Monday, May 22, 2017

Shame on India!

Major Nitin Gogoi, who tied a civilian to an army jeep as a human shield in Kashmir, has been awarded by the Indian Army for counter-insurgency operations.
Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has awarded Gogoi with a commendation card for 'sustained efforts' on counter-insurgency operations.
"Major Gogoi has been awarded Chief of Army Staff's Commendation Card for sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations," Army spokesperson Aman Anand said.
This news is simply shameful! It bares the ugly side of Indian occupation of Kashmir. Shame on India and its army chief!
The army had come in for criticism one the video was out, with reports saying that the act constituted a war-crime.
Sources said Major Gogoi was given the award during Gen Rawat's visit to Jammu and Kashmir last week.
The Army Chief's 'Commendation Card' is considered a prestigious award and is given for distinguished services and devotion to duties.
A video, showing the man tied to the army vehicle during polling in the Srinagar Lok Sabha by-election on April 9, had triggered a public outcry, prompting the Army to institute a probe.
The CoI was tasked to look into the circumstance that prompted Major Gogoi to tie the Kashmiri youth to the jeep's bonnet as a "human shield".
The man, who was seen tied to an army jeep on polling day had been identified as Farooq Dar, while the army unit involved in the act was 53 Rashtriya Rifles.
Dar was later quoted as saying, “I am not a stone-pelter. Never in my life have I thrown stones. I work as an embroiderer of shawls, and I know some carpentry. This is what I do.”
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In a separate news, I was equally perturbed to learn that a former Bollywood actor and now a BJP  Parliamentarian Paresh Rawal has tweeted that writer-author Arundhati Roy should be used as human-shield in the Kashmir valley instead of stone-pelters. Rawal's tweeting is simply inexcusable and sickening and shows where is India heading these days under Hindutvadi fascists.
Booker Prize winner Roy’s causes have all landed her in conflict with the Hindu Right that freely bandies the phrase ‘anti-national’.
In a tweet that instantly attracted a series of crticism as well as support, the Padmashree winning-actor made an open attack on Roy who has, on various ocassions, spoken against the human rights violation in Kashmir.

Why Tulsi Gabbard cannot be defended

Today while browsing the Internet, I was surprised to see an article in defense of Tulsi Gabbard, the hypocrite congresswoman from Hawaii.  It was probably posted by a staffer working for Tulsi. It was a shameful display of indefensible argument for Tulsi to support a controversial petition HR 608. I have reviewed Tulsi's hypocrisy in the past quite thoroughly and find her insincere and opportunist.
The interested reader may like to click here to read my points of view on Tulsi.

Hypocrisy and Condescension - by Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. Here is the link to his latest article on Trump's visit of the Middle East.

Not remembering USS Liberty attack

It is safe to assume that when President Donald Trump lands in Israel Monday, he will not have been briefed on the irrefutable evidence that, nearly 50 years ago – on June 8, 1967 – Israel deliberately attacked the USS Liberty in international waters, killing 34 U.S. sailors and wounding more than 170 other crew. All of Trump’s predecessors – Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – have refused to address the ugly reality and/or covered up the attack on the Liberty.
It is not too late for someone to fill Trump in on this shameful episode, on the chance he may wish to show more courage than former presidents and warn the Israelis that this kind of thing will not be tolerated while he is president.
A new book by Philip Nelson titled: Remember the Liberty: Almost Sunk by Treason on the High Seas, is a must-read for anyone wishing to understand what actually happened to the Liberty and to contemplate the implications.
To read more on this subject, click here.

