Saturday, May 26, 2018

Attaining Piety during Ramadan

The Islamic month of Ramadan has come and Muslims are fasting in accordance with the dictates of the Qur'an - the Muslim Holy Scripture: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, so that you may attain Taqwa.” (2:183)

The above Qur’anic v
erse confirms two points. Firstly, that fasting is for everyone and secondly, that the development and attaining of Taqwa is dependent on fasting. That is, without fasting, one may not be able to attain Taqwa. It is also clear that Taqwa is for the rich and the poor, the knowledgeable and the uneducated, the leader and the follower, the ruler and the ruled, the old and the young, the man and the woman. And that it was also prescribed to the people of other faiths that came before the time of Muhammad (S), the prophet of Islam.

The Arabic word Taqwa is more commonly translated into English as piety. However, its meaning is much more profound. In his book - Al-Mufradat fi Gharib al-Qur’an, Imam Rāghib al-Isfahani says that taqwa simply means to protect oneself. The question is: protection against what? Just like garments that protect our body from the cold and the hot weather, Taqwa is a protection from the Anger of Allah and His Punishment.

In the Qur’an, it is stated:

O Children of Adam! We have certainly sent down to you garments to cover your nakedness and for adornment. Yet the garment of taqwa —that is the best. Such are among the signs of Allah so that they may take admonition. (7:26)

The word Taqwa is used 251 times in the Holy Qur’an as either a noun or a verb indicating its importance in the life of Muslims. These numerous verses elaborate the different dynamics and dimensions of the inner meanings of Taqwa that enables Muslims to be an ideal and a living example as a vicegerent of Allah.

The four verses in Surah Al-Baqarah (Verses 2-5) summarize the guiding principle in the Noble Qur’an for the people of Taqwa:

This is the Book whereof there is no doubt a guidance to those who are al-Muttaquin; Who believe in the Ghaib (the Unseen), and establish prayer, and spend out of what We (Allah) have provided for them; And who believe in the Revelation sent to you (Muhammad), and sent before your time, and (in their hearts) are certain of the Hereafter. They are on (true) guidance from their Lord (Allah), and it is these who will prosper.

The Muttaqun are those that believe, fear Allah and look to what He has ordained in carrying out His actions to avoid His displeasure. These people are involved and active in the affairs of the humanity, whilst at the same time praying, fasting, spending in Allah’s cause, having good morals; they are forgiving and just. All these descriptions can be attributed to a person who has Taqwa who will be successful in the Hereafter.

As to the characteristics of a Muttaqi, the Qur’an says:

It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards east or west; but it is righteousness - to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend wealth, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for setting the slaves free; to establish prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which you have made; and to be firm and patient in tribulation and adversity, and in times of panic (or stress). Such are the people of truth and they are al-muttaqoon. (2:177)

The most honored in the sight of Allah is the believer with the most Taqwa, i.e., the most conscious and aware of Him. The Glorious Qur’an illustrates this in Surah Al Hujurat (49:13):

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the one who has Taqwa. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”

Ali (RA: may Allah be Pleased with him) said, “Certainly, Taqwa is the medicine for your hearts; it is the sight for the blindness of your spirits, the cure for the ailments of your bodies, the rectifier of the evils of your breasts, the purifier of the pollution of your minds, the light of the darkness of your eyes, the consolation for the fear of your heart, and the brightness for the gloom of your ignorance.” [Nahjul Balagha]

The son of ‘Ali (RA), Al-Hasan (RA) once said, “The people who have Taqwa (al-muttaqoon) are the people who avoided whatever Allah has prohibited and have done whatever Allah  has ordained.”

In his last khutbah Muhammad (S) said, “I ask you to fear Him , listen to Him , and obey.”

Both the Qur’anic verses and the hadith command Muslims to have Taqwa as a barrier between himself and the Anger and Displeasure of Allah. Through Taqwa, the Muslim strives to obey Allah and abstains from His prohibitions.

A true muttaqi is a person who strives to possess a solid understanding and knowledge of the rulings of Allah through the Qur’an and Sunnah. Without proper knowledge of the Islamic rulings, a person would not know what is asked of him/her. Therefore, it is a must to understand Islam properly as well as to have the proper intention of pleasing Allah in carrying out these actions.

