigrants, but in countries such as Malaysia, Poland and Germany, even locals are avid consumers. Hindi films vary from fantastical entertainers to realistic, low-budget urbane dramas that usually appeal to more educated audiences. Bollywood is one of the few film industries globally that has withstood the Hollywood goliath. In fact, Hollywood is pushing for a piece of the booming Bollywood pie; studios such as Sony and Warner are producing Hindi films.

But despite its cultural clout, Bollywood has largely been an insular, apolitical space — columnist and author Shobhaa De, more acerbically, described it as “apathetic.” Unlike their Hollywood counterparts, stars here have rarely aligned themselves with causes. Even those who join political parties usually serve an ornamental function.

Like much of India’s elite and middle class, the film industry has preferred to disengage from politics and the invariably messy functioning of the world’s largest democracy. “Most Bollywood actors claim their job is to entertain the masses — nothing more, nothing less,” De said. “It is the Republic of Bollywood movie stars owe any allegiance to.”

But the terrorist attacks, which claimed 164 lives (plus those of nine gunmen), have forced the film industry to abandon its customary neutral stance. In blogs, media, petitions and peace marches, Bollywood has come forward to denounce the attacks and demand better governance. Most significantly, many leading Muslim stars who until now rarely delved into the controversies of religion have condemned the attacks as “un-Islamic.” They have, as Gyan Prakash, professor of history at Princeton University put it, “reclaimed their religion.” In an interview, actor Anil Kapoor, now appearing in “ Slumdog Millionaire,” called the attacks “a tipping point,” adding: “I think things will be different now.”

The film industry can play a prominent role in India’s post 26/11 citizens’ movement, not only because of its cultural cachet but also because Bollywood is and always has been inherently secular. India is home to about 151 million Muslims, the third-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. The majority Hindus and minority Muslims share a long and tragic history, and politicians of every hue have exploited this divide. Hindu-Muslim relations are usually in a state of simmer, and the decades-old distrust routinely boils over in riots, murder and more recently terrorism.

Intriguingly, Bollywood has largely managed to resist this communal caldron. Through the decades, Hindus and Muslims have worked together without any palpable friction. In fact the biggest stars in contemporary Bollywood are Muslim (this includes the reigning superstar trinity of Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman Khan). In “Maximum City,” his bestselling book on Mumbai, Suketu Mehta described the Hindi film industry as having “the secularism of a brothel.” “All are welcome,” he wrote, “as long as they carry or make money.”

Among Bollywood’s earliest stars were Australian-born Mary Ann Evans, known to her fans as Fearless Nadia — a whip-wielding, iconic action heroine in the 1930s; the Jewish Florence Ezekiel, known to her fans as Nadira, a legendary vamp who seduced with her smoldering looks in the 1950s; and the Anglo-Indian-Burmese Helen, who from the 1950s to the 1970s was Bollywood’s most famous dancer.
Box office is king

Writer-lyricist Javed Akhtar, president of an organization called Muslims for Secular Democracy, disapproves of Mehta’s brothel comparison but agreed that in the 40-odd years that he had been working in Bollywood, he had never encountered bias. “There is a method in the madness,” he said. “People in films — from the biggest stars to the smallest — know that their survival is in the success of the film. When you go to the racecourse, you cannot not bet on the winning horse because the jockey is of some other religion. You want to win the race so you cannot afford to be communal.”

Bollywood’s reigning deity is the box office. Consequently, Akhtar pointed out, even actors and technicians who are high-profile members of the right-wing Hindu Bhartiya Janta Party will behave “in a totally separate manner within the industry.”

Attempts to divide the industry on religious lines have found little support. In July, a little-known terror outfit called the Indian Mujahideen issued death threats via e-mail to leading Muslim actors, urging them to stop acting in movies or face the consequences. The industry collectively denounced the mail and Saif Ali, one of the actors threatened, responded in a newspaper saying that he would “rather be shot than not do a shot.”