The 'Muslim World' Does Not Exist

Dr. Zareena Grewal is an Associate Professor American Studies and Religious Studies at Yale University. She is a historical anthropologist and a documentary filmmaker whose research focuses on race, gender, religion, nationalism, and transnationalism across a wide spectrum of American Muslim communities. Her first book, Islam is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority (NYU 2013), is an ethnography of transnational Muslim networks that link US mosques to Islamic movements in the post-colonial Middle East through debates about the reform of Islam.
Her latest article on President Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia appeared in the Atlantic and can be read below.
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“I chose to make my first foreign visit a trip to the heart of the Muslim world,” President Trump said in Riyadh on Sunday, in a speech billed as a call to Muslims to promote a peaceful understanding of Islam and to unite against terrorists.
Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia, but it is not the capital of the Muslim world. In fact, it’s worth remembering that “the Muslim world” is not actually a place. It’s a Western idea built on the faulty racial logic that Muslims live in a world of their own—that Islam is an eastern, foreign religion that properly belongs in a distant, faraway, dusty place. (This is arguably the logic that underlies Trump’s Muslim travel ban, currently held up in the courts: Islam is foreign, “Islam hates us,” Islam cannot possibly be a real American religion and that is why we can ban its adherents. Stephen Miller, an architect of the travel ban, was also reportedly among the writers of Trump’s Islam speech.)
If the Muslim world were the modern equivalent of the premodern concept of “Islamdom” (lands ruled by Muslims), it would refer only to Muslim-majority countries; countries where Muslims are national minorities, such as China and India, would be left out. If the Muslim world is a euphemism for the Middle East (sometimes Afghanistan and Pakistan are mistakenly lumped in, too), what to make of the fact that 80 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims live outside the Middle East, including American Muslims like me?
Trump will also visit Jerusalem and the Vatican on his Abrahamic religions world tour, but we certainly do not imagine him addressing all Jews or all Christians from those cities. We understand Israel to be a modern, Zionist nation-state, not the representative of all Jews worldwide. Similarly, we understand the Vatican as the institutional center of a global Catholic network, not the heart of Christendom.
The same should apply to the theocratic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the Kingdom does not and cannot speak for all Muslims around the world just because sites Muslims consider sacred are contained within its borders. In fact, when Muslim pilgrims arrive in Mecca, they are often dismayed to find that the Saudi government has allowed hotels, fast-food chains, and malls to encroach right up to the very edges of Muslims’ holiest sites. It’s hard to imagine the U.S. government allowing a Starbucks to be built next to the Grand Canyon; the Saudi government’s urban planning aesthetic, driven by profit, is not sensitive to the sensibilities of most Muslims. And the Saudi government’s bombing campaigns in Yemen, and blocking of humanitarian aid, have sparked moral condemnation among ordinary Muslims and human rights activists worldwide.
Muslims around the world are expressing a wide variety of reactions to Trump’s address, just as they expressed a wide variety of reactions to President Obama’s address in Cairo in 2009. Obama’s “Muslim World Address” was framed as a renewed bid for the Muslim hearts and minds that had been the “other” front in President Bush’s War on Terror, in order to signal that Americans were not “at war with Islam.” Every word of Obama’s speech had been carefully weighed by both the president himself and by his Muslim American speechwriter, Rashad Hussain, and every word was thoroughly scrutinized afterwards. Was Obama’s tone too conciliatory or too critical of Muslim societies? Was it a mark of integrity or of weakness for him to admit American complicity in upholding the Iranian shah’s brutal regime? And what about Obama’s decision to cite American Muslims like Muhammad Ali as proof of American exceptionalism and as evidence of the success and tolerance enjoyed by Muslim minorities in the U.S.?
 
Nevertheless, Obama’s speech did inspire hope that the U.S. would begin to properly promote democracy, freedom, and stability in the postcolonial world. On the eve of Ramadan, date sellers in Cairo named the most expensive, juiciest holiday fruit after Obama and the cheaper, dried up ones after Bush, reflecting the political mood.
Trump, too, has given a pre-Ramadan speech that is sure to be widely dissected—but his actions speak louder than his words. He is not only countenancing Saudi Arabia’s strikes against civilians in Yemen, which the United Nations reported could constitute crimes against humanity, but appears to be actually rewarding the Saudis: He just inked a weapons sale to them worth $110 billion. Obama had also sold billions in weapons to the Saudis, but he did freeze weapons sales after a strike on a funeral home reflected a pattern of attacks on civilians. Trump’s deal is a sinister reversal of Obama’s policy and belies anything he said in his Islam speech about peace or refugees. The war in Yemen, after all, could produce the world’s next refugee crisis.
Trump’s visit also marked the launch of a joint Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology. He called the fight against terrorism a “battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.” It was clear from his praise of autocratic Muslim leaders what the criteria are in Trump’s view to be a “decent” or “good” or “moderate” Muslim. The “moderate” Muslim is the Muslim who will endorse a version of his or her own religion that has already been endorsed by the U.S. government. The “moderate” Muslim is the Muslim who will uncritically toe the line when it comes to U.S. policy. The “moderate” Muslim is the Muslim who will suppress dissent; no protests of Trump’s visit were permitted in Saudi Arabia.
This is why I disavow the politically loaded label of “moderate Muslim.” In fact, I always introduce myself as a “radical Muslim” in order to recuperate the term.
As I’ve written before, we have come to understand the term “radical Muslim” as a slur, a synonym for “terrorist.” And yet, around the world, Muslims who are committed to social justice, anti-racism, feminism, anti-imperialism, and, yes, peace, describe themselves as radicals. There is an alternative, thriving, radical strain of Islamic thought based on peaceful dissent, represented through figures like Muhammad Ali. Ali, who Obama propped up as a moral exemplar to the Muslim world, opposed both the policies of the U.S. government and militant Muslims—be they the perpetrators of the Iranian hostage crisis or the San Bernardino shooters—whom he felt misrepresented the authentic teachings of Islam with their violence. In Saudi Arabia, the radical Muslims who give me hope are the young Muslim feminists, and committed Muslims, who are agitating for political reform and peace.
Although many Western analysts are focusing on Trump’s softened language on Islam, I do not find anything heartening or politically meaningful about the fact that Trump traded the vitriolic anti-Muslim rhetoric that helped get him elected for a more conciliatory tone aimed at pleasing his Saudi hosts. This is crude political expediency, ripped straight from his playbook, the art of the (weapons and oil) deal.
Trump’s dangerous fantasy world is one where violence flows out of America’s borders to a faraway “Muslim world” in the form of weapons sales and military operations, while jobs and dollars and oil flow back to the United States. Violence flowing toward America can be blocked at the borders simply by banning Muslim bodies. The Muslim world is tolerated, so long as it serves American interests from afar.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Trump speaks in Riyadh

