ISIS declares war on Hazara Shias of Afghanistan

 

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Syed Zafar Mehdi 

It was Thursday night (shab e jumah) and Haji Ramazan Hussainzadeh was busy making last-minute preparations for the ceremony to mark the death anniversary of Hazrat Ali (as), the cousin of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) and the fourth caliph of Muslims. Masjid Al-Zahra, a popular mosque in Shia-dominated Dasht e Barchi area of Kabul which Haji Ramazan founded, was packed with worshippers – young and old, men and women. Inside the mosque, a local cleric was reciting heart-rending eulogies, invoking the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali (as), who was assassinated in Masjid e Kufa (in present-day Iraq) while offering morning prayers on the same day in 40 AH.

Amid the hectic activity outside, a suicide bomber and gunmen forced their way inside the mosque compound after opening fire at police guarding the mosque. One detonated his explosives and the other fired on the crowd, killing four and injuring at least a dozen. Haji Ramazan was among those killed while giving instructions to the kitchen staff.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes at a time of deep political turmoil following the devastating truck bomb explosion in Kabul on May 31, which resulted in unprecedented civilian casualties.

The dangerous spiral of sectarian bloodletting in Afghanistan has assumed alarming proportions since the advent of ISIS, also known by their Arabic acronym Daesh. Their hatred for Shias has a historical background, dating back to the assassination of Hazrat Ali (as). ISIS ideologues take inspiration from those fanatics who carried out the murderous assault on Hazrat Ali in Kufa mosque. They praise the murderers of his son Imam Hussain (as) and deem the homicide of his followers as legitimate.

Attack on Al-Zahra Mosque is not the first incident of its kind. On the eve of Muharram 10 last year, a gunman wearing army fatigue opened indiscriminate fire at Shia mourners inside Ziyarat e Sakhi shrine in Kabul, leaving more than 18 dead and 54 injured. Victims included four women and two children. ISIS immediately claimed responsibility for the gruesome attack. The following day, in a show of extraordinary defiance, thousands of people marched through the streets of Kabul, remembering the martyrs of Karbala and the martyrs of Kabul.

The dangerous spiral of sectarian bloodletting in Afghanistan has assumed alarming proportions since the advent of ISIS, also known by their Arabic acronym Daesh

While the Ashura procession was underway in Kabul, people in the northern Balkh province were mourning their dead. At least 15 Shia mourners were killed in an IED explosion the same day. ISIS again claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on “heretics”. The attacks raised very few eyebrows since the fanatical nihilism of terror against Hazara Shias in Afghanistan has become routine and shockingly predictable.

Exactly 40 days later, on the day of Arbaeen, the terrorists struck again in Kabul. At least 27 people were killed and hundreds wounded after a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Baqir ul Uloom mosque on Darul Aman Road, a few blocks away from the residence of President Ashraf Ghani and the parliament house. President Ghani in a statement condemned the attack as “barbaric” and the United Nations described it as an “atrocity”.

Hazara Shias are among the few races whose origin remains shrouded in mystery. There are multiple theories about their origin. Some anthropologists trace their ancestry to Turko Mongols, while some believe they were originally Buddhists who lived in Hazarajat, the territory inhabited by Hazara people in the central highlands of Afghanistan, since the period of Kushan Dynasty 2000 years ago, before the arrival of Islam. During the period of Kushan Dynasty, Hazara-populated Bamyan was the hub of Buddhists, which is mentioned in the book The Hazaras by Hassan Poladi. Hazaras are predominantly Shias, although a small percentage subscribe to Sunni and Ismaili schools of thought.

Afghanistan has a grim history of ethnic violence, especially when it comes to targeted killing of Hazara Shias. In the late 1900s, brutal Pashtun ruler Abdul Rahman Khan had ordered extermination of all Shias in central Afghanistan, which led to the gory massacre of thousands of Hazara Shias. Their properties were confiscated and they were forced to flee their homes. For almost a century, Hazara Shias were incarcerated and sold as slaves to wealthy merchants. Their women and children were sexually abused. Many of them were forced to observe taqiyya (seclusion) and register as Tajiks or Uzbeks.

