How India Alienated Kashmir

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aijaz Zaka Syed, Arab News

Kashmir_mapAN unjust law is no law, warned Martin Luther King, the celebrated US human rights icon. The Kashmiris have been living with such laws for decades. At least one in every five Kashmiris has at some point or another in his/her life suffered violence, humiliation, torture and old-fashioned abuse at the hands of security forces without any recourse to justice or a distant promise of retribution.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been a license to abuse, torture and kill the Kashmiris in their own land. A law that confers “special powers” on men in uniform to do as they please and get away with it; a law that the UN says violates “contemporary international human rights standards” and a law that cannot be challenged in any court of law no matter how grave the crime.  

Following the division of the subcontinent in 1947 when India and Pakistan actively courted the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, it was promised a “special status” and special treatment by New Delhi. The Article 370 of Indian Constitution was supposed to protect that “special status” of Kashmir.  We made a lot of other promises as well that are too familiar to revisit here.      

And we have ensured and protected that “special status” of Kashmir by gifting them the AFSPA that offers sweeping powers to the security forces while ensuring their total immunity. This special law has turned the Vale of Kashmir that the Moguls believed was paradise on earth into a beautiful hell.

Is it any wonder then the Kashmiris today find themselves hopelessly alienated and persecuted even as our politicians never tire of pronouncing the state an “integral and inseparable” part of India?
How did we end up here? Who lost the paradise? The answer is out there and everyone knows it. In our desperation and determination to keep Kashmir with us and away from our neighbor, we have ended up losing the Kashmiri people.

Of course, the role played by Pakistani agencies, not to mention groups such as the one led by Hafiz Saeed, who have made a business enterprise of jihad, in adding to the woes of Kashmiris isn’t in anyway insignificant.

But if an entire generation of Kashmiris has grown up loathing all things Indian it is because of the excessive presence of the security forces in the Valley and their heavy-handed approach to the local population. And if there is one thing that epitomizes all that has gone wrong with India’s Kashmir affair, it is the AFSPA. This black law has created a dangerous, ever deepening disconnect and gulf between the Kashmiris and the rest of India. A draconian law that belongs in a police state, not in the world’s largest democracy.

Thanks to these “special powers”, just about anybody could be picked up from anywhere any time, kicked, abused, raped, killed in broad daylight or simply disappeared and no one including the state government can do anything about it.

Security forces are a law unto themselves. And you see their power in full display all across the state including in capital Srinagar. There are more soldiers than tourists or even locals constantly reminding the Kashmiris of the original sin of being born in this land of incredible beauty. Peaceful protests last year saw scores of young people, some of them as young as nine, felled by the bullets of the forces that are supposed to protect them. In the course of fighting terrorists and cross-border infiltrators, we have turned this beautiful land into a permanent war zone and its proud people a hostage in this never-ending conflict with the neighbor. This war has claimed more than a hundred thousand Kashmiris over the past two decades, not to mention the tens of thousands who have gone “missing.”

If the 2,730 unmarked mass graves recently discovered across the state had been found elsewhere they could have shaken the world, as they did in Srebrenica, in Iraq and Rwanda. But they were met with stony silence in the ever-shrill Indian media and its self-righteous Western counterparts.

Human rights groups including the State Human Rights Commission that finally acted on the complaints of thousands of families of “disappeared persons” unearthing graves with hundreds of bullet riddled bodies fear this may be a tip of the iceberg. The dead in Kashmir have finally begun to speak up, as Arundhati Roy so evocatively puts it.  But justice may still elude the victims as long as the AFSPA reigns in Jammu and Kashmir.  And India’s powerful security and defense establishment, including the army, are determined to retain it. And why wouldn’t they? It’s this law that allows the security forces to rule and treat Kashmir as their fiefdom without anyone, including the elected government, questioning their authority and excesses. Despite being a fine and vibrant democracy with robust democratic institutions and judiciary that we can justifiably be proud of, we are yet to realize that no people can be governed at gunpoint. Not in this age and time. Not with black laws like the AFSPA and not by constantly waving half a million guns that have contributed to the alienation of Kashmiri society and radicalization of its youth.  If India is to win Kashmiri hearts and minds, it could do so only with love, compassion, respect and justice.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Middle East-based commentator and can be reached at aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

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Unity in Diversity

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aqeela Naqvi

TMO Editor’s Note:  This is the first-place essay, by Aqeela Naqvi.

