Tag Archive for 'Muslims'

What about 1984?

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:

1984 had two major consequences. First, it radically undermined the Congress’s claim to being a secular party that respected the political tradition of pluralism pioneered by its colonial avatar and consolidated by Nehru in the early years of the republic. The willingness of the Congress under Indira Gandhi to use sectarian issues for political ends had been evident before 1984 but the party’s willingness to sell its pluralist soul for immediate political advantage was most vividly illustrated in the days and months after her death. The Congress, after 1984, stood out more and more clearly as a party that couldn’t even be accused of not having the courage of its convictions because it didn’t have any convictions at all. Pluralism and its traditional opposition to majoritarianism became labels that the Congress used for brand management in particular political contexts, not as principles that shaped its political agenda.

The second consequence of 1984 was that Indira Gandhi’s assassination sealed the Congress’s long transition to dynastic rule in blood. The rhetoric of martyrdom that debases the political utterances of the Congress faithful dates back to that time. From being a great pan-Indian party that made a subcontinent cohere into a republic, the Congress after 1984 regressed into a de- natured dynastic rump.

Let us return to our question, namely, “What makes Modi and the BJP worse than the Congress and its dynasts, given the horror of 1984?” The answer is simple and unedifying. The Congress, by a kind of historical default, is a pluralist party that is opportunistically communal while the BJP is an ideologically communal (or majoritarian) party that is opportunistically ‘secular’. The difference between the Congress and the BJP doesn’t lie mainly in the willingness of the former to express contrition about pogroms it helped organize; it is, perhaps, best illustrated by the fact that twenty years after the 1984 pogrom, the Congress assumed office with a Sikh at the helm who served as prime minister for two terms. More:

Why Chetan Bhagat shouldn’t speak for Indian Muslims

Prayaag Akbar in Mint:

Chetan Bhagat, ever the well-meaning bull in a china shop, wrote this weekend about the Indian Muslim. In his regular Times of India column (in a piece headlined “Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth”), Bhagat appropriates the voice of—he doesn’t specify this, but it is easily surmised from the tone and content of the letter—a young Indian Muslim angry at his exclusion from the mainstream capitalist, neoliberal project. The piece is predictably disappointing in its understanding of the Muslim experience in India, but let us put that aside for the moment and discuss first this assumption of voice.

In India, we are perhaps overly protective of identity groupings. If a debate arises over the actions of a religious or caste group, or over the legacy of a historical figure, fear of giving offence sometimes leads to submission to loud voices instead of the safeguarding of freedom of information and thought. It is precisely this kind of criticism that Bhagat seeks to preempt when he writes, with splendid crudity, “I don’t have a name like Ahmed or Saeed or Mirza, anything that will clearly establish me as a Muslim.” Bhagat is saying, I am not a Muslim, so what? But what he is doing is actually pretty sneaky: His disclaimer is in fact a way of positioning himself, to the great majority of his audience, as someone qualified to write on this subject. The understanding he hopes to transmit to his reader through his mea culpa is that he should still be allowed to speak for the entirety of the Muslim population in India.

There are two problems with this. First, while anyone should be encouraged to produce scholarship and analysis about communities or historical figures, Bhagat’s casual ownership of the voice of 150 million people is patently not that. Second: It is precisely because I am an Indian and a Muslim that I would never dare to speak for all of us. More:

Sinhala extremism finds new targets in Sri Lanka

Samanth Subramanian in The Caravan

Ever since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009, Sri Lanka’s Tamils have been a cowed, cautious people, living under a crushing military presence in the island’s north and east. For the moment, they present no physical or ideological threat, so Sinhala Buddhist extremists, who had been allowed by President Mahinda Rajapakse to build up a fearsome head of steam in the closing stages of the war, have redirected their attritional energies. Chauvinism can, in the absence of ancient hatreds, easily summon up modern ones to fill the void. Over the last three years, these Buddhist groups have begun to persecute the country’s Muslim minority; one outfit in particular, the Bodu Bala Sena (‘the Army of Buddhist Power’), formed last July in Colombo, has sought systematically to demonise Muslims, accusing them of eroding Sri Lanka’s Buddhist heritage. Violence has been promised unto the Muslims; in turn, one Muslim leader has already said that there will soon be “no alternative to taking up arms”, although he claimed to have been misquoted after he was arrested in May under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This is all fresh friction, growing and deepening as we watch.