The attacks last year and again this year have brought back chilling memories of 1990s when the Taliban would raid houses, identify and kill Hazara Shias, mostly in northern provinces. “Hazaras are not Muslims, you can kill them,” Moulvi Mohammed Hanif, a Taliban commander, once told a gathering of Pashtun tribal elders in northern Afghanistan. Muharram commemorations were completely banned in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. While many Hazara Shias fled to Pakistan and Iran during 1990s, many stayed back to face the specter of unutterable horror. In one of the most barbaric episodes in recent history, thousands of Hazara Shias were systematically killed in northern Mazar e Sharif city in 1998, which author-analyst Ahmed Rashid describes as “genocidal in its ferocity”.

The attacks last year and again this year have brought back chilling memories of 1990s when the Taliban would raid houses, identify and kill Hazara Shias, mostly in northern provinces

After the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, Hazara Shias – who account for up to 20 percent of Afghanistan’s 30 million population – emerged out of obscurity. However, they continue to walk the tightrope with the advent of many new armed groups in Afghanistan. Abductions, extortions and targeted killings by groups operating under the banner of ISIS have increased alarmingly over the past few years. In November 2015, seven Hazara Shias, including women and children, were abducted and killed mercilessly in the southern Zabul province. In June last year, 25 Hazara Shias were abducted by armed assailants in the northern Saripul province. Many such horrifying stories often go unreported.

For these Hazara Shias, terrorism and discrimination represents a dangerous cocktail. In July last year, thousands of them took out a march in Kabul to express their anger and resentment over government’s decision to move a power transmission line out of Bamiyan, the only Hazara-dominated province in Afghanistan. A deadly explosion ripped through the peaceful rally, killing at least 85 people and wounding 400 others. The attack was one of the deadliest in Kabul and deadlier than the bombing of Abul Fazl Mosque in Murad Khane in 2011, which left 70 dead. Following the carnage, thousands of Hazaras launched an online campaign under the hashtag #Justice4Hazaras to commemorate those killed in the attack and to demand justice, equality and equal representation for Hazaras.

ISIS has reportedly claimed that they attack Hazara Shias because of their involvement in the Syria war. “Unless they (the Hazara Shias) stop going to Syria and stop being slaves of Iran, we will definitely continue such attacks,” a top ISIS commander told Reuters last year. Hundreds of Hazara Shias from Afghanistan are fighting in Syria as part of the Liwa Fatemiyoon force. However, the more plausible reason behind the unrelenting attacks on Hazara Shias is the fact that their religious beliefs clash with the radical Islamism propounded by ISIS ideologues.

In February 2013, a group of activists and poets had written a letter to then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, asking him to take necessary measures to ensure safety and security of Hazara Shias. “Even in their homeland, Afghanistan, Hazaras are not safe. Every year, they are attacked by Afghan Kuchis who are backed by the Taliban and the Afghan government. Hazara roads are blocked by the Taliban gunmen. Hazara cars are halted and passengers are killed,” read the letter. Maryam Jafri, writing in a UN Dispatch in April 2015, said Afghans need to embrace their national identity as a multi-ethnic society if they want to survive and thrive. “They need to stand up against sectarian and ethnic division. This is not only for the good of ethnic minorities like Hazaras, but for the whole of society,” she stated.

Rohullah Yakubi, a fellow at UK-based Human Security Center, believes there are two reasons for the horror unleashed by ISIS on the long-persecuted Hazara community in Afghanistan. “First, ISIS refers to the Shiites as the Rafidah (the rejecters) and views them as heretics worthy of death. Hence, Hazaras are legitimate targets. Second, ISIS seeks to ignite sectarian violence in the country,” he wrote last year, adding that the attacks have failed to push Hazaras towards sectarianism but have deepened the community’s alienation from the Afghan government.

