President Trump: An Ally for Dissenting Citizens and Minorities in Pakistan and Muslim Majority Countries?

Source: CNN

We know that our liberal friends in the West, especially in the United States, are particularly embarrassed by President Donald Trump and so should they be. But what if these liberals were more embarrassed and ashamed of the lack of assertiveness in terms of moral support offered to the dissenting citizens in Muslim majority countries?

What is refreshing about President Trump for the dissidents in countries such as Pakistan and Iran, as well as other majority countries, is the hard line he is taking to make them review the human rights and religious freedom violations. Trump has just put Pakistan on a special watchlist for the violations of freedom of religion. The designation was made by Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State. Before this, Pakistan was classified as a country of particular concern, a group also including countries such as Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, and Iran. While some political entities and commentators are trying to portray this action as diplomatic insensitivity, it makes the point the minorities there are trying to make and just what everyone is ignoring. Furthermore, it can be argued that the new classification more accurately describes the plight of the minorities in the country and probably countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia should be put on the special watchlist too.

The administration’s moral support of the people of Iran must also be acknowledged, though that is usually true for any US administration. While the watchlists have been present in previous administrations as well but you rarely ever saw such stern statements, the focus on calling out these regimes for their suppression in such terms is important for at least holding them accountable at least at some level. And not sure if it exactly spells third world war.

Trump is also noticeable in the manner he is assertively putting pressure on Pakistan for repercussions for supporting terrorist groups. This did not start with him though as the Obama administration has been continually reminding Pakistan to correct its course.

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The “irresponsible tweet” by Trump initiated a corps commander meeting and a seriously irresponsible series of tweets from Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif which gave an impression that only the United States had stakes in the war on terror, that Pakistan was forced to participate and would otherwise have no problem with terrorists as was evident by Islamabad’s support of Mullah Omer’s terrorist regime. Also, our Foreign Minister was tactful enough to tweet these statements in Urdu language addressing the United States stating that they should not ask what Pakistan has done because a dictator had entered their war, resulting in bloodshed in Pakistan and allowed 57,800 attacks on Afghanistan, offered passage for their military logistics and had several civilian and military casualties.

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He preferred to tackle the more factually dubious parts of Trump’s tweet in English. Pretty smart.

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And our ISPR responded in perhaps as worse a manner saying that they will not do more for anyone. To quote The Express Tribune, ““We have fought an imposed and imported war twice in Pakistan, and now we cannot do any more for anyone,” said the Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in his opening remarks at the news conference.”

Can anyone explain what the fuck that means in response to simple requests of taking action against safe havens for terrorists? There is not much to say when the official diplomatic response to the United States is the following petulant statement.

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It is amusing to see how the Trump tweet has gotten under the skin of Pakistani government officials. This begs the question is if you could really trust Donald Trump as an ally? Does he really take the hardline out of the liberal goodness in his heart or does he simply take such action out of sheer hate and contempt for the “lesser nations?” Unfortunately, the true answer is who the hell really cares?

This actually brings you to the sad and cruel reality of finding liberal dissenting forces apparently having to find allies, if only temporary ones, in the bigots among the Western conservatives and some of the religious fundamentalists on the other side. You can never trust them and you probably can never really be friends with them in the long term, perhaps only the secular conservatives among them. However, it is still better than finding no sympathizer or active ally in sight.

All that we can hope is that saner, more enlightened, leaders can offer better alliances to dissidents in Muslim majority and other authoritarian countries.

We would take one from any party.

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Discrimination Against Ahmedis: Institutionalizing Hate in the Name of Love

Source: dunyanews.tv

Source: dunyanews.tv

The recent hateful protests by business owners demanding Ahmedi citizens to wear identification publicly have been a real eye-opener to anyone oblivious to intolerance in the Pakistani society. The protest was directed against Punjab police for removing hateful and derogatory signs from a shop warning Ahmedis to refrain from entering.

It is inconceivable to deduct that these people are calling for such measures out of sheer hate for humanity. It is clear that their hateful rhetoric is fueled by religious fervor. For the majority of Muslim citizens, these traders are only playing their due to defend the finality of the Prophethood and are doing so in the name of the love for the Prophet. The only problem is that such love has created a serious civil rights crisis.

For those who are not aware, the government of Pakistan already requires its Muslim citizens to sign a declaration of not being an Ahmedi for the National ID card registration. Furthermore, the Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan is also dedicated to declaring the religious sect or group non-Muslim.

The demand for Ahmedis to wear identification, which has been widely compared to the yellow Juden badge in the Nazi Germany by critics, would take the institutionalization of discrimination against them to the next level. Calls for such apartheid measures should be a great concern for anyone who is worried about the state of freedom and civil liberties in Pakistan. This should also be a great concern to people who claim that an Islamic society offers perfect protection to religious minorities.