COLOR Aqeela NaqviThe date is December 5, 2000, my birthday. I walk through the hallways to my third grade classroom, trying not to notice the butterflies in my stomach. People turn to say “Hi” and do a double-take. I walk into my classroom; even my teacher gives me a funny look. “Aqeela?” I look up at her and try to control the nervousness in my voice as I say “Good morning.” Throughout the day, some of my classmates shoot indiscreet glances in my direction, while others stare shamelessly. Today is the first day I began wearing the Hijab, a head-covering that is required to be worn in my religion for all girls at the age of nine. Today, I walked into school with palms sweating, ears burning, and a heartbeat so loud it could be heard a mile away.

It has been nearly nine years since that day – nine years in which I have received stares for looking different, been called “towel-head” and “terrorist,” been judged based on first impressions, and was once, after September 11th, a ten-year old scared to walk out her front door simply because of a cloth on her head. Throughout my life, I had always assumed that prejudice against people of other backgrounds was something that existed in the past: something that had been buried long ago by the dreams of people such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed in a day where all people would be judged solely on the content of their character. It was not until I began to wear a hijab, however, and began to experience blatant discrimination, that I realized that the works of past human rights activists had not completely healed the defects in society–they had simply covered its wounds with bandages that were slowly beginning to peel away.

From the day I wrapped a scarf around my head, “diverse” became my middle name. The more I was told that I couldn’t participate in certain activities, the more involved in them I became. I strove to prove that no matter how different I looked, I was still the same as everyone else. I could still participate in athletic activities; I could still be involved in public speaking; I could still perform community service activities; I could still be me. I began to understand that Society was a machine that attempted to create perfect porcelain dolls: the chipped, the flawed, the ones that were the wrong shade or the wrong size, the ones that were different, were all regarded as useless and thrown aside. I understood that I was seen as one of those throwaway dolls, but I refused to let society’s definition of me as such rule my life.

When I first began wearing a hijab, that cold December day in third grade, I did not fully understand its symbolism. I took it simply as something I had to do for my religion. As the years passed, I slowly became involved in my local community, donating my time and energy to volunteer at places such as my local soup kitchen, and getting involved in interfaith dialogue and charitable opportunities, and I began to realize that the hijab I wore on my head was not just a cloth; it was a mark of my strength.

It forced the people I encountered to get to know and understand me on a mental level before they judged me on a physical level. To me, everything that the hijab entails, the long sleeves and pants, the piece of cloth I wrap around my head, the aura of modesty – is all a sign of inner beauty. I have come to believe that all of us, regardless of our race or religion, have our own “hijabs” that set us apart from the crowd. All of us come from different backgrounds and have different experiences that cause the canvas of our lives to hold colors unique from everyone else. We all have a hijab that allows each and every one of us, down to the most fragile and faded porcelain doll, to have something that makes us absolutely and irreplaceably beautiful.

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Op-Ed by Rev. Michail Curro

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Executive Director, Interfaith Center for Racial Justice

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.

In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late…

We still have a choice today; Nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Curro2011MLK2 (1)In the stunning revelation that US forces had killed Osama bin laden, we are all called to reflect on what this means and re-emphasize the necessity to lift up the importance of nonviolence as taught and practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (and Mahatma Gandhi before him).

President Obama emphasized in his death announcement that, “we need to remember that we are one country with an unquenchable faith in each other and our future.”

It would great if we could put an end to cynicism about government, see rancor in politics disappear, have Islamaphobia replaced by trust, and feel genuinely optimistic.  Thankfully, through my work with the Interfaith Center for Racial Justice (ICRJ), I haven’t lost hope and believe unity and working for the common good is achievable, but only if we use nonviolence.

Each year our Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration of Macomb County draws over 1,200 people—gathering draws every sector of our county and demonstrating unity and common purpose.  For one evening, this most diverse grouping of community leaders commemorate Dr. King and re-commit to working for a better tomorrow for all.  It is a night where all seems possible to build unity and strengthen community while lessening bigotry, intolerance and racism.  President Obama’s vision and King’s dream—both so eloquently articulated—seem shared and attainable during this celebration. 

Still the challenge after each MLK Celebration (and today in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death) is to remain united, focused, and hopeful.  We attempt to do this by calling on community leaders to keep MLK’s teachings at the heart of all they (and we) do.  And not just King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, but more importantly his teachings about and use of nonviolence to initiate social change and to create the “beloved community” we desire.