After the latest attack, a Hazara Shia friend said he feels insecure and hopeless. “Even a place like mosque is not safe for us anymore, they don’t even respect the sanctity of God’s abode,” he said. That sums up the tragedy of Hazara Shias in Afghanistan.

(First published in Huffington Post)

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Al-Quds Day: Rallying for the liberation of Palestine

Syed Zafar Mehdi

“And for those who after having been treated badly bring about justice themselves, against them no action can be taken. Action will only be taken against those who are unjust to people and who without reason become violent on earth. These are the ones who will receive painful punishment.” (Surah Ash Shura: 41-42)

For the campaigners of truth and justice, International Al-Quds Day (Yaumul Quds Al-Alami) has an extraordinary historical significance. Al-Quds is Arabic for Jerusalem. It is an affirmation of our solidarity with the oppressed and subjugated people of Palestine in their struggle for the liberation of Jerusalem, the third holiest sanctuary for Muslims. It is an expression of unwavering commitment to end the Tel Aviv regime’s horrendous atrocities in the occupied territories of Palestine.

Al-Quds Day was first observed in 1979 in Iran by Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini, soon after the Islamic Revolution. Since then, the day is observed across the world every year on the last Friday (Jumatul Wida) of Ramadan to express solidarity with Palestinians and to protest the Zionist entity’s illegal occupation of Jerusalem. It also calls for the political unification of Muslims, cutting across the ideological divide, for the cause of justice and righteousness. Last year, Al-Quds Day demonstrations were held in 770 major cities in more than 80 countries across the world.

The holy month of Ramadan granted Muslims a historic victory in the Battle of Badr. It is the month in which the holy city of Mecca was conquered and cleared of idol worshippers (mushrikeen). It is the month in which all the Abrahamic scriptures, including the Holy Quran, were revealed. It is the spirit of this month that inspired our brave forefathers to struggle in the way of Allah and overcome insurmountable odds. So it is highly appropriate that the last Friday of this blessed month is dedicated to the struggle of Palestinians and all other oppressed people of the world.

The idea of Al-Quds Day solidarity rallies was conceived by Ayatollah Khomeini, who appealed to Muslims across the world to extend moral support to their brethren in Palestine. In August 1979, Khomeini declared the liberation of Jerusalem ‘a religious duty of all Muslims’. “I invite Muslims all over the globe to observe the last Friday of Ramadan as Al-Quds Day, and to pledge support and solidarity to the people of Palestine and their legitimate rights. I ask all the Muslims of the world and the Muslim governments to join hands and sever the hand of this usurper and its supporters,” he said.

It is highly appropriate that the last Friday of this blessed month is dedicated to the struggle of Palestinians and all other oppressed people of the world.

It is also a day to remember people in other occupied lands, who are abused and crushed by strong military powers. “The Al-Quds Day is a universal day. It is not an exclusive day for Quds (Jerusalem). It is a day for the oppressed and the supporters of oppressed to rise and stand up against the arrogant oppressors,” Khomeini said.

During the first Palestinian Intifada in January 1988, the Jerusalem Committee of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) declared that Al-Quds Day be observed publicly throughout the Arab world. Their official endorsement of Al-Quds Day was significant as some Arab countries who had strategic ties with Israel found themselves isolated.

Every year, on the Al-Quds Day, hundreds of people pour into the narrow streets of Gaza to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The officials of Hamas, Islamic Jehad Movement (IJM), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and other resistance groups also take part in these public gatherings. Massive rallies are also taken out in Britain, Canada, Sweden, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kashmir, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, United States etc. Protestors wave Palestinian flag and raise slogans like ‘Death to Israel and America’, ‘Israel Your Days Are Numbered’, ‘Zionism Must Go’ and ‘From River to Sea Palestine Will Be Free’.