During the war, the text to which Sinhalese nationalists turned most often in the course of their arguments was the Mahavamsa, the Great Chronicle. The Mahavamsa is a long Pali poem that, in a mix of facts and legends, narrates the story of Buddhist Sri Lanka between the 6th century BCE and the 4th century CE. It deals often with historical figures, but it is by no means a watertight history. Buddhist monks worked and reworked the Mahavamsa over hundreds of years, tweaking it to suit the political agendas of their kings, and filling in the gaps—of the early years in particular—with the distilled products of their imaginations. More:


Raghu Karnad in n+l:

There’s no picture more traumatic to the Indian imagination than that of thousands of people crammed into trains, fleeing for their lives. Flash back to 1947, when trains crossing between West Pakistan and north India steamed out of their stations filled with refugees and arrived at their destinations filled with corpses. The migrating dead were Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who—stranded on the wrong side of the religious partition of British India, learning that it was now open season on their community and property—took flight for the border. About a million never made it. So (sixty-five years ago to the day), as India awoke to sovereignty and democracy, the sight before its eyes was a snarl of minority terror, slaughter, and trains.

This was the image that much of India had to suppress, and a few provocateurs predictably stoked, on August 15 this year. It should have been another drowsy Independence Day, a mid-week chance to sleep in while the monsoon shook the last drops out of its watering-can. Instead, at Bangalore’s City Station, thousands of people pressed into emergency trains leaving for distant Guwahati, the latter a transport hub for the seven small states in India’s out-flung northeastern limb.

Most of the indigenous groups in that region (“Northeasterners” to the rest of us) have facial features and skin-tones that make them look more like South-East Asians than what we think of as Indians—a matter they’re rarely allowed to forget when they live away from home. In recent weeks, two situations had set the dismal categories of “Muslims” and “Northeasterners” (or in the nasty demotic, “chinkies”) against each other. First, there was a spike in the decades-old persecution of Muslim Rohingyas by the Burmese-majority state of Myanmar. Shortly afterward, violence flared up between indigenous Bodo and migrant Muslim communities in Assam, the largest of the northeastern states, which led to Muslim groups agitating in cities like Bombay. Eventually, in Bangalore, tales of Muslim rage quivered with hyperbole. Skull-capped goons were banging on doors, warning that when Ramadan ended, the blood of Northeasterners would mingle in the streets with blood of the goats. By Independence Day, thousands were crammed into trains, apparently fleeing for their lives. More:

Internet analysts question India’s efforts to stem panic

Vikas Bajaj from Mumbai in NYT:

The Indian government’s efforts to stem a weeklong panic among some ethnic minorities has again put it at odds with Internet companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Officials in New Delhi, who have had disagreements with the companies over restrictions on free speech, say the sites are not responding quickly enough to their requests to delete and trace the origins of doctored photos and incendiary posts aimed at people from northeastern India. After receiving threats online and on their phones, tens of thousands of students and migrants from the northeast have left cities like Bangalore, Pune and Chennai in the last week.

The government has blocked 245 Web pages since Friday, but still many sites are said to contain fabricated images of violence against Muslims in the northeast and in neighboring Myanmar meant to incite Muslims in cities like Bangalore and Mumbai to attack people from the northeast. India also restricted cellphone users to five text messages a day each for 15 days in an effort to limit the spread of rumors.

Officials from Google and industry associations said they were cooperating fully with the authorities. Some industry executives and analysts added that some requests had not been heeded because they were overly broad or violated internal policies and the rights of users. More:

When Is government web censorship justified? 

Max Fisher in The Atlantic:

Technology can be a great liberator, but can it sometimes be a carcinogen? The Indian government seems to think so: it has blocked around 250 websites, ordered Google and Facebook to pull content, threatened legal action against Twitter if it doesn’t delete certain accounts, and has arrested several people for sending inflammatory text messages, all in the name of public safety. If you’re appalled, you’re not alone: the U.S. State Department responded by calling on India to respect “full freedom of the internet,” highlighting the growing divide between the two governments on web freedom.