Our efforts here may never be more important, particularly in witnessing the spontaneous celebrations that followed the news of bin Laden’s death, the quick call that justice has been served, and the loud public clamoring to see photos of bin Laden with a bullet hole through his head.

I am reminded that Mahatma Gandhi once said of retribution:  “An eye for an eye and soon the whole world will be blind.”  Or as Dr. King explained, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already void of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Like every American, every Muslim, and most everyone around the world, I am delighted that Osama bin Laden was finally captured.  It is a great accomplishment.  Bin Laden and his followers symbolized terrorism and violent death.  But I cannot celebrate his death or think that his death alone is equal justice for all the death, loss, pain, and expense his actions, and those of al-Qaida, have caused.  I caution us from expressing such hate and vengeance for our enemies.  And I ask that we learn more about and practice nonviolence—the tool that has brought about the most change historically (Gandhi, Civil Rights) and we are witnessing in Egypt today.

Central to the ICRJ’s programming (and to nonviolence) is overcoming fear, particularly fear of others and the recognition that we cannot lift ourselves up by putting others down.

Our “Listen, Learn, & Live” (LLL) programs aim to build bridges of understanding among people of different cultures and faith traditions.  Currently we are in the middle of our ninth module on Islam and Muslims.  And earlier this week we began a module on Christianity at a mosque.

LLL’s purpose, however, isn’t just to deepen intellectual understanding but to help build trust among different people that fosters relationships and ultimately unity in working together for social justice.

We offer a variety of programs annually, including two June LLL modules:  an experience with the Black Church and on the Chaldean community.  And later this year we will look for community support and involvement in our LLL Summer Camp for Teenagers, fall interfaith breakfast seminar, interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration, and upcoming 2012 Silver Anniversary MLK Celebration.

At this time of great social change worldwide, our community can either choose to follow the downward spiral of vengeful distrust of others, or continue the important legacy of nonviolence that brings about real and lasting justice and peace for us, for our children, and our children’s children.

(For more information please call (586) 463-3675, visit www.icrj.org, or email curroicrj@sbcglobal.net.) 

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CAIR Michigan’s Watershed Annual Banquet

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

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CAIR Founder Nihad Awad, Wendell Anthony, Imam and CAIR Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid, Congressman John Conyers, CAIR Michigan Attorney Lena Masri, Civil Rights Activist Jesse Jackson, Jr., Ron Scott, Raheem Hanifa, and Jukaku Tayeb of CAIR Michigan.

Photo courtesy Nafeh AbuNab, American Elite Studios, 1-800-218-4020.

Dearborn–March 31–This year’s CAIR banquet really was special.  Every year, CAIR Michigan and many other organizations have gala awards and fundraising banquets, but typically in the past Michigan’s Muslim organizations have been less connected to the political landscape than some ethnic organizations which have in the Southeast Michigan region managed over several decades to establish long term ties with all levels of the political landscape, from the local to the federal level.

The Muslim organizations however, from the mosque level up to the level of national organizations, have not opened strong and lasting relations with any political groups (other than coordinated discussion groups and organized means of complaining to politicians and mainstream media about perceived and real injustices), other than an occasional speech by a political celebrity.

Perhaps a stronger movement has been the involvement of individuals in politics, such as for instance Farhan Bhatti, Deputy Campaign Manager at Virg Bernero for Michigan.  There are Muslims who have been elected to individual office, such as Rashida Tlaib in the Michigan legislature, and Keith Ellison in the US congress.

This year’s CAIR gala, with about 1,000 attendees including many powerful audience members from the business, media, and political community, on the other hand, seemed to offer the potential of a long-term conflation of interests between the Muslim community and America’s established civil rights aristocracy.  Present at this year’s fundraiser was Nihad Awad, who founded CAIR and set it up as a not-for-profit franchise operation of sorts, with now branch offices across the country to advocate for Muslims.  Mr. Awad is not always able to attend all of these gala events, but it seemed that he sensed the importance of this particular one. 

But the real jewels in the crown of the 2010 CAIR Michigan fundraiser were the civil rights workers who for sixty years have been deeply involved at their own personal peril with the struggle for civil rights in the USA. 

Jesse Jackson Sr., the keynote speaker, was one of those.  But there was also Rep. John Conyers (D-MI-14), whom Jackson described as “perhaps the only man who was ever endorsed by Martin Luther King.”  There was Rep. John Dingell (D-MI-15).  There were many others, including the strong gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero (currently Lansing’s mayor). 