Taqwa in a broader sense is a requirement for everyone who wants to be a true human being, live under control of reason, and follow certain principles. In religious context, Taqwa is the quality of those who protect themselves from all that is considered by religion as wrong and sinful.

Imam Ahmad (R: may Allah have mercy upon him) mentions a hadith, narrated by a Companion (RA) of the Prophet (S), whereby a person once asked, “Oh Messenger of Allah, give me some advice.” The Prophet (S) responded, “I advise you to fear Allah because it is the head of everything.” In another occasion the Prophet (saw) replied, “Fear Allah because it is the collection of all goodness.” Allah also promises to be with those who have taqwa. Allah says,

Truly, Allah is with those who have Taqwa, and those who are Muhsinun (doers of good for Allah’s sake only).” [An-Nahl 16:128]


The ideal Islamic society is a Taqwa-conscious society, conferring its highest respect on those considered to be high in Taqwa.

In his famous book Kimiya-e Sa’dat, Imam al-Ghazzali (R) tells the story of a certain Shaykh [Junayd al-Baghdadi (R)] who favored one of his disciples over others because of the latter’s God-consciousness. Other disciples obviously were jealous about the Shaykh’s favoritism. One day to prove the point, the Shaykh gave each disciple a fowl to kill it in a place where no one could see him. All the disciples returned after killing their fowls, except the favored disciple. The Shaykh inquired why he had returned with the live fowl. The disciple replied, “I could not find a place where Allah would not see me.” His God-consciousness (Taqwa) did not allow him to be heedless of Allah’s presence. The Shaykh then told his other disciples: “Now you know this youth’s real rank; he has attained to the constant remembrance of Allah.”

Fasting increases Taqwa, the God-consciousness (i.e., being conscious of Allah in all affairs and actions) by taming the Nafs, which gets its strength from full stomach. [Consider, e.g., the statements by Islamic savants. Abdullah ibn Mas’oud (RA) said,Four things darken the qalb (heart): (1) gluttony, (2) the company of oppressive people, (3) obliviousness of past sins, and (4) high aspirations. Four other things illuminate one’s qalb: (1) an empty stomach (i.e., living in hunger for fear of committing sin), (2) the company of righteous people, (3) recognition of one’s past sins, and (4) curtailed desires.” [Al-Munabbihat]

Abdullah al-Antaki (R) similarly said, “The cures for the qalb (heart) are five: (1) the company of the righteous people, (2) the recitation of the Qur’an, (3) an empty stomach, (4) vigils at night [through worship], and (5) sincere petition for Allah’s forgiveness before the daybreak.” [Al-Munabbihat]]

The Sufi elders have said, “When Allah created the nafs [soul] He held it in a place of questioning and addressed it, saying, ‘Whom am I?’ - that is, ‘O soul, do you know Me?’  The soul, coquettish and rebellious, raised its head and said, ‘Do You know me?’  Allah kept it in the prison of affliction for a thousand years, then brought it out and asked, ‘Who am I?’  The soul said, ‘Whom am I?  Do You know who I am?’  Allah commanded that it be held in the prison of illness for a thousand years; then it was released, but it had no fear of that either.  When Allah said, ‘Who am I?’ the weary soul replied, ‘Who am I?  Do You know me, or not?’  Allah commanded that it be held another thousand years in the prison of nakedness, that it might be tamed; then He brought it out and asked, ‘O soul, Who am I?’  The soul did not fear that either, and said, ‘Who am I?’  It claimed to be all powerful.  ‘Put in the prison of hunger!’ Allah commanded, and they did so; when they brought it out it had become weak and thin and humble, and was afraid.  When Allah asked, ‘Who am I?’ It answered, ‘You are the Omnipotent, All-conquering Lord, and I the sinful, blaming soul which commands to evil.’” [See this author’s book: Cure for the Sickly Heart.]