President Trump delivered a speech Sunday in front of Arab and Muslim leaders at the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, urging the Muslim world to take a stand against global terrorism and share the burden of eradicating extremism in the region. The Shi'ite majority country Iran and its allies were not invited in the meeting. His speech was a far cry from his rhetoric during the election campaign and much more conciliatory.
The full extract of his speech can be read by clicking here.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

UNITED STATES COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM - report on Burma

The year 2016 marked a historic and peaceful transition of government in Burma, also known as Myanmar. Yet while the political handover occurred without incident, conditions during the year continued to decline for Rohingya Muslims, as well as for other religious and ethnic minorities. In addition, fresh and renewed fighting in some ethnic areas highlighted the schism between Burma’s civilian-controlled leadership and the military, which controls three powerful ministries and significant portions of the economy. Although the circumstances and root causes driving the ill treatment of religious and ethnic groups differ, there are two common elements: (1) the outright impunity for abuses and crimes committed by the military and some non-state actors, and (2) the depth of the humanitarian crisis faced by displaced persons and others targeted for their religious and/or ethnic identity. Due to both governmental and societal discrimination, Rohingya Muslims—tens of thousands of whom are currently displaced— are stateless and vulnerable, and many Christians are restricted from public worship and subjected to coerced conversion to Buddhism. Given that the National League for Democracy (NLD) government has allowed systematic, egregious, and ongoing violations of freedom of religion or belief to continue, USCIRF again finds that Burma merits designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, in 2017 under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The State Department has designated Burma as a CPC since 1999, most recently in October 2016. Non-state actors such as Ma Ba Tha and other nationalist individuals and groups do not meet the definition of an “entity of particular concern” under the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (P.L. 114-281), but merit continued international scrutiny for their severe violations of religious freedom and related human rights.

RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE U.S. GOVERNMENT

• Continue to designate Burma as a CPC under IRFA;
• Enter into a binding agreement with the government of Burma, as authorized under section 405(c) of IRFA, setting forth  mutually agreed commitments that would foster critical reforms to improve religious freedom and establish a pathway that could   lead to Burma’s eventual removal from the CPC list, including but not limited to the following:
•Taking concrete steps to end violence and policies of discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities, including the investigation and prosecution of those perpetrating or inciting violence; and
• Lifting all restrictions inconsistent with international standards on freedom of religion or belief;
• Continue to encourage Burma’s government to allow humanitarian aid and workers, international human rights monitors, and   independent media consistent and unimpeded access to conflict areas, including in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan states and other   locations where displaced persons and affected civilian populations reside, and direct U.S. assistance to these efforts, as   appropriate;
• Support efforts by the international community, including at the United Nations, to establish a commission of inquiry or similar   independent mechanism to investigate the root causes and allegations of human rights violations in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan    states and other conflict areas, and to hold accountable those responsible— including members of the military and law enforcement—for perpetrating or inciting violence against civilians, particularly religious and ethnic minorities;
• Encourage Burma’s government to become party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
• Engage the government of Burma, the Buddhist community (especially its leaders), religious and ethnic minorities (including   Rohingya Muslims and Christian communities), and other actors who support religious freedom, tolerance, inclusivity, and   reconciliation, to assist them in promoting understanding among people of different religious faiths and to impress upon them   the importance of pursuing improvements in religious tolerance and religious freedom in tandem with political improvements;
• Use the term “Rohingya” both publicly and privately, which respects the right of Rohingya Muslims to identify as they choose;
• Encourage crucial legal and legislative reform that strengthens protections for religious and ethnic minorities, including  citizenship for the Rohingya population through the review, amendment, or repeal of the 1982 Citizenship Law or some other  means, and support the proper training of local government officials, lawyers, judges, police, and security forces tasked with implementing, enforcing, and interpreting the rule of law;
• Press for at the highest levels and work to secure the unconditional release of prisoners of conscience and persons detained or awaiting trial, and press Burma’s government to treat prisoners humanely and allow them access to family, human rights monitors, adequate medical care, and lawyers and the ability to practice their faith; and
• Use targeted tools against specific officials, agencies, and military units identified as having participated in or being responsible for human rights abuses, including particularly severe violations of religious freedom, such as adding further names to the “specially designated nationals” list maintained by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, visa denials under section 604(a) of IRFA and the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, and asset freezes under the Global Magnitsky Act.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM CONDITIONS  2016–2017 

The Persecution of Rohingya and Other Muslims 

  In 2016, Rohingya Muslims suffered the harshest crackdown since waves of violence in June and October 2012 killed hundreds, displaced thousands, and destroyed hundreds of religious properties. On October 9, 2016, a large group of insurgents believed to be Rohingya Muslims carried out a series of attacks in and around Maungdaw Township in northern Rakhine State, targeting Border Guard Police and other law enforcement facilities and resulting in the deaths of nine police officers. In response, Burma’s military and law enforcement instituted a sweeping clearance operation that cut off humanitarian aid and restricted independent media access. According to a February 2017 report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), approximately 66,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh between October 9 and early 2017. Since the report’s release, the number is reportedly more than 70,000. (Several thousand also were internally displaced, including some ethnic Rakhine.) Rohingya victims and witnesses interviewed by OHCHR for the report described extrajudicial killings; death by shooting, stabbing, burning, and beating; killing of children; enforced disappearances; rape and other sexual violence; arbitrary detention and arrests; looting and destruction of property, including by arson; and enhanced restrictions on religious freedom. The report concluded that crimes against humanity likely had been committed.

   During 2016, the NLD government failed to respond both to the violence in northern Rakhine State perpetrated by the military and security forces, and more broadly to the discrimination and ill treatment of Rohingya Muslims. In one government attempt at compromise that further inflamed tensions, on June 19 the Ministry of Information directed state media to use the terms “Buddhists in Rakhine State” and, rather than “Rohingya” or “Bengali,” “Muslims in Rakhine State.” For different reasons, both ethnic Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine strongly objected, including thousands of Rakhine Buddhists who protested throughout Rakhine State. Also, as noted above in the Background section, hundreds of ethnic Rakhine, including Buddhist monks, protested the government’s decision to include foreigners in the Annan Commission. The government also largely remained silent in the aftermath of the military’s indiscriminate and disproportionate clearance operation in northern Rakhine State. Not only has the NLD government refrained from speaking out against the violence, but it also has rejected

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Not only has the NLD government  refrained from 
speaking out against  the violence, but it also has
 rejected  and denied many of the  
military’s reported abuses. . . .
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and denied many of the military’s reported abuses and rebuffed the international community’s concerns. The government did establish an investigation commission to examine the October 9 incident in northern Rakhine State. However, the selection of military-appointed Vice President U Myint Swe to lead the commission raised concern among human rights advocates. On December 15, the commission reported on its visit to northern Rakhine State in a State Counsellor’s office-issued statement that refuted a report made by one Rohingya woman about an alleged rape by military personnel and portrayed living conditions in a largely positive light, a characterization incongruous with nearly all other accounts of the situation in Rakhine. In its January 2017 interim report, the commission found no evidence of genocide and insufficient evidence supporting numerous rape allegations, and failed to mention civilian deaths at the hands of security forces even though authorities just days earlier detained several police officers after the release of a video showing them beating Rohingya Muslims. (For further information about abuses against Rohingya Muslims, refer to Suspended in Time: The Ongoing Persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma at www.uscirf.gov.)