But the Indian censorship — and it is censorship, despite the government’s insistance otherwise — may not be as clear-cut as a case of state oppression and over-reach. It turns out that the Indian government might be right to fear that technology, for all the very real benefits it’s brought India, could also be helping to magnify ancient communal tensions in a ways that costs lives and, perhaps even worse, might destabilize the delicate social balance within the world’s second-largest country.

The story begins, depending on how you look at it, either 20 years, one month, or one week ago. More:


The panic train

What began as an isolated communal conflict here in the remote state of Assam, a vicious if obscure fight over land and power between Muslims and the indigenous Bodo tribe, has unexpectedly set off widespread panic among northeastern migrants who had moved to more prosperous cities for a piece of India’s rising affluence.

A swirl of unfounded rumors, spread by text messages and social media, had warned of attacks by Muslims against northeastern migrants, prompting the panic and the exodus.[In NYT]

The Indian Express sent a reporter and a photographer on the train from Chennai to Guwahati, packed with migrants fleeing migrants from the northeast. It’s a 3,000 km journey and takes 52 hours:

The passengers speak about the string of rumours about an imminent attack on Assamese people. “It started off in Bangalore over SMSes and rumours that spread fast, but now there are talks about possible attacks in Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu around Eid on Monday. We are confident about the situation in the state, but for our family members who live hundreds of kilometres away, any rumour causes great concern,” says Mohan Bohra, an Assamese who works as a security guard at an IT company in Chennai.

Nishant Gogoi says that when he heard that a fellow Assamese in Bangalore had been attacked, he decided to pack his bags. “The construction company I work for and all the people I know in Chennai have assured me that I won’t face any problem. But honestly, I feel no one can ensure my safety if something untoward were to break out in Chennai. It is better to return after the tensions have completely subsided,” he says. More:

The 50-paise terror campaign

Saritha Rai in The Indian Express: Ironically for India’s tech hub, technology came to bite it in the back. SMS threats circulated in great waves. On social networks, doctored photos of bleeding limbs, bloody faces and videos with hazy faces made the rounds. Local television stations endlessly aired footage of the panic.

It is like nothing that tech-savvy and global Bangalore, India’s IT hub, has ever seen. The government, the police and railway officials were taken completely by surprise as thousands of Bangalore residents of north-eastern origin started thronging the ticket counters and platforms at the city’s railway stations, bus stations and even the airport. They all were frantic to take the first available means to return home. It was nothing short of an exodus. More:

Police invented plot to keep Rushdie away from Jaipur LitFest

Praveen Swami in The Hindu:

Local intelligence officials in Rajasthan invented information that hit men were preparing to assassinate eminent author Salman Rushdie in a successful plot to deter him from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival, highly placed police sources have told The Hindu.

Sources in the festival administration told The Hindu that Rajasthan Police intelligence officials had claimed that the threat to Mr. Rushdie came from two underworld hit men who they identified as “Altaf Batli” and “Aslam Kongo.” The intelligence officials also said an Islamist terrorist, Saqib Hamid Nachan, was suspected of financing the plot to assassinate Mr. Rushdie.

“I received a call from one of Mr. Rushdie’s friends on Friday, asking about these names,” said a senior officer of the Mumbai Police, who deals with organised crime. “I thanked him for giving me something to laugh about.”

The officer said the Mumbai Police’s dossiers on organised crime figures had no reference to individuals who might be using “Altaf Batli” and “Aslam Kongo.” “We’ve had a Salim Langda [‘the lame'], a Salim Kutta [‘the dog'], a Salim Tempo [‘truck'] and a Javed Fawda [‘the spade'] — but no ‘Kongo.’ Lots of Batlis [‘bottles'], but no Kongos.” More:

Rushdie Tweet: “Rajasthan police invented plot to keep away Rushdie’ I’ve investigated, & believe that I was indeed lied to. I am outraged and very angry.”

Four writers who read from The Satanic Verses leave Jaipur to avoid arrest

In The Hindu:

The four writers who read extracts from Salman Rushdie’s banned novel The Satanic Verses — Hari Kunzru, Ruchir Joshi, Amitava Kumar and Jeet Thayil have all left the Rajasthan capital on the advice of a lawyer, William Dalrymple, the co-Director of the Jaipur Literature Festival told The Hindu here. They would otherwise have risked arrest in the State.