Thus, the soul will not be afraid until it fears hunger and cries out in distress; therefore, its discipline is through hunger, and it is for this reason that the prophets and saints fasted often. That is why, it is said that “Hunger is the food of the righteous”.

Fasting increases devotion and righteousness, and brings a Muslim closer to the Creator. It creates the recognition that everything we have in this life is a blessing from Him. It teaches humility, and thereby charity and generosity. It teaches self-control or -restraint, and thereby, good manners, good speech, and good habits.

Taqwa is an important concept in Sufism or Islamic spirituality. The 10th-century Sufi scholar Al-Qushayri in his Epistle (Risala) writes about three parts of taqwa: "full trust in God with respect to what has not been granted to him; full satisfaction with what has been granted to him; and full patience with respect to what has eluded (or dodged) him."

The merit of Taqwa are numerous. E.g., “Whoever fears Allah, Allah will grant him a way out of hardship.” [At-Talaq 65:2]

Allah also promises forgiveness of sins to those people who are muttaqoon.
 “And whoever has Taqwa (fears) in Allah, and keeps his duty to Him, He will forgive his sins from him and will enlarge his reward.” [At-Talaq 65:5]

Allah has given the glad tidings of paradise to such people: “Verily those who have Taqwa when an evil thought comes to them from Satan, they remember Allah and indeed they then see (aright).” [Al-A‘raf 7:201]

Life is too short and there is no better time than now, today, this very moment to prepare for Taqwa. If not now, let the coming Ramadan mold people’s character in the path of Taqwa.


One family, four countries - the dispossession of the Rohingya

It takes a few moments to sift through the years of chaos and dislocation before Rohingya refugee Robi Alam settles on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, August 2012, as the last time he saw his seven brothers together in Myanmar.
"We were still a family then under one roof, in one country," the 16-year-old says, from his current home - a bamboo shack in a Bangladesh refugee camp.
By then Myanmar had already lurched into a dark new phase of an old conflict between their Muslim Rohingya minority and the Buddhist ethnic Rakhine. Violence unravelled after the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by Rohingya men; neighbour turned on neighbour as villages across Rakhine state were set ablaze.
Still, where they could, Rohingya families celebrated Eid, the end of the fasting month of Ramazan. Robi recalls being carried on his older siblings' shoulders as they went door-to-door through the village of Yae Twin Kyun in Maungdaw district gorging on snacks.
Nearly six years on, the eight brothers are now split across four countries: Bangladesh, India, the United States and Myanmar.
One is in a Myanmar jail, another has vanished on the treacherous trafficking route south - a painful family history that traces the key events in the dispossession of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and their dispersal overseas. When the brothers were last united, in 2012, there were around 1.2 million Rohingya living in Rakhine state. Now fewer than a third remain.
Myanmar, which denies the Rohingya citizenship, drove most of the minority out in October 2016 and August 2017 in army-led crackdowns that the United Nations has said may amount to "ethnic cleansing". Separated from their four older brothers, the younger siblings - Robi, Jaber, 18, Hashim, 17, and Faiz, 12 - are starting new lives as refugees.
For now, home remains a 10-metre (30 foot) hut covered by a UN-branded tarpaulin in the Kutupalong camp, which the brothers share with 15 other relatives including their mother.
"We can't work here, it's a place we know nothing about," says Robi. "But how do we go back to Myanmar again?"
Mohammad Rashid
The first of the brothers to flee Rakhine was Mohammad Rashid.
It was early 2013, and by then conditions described as "apartheid-like" by Amnesty International were biting hard, with Rohingya locked out from hospitals, schools and their own farms.
Worn down by the asphyxiating security controls, Rashid crossed the Naf River into Bangladesh, paying a broker 30,000 Taka ($355) to take him to Malaysia, where menial jobs await Rohingya. Robi shows a photo on his mobile phone of the 25-year-old on the day of his departure - staring confidently back, an arm slung around a cousin. "We haven't heard from him since." Rashid disappeared as a transnational trafficking network was at its peak, spinning a fortune carrying a desperate human cargo of Rohingya and Bangladeshi economic migrants south by sea. They docked in Thailand, where gangs - including a powerful southern army general - corralled the migrants overland to Malaysia.
That escape route collapsed in May 2015, when shallow graves of migrants were found pitting the hills along the Thai-Malaysia border.
Authorities closed in on the traffickers, who abandoned migrant boats in the Andaman Sea, leaving starving and dehydrated passengers to drift south, hoping for rescue by Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian authorities. No one knows exactly how many died in the migrant camps or at sea.
Abdur Rashid
His older brother had disappeared, but Abdur Rashid chose the same escape route.
"I tried to stop him, I begged him," his mother Khadija Begum says. "But he is stubborn. He said 'I will swim to Malaysia if I can't get a boat' and so he went." His months-long odyssey, which began around early 2014, eventually led to resettlement in the United States, via detention in Thai immigration facilities.
"I wasn't scared. It was pre-destined," the 23-year-old told AFP from Colorado, where he is now learning English and working in a cake factory.
"After 10 days at sea we were near Thailand... we came to shore in smaller boats, 50-60 people on each, but when we landed Thai police, military and even journalists were there," he said.
Thailand does not accept refugees and so, after several months in immigration detention, the UNHCR secured the US move - but resettlement is open to only a tiny number of Rohingya refugees. He moved in 2017 and, when he can, sends  oney to his brothers 8,000 miles away in the world's biggest refugee camp.