Every year, on the Al-Quds Day, hundreds of people pour into the narrow streets of Gaza to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestine

In Britain and US, many anti-Zionist Jews and Christians also attend these rallies and join the chorus for the liberation of Palestine. Rabbi Joseph Kohn, speaking at the Al-Quds Day rally in Houston last year, said the city of Quds was forcibly occupied by the Zionist state of Israel. “When the state of Israel was formed, Palestinians were totally ignored, as the Zionist slogan went ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’. They were displaced, oppressed, killed and robbed – unjustly and illegally – in order to make room for the creation of the modern state of Israel,” he said.

According to Ramazan Sharif, the head of the Quds Center at Iran’s Islamic Propagation Coordination Council, Al-Quds Day has a major influence on the issue of Palestine and prevents it from sliding into oblivion. Al-Quds rallies seek to raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians and the atrocities unleashed on them by the Zionist state.

Al-Quds Day will continue to be observed every year until there is a complete and unconditional withdrawal of Israelis from the occupied territories, including Jerusalem. The return of Palestinians who were forced to leave their land after the 1948 Nakba should be facilitated, and they must be compensated for the damage of land and property. There should be a complete ban on the construction of new settlements and immediate evacuation of all existing settlements. More than half a million Israelis occupy over 120 illegal settlements built since 1967. These settlements blatantly violate the Hague and Geneva Conventions, threaten Al-Aqsa Mosque and violate the sanctity of the sacred Islamic sites.

Hence, it is a sacred duty of all Muslims, and people of conscience, to raise their voice, individually and collectively, against the naked aggression, in Palestine and all other occupied lands across the globe, on Al-Quds Day.

(First published in Press TV website)

Brief history of American terrorism

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Syed Zafar Mehdi

“There are two ways to approach the study of terrorism,” notes Noam Chomsky in widely-acclaimed book Western State Terrorism. “One may adopt a literal approach, taking the topic seriously, or a propagandistic approach, construing the concept of terrorism as a weapon to be exploited in the service of some system of power. It comes as no surprise that the propagandistic approach is adopted by governments generally, and by their instruments in totalitarian states.”

Chomsky maintains that there are many terrorist states in the world, but the United States puts its rivals to shame when it comes to perpetuating ‘international terrorism’. A 2010 research undertaken by Professor Mark Sageman of University of Pennsylvania lends credence to what Chomsky says. The research findings establish the fact that terrorism is a product of the West.

Let’s make no bones about it, the menacing threat of ‘nuclear terrorism’ does not come from some ruthless jihadist cluster, but from the hard-nosed western nuclear powers who form the core of the NATO alliance, and keeping intimidating and threatening the non nuclear weapon states.

The history of US imperialism is replete with stories of unilateral belligerent military strikes, gory massacres and socio-cultural aggression. In this no-holds-barred brinkmanship, the US and its allies have sought to impose their writ on other nations, more so on those who have refused to swear allegiance to Uncle Sam’s hegemony. The blatant war-mongering and sinister desire to inflict suffering on others is best explained by these words of American writer Andre Vltchek.

The menacing threat of ‘nuclear terrorism’ does not come from some ruthless jihadist cluster, but from the hard-nosed western nuclear powers who form the core of the NATO alliance

“West has always behaved as if it had an inherited, but undefined, right to profit from the misery of the rest of the world. In many cases, the conquered nations had to give up their own culture, their religions, even their languages, and convert to our set of beliefs and values that we define as ‘civilized’.

Guatemala Civil War that continued from 1960 to 1996 was bitterly fought between the government of Guatemala and ethnic Mayans, in which the government of Guatemala committed worst human rights abuses and engineered genocide of Mayan population of Guatemala. Historical Clarification Commission set up under the Oslo Accords of 1994 concluded that the Guatemala military committed murder, torture and rape with the tacit support of CIA. The commission stated the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some state operations.”