A source close to the festival said the police had gone to Hari Kunzru’s room to question him. But that information could not be independently verified, especially since Mr. Kunzru had already hurriedly left town.

“What a lot of people don’t realise is that even reading from a banned book is against the law. This is part of a piece of absurd and draconian legislation going back to 1867 or thereabouts. I am convinced that the writers who did the readings were not aware that this is a punishable offence and could carry a fairly long prison sentence. You can discuss a book, read from other writings by the author, have conversations with him, invite him, but you cannot either possess a copy or publicly read from a book that is banned. That is a punishable offence,” Mr. Dalrymple said. More:


On the poverty of Indian Muslims

Anjum Altaf in The South Asian Idea:

The 2006 Sachar Committee report on the status of the Muslim community in India found that Muslims were amongst the poorest of the poor in the country.

How do we square that with the fact that up until 1857 Muslims had ruled parts of India for over 800 years? I mention this fact because, in the minds of some people, Muslims had expropriated all the wealth of India during this period and oppressed all the non-Muslims.

India has been independent for a little more than 60 years, so this transformation from being the owners of the land to being the poorest of the poor could not conceivably have occurred during this short period.

So, did the decline of the Muslims occur during the less than hundred years of British rule between 1857 and 1947? If so, how?

I don’t know. I am writing this post partly to find out and partly to discharge a long-owed debt to Dr. G.M. Mekhri, a remarkable man in my opinion, who I met just once in the mid-1980s and have never forgotten because he had a very unique perspective on this issue.

Dr. Mekhri had a hypothesis that intrigued me. I don’t really know if it would survive a rigorous test but that seems beside the point. What fascinated me was the audacity and innovativeness of his thinking and his ability to communicate the excitement of such thinking to a younger generation. More:

Collapse of India’s Left

The front page of The Telegraph, Calcutta

Ashis Chakrabarti in The Telegraph on Mamata Banerjee’s victory and the collapse of Marxists:

Friday afternoon, Mamata Banerjee’s long march to “liberate” Bengal from the world’s longest democratically elected communist rule ended in a green revolution that was reminiscent of the revolutions — velvet, orange, rose, et al — that once felled the Berlin Wall and one communist regime in eastern Europe after another.

The big difference is this: none of those revolutions, except perhaps the one led by Lech Walesa’s Solidarity in Poland, was the making of a single leader the way the one in Calcutta has been Mamata’s very own.

It was in the making for several years, but the way it gathered momentum in the last few weeks was nothing short of a blitzkrieg that knocked the supposedly mighty edifice of the CPM down without the party leaders having a clue to what was about to hit them.

She began her campaign to end the CPM’s rule with the slogan: “Now’s the time” — that became the call to action in Prague’s Velvet Revolution. It proved illusory in 2001 but it has happened now.

But the slogan will take on a completely different meaning now. From now onwards, her years of street fight will be yesterday’s story. Both for Bengal and for Mamata, the story that unfolds from this morning has to be about her vision and work to create a tomorrow. It is not the ordinary change of government that comes and goes with every election, changing little in people’s lives.

For everything that she plans to do, she may have to undo plenty of things. The historic turnabout of the traditionally Leftist Bengal to her side is clear evidence that she has to reverse many of the supposedly irreversible legacies that have led to Bengal’s economic and social decline. More:

Ladies script sweep show: Sankarshan Thakur in The Telegraph

In The Times of India: Almost one-third of Indians will now be ruled by women. With Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa storming to power on Friday in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, they join two other women chief ministers, Mayawati and Sheila Dikshit, to administer 368 million, or around 30% of India’s 1.2 billion population.

But the day didn’t belong to just the women. It also belonged to the wise Indian voter who punished the corrupt and the arrogant with ferocious intent. CPM’s impregnable bastion of Bengal, increasingly working more for its cadre than the people, was blown to bits and its 34-year-old hegemony ended, while a corruption-tainted DMK, running Tamil Nadu like a family profit centre, was consigned to the dustbin.

The outcomes in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu dwarfed Tarun Gogoi’s hat-trick in Assam, the Congress’s shock defeat in Puducherry and the Left’s better-than-expected performance in Kerala, where it fell agonisingly short of the finishing line — 0.7% of the votes and four seats were the difference between the two fronts, UDF and LDF. More:


Ayodhya verdict: 2 parts to Hindus, 1 part to Muslims

Manoj Mitta in The Times of India:

Sixty years after Ram’s idols were forcibly installed under the central dome of the Babri Masjid, the Allahabad high court, in a judgement running into about 12,000 pages, paved the way on Thursday for the construction of a temple at that very spot which is believed by many Hindus to be his birthplace.