Abul Kashim
Violence and repression have hit the Rohingya in waves since the late 1970s.
In 1982 Myanmar's ruling junta stripped the Muslim minority of citizenship, stirring up hatred towards the group and casting them as "Bengali" infiltrators to the Buddhist-majority country.
As such, life in Rakhine has always been hard, says Jaber, the oldest of the four brothers in the Kutupalong camp.

"But after the violence started in 2012, the "Moghs" (a pejorative word for ethnic Rakhine) gradually took everything."
Rohingya who strayed from their villages were frequently lynched or beaten, he says - allegations backed up by rights monitors. One of the brothers, Abul Kashim, now 19, suffered a beating while fishing with friends. A teenager at the time, he was jolted into leaving by the brutality of the attack, first for Bangladesh, then overland to join an uncle in India. For now, he has a made a decent life - he is married and works as a mason in Haryana state. But India has threatened to deport 40,000 of the minority. "I miss my family," he told AFP, saying each phone call leaves a yearning to travel to Bangladesh. "But I can't. I don't have any travel documents."
Hamid Hussein
On October 9, 2016, Rakhine again went up in flames as a nascent Rohingya militant group - known now as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) - raided border posts.
The army response was swift and unforgiving. Tens of thousands of Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh, fleeing murders, rapes and mass arrests. The crackdown visited more tragedy on Robi Alam's family. Their 60-year-old father Nagu Miah was arrested and, the family alleges, beaten to death in police custody. Confined to their homes with food running scarce, the oldest brother Hamid Hussein, 28, defied a strict curfew and went fishing after his children complained of eating rice every day. He was arrested by soldiers and taken to Buthidaung jail.
Soon after, soldiers swarmed their village, ordering Rohingya residents to sit hands on their heads in a field as they ransacked homes.
"Then they started to burn our homes, they raped some women and pushed them inside burning homes," says 17-year-old Mohammad Hashim, from Kutupalong camp. "We could not stay any longer." Over the next six weeks the extended family crept over to Bangladesh.
 August 2017, another 700,000 others began to join them after an even more ferocious army crackdown. With their land taken and security still parlous, Robi and his family have little expectation of returning to Rakhine. Instead they are preparing for long-term life as refugees. And in their freshly trimmed haircuts, football shirts and fixation with mobile phones, there are even flickers of teenage normality in the most abnormal of circumstances.

But the fragmentation of their family is never far away. Through the smudged memories of life in Rakhine, the youngest brother Abul Faiz recalls flecks of freedom - playing football or fishing - as a child in Rakhine.
My older brothers would hug me, give me money for the shop," the watchful youngster adds in a near-whisper. "I miss them."