But famous people frequently collect together–many famous politicians have given stilted practiced speeches before Muslims, hoping to say what pleases their audience and earns their political support, but rarely does the politician seem to be present in deference to his or her own inner principles–and this is perhaps the characteristic of Sunday afternoon’s banquet that was uncommon.  Famous people with shared bonds of suffering coalescing in defense of a group they perhaps had not previously thought of as being within their shared interests.

The feeling wasn’t just from their presence in the same room; rather the feeling was in the mutual love between those famous people, and their expression of that love in the context of the protection of Muslims against injustice from government interference.  Jackson and Conyers both spoke of the famous people they had met and worked with through the years, including King, and Rosa Parks (who worked for Conyers for many years), and their describing the debts of gratitude they owed one to another–for example Jackson’s mentioning of MLK’s endorsement of Conyers, and Conyers mentioning publicly his gratitude to John Dingell for supporting him in his early days in the US House of Representatives.

What was different this year was that CAIR did not just bring politicians to speak for their own interests, rather CAIR Michigan bought into a movement, a movement that has been intrinsically and vitally important to the American landscape for the better part of a century, carrying with them the ghosts and spirits of men who gave their lives in that journey.

Nihad Awad offered his goal, a vision of a seemingly impossible world, post-911, in which Muslims face no discrimination–he argued that CAIR is working toward that goal from where we are now.

Jesse Jackson is a famous man, and in consideration of his famous personal failings it is sometimes surprising to see him still on the national stage–but in seeing him speak you understand the source of his sway across the American public–his voice carries so strongly and he has a magic in his delivery that is present in person but that is not felt through the television.  He speaks with vivid images and polished phrases and a very powerful and loud delivery, almost more like a musician or conductor than a politician, but he speaks logically and intelligently also, intimately conversant with the big picture of American politics, even if sometimes the details he cites are not precisely accurate (accidentally he cited the total number of coalition KIA in Iraq and Afghanistan together as Americans KIA in Iraq). 

But on the broad points he has very sharp insight. For example he stated that what is vital in the civil rights movement is to “change the frame.  Once you change the frame, you can change the furniture around whenever you want.”

Thus, he argued that after the recent health care legislation, eventually there must be a public option, although the public option was compromised away in the course of the bill being passed.

The theme of his speech was an argument to get Muslims to buy into a broader political agenda.

He argued that Muslims have to engage in issues beyond Muslim issues, offering the analogy that if one is in a burning house, he must try to put out the fire for the entire house–if the house is saved his room will be saved but it is impossible to save his room without saving the house.

He cited as examples labor union issues and health care issues.

Perhaps the most inspiring thing he said was that “we are not the left, we are the moral center,” thus dismissing the arguments from reactionaries who term his agenda a leftist agenda.  And this connected to another powerful theme from his speech, that “we are winning” in this struggle by the grace of God, and it is because God supports us because we are right.  He cited the achievements of abolition and civil rights, labor, and, at length, health care.

He said not to worry about government informants, arguing the view that the solution is to be completely above board and transparent and above reproach.  He said that several informants were intimately connected with the civil rights movement, saying that “our controller who signed all of our checks was a government informant.”

“Yes it does get dark,” he said, “innocent people get hurt, there is pain, but there is joy in the morning.”

“Through it all, keep marching, fighting, pursue excellence, don’t have time to hate.”

The involvement of the civil rights community with Muslims seems to have begun Sunday evening, and the person likely responsible is CAIR Michigan’s Executive Director Dawud Walid, who had the vision to pursue this goal, and who also has worked to bridge gaps between African Americans and other Muslims, and Sunni and Shi’a.

It remains to be seen whether the large-scale involvement of Muslims as players on the political (and not religious) landscape is healthy or potentially dangerous, and it remains to be seen whether non-Muslims from the civil rights community will be good partners in working toward civil rights for Muslims; also it remains to be seen to what extent Muslims can endorse  the agenda of a civil rights community that too often supports for example abortion services and homosexual issues; but perhaps these are the details, the furniture.  What is important is that the frame may have changed–to one where a Muslim organization has built a bridge or harmony and good will to an entire movement that is intrinsic to the American political landscape–this seems to be an important move in a good direction.

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Martin Luther Kings’ Mountain Top

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, MMNS

Every year in the month of January I am reminded of the powerful persona and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He was such a deep and prolific speaker that the gist of his speeches is still being felt today.  The “I Have a Dream” speech with its powerful message of hope, is so imbedded in our minds that for many of us, it the only speech we remember that he made.  Those of us who have faith and belief in ALLAH are constantly amazed at His revelations of His works.