While disposing of four title suits, the majority of the three-judge bench directed that the disputed site of 2.77 acres in Ayodhya be partitioned equally among three parties: Muslims, Hindus and Nirmohi Akhara (a Hindu group).

In deference to the widely-held belief about Ram’s birthplace, the court stipulated that the crucial area under the central dome of the mosque demolished by kar sevaks in 1992 be allotted to Hindus. This means the idols will remain where they are.

In the course of the partition due to take place after three months, the court directed that Nirmohi Akhara be allotted parts of the outer courtyard covered earlier by Ram Chabutra, Sita Rasoi and Bhandar, which had long been used for worship by Hindus despite their proximity to the mosque. More:

Graphic: The Times of India

3-way split plan leaves room for reconciliation: Sankarshan Thakur in The Telegraph

Ayodhya verdict surprises govt, surpasses saffron hopes: in The Times of India

Text of Allahabad high court order on Ayodhya dispute: in The Times of India

Hindustan Times editorial: At last, faith in the law

The Indian Express editorial: Law and sacrifice

The Times of India editorial: Beyond Mandir And Masjid

Ayodhya: A place that cannot be fought

Political philosopher Jyotirmaya Sharma in Mail Today:

The Ayodhya issue is not a religious issue. It is not a religious issue simply because the understanding of what religion constitutes has radically changed since the nineteenth century. Just as our definitions of religion would be incomprehensible to someone in the time of the Buddha, contemporary understanding of religion also requires a careful delineation. A single glance at definitions of religion offered by a figure like Swami Vivekananda would be enough to illustrate the confusion that has been introduced in the definitions of religion. For him, any entity that bore the name of religion must shun dualism and work towards perfect unity; it must direct its efforts to banish divisions and promote fellow-feeling. It also must shun rituals, eliminate poverty and uplift the masses. Religion ought also to promote, argued the Swami, radical individuality and shun the credo of the mob and the masses. Religion, he argued, must manifest itself in the form of love, empathy and posses a weeping heart for the suffering of others; the idea of God for him is unconditional love. At other moments, he describes religion as action and ceaseless work. The consequence of such a broad definition of religion is not, as apologists of the Swami suggest, to make religion broad and tolerant, but to infuse a sense of religiosity in all walks of life. After all, if one carefully looks at these definitions, they could easily fit the description of a government working towards elimination of poverty, an NGO working towards social uplift and providing emotional and material support to people, or a football club working towards promoting brotherhood and fellow-feeling. In other words, all arenas of public life were covered by religion. Politics as generally understood was enveloped by these definitions of religion and the public and private distinction, so crucial in democracies was sought to be eliminated. It affected a totalization of both politics and of religion: the distinction between them was effectively erased and fatally compromised. Continue reading ‘Ayodhya: A place that cannot be fought’

Tariq Ali on the recent killings in Kashmir

In London Review of Books:

A Kashmiri lawyer rang me last week in an agitated state. Had I heard about the latest tragedies in Kashmir? I had not. He was stunned. So was I when he told me in detail what had been taking place there over the last three weeks. As far as I could see, none of the British daily papers or TV news bulletins had covered the story; after I met him I rescued two emails from Kashmir informing me of the horrors from my spam box. I was truly shamed. The next day I scoured the press again. Nothing. The only story in the Guardian from the paper’s Delhi correspondent – a full half-page – was headlined: ‘Model’s death brings new claims of dark side to India’s fashion industry’. Accompanying the story was a fetching photograph of the ill-fated woman. The deaths of (at that point) 11 young men between the ages of 15 and 27, shot by Indian security forces in Kashmir, weren’t mentioned. Later I discovered that a short report had appeared in the New York Times on 28 June and one the day after in the Guardian; there has been no substantial follow-up. When it comes to reporting crimes committed by states considered friendly to the West, atrocity fatigue rapidly kicks in. A few facts have begun to percolate through, but they are likely to be read in Europe and the US as just another example of Muslims causing trouble, with the Indian security forces merely doing their duty, if in a high-handed fashion. The failure to report on the deaths in Kashmir contrasts strangely with the overheated coverage of even the most minor unrest in Tibet, leave alone Tehran.