Sexual Violence Against the Rohingya

Almost a year after hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee their home country into Bangladesh, the challenges of providing assistance to refugees and of addressing violations in Myanmar remain. During the peak of migration out of Myanmar, a key tactic used to drive the Rohingya out of their homes and villages was sexual violence against women and girls. This year’s report of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on sexual violence in conflict includes the Myanmar military for the first time.
Earlier this month, representatives of the UN Security Council visited Bangladesh and the Rakhine state of Myanmar to survey the scale of the crisis. In preparation, the Council held an open debate session in April on preventing sexual violence in conflict. Razia Sultana, a human rights activist and lawyer, addressed the Council on the Rohingya situation on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. During her time in New York, she spoke with the International Peace Institute’s Sarah Taylor about her work in the region, relating vivid stories of the brutality suffered by the Rohingya.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Warning: this interview contains graphic descriptions of physical and sexual violence.
Could you explain your work with the Rohingya population? What is important to know about the current situation?
I am a member of the Free Rohingya Coalition, a volunteer researcher at Kalandan Press, and the director of the Women’s Section in the Arakan Rohingya National Organization. I also recently started an NGO called Rohingya Women [Welfare] Organization. All during the violence against the Rohingya that began in 2016, the most deeply affected people have been women. They are mutilated, raped, they lose their husbands, and lose their children. Eighty percent of women who have left Rakhine state do so without any protection and live in Bangladesh in the street. Given this reality, we decided to start the women’s organization, because the issue is ignored and also very complicated.
Nearly every Rohingya women has experienced some form of harassment or abuse at the hands of the army. The army does “checks” in villages, which began as early as 2012. These consist of invasive and dehumanizing physical checks, especially of women, including vaginal searches. The military goes to villages, sometimes to each house, or other times they call out everyone to come to a large field and have them sit all day without food or water and one by one they “check” residents. First everyone is gathered together; then they separate men and women. The army harasses the people in this way, and in 2016 began also attacking villages suddenly at night or at other unexpected times. In these situations people would hear sounds late at night, then early in the morning the military would come to their house and burn it down. Some people would be killed, others caught. Other villages would be “checked” and maybe the women would be singled out. The military would also take all the peoples’ belongings.
To be very specific, you are describing what the Tatmadaw did in Rakhine State?
Yes. In addition to these searches, confiscations, and destruction of villages, the Tatmadaw raped women and even children, and used rape to instill fear, especially if someone tried to stop them.
I remember the story of one witness who tried to save her cousin and was raped because of it. She also lost her husband and her daughter of six months or so. When the army came in the village she thought, “Maybe because my daughter is small, they will not touch her.” She kept her in the car and went to the field for the checks. When she came back after being raped, she saw her daughter’s body in two parts.
She told this story, crying, and said, “How is this possible? I am a person. They are also people. They are the army by name, but they are people too. I thought maybe they would not touch my daughter, but they cut my daughter in two parts.”
This sort of violence is not new. Violence against young children is very common. In 2016, there was the Tula Toli massacre, during which children were taken from the laps of their mothers. The military made them lie in a line and raped their children. They then threw the children in the field, and if anyone moved? They would step on them with their boot.
One of the witnesses who had a daughter a few months old told me how she would see the military throwing children, and she tried to stop it from happening to her daughter. But the military grabbed her daughter from her and threw her to the ground. Then they raped her. She said she saw similar things happen to others around her, like a war field.
Clearly this sort of violence is not about satisfaction, it is the military doing whatever they want. It is to create fear. It is done to all women, old and young. Do you think this is about affection? No. It is an attitude of, “We are doing this, and if you stay here we will do it again and you should fear that it will happen.” 
What women have told you happened to them is tremendously heartbreaking and nearly beyond comprehension. How have you handled hearing these stories?
Sometimes it is very difficult, I just lie down and cry. Some say I am so strong, but I am not. Many times I have had to go to the doctor, and in 2016 I wanted to give up this work. Then my close friend, who is also my doctor, told me that it is my duty. I think my friends are the main ones who encourage me to do this, and also my family.
As you mention, it is imperative that the violence against the Rohingya community is continually reported. Another aspect is, given what they are experiencing, what needs to change? What are your recommendations, for example, to the Bangladeshi government?