     Ill treatment of Rohingya Muslims goes beyond violence. For example, in September 2016, as part of a nationwide government-ordered initiative to demolish religious structures built without state or regional permission, Rakhine State authorities announced plans to demolish several mosques and madrassahs (Islamic schools). The demolition order also applied to Buddhist structures, like pagodas, that lacked official government permission. However, religious minorities typically have more difficulty obtaining the multiple layers of government permission required to build or a repair houses of worship and therefore often do so without authorization, making them more vulnerable to the demolition order. 

    Government and non-state actors also perpetrate discrimination and violence against Muslims who are not ethnically Rohingya. In June 2016, a reported mob of approximately 200 Buddhists destroyed parts of a mosque in Bago Region, along with other nearby property. Then, on July 1, another mob burned down a mosque in Hpakant, Kachin State; police arrested five people in connection with the arson. In both incidents, Muslims fled, fearful for their safety. Prompted by the violence, 19 nongovernmental organizations issued a joint statement calling on Burma’s government to investigate, hold perpetrators accountable, and ensure freedom of religion or belief.
 
U.S. POLICY

   The United States must reinforce with Burma its responsibility to incorporate religious freedom and related human rights as part of the broader peace process; continue to press for the rights of Rohingya and other Muslims, Christians, and other religious and ethnic groups; and make clear to the government of 
 
 
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[I]nterfaith activists Zaw Zaw Latt and  Pwint Phyu Latt, 
both Muslim,  were sentenced to two years’  
imprisonment on charges relating  to their 
interfaith activities. . . .
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Burma that perpetuating and tolerating human rights abuses is not without consequence.

    During the year, the United States remained engaged with Burma on the serious human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims. On March 17, 2016, the Department of State issued the Atrocities Prevention Report, which, with respect to Rohingya Muslims in Burma, underscored pervasive governmental discrimination and the role of non-state actors in perpetrating violence. On April 28, after the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon used the term “Rohingya” in a condolence statement issued following a boat accident that killed more than 20 people, hundreds of nationalist protestors, including Buddhist monks and Ma Ba Tha supporters, staked out the embassy to object. In May, hundreds more in Mandalay protested the U.S. government’s use of the term. Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated publicly it preferred the U.S. Embassy avoid using the term, but the U.S. government continues to use it as appropriate. Also, in November 2016 U.S. Ambassador Scot Marciel was part of an international delegation that visited Rakhine State. On December 9, the U.S. Embassy signed a joint statement with 13 other diplomatic missions expressing concern about the lack of “desperately needed” humanitarian assistance in northern Rakhine State and urging Burma’s government to fully resume assistance deliveries.

   On May 17, the United States announced it would partially ease sanctions against Burma by removing restrictions on three state-owned banks and seven state-owned businesses. In late July, the United States announced $21 million in new assistance funding to Burma, primarily for economic governance. On September 14, while State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi visited Washington, DC, then President Barack Obama announced the United States would remove Burma’s national emergency designation, paving the way to lift economic sanctions and restore duty-free trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences. After also lifting restrictions on the import of jade and rubies and delisting 111 individuals and companies from the Treasury Department’s “specially designated nationals” list, only a few restrictions remain, including trade with North Korea, military assistance, and visa bans on some former and current military members. Also during Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit, the two countries announced the U.S.-Myanmar Partnership, which includes cooperation and support on issues such as rule of law, human rights, human trafficking, corruption, investment and economic growth, and global health security, among others. On October 7, then President Obama issued an executive order removing the national emergency designation for Burma under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. U.S. businesses had advocated the removal of sanctions, while human rights advocates within and outside Burma criticized the United States for eliminating crucial points of leverage with Burma’s government given serious and ongoing human rights abuses.

 Lastly, on December 16, 2016, then President Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2017 Department of State Authorities Act (P.L. 114-323), which requires the secretary of state to submit a report to Congress describing “all known widespread or systematic civil or political rights violations, including violations that may constitute crimes against humanity against ethnic, racial, or religious minorities in Burma, including the Rohingya people.” Neither the lifting of sanctions nor the act impact the existing U.S. arms embargo, which is the presidential action applied to Burma pursuant to the CPC designation. The State Department renewed the CPC designation for Burma in February and October 2016.
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To read the full report click here.