On 11 June this year, the Indian paramilitaries known as the Central Reserve Police Force fired tear-gas canisters at demonstrators, who were themselves protesting about earlier killings. One of the canisters hit 17-year-old Tufail Ahmad Mattoo on the head. It blew out his brains. After a photograph was published in the Kashmiri press, thousands defied the police and joined his funeral procession the next day, chanting angry slogans and pledging revenge. The photograph was ignored by the mainstream Indian press and the country’s celebrity-trivia-obsessed TV channels. As I write, the Kashmiri capital, Srinagar, and several other towns are under strict military curfew. Whenever it is lifted, however briefly, young men pour out onto the streets to protest and are greeted with tear gas. In most of the province there has been an effective general strike for more than three weeks. All shops are closed. More:

Evidence of tolerance: Clashes are rare

Akash Kapur in The New York Times:

I maintain my faith in India as a highly tolerant — if imperfectly so — country. I believe that the nation’s sporadic episodes of communal violence represent aberrations rather than the norm, inevitable clashes that are remarkable for the extent to which they are, indeed, sporadic.

When I consider the nation’s major outbreaks of communal violence since independence, I am struck by the fact that nearly each one was instigated by an act of political demagoguery. Politicians seeking votes have regularly fanned hatred and chauvinism. And as the Indian scholar Asghar Ali Engineer has pointed out, religious concerns are frequently a front for material interests. Riots between Hindus and Muslims are often thinly veiled property disputes or clashes over commercial interests.

Yet for all the effort by political and business leaders to spread hatred, violent clashes remain rare, unusual in a country where Hindus and Muslims (and followers of other religions) live side by side, in crowded cities and villages, doing business and practicing their faiths in full view of one another. More:

And here’s the link to his previous column, Upholding a tradition of tolerance:

Indian tolerance has deep roots. The Vedas, a body of texts believed to be around 3,000 years old, proclaim that “truth is one; the wise call it by many names.” The Rig Veda, considered the oldest, similarly teaches that “good thoughts come to us from all sides.”

Indian tolerance has also manifested in the country’s society and polity. The Edicts of Emperor Asoka, who ruled much of north and central India in the third century B.C., are notable for their accommodation of other faiths — proclaiming, for instance, that “all religions should reside everywhere” and that “there should be growth in the essentials of all religions.”

Indian PM’s team subjected to US profiling

Siddharth Varadarajan in the Hindu:

New Delhi: A potential crisis in bilateral relations with Washington was averted at the eleventh hour last month when the United States reversed a decision to deny visas to all Muslim journalists who were part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s official media delegation to the G20 summit in Pittsburgh.

The visas, which were denied pending “additional administrative processing,” were only granted one day before the Prime Minister’s departure following a demarche – or diplomatic request – from the highest levels of government.

None of the Indian officials involved in the process wished to speak on record about the incident, which they said was a clear case of religious “profiling” by the U.S. embassy in Delhi. More:

Empty churches, full mosques

Several redundant churches in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland are slowly being converted into mosques as Christian congregations dwindle while a growing Muslim population demands more places to worship. Colin Randall in the National:

Glasgow: When the Glasgow Central Mosque, then rivalling the biggest in Europe, opened a quarter of a century ago, it seemed all the needs of Muslim worshippers in Scotland’s largest city would be met at its imposing site on the banks of the Clyde.

But as the city’s Muslim population has swelled to 33,000, with the Pakistanis who have always formed its main component joined by refugees from conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan, demand has continued to grow for space. More than 70 years after organised worship first began, in the homes of Pakistani immigrants, Glasgow has 14 mosques, and some feel it could do with more.

It is not difficult to find examples of growth. Across the city, extensive work is under way to expand al Furqan mosque; elsewhere, two other mosques are being modernised. And 80 km to the east, a mosque that opened in January with the express aim of serving English-speaking Muslims in the capital, Edinburgh, chose Ramadan as the occasion to extend worship to Friday prayers. More

Message to Muslim world gets a critique

From the New York Times:

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has written a searing critique of government efforts at “strategic communication” with the Muslim world, saying that no amount of public relations will establish credibility if American behavior overseas is perceived as arrogant, uncaring or insulting.