Religious freedom can be a funny civil liberty. While there is apparently no hint of doubt that all religions preach peace and love, this unexpected exceptional case warrants enough liberties to one side to infringe on those of others. As a matter of fact, this almost always occurs in overwhelming religious majorities, but hardly truer in any case in modern times than that of the persecution of Ahmedis in Pakistan and apparently there is no social contract to keep such religious freedom in check.

What are you going to do when such a force of public sentiment influences provisions in the law and the Constitution? Some would even argue that improving the law would hardly prove to be of any effect, but there is no doubt that eliminating profiling would make a world of a difference, if not the Second Amendment.

Probably the answer to the question of reforming Islam lies in the belligerence against Ahmedis as well. There is a reason why Sunni Islam has survived over 14 centuries. The school so fiercely and often violently represses any deviation to its orthodoxy. The Sunni clerics ensure to establish a hostile environment for suppressing novel religious ideas, and possibly, with the rise of Khomeini in Iran, the Shiite branch has been establishing its own state orthodoxy as well.

In the case of Pakistan, eliminating the persecution of Ahmedis would probably prove to be even more difficult than reforming the blasphemy law. At least not as long as a fairer social contract is in place. Possibly in a reaction to the Ahmedi movement, local clerics have aggressively established the theological narrative to counter its supposed claims over the last century. While such firmly rooted beliefs insisting on the legal definition of Islam would sound fine as a theological position, the subsequent activism for their excommunication has led to the formulation of such dangerous laws.

Some would argue that the bureaucratic and political elite had surrendered to the theological pressure for discrimination the day they agreed to establish an Islamic Republic. However, it is imperative to remind the people of the problem by pointing out that such theocratic provisions are a serious violation of civil liberties and religious freedom.

Furthermore, the institutional and systematic persecution of Ahmedis is the greatest evidence that minority religious groups are not safe in a Muslim majority society. It also shows that theocracies cannot be trusted to ensure religious freedom to communities not following the state religion. The Pakistani lawmakers have very deliberately formulated the sort of laws that would physically threaten a certain group of Pakistanis and the clerics deem them perfectly according to the Koran and the Sunnah.

The theocratic Apartheid state is only a logical conclusion to such a foundation.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Gravity of Religious Threat

Source: Pakistan Today

Source: Pakistan Today

We often hear our confused youth cry about the absence of real democratic values in the society. According to them, democracy is impossible to achieve the widespread corruption and oligarchical influences.

They are very right. But not only do they forget this fundamental problem preventing democracy to flourish in Pakistan, they insist on denying it and vehemently defend it.

That problem remains to be theocratic influence on Pakistani law and constitution.

But then again, they would denounce democracy in the very next breath, because then they declare that their goal is not democracy, because its values are impossible to achieve under a democratic setup. Only free and fair elections under a dictatorship can resolve the dilemma.

Sadly, the problem is far more serious than they think.

The danger of religious influence on the law is so grave that no one is safe from it.

The latest evidence of that is that some folks have filed a petition of blasphemy against the Leader of the Opposition from PPP, Khurshid Ahmed Shah.

 If a blasphemy case can be filed against one of the most powerful people in Pakistani politics, who is safe?

Is it safe to assume that MQM is behind it? Hope not. But if true, this would be coming from what is supposed to be one of the more liberal parties of Pakistan, who should ideally work to suspend these laws. Just for saying that the word “muhajir” or “immigrant” is derogatory. But of course, that easily qualifies to abuse the Prophet and his companions who migrated to Medina from Mecca.

Now obviously, it is a different matter altogether whether Khurshid Shah would actually be charged with the allegation. Because that depends on his position and the sort of people he offended.

However, it is important to emphasize the theocratic influences on the law and the constitution as the biggest hurdle to democracy, because tools such as the blasphemy law are used to shut anyone up, from a common citizen to the most powerful cable networks and politicians.

 And all you need is just a figment of doubt in the mind of the petitioner that a blasphemy has been committed.

Should not that be a part of the status quo that we should be struggling to change?

It’s rather ridiculous that you have to explain it so explicitly to some people, but here goes.

Democracy will not work until freedom of speech is ensured.

There will be no free speech as long as blasphemy law is in the books.

Are Muslims the New Niggers of America? – My Comment on Roger Ebert’s Post

Rogert Ebert is probably the most famous film critic in the world, who has also become a twitter sensation. But of late, Roger Ebert has been the center of attention for completely different reasons. Ebert is a noted critic of the Republican politicians like Sarah Palin who are opposing the Park 51 Muslim Community Center, dubbed incorrectly as the “Ground Zero Mosque”,  and sees the controversy as a missed opportunity to show to the world the Constitutional freedoms that Americans can enjoy.