Noam Chomsky in his book What Uncle Sam Really Wants writes, “Under Reagan, support for near-genocide in Guatemala became positively ecstatic. The most extreme of the Guatemalan Hitlers we’ve backed there, Rios Montt, was lauded by Reagan as a man totally dedicated to democracy. In the early 1980s, Washington’s friends slaughtered tens of thousands of Guatemalans, mostly Indians in the highlands, with countless others tortured and raped. Large regions were decimated.”

Direct or indirect support for death squads has been an integral part of CIA operations. CIA’s death squad operations in Vietnam led to killing of over 35,000 people. The Vietnam War dominated 30 long years of Vietnam’s history from 1940s to 1970s. President Ford, reacting to Senate and House committee reports, conceded that the CIA had become a ‘rogue elephant’ crushing foreign citizens under foot in its bid to win the Cold War. More than 20,000 Vietnamese were killed during the CIA-guided Operation Phoenix intended to weed out communist ‘agents’ from South Vietnam.

American role in the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected Popular Unity government of Salvador in 1980s was a watershed moment for the country. Bush family loyalists maintain that President Bush senior’s policies paved the way for peace, turning Salvador into a democratic success story. However, it took more than 70,000 deaths and grave human rights violations, before peace was brokered. To crush the rebels, the US trained an army that kidnapped and killed more than 30,000 people, and presided over large-scale massacre of old, women and children.

Direct or indirect support for death squads has been an integral part of CIA operations. CIA’s death squad operations in Vietnam led to killing of 35,000 people

In the mid-1970s, a major scandal broke out after revelations that President Richard Nixon had ordered the CIA to ‘make the economy scream’ in Chile and to prevent Allende from coming to power. Years later, CIA acknowledged its deep involvement in Chile where it dealt with coup-plotters, false propagandists and assassins.

In a review of Lubna Qureishi’s book Nixon, Kissinger, and Allende: US Involvement in the 1973 coup in Chile, Howard Doughty writes, “The United States and its allies have an unseemly history of hostility to democracy abroad that seems to conflict with their expressed political principles and their stated purpose in engaging in military and diplomatic action abroad. Not only in Latin America, but in Africa, Asia and occasionally in Europe, it has openly and clandestinely supported dictatorships.”

The US government’s cozy relationship with its illegitimate offspring Israel is no secret. It has paid Israel almost one hundred billion dollars over the years, major part of which is used for occupying Palestinian territories, in blatant breach of international laws and umpteen UN resolutions. Veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk draws parallels between Israel and apartheid regime of South Africa. “No matter how many youths are shot dead by the Israelis, no matter how many murders and no matter how bloody the reputation of the Israeli Prime Minister, we are reporting this terrible conflict as if we supported the South African whites against the blacks.”

US has paid Israel almost one hundred billion dollars over the years, major part of which is used for occupying Palestinian territories, in blatant breach of international laws and UN resolutions

Likewise, Columbia, arguably one of the most violent countries in the world, is the beneficiary of massive U.S. aid. Some political observers like Professor John Barry are of the opinion that US influence has only managed to catalyze internal conflicts and substantially expand the scope and nature of human rights abuses in Colombia. And ironically, most American people remain naïve about the shady role of their country in Colombia’s historical development and the unremitting violence.

In Cuba, America’s record is again appalling. It has been involved in attempted assassinations of state heads, bombings, military invasions, crippling sanctions et al. And, recent reports suggest that the U.S. government’s covert attack on Cuba’s sovereignty continues unabated. Even after half a century, economic blockade remains in force. The country has been designated a ‘terrorist state’, figuring prominently on the State Department’s list of ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’. The five Cuban political prisoners are still behind bars. Now a report from the U.S. General Accounting Office reveals that money is being pumped into projects directed at changing Cuba’s government.