The critique by the chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, comes as the United States is widely believed to be losing ground in the war of ideas against extremist Islamist ideology. The issue is particularly relevant as the Obama administration orders fresh efforts to counter militant propaganda, part of its broader strategy to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. More:

Farah Pandith, US envoy to Muslim world

The Obama Administration has appointed Kashmir-born Farah Pandith to head the new Office of the United States Special Representative to Muslim Communities. Pandith, a Muslim, immigrated to the US with her parents from Srinagar, and grew up in Massachusetts. She studied at Smith College and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.


From the National:

“There is no one bullet that is going to fix everything; there is not one programme that is going to be the magic programme to engage with Muslims. It’s really listening. It’s really understanding what’s taking place on the ground,” Farah Pandith, who was appointed last week to be the first special representative to Muslim communities, said in a briefing with reporters. “It’s finding opportunities through our embassies to get to know what others are saying and thinking and dreaming and believing.”

In what amounted to her official introduction, Ms Pandith struck rhetorical tones similar to those favoured by her new boss, Barack Obama, who has sought to distance himself from unilateral policies of the Bush administration. The very appointment of a high-level state department official focused on communicating with Muslims, many analysts said, indicates a new commitment to dialogue.

But Ms Pandith, 41, does not represent a clean break from the Bush years. She served three years on George W Bush’s National Security Council, where she was responsible for “co-ordinating US policy on Muslim world outreach”, according to a description of her responsibilities released by the state department. More:

In Dawn, Jawed Naqvi writes an open letter to Ms Pandith:

Allow me to make a few quick observations about your road ahead. First, the syncretic culture of Kashmir to which you belong has been subjected to vile abuse in your absence. Beginning with 1990 an exclusivist and narrow-minded Islam was sought to be imposed on the people by armed groups with the alleged support of zealots within Pakistan’s intelligence and security forces. On the other hand, the demonic logic of occupation has spurred Indian security forces to brutalise the people at will, without accountability.

You must have wondered, Ms Pandith, how the tragedies of our times are getting identified with religious strife. Take the important briefs that you have held. The Palestinian question is posed as a Muslim issue. Afghanistan is described as a religious problem. Note also the sleight of hand, since the colonial era, in the orchestrated positioning of identities. Shia, Sunni and Kurds in Iraq, for example, comprise a scantly noticed absurdity: two religious groups and one ethnic community. Does that ethnic community have a religion? Wouldn’t the word ‘hydrocarbons’ explain the ethnic-religious discourse better?

In Lebanon, it is the Shia, Sunni and Druze that beg the question. I think the mischief began with colonial historiography. In India, English chroniclers divided us into Hindu, Muslim and British period. The subterfuge found an echo in Sri Lanka, where Sinhalese, Tamils and Burghers are lumped with Muslims: three ethnic groups and a religious category. Do the Muslims have an ethnicity? More:

What Muslims think

From Reuters:

In the years since the September 11 attacks on the United States, much has been said about the Muslim world, but little, it is argued, has been gathered on what Muslims truly think of the West. Now Gallup, the global polling group, has conducted research in 35 Muslim countries, interviewing more than 50,000 people over a six-year period, to come up with what it is calling the first comprehensive survey of Muslim world opinion.

The results, published in a book called “Who Speaks for Islam? What a billion Muslims really think“, provide often surprising clues as to how Muslims perceive the West and how misunderstanding on both sides — often perpetuated by politicians and the media — can fuel suspicion and conflict.


Muslims want to live under democracies

U.S. News spoke with Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, about the findings:

Have we learned more about Muslims than we knew in 2001?
We did a survey of Americans in 2002, asking what they knew about the beliefs and opinions of Muslims around the world. Fifty-four percent said they knew nothing or not much. We asked that same question in 2007, after we’ve had two wars and a great deal more media coverage of Muslims, and this time 57 percent said they knew nothing or not much. We are no closer to truly understanding this part of the world, even as we are more engaged with it.

Do Muslims misunderstand the West?
Asked what they most admired and most resented about the West, they answered first technology and second, democracy. People would mention their support for freedom of speech, the rule of law, and the transparency of government. What they most disliked was the perceived moral laxity and libertinism of the West, which, interestingly, is exactly what Americans said when we polled them on those two questions.