But in relation to his opinion and comments about the Park 51 controversy, the right wingers have actually resorted to criticize Roger Ebert for his views, for supposedly sympathizing with the “terrorists” and for accusing Sarah Palin to be resorting to tactics from Mein Kampf, the autobiography of Adolf Hitler. Despite the criticism on Ebert, his mention of Sarah Palin in the context is correct, since it was her initiative, along with other politicians like Newt Gingrich, which fueled the controversy.

And this post will further illustrate why this controversy is encouraging the notion of hatred against Islam among Americans, which is the most dangerous part of the story.

One of his very recent posts for his blog for the Chicago Sun-Times “10 Things I Know About the Mosque” offer a very balanced and common-sense perspective on the issue and I felt compelled to comment on the post myself.

“Brilliant piece. The correct reaction to this blown-out-of-proportion issue is common sense really. So are American values and the rights offered by the American constitution. While those who oppose Park 51 maintain that it is not about the religion, they maintain that mosques are “monuments to terrorism” and that Muslims are terrorists. The simple translation to that is: “We don’t like you Muslims, and you can get the hell out of here.” Which is fine, but unAmerican. Given their viewpoint, there should not even be a single mosque in the NYC because the World Trade Center was located in the city, which suffered the 9/11 attacks, leave alone building Park 51 on the proposed spot. I just hope that feeling does not spread out to the rest of the America, although I have a feeling it already has, with anti-mosque protesters rising voice in other states like Tennessee. If things get too worse, this could be the beginning of the end of the religious freedom of Muslims in America. I hope not, but if that happens, then America would need to consider a fact: Are we not resorting to the same values for which we bomb other countries?”

August 26, 2010 4:25 PM

While I won’t go explaining my comment, which really was made on the spur of the moment, I would just like to reflect on a few things here. The location of the Park 51 Community Center, which just contains prayer halls and is not a mosque, has certainly stirred a controversy, which in my opinion is absurd, but nevertheless respecting the sentiments of the families of the 9/11 victim, I would consider it to be an issue in the first place. Probably the sanest analysis of the issue which I have come across so far comes from Keith Olbermann of MSNBC and pretty much reflects what I think about the issue.

Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment: There is No Ground Zero Mosque

However, in the wake of the opposition to the proposed community center, many people who opposed the very idea of a Muslim place of worship found an excuse to spew out their hatred for the Muslim community. Most of these anti-Mosque protesters hold that “Mosques are monuments to terrorism”. While they have all the right to think in that way, preventing the construction of mosques is denying Muslims their religious freedom and civil rights, which is unAmerican, which would be paradoxical since the opponents of Mosques are patriotic Americans.

Even states like Tennessee, which are miles away from either New York City or Washington D. C., which were the cities that became victims of the 9/11 attacks, and have no apparent connection to the attacks except for the fact that they are located in the same country, people have started voicing their opinion against a local Islamic Center, which is well elaborated and covered in his usual satirical manner by Jon Stewart in the Daily Show.

The opposition to the proposed community center has also revived the sentiment of hatred against the Muslim community among the American public, which like most of the non-Muslim world is already suffering from Islamophobia, with incidents like a Bangladeshi Muslim cab driver getting stabbed in New York City after the passenger asked him if he was a Muslim, and went on to stab him on learning that he was, and one drunk man entering a New York Mosque, abusing Muslims and urinating over the prayer mats.

We are talking about the United States of America here, the Free World, not Afghanistan, not Iran, not Iraq, not Pakistan, but America. Still they say it is not about religion. To those who consider these mild episodes, I would just say that let us hope that it does not get any worse.

But then again, it is Americans who have to decide whether they want to offer Muslims their rights in the country, or whether they want them out of the country altogether. Because given the theory of the opponents of the Mosque, who are clearly more concerned about Islam itself than the 9/11 victims or their families, given the example of the opposition to the Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, TN and other examples quoted above, then not only should there not be a single mosque in the New York City, but in the entire country.

It could even be implied by this opinion that they also do not want any Muslims living in America altogether, since Muslims supposedly are terrorists, which is fine if the majority of Americans agree with it, which is not really the case. Just the problem is that all those Muslims living in America are “Americans”, and are somewhere in between 3 to 9 million in numbers. And you know we are not talking about illegal immigrants here and obviously it does not matter if most Muslim Americans are immigrants. Besides, America was built by immigrants anyway.

I know sane Americans like Ebert, Olbermann, President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Bloomberg believe in American values and don’t agree with those suffering from Islamophobia. But the broad public opinion matters more than that. Because if this trend strengthens, I will not really be concerned about the religious freedom of Muslims in America, but their very security. The question to ask is: Are Muslims becoming the new niggers of America? If that is the case, America certainly needs another Martin Luther King Jr.