Eight years ago, a Hindu actor named Hrithik Roshan became an overnight sensation with his debut film, “Kaho Na Pyar Hai” (Say You Love Me). As the film ran to packed houses, a right-wing Hindu magazine, Panchjanya, ran a cover story insisting that Roshan was the Hindu answer to the Muslim Khan supremacy in Bollywood. The claim was resoundingly ignored. These contrived divisions also have little meaning in Bollywood because many of the leading stars have had interfaith marriages.

Even at historic turning points such as the 1947 partition, when Hindu-Muslim relations were violently fraught, the film industry has remained impervious to religious bias. In the 1940s and 1950s, the industry was also less self-focused and inward-looking. Cultural groups such as the Progressive Writers’ Assn. and the India Peoples’ Theatre Assn. exerted a great influence on the leading writers, actors and directors of the time. The filmmakers and their films reflected an awareness and engagement with social causes.

But by the 1970s, a disconnect had set in. Prakash pinned it on “the Amitabh Bachchan phenomenon.” After the actor had a string of successive hits, the media labeled him “a one-man industry.” According to Prakash: “The Bollywood space changed then and became about celebrity.”

Star-driven culture

This celebrity has only amplified in recent years. The post-liberalization media explosion and consumerist culture have converted actors into brands and they are constantly “on,” whether in cinema halls, television shows or newspapers and magazines. Hindi cinema and especially its stars dominate India’s cultural landscape, enjoying a super-size visibility. Media doggedly report on the minutiae of their lives, from love affairs to diet to favored hair stylist. Political parties have often attempted to turn this visibility into votes by using stars to campaign for them, but Bollywood stars in politics have largely been, in De’s words, “a monumental joke.”

Prakash agreed. “Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood has became a space only for stardom,” he said. “Politics is problematic, and it’s not conducive to stardom. It only gets in the way.”
Aamir Khan discovered this the hard way in 2006, when he joined activists demanding the rehabilitation of farmers displaced by the construction of a dam in the western state of Gujarat. The government demanded an apology. When he refused, multiplex owners in Gujarat refused to screen the actor’s film “Fanaa” (Destroyed). Though the film eventually became a blockbuster, losses from the Gujarat ban — deemed unconstitutional by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — ran into the millions. Not surprisingly then, silence and insularity are the preferred mode here.
Actress Preity Zinta, one of the industry’s more outspoken stars, said the prevailing silence also had to do with the quality of leadership. “Where are our icons?” she asked. “Give me one inspiring leader and I will not even think twice before offering support. Look at the political class abroad. I jumped as high as anyone in America when Obama won.”
Terrorism has provided the impetus that politicians could not. Zinta was among the thousands of people who gathered Dec. 3 at the Gateway of India (opposite the Taj Mahal hotel) to protest the attacks and demand better security. The gathering, organized spontaneously through e-mail, text messages and Facebook, was described in leading newspapers as unprecedented.
Farhan Akhtar, Javed Akhtar’s son and a filmmaker-actor, was also at the Gateway. When the firing started Nov. 26, Farhan was shooting the first episode of a “Saturday Night Live”-style television show called “Oye It’s Friday.” Farhan, who hosts the show, and his producers stopped work because, he said, “we were too depressed to continue.” But a few days later, they regrouped to rewrite a part of the show. The first episode now included several biting comic lines about politicians and their legendary incompetence. “There has been no event of this magnitude, nothing this drastic to get people polarized,” Farhan said. “But now people have had enough. We’re not going to take it lying down anymore.”
The big question is: How long will the anger last? Skeptics like De don’t envision a more politically sensitized Bollywood, but many such as Zinta and Farhan believe and hope that a sustained involvement will follow. But even if the current activism dilutes with time, the Hindi film industry, an inclusive, successful global brand, will remain a symbol of unity in a deeply fractured country.
Chopra writes frequently about Indian cinema. Her books include “King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema.”

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