The jihadi next door

How does a law-abiding young man become a terrorist? Aryn Baker in TIME reviews ‘Leaderless Jihad‘ by  forensic psychiatrist Marc  Sageman:

jihadbook.jpgAhmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was the kind of guy you could have taken home to Mom. Smart and friendly, he once jumped in front of a train in a London tube station to rescue a fallen commuter. But he also, in the name of the Islamist cause, gleefully threatened a hostage with decapitation in 1994. That hostage survived, but Danny Pearl, the Wall Street Journal Pakistan correspondent whom Sheikh is charged with kidnapping in January 2002, did not. The video of Pearl’s beheading can still be found on the Internet (though the identity of the actual knife wielder remains unknown). How does someone like Sheikh–”the kindest, most gentle person you could meet,” according to his brother–turn terrorist?


Why Shariah?

Noah Feldman is a law professor at Harvard University and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. This essay in The New York Times Magazine is adapted from his book “The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State,” which will be published later this month.

Last month, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, gave a nuanced, scholarly lecture in London about whether the British legal system should allow non-Christian courts to decide certain matters of family law. Britain has no constitutional separation of church and state. The archbishop noted that “the law of the Church of England is the law of the land” there; indeed, ecclesiastical courts that once handled marriage and divorce are still integrated into the British legal system, deciding matters of church property and doctrine. His tentative suggestion was that, subject to the agreement of all parties and the strict requirement of protecting equal rights for women, it might be a good idea to consider allowing Islamic and Orthodox Jewish courts to handle marriage and divorce.

Then all hell broke loose. From politicians across the spectrum to senior church figures and the ubiquitous British tabloids came calls for the leader of the world’s second largest Christian denomination to issue a retraction or even resign. Williams has spent the last couple of years trying to hold together the global Anglican Communion in the face of continuing controversies about ordaining gay priests and recognizing same-sex marriages. Yet little in that contentious battle subjected him to the kind of outcry that his reference to religious courts unleashed. Needless to say, the outrage was not occasioned by Williams’s mention of Orthodox Jewish law. For the purposes of public discussion, it was the word “Shariah” that was radioactive.


US religious landscape survey: Hindus are the best-educated

An extensive new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life details the religious affiliation of the American public and explores the shifts taking place in the U.S. religious landscape:

In a study that highlights the fluidity of religious affiliation in America today, Hindus stand out as the group with the most stable religious identity. Ninety percent of Hindus marry within their own faith, and eight-in-ten Hindus who were raised Hindu remain so as adults, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, released last week by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Nearly half of Hindus in the U.S., one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists have obtained post-graduate education, compared with only about one-in-ten of the adult population overall. Hindus and Jews are also much more likely than other groups to report high income levels.

Key summary of findings:

Demographic portraits:

Can Kashmir be a Kosovo?

The principle on which Kosovo has been founded is antithetical to the concept of an inclusive democracy. Bharat Karnad, professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, writes in Mint.

It was said of the Balkans, by Winston Churchill, that the region makes more history than it can consume, much of it very convoluted and very bloody. This despite all the people in all the little states that made up the erstwhile Yugoslavia and, since the early 1990s, spinning off into several sovereign entities, being ethnically of the same “southern Slav” stock. The trouble is the Croats and the Slovenes are Catholic, the Serbs and the Montenegrins Russian Orthodox, and the Bosnian-Herzegovinians, like the Albanian Kosovars islanded in a Serb sea, Muslim. But who better to appreciate the pull of religion and the murderous friction it creates than us Indians?


Course correction at India’s madrasas

Priyanka P. Narain in Mint:
When 12-year-old Muhammad Imran’s widowed mother did not have money to feed her son, she put him on a train from her village in Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai’s Minara Masjid madrasa. Many of the estimated 1,035,000 children who live in Islamic seminaries across India arrived in the same way-shelter and food are as important to their parents as education.
Now, as India’s rising prosperity stirs new desires and gives birth to new dreams, the government’s initiative for modernization of madrasas is forcing a catharsis in the community about the kind of education they want to offer their children. But as Muslims largely embrace this change, they have already come to their first hurdle: Just how to do it?