First, the community who are living in Cox’s Bazar must be adequately cared for. Right now, there are serious problems including trafficking and drugs, which are getting worse. The government should monitor these crimes more closely and take action against those involved.
The real issue is that the trafficking and drug problem will spread and it is a broader question of security. The traffickers have become very careless because the government is not focusing on them. Maybe they thought the Rohingya are outsiders, who will care? The government of Bangladesh should put pressure on them, because if they are strict, it will stop immediately and no international pressure will be needed. And they can do this because Bangladesh has a strong security system, they just need to engage it.
Second, is that there are still atrocities going on inside Myanmar. There are many people who are detained, for example in Buthidaung jail, who haven’t committed any crime. There is also restriction of movement on people who remained, like in the Maungdaw area. They’re not even able to go collect food. If these people aren’t helped then there could be another influx into Bangladesh because of the pressure they are under. Many of these people left because of the violence and the attacks and then returned. The government is now trying to use other tactics to place pressure on the Rohingya.
A connected issue is that there needs to be protected land in Myanmar that is not monitored by the Tatmadaw. I have suggested that international NGOs could fill the role of doing this, and even the UN.
You mentioned that 80% of women who were forced out of Rakhine are living in the street in Bangladesh. The impression can often be that services are being provided to Rohingya refugees. What is the reality for these women? What do they need?
An important point is that things have gotten better, in 2016 the system was worse. At that time, these women didn’t have any shelter, and if they did it was in an old refugee camp. In 2017, at the peak of refugees into Bangladesh, people would be living on the street within a week. The pressure on the Bangladeshi government to open the border forced them to do so, and when they did, the huge amount of people just broke down whatever system was in place.
There was no place to put many of these people. They couldn’t be kept on roads because often the roads were highways, so the government moved them to the forested areas where they cut down the forest. Local people would give their land also, but small areas.
The recent refugees may be being put into temporary shelters by the UN. It is hard to know how adequate they are, but the maximum number of people are getting help because of international pressure. In the interim between then and now I saw many families not receive any support. Local NGOs and local people are also being very helpful.
In the host communities, then, refugees are being supported?
Yes, there is a lot of support, but I am very worried too. Tensions are rising between groups who feel that the trafficking and drugs that are happening are because of the Rohingya. There are people who feel they pose a danger and want to kill them or rob them, but this is totally made up. The refugees are traumatized, not criminals.
They are often depressed as well and become easy targets. Women who are raped and are depressed, their minds can be easily brainwashed. There are a small number of groups who focus on the Rohingya, especially the youth, and convert them into arms dealing, fighting, and even try to sell women. 
A serious related issue is women, especially young girls, who are trying to commit suicide. They are desperate to leave camps because they are raped there and have a fear that anything can happen. These are girls and women from 12 to 35 years old, it is a huge population of women roaming around without any jobs or education. It’s easy to convince them to become a child soldier, or really anything.
You are in New York to speak before the UN Security Council. What did you ask the Security Council to do and what do you actually think will change with international attention? 
My view, because I have met many ambassadors, is that they want to know what is really happening. They already have the evidence, and some might say this trip is a formality, but it means a lot. If the Security Council hears directly what is happening, they can write a report and use it, again, for a trial. This is a matter of justice. Because the government of Myanmar is still denying. Even after my statement they continued to deny what is being done and has been done to the Rohingya.
Up to recently the government of Myanmar had barred access to Rakhine state, but the Security Council recently went. Are you concerned that there was a false reality shown to them?
If they created a false image, this can be an opportunity for the international community to pressure the government more to tell the truth, to give the real picture.
Another way to pressure is economic sanctions. Sanctions will make the government of Myanmar change its behavior because money matters to them. The impact would be felt in tourism as well, and in terms of foreign investment. This is a particularly difficult topic because people are dying in Myanmar while investment in the country is rising. The Rohingya are human beings, and they are being killed. Investors should help to stop that first, and negotiate.
So investment in Myanmar, at the moment, basically legitimizes the efforts of the Myanmar government to completely eradicate a community that’s inconvenient to them.
Yes. A final point is why the government has targeted the Rohingya in the first place. A big reason is racism. Racism towards the Rohingya has been bred over many years. The government brainwashed the local community. They are saying Burma will be only for Burmans, not other religions. So, they are also targeting the Shan and Karen. Why else are they targeting them? Because their land is full of resources.