There can be a thin line between hating terrorism and becoming a terrorist yourself.

Note: If you are still wondering why some people are insane enough to support Park 51 even after watching the video clip with Olbermann’s comments, read this.

The Anti Defamation League, the Ground Zero Mosque and America

In relation to the Islamic Center and Mosque which is to be built on the Ground Zero site in NYC, the Anti Defamation League (ADL) has opposed the idea of its construction, and has urged that the group building the mosque should find a new spot, since the location of the mosque is causing pain to the families grieving the deaths of their loved ones in the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

For those who don’t know much about it, the Anti Defamation League is an organization which has developed the reputation of being the watchdog of antisemitism around the world, particularly in the United States, and claims to promote democratic values while defending civil rights. It works to protect the rights of the Jewish community and is an advocate of the State of Israel.

Although some Muslims who don’t take the Jewish community to be holding any sympathy for them would not have been shocked over the opposition of the Ground Zero Mosque by the ADL, I seriously think they are wrong in their assumption. But while looking at ADL, I appreciate this organization as antisemitism is a behavior which certainly should not be tolerated.  But I have been largely disappointed over its stand on the Ground Zero Mosque.

Let us try to grasp some sanity out of this emotionally charged subject. First of all, I am not a believer in building a mosque or an Islamic center on any particular spot, since Muslims can build it anywhere they choose to, so there is nothing special about building one at the Ground Zero site. I also think that the opposition of the ADL is more political in nature than religious, but still I find no reason to oppose the construction of a mosque anywhere as long as it is legal to do so.

However, the opposition to building the mosque and the Islamic center seems really absurd to me. I thought the United States was a free and democratic country, offering equal rights to every community, so why are they opposing the construction of a mosque? Prominent Republican figures such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich openly opposed the idea.

In fact, the opposition from Republican politicians was a little predictable, but the reaction of the ADL was nothing short of being disappointing to me. To me, opposing the construction of a religious center is un-American and an undemocratic act, and given the values that the ADL holds and promotes, it totally seems inappropriate to their image.

The only aspect about the objections to the construction of the mosque and the Islamic center that I could really make any sense out of is how it is being funded. It is an important question to ask from the group who is responsible for its construction and the approving NYC authorities. But we don’t hear about questions raised over the funding of any other religious buildings, do we? Why? Just because they are building it at the Ground Zero, I think.

The proposed mosque and the Islamic Center is ironically named the “Cordoba Center”, which is probably a reference to life in Cordoba, the capital of the Moorish Muslim Caliphate in Spain in which Muslims, Jewish and Christians lived in harmony, and which was considered a golden period for the promotion of knowledge and sciences, and is also associated with prominent Jewish figures in history, such as Maimonides, a 12th century philosopher and scholar, who had also served as physician to Saladin.

Probably, this is the reason why noted journalist Fareed Zakaria, who is a member of the Muslim community in the United States, has returned the First-Amendment Hubert Humphrey Freedoms Prize presented to him by the ADL in 2005. He sees the move by the ADL as a mistake and as something which will harm their reputation, since he thinks that this could affect their value of upholding religious freedom in America.

While this is Zakaria’s personal act, I cannot help but agree with him in coming to the conclusion that the opposition from ADL of the Ground Zero Mosque was totally inappropriate and inconsistent with the democratic and American values, or even with the values of the organization itself. How can it safeguard the rights of one community when it does not recognize the rights of another? They certainly would have spoken out if the construction of a synagogue were opposed in this way.

What is even more shocking than that is the hatred of mosques among a lot of American citizens, who apparently oppose the constructions of mosques pretty much everywhere, leave alone the Ground Zero site, since many see mosques as monuments to terrorism, has appeared as a result of the debate over the controversial mosque. Unfortunately, secularism these days have become more anti-Islam these days more than anything else, which is not secularism by any means by the way.

It is true that Muslims can sometimes resort to actions which can really make them look ridiculous, and coincidentally the major terrorist organizations in the world such as Al-Qaeda, have their origins in radical Muslim groups, but you simply cannot alienate the entire Muslim community just because of a few terrorists. Doing so will only promote extremism, encouraging the radicals to convince moderates of the anti-Islam views of the West.

In fact, my advice to the American people would be not to alienate the Muslim community in order to curb Islamic extremism, since it would not be realistic to expel every single Muslim from the country. The only way to put an end to Islamic extremism is to accept them, and to allow religious freedom to them. A distinction should be made between Islam and terrorism, a line which has diminished in the perception of many.

In the end, whether the mosque is built at the site or not does not matter really. Even if the group backs off from building the mosque in respect of the opposition, this should not be taken as an insult by the Muslim community. It’s just that the opposition to constructing a mosque sounds unreasonable to me. At least, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks so, who is Jewish himself.