Washington’s support for the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua between 1981 and 1990 is one of the most shocking and shameful secrets. The heinous terrorist activities contras engaged in had full backing of their masters in Washington. “The decision of the International Court of Justice in June 1986 condemning the United States for the ‘unlawful use of force’ and illegal economic warfare was dismissed as an irrelevant pronouncement by a ‘hostile forum’,” notes Noam Chomsky in Western State Terrorism. “The guiding principle, it appears, is that the US is a lawless terrorist state and this is right and just, whatever the world may think, whatever international institutions may declare.”

On March 8, 1985, in an assassination bid on Sheikh Mohammed Fazlullah by CIA, a powerful car bomb exploded outside a Beirut mosque in Lebanon, leaving 81 civilians dead. Celebrated investigative reporter Bob Woodward says that CIA director William Casey had admitted personal culpability in the attack while he lay on his deathbed, which he said was carried out with funding from Saudi Arabia. In December 1989, almost 27,000 US soldiers invaded a small Central American country of Panama to arrest General Manuel Noriega, a CIA asset-turned-rebel. In the ‘Operation Just Cause’, bombs rained down on three neighborhoods – Colon, San Miguelito and El Chorillo. El Chorillo was burnt to the ground and got a new nickname – ‘Little Hiroshima’. As per conservative estimates, between 2,000 and 6,000 people were killed in the events that unfolded. Many of them were dumped into mass graves.

Back in 1953, a joint British-American operation toppled the democratic government chosen by the Iranian parliament, and installed their loyal dictator

Congo has been through violent times since its independence. Many observers trace it to the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of independent Congo, which was apparently done at the behest by the then U.S. President Eisenhower. In Haiti, the U.S. backed the Duvalier family dictatorship for 30 years, during which the CIA worked closely with death squads, executioners, and drug traffickers. The father-son duo’s three decades at helm was marked by brutally crushing dissent with the assistance of secret police and the Haitian army. Thousands were killed and tortured – many of them dumped in mass graves. Hundreds of thousands fled the country to escape from mindless violence.

The 1983 invasion of Grenada was the first major American military assault since Vietnam War. The news was blocked as the U.S. government didn’t want the world to witness the great superpower bashing up a small island nation. Why did the United States invade Grenada? “Many believe that Grenada was seen as a bad example for other poor Caribbean states,” opines Stephen Zunes, author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism. “Its foreign policy was not subservient to the American government and it was not open to having its economy dominated by U.S. corporate interests.”

In Greece, America supported a coup against an elected leader George Papandreou, which followed the years of murder, torture, and fear in the late 1960s. In Cambodia, the US resorted to carpet bombing to overthrow President Prince Sihanauk, who was replaced by Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge and that led to millions of civilian casualties between mid 1950s and 1970s. In 1965, which New York Times called ‘one of the most savage mass slayings of modern political history’, U.S. embassy had compiled lists of ‘Communist’ operatives in Indonesia, from top echelons down to village cadres, as many as 5,000 names, and handed them over to the army, which then hunted them down and killed.

Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. used the Marshall Islands to conduct nuclear tests. All the inhabitants had to flee their homes. It is still not safe to consume food grown there. In the words of Robert Alvarez, “the people of the Marshall Islands had their homeland and health sacrificed for the national security interests of the United States”. The nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 remain the darkest chapter of history. Almost 150,000 people paid for their lives instantly, while millions more died of radiation poisoning later. Truman ordered the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, followed by a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki on August 9. The same day, the Soviet Union attacked the Japanese and, in the following two weeks 84,000 Japanese were killed.

The myth of the “outside enemy” and the threat of “Islamic terrorists” was the cornerstone of the Bush administration’s military doctrine

Back in 1953, a joint British-American operation toppled the democratic government chosen by the Iranian parliament, and installed their loyal dictator. The coup restored the Shah to absolute power, initiating a period of 25 years of repression and torture, while the oil industry was restored to foreign ownership, with the US and Britain each getting 40 percent. That was before Ayatullah Khomeini mobilized masses and threw out the Western puppet.