Priyanka urges world to stand beside Rohingya children

Bollywood superstar and UNICEF international goodwill ambassador Priyanka Chopra on Thursday urged the global community to be compassionate and to donate money, time and energy to help the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Rohingya women and children living a miserable life in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.
She urged all not to divide children based on their nationality, ethnicity or religious background but to help them considering that they are the future of the world.
‘If we do not help them, will people from another world would come and help these children?’ Priyanka raised this open question to the global community at a press conference held at a city hotel.
The Bollywood actress spoke at the press conference after her four-day trip in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where she met children and families living in the refugee camps and informal settlements.
UNICEF Bangladesh’s officer-in-charge Sheema Sen Gupta and UNICEF Bangladesh chief communications officer Jean-Jacques Simon were also present at the press conference.
From her personal experience after visiting the camps, settlements and UNICEF-run shelters during the past four days since her arrival in Bangladesh on Monday, Priyanka found that people, especially children, living in those shelters and camps, badly need water, sanitation, food, education and other basic amenities.
‘They also need proper care to overcome the trauma that they have been suffering from when they had to flee from their motherland since August last year. And the number is nearly 700,000 of which 60 per cent are children,’ said Priyanka in an emotional tone.
Sharing her experience after meeting a seven-year-old boy Mansur at a UNICEF-run learning centre in Cox’s Bazar, Priyanka said, ‘From his paintings, I saw earlier he used to paint pictures like children were playing football, but they were killed by gunshots from helicopters.’
‘But, these days the kid is painting canvases celebrating life,’ said Priyanka, thanking UNICEF and the government of Bangladesh for giving such ‘incredible support to the vulnerable refugees,’ she said.
‘Please help at least one child,’ she urged every privileged people living across the world.
Priyanka, however, evaded a New Age question on whether she would pursue the Indian government to support Bangladesh’s stance on Rohingya crisis instead of supporting Myanmar regime.
With her beguiling smile, the 35-year old internationally celebrated actress said, ‘when I will be a politician and become the prime minister [of India], I will surely support you.’
‘Of course, we [people of Bangladesh and India] are brothers and sisters,’ she said.
She also appeared reluctant to blame Myanmar for carrying out what many, including UN, alleged an ethnic cleansing on Rohingyas.
‘I do not believe blame game can help overcome a crisis. We need to work together to overcome the crisis the people are undergoing,’ she said.
‘More importantly, I’m not a politician but just a philanthropist and a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador,’ Priyanka said.
She also informed that she met Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday noon and thanked her for supporting the Rohingya refugees.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Flight MH17 shot down by Russian military-sourced missile