On the eve of the assassination of Dr. King, he made a speech at a Baptist church in Memphis, Tennessee that many people believe foretold his eminent death.  He talked a lot about death that night.  He started with the story of the plane that bought him to Memphis and how the pilot delayed the flight because Dr. King was on it so it could be checked for bombs.

He also talked about a brush with death he had in New York when a crazed woman stabbed him with some sort of ice pick.  That assault brought the woman’s weapon dangerously close to Dr. King’s aorta (main blood vessel).  The doctor at the hospital told him the knife was so close that if Dr. King had sneezed he would have died because the pick would have pricked his aorta and he would have drowned in his own blood.  He used this incident to tell about a little white girl that wrote to him expressing her sorrow at his unfortunate incident.  She said she admired him so much and was so happy that he didn’t sneeze.   

Then he said he wasn’t afraid of death now because he had been to the mountain top.  He said God had allowed him to go up to the mountain top and he looked over, and saw the “Promised Land.”  He said he might not get there with us be he wanted us to know that we as a people would get to the Promised Land.  He said his eyes had seen the glory of the coming of the lord.

This became very personal to me in 1991 when I made the pilgrimage to Mecca.  I was on the plains of Mt. Arafat when I decided to climb the mountain.  When I reached the top, the only thing going through my mind was Dr. Martin Luther King and him telling us that he had been to the mountain top.

As I stood on my mountain top I look out over the plains of Arafat and saw the Promised Land. I say the Promised Land because Dr. King, in his most famous speech, said he dreamed of a land where his four little children would live in a land where they were judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.   That is the vision I saw on Arafat where people of every ethnicity, every culture, every color; men, women, and children, were gathered in unity to worship the One God of us all.

I believed then, and I believe now that the mountain top Martin Luther King saw was Mt Arafat.  Islam is the only religion that has more true brotherhood and sisterhood than any other group of people whether it is a religion, a fraternity, or whatever.

Sure, there is bigotry and racism among Muslims but there is less of it than any other religion.  If you travel to any part of the world and you see a Muslim, there is instant recognition and greeting.  No one else can make that claim.  This is something we must hold on to and nurture.  It is one of the things that make this religion the greatest religion in the world.

More of Dr. Kings philosophy needs to be adapted by Muslims the world over.  Muslims must take the bold step necessary to shift world sympathy to our side.  Currently, we are looked on as aggressive barbarians and we get no sympathy from anybody.  However, people will stand up with us and protect us if they don’t look like weak fools for doing so.

The legacy of Dr. King is so important to future generations, and especially important to future generations of Muslims.  We can, and must win the battle by mental and spiritual strength – not by physical means….because we can’t.

As Salaam alaikum
(Al Hajj) Imam Abdullah El-Amin

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Assassination of Martin Luther King

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

www.ratical.com

martin-luther-king-and-malcolm-x1 The story of Martin Luther King’s assassination, and the 1999 trial where the truth of this event was finally revealed in a court of law is now encapsulated in Dr. William F. Pepper’s new book, released by Verso this month: An Act of State – The Execution of Martin Luther King. The dust jacket summarizes what many have intuitively known for more than thirty years:

“William Pepper, attorney and friend of Dr. King and the King family, became convinced after years of investigation that not only was Ray not the shooter, but that King had been targeted as part of a larger conspiracy to stop the anti-war movement, and to prevent King from gaining momentum in his promising Poor People’s Campaign. Ten years into his investigation, in 1988, Pepper agreed to represent Ray.

While he was never able to successfully appeal the sentence before Ray’s death, he was able to build an air-tight case against the real perpetrators. In 1999, Loyd Jowers and co-conspirators were brought to trial in a wrongful death civil action suit on behalf of the King family. Seventy witnesses set out the details of the conspiracy in a plot to murder King that involved J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, Richard Helms and the CIA, the military, the local Memphis police, and organized crime figures from New Orleans and Memphis. The evidence was unimpeachable. The jury took an hour to find for the King family. But the silence following these shocking revelations was deafening. Like the pattern during all the investigations of the assassination throughout the years, no major media outlet would cover the story. It was effectively buried.

“Until now, the details, evidence, and personalities of all these nefarious characters have gone unreported. In An Act of State, you finally have the truth before you — how the United States government effectively shut down one of the most galvanizing movements for social change by stopping its leader dead in his tracks.”

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