The missile launcher used to shoot down MH17 over Ukraine was part of the Russian armed forces, an international team of investigators has confirmed.
Detailed analysis of video images established the missile came from a Russia-based military unit, the joint investigation team said.
Wilbert Paulissen, head of the Dutch national police’s crime squad, said the Buk missile was from the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade, which is based in the Russian city of Kursk.
“All the vehicles in a convoy carrying the missile were part of the Russian armed forces,” he said at a presentation of the interim results of the long-running investigation.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014.
All 298 passengers and crew were killed.
Russia has consistently denied involvement in the downing of the Boeing 777. There was no immediate comment from Moscow on the development.
The prosecutors said they had reduced their list of possible suspects from more than 100 to several dozen.
“We have a lot of proof and a lot of evidence, but we are not finished,” said chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke. “There is still a lot of work to do.”
He said investigators were not yet ready to identify individual suspects publicly or to issue indictments.
The question of whether members of the 53rd Brigade were actively involved in the downing of the plane remains under investigation, he said.
Mr Westerbeke called on witnesses to come forward with any details about the crew operating the missile system. He also asked for tipoffs in determining what their orders were and in identifying the officials in charge of the brigade.
Investigators from the joint investigation team previously released footage showing the missile system, initially carrying four missiles, being transported from Russia by rebels.
Several tapped phone calls featured men’s voices discussing the transport of the Buk missile system from and then back into Russia.
Audio previously released by Ukrainian officials appears to show a panicked militant saying MH17 was shot down in the mistaken belief it was a military plane.
“It was 100 per cent a passenger aircraft,” he can be heard telling a superior. “There are civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper.”
Hours after the passenger plane was shot down, the Buk was seen being driven back towards the Russian border minus one of its four missiles, before the convoy left Ukraine overnight.
Its path was recorded by numerous videos and pictures taken by members of the public.
Shortly after the plane disappeared, a post on social media attributed to Igor Girkin, a Russian army veteran and separatist leader known as Strelkov, claimed rebels had shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane.
The post on the Russian social media network VKontakte, which was shared with a video of rising smoke and was swiftly deleted, said: “We warned them – don’t fly in our sky.”
“All findings from this forensic investigation confirm the earlier conclusion of the JIT that flight MH17 was shot down by 9M38 series missile,” said Jennifer Hurst, of the Australian Federal Police.
In a written statement, Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said: “That a sophisticated weapon belonging to the Russian army was dispatched and used to shoot down a civilian aircraft should be of grave international concern. We are discussing these findings with our partners and considering our options.”
In a report in October 2015, the Dutch Safety Board concluded the plane was struck by a Russian-made Buk missile.
One hundred “persons of interest” had been identified in the investigation, Dutch prosecutors said in September 2016, while Australian and Malaysian officials had initially expressed hope the suspects’ names would be made public in 2017.
Eventual suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in the Netherlands after Russia used its veto to block a UN Security Council resolution seeking to create an international tribunal.
Of the nearly 300 people of more than 30 nationalities killed, 186 were Dutch, 42 Malaysian and 27 Australian.
Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, said he was cutting short a visit to India so he could chair a cabinet meeting to discuss the findings.

Egypt detains prominent blogger, latest in arrest series

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian security forces detained prominent blogger and journalist Wael Abbas on Wednesday, two security sources and his lawyer said, the latest activist to be arrested in what rights groups say is a campaign to silence government critics.
Abbas, an award-winning journalist and rights activist, was taken from his home early on Wednesday and his whereabouts are unknown, his lawyer Gamal Eid said on his Twitter account.
An Interior Ministry official said he was checking the report. Two security sources, who declined to be identified, confirmed Abbas had been detained but gave no details on the reasons.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said that armed police raided Abbas’s home at dawn, without presenting an arrest warrant, blind-folded him and took him in his pyjamas to an unknown location.
In a message on his Twitter account, Eid said Abbas had been “kidnapped, not arrested.”
Abbas first became known in activist circles after posting videos showing police brutality. One such video, published in 2006, caused such uproar that it prompted an investigation resulting in a rare conviction of two policemen.
Abbas was awarded International Center for Journalists’ Knight International Journalism Award in 2007.
Rights groups accuse the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of a sweeping crackdown on dissent which they say is the worst ever for Egypt.
Since 2013 when Sisi took power, thousands of Islamist opponents, as well as scores of liberal activists and journalists have been imprisoned by the authorities.
Sisi, who ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood after mass protests against his rule, denies that there are political prisoners in Egypt.
Last week, Egypt’s state security prosecutor ordered Haitham Mohamedeen, a leftist lawyer, and Shady Ghazaly Harb, a leading opposition figure during the 2011 uprising, to be detained for 15 days and investigated for a terrorist organization.
On Tuesday a court sentenced journalist and researcher Ismail al-Iskandarani to 10 years in prison on charges of publishing false news and military secrets for his work on an ongoing army campaign against militants in the Sinai Peninsula, his lawyer said.
Amnesty International condemned the sentencing.
In an unprecedented move, authorities arrested a former military chief in January before he could challenge Sisi in a March presidential election, which he ended up .
“Egyptian authorities continue their security campaign to silence all critical voices and fabricate cases against them in order to avenge and to silence them,” the ANHRI statement said.