Marjorie Cohn, a professor of international law, in an article written in November 2001 maintained that the bombings of Afghanistan by the United States were illegal. His argument was based on the premise that, according to UN Charter, disputes have to be brought to the UN Security Council, which alone may authorize the use of force. Also, if your nation has been subjected to an armed attack by another nation, you may respond militarily in self-defense. Afghanistan did not attack the United States. Indeed, the 19 men charged with the crime were not Afghans. Twelve years down the line, the foreign military troops are still stationed in Afghanistan, hundreds of billion dollars have been spent, and at least 31,000 people in Afghanistan (civilians, insurgents, Afghan military forces, and others) have been killed in the war.

The myth of the “outside enemy” and the threat of “Islamic terrorists” was the cornerstone of the Bush administration’s military doctrine, used as a pretext to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, writes Michel Chossudovsky, author of The Globalisation of Poverty. More than a decade after U.S. invaded Iraq, it’s still not clear why they did it. But it’s a fact, even acknowledged by the western media, that the war for Iraq was a war for oil. “Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq’s domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. A decade of war later, it is largely privatized and utterly dominated by foreign firms,” reads a CNN report

There is this concept of ‘good terrorism’ and ‘bad terrorism’. For the US and its closest ally Israel, the Tunis bombing was not an act of terror but justifiable retaliation for the murder of three Israelis in Cyprus. The 1985 Iron Fist operation of the Israeli army in southern Lebanon was also guided by the same logic. “From 1945 to the end of the 20th century, the USA attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the USA caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair,” writes William Blum in his book Rogue State. It will not qualify as ‘terrorism’ because the perpetrator is the world’s only super-power. In a 1986 interview, Noam Chomsky argued that the word “terrorism” had been redefined in political and popular discourse to only refer to the violent acts of small or marginal groups – what he refers to as “retail terrorism”. This is in contrast with violent acts performed by the State in its own interest which orthodox terrorism studies often exclude from consideration.

The political leaders and scholars in Muslim countries have to muster courage to condemn the so-called ‘good’ terrorism spearheaded by US and its allies like Britain, Israel, France. A few years ago, Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani took the lead, blaming the West for spreading terrorism across Asia, and warning that the policy will ultimately backfire. “This evil phenomenon is the gift of the West to the region, but nurturing terrorist and extremist groups is bad and worrying even for the future of Western countries, notably the United States,” said Larijani.

Tailpiece: The breeding ground of terrorism is not any Muslim country, but the United States.

(First published on Press TV website)

Muharram ban in Kashmir: Breach of religious freedom

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Syed Zafar Mehdi

We are in Muharram, the month of bereavement and remembrance. In 680 AD, around 1500 years ago, Husain (as)—the beloved grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)—was martyred along with his family and friends in the desert plains of Karbala in Iraq by the armies of tyrant ruler Yazeed. Every year, around this time, massive processions are taken out across the world to pay rich tributes to the 72 martyrs of Karbala.

Reciting soul-stirring elegies and hymns, participants wear black dresses and badges, beating their chests in a spirit of devotion. They carry replicas of Husain’s mausoleum in Karbala, and parade the streets. Big banners and hoardings are put up on every street, alley and pathway, mainly in areas where Muslims live. However, in some countries, its appeal cuts across the religious and ideological divide, because Husain’s uprising in Karbala was not a religious tussle, a political war or a petty struggle for power. It was a confrontation between right and might, between the forces of truth and falsehood. In many countries, the Muharram commemorations have been effectively used as a psychological weapon and mechanism to mobilize masses against evil, injustice and repression.

Essence of Muharram

Muharram, contrary to the popular perception, is not merely an event or episode in history, revolving around a grief-centric ritual. It is a philosophy, a concept, and a movement, that will always have contemporary significance, in every time and age. The threat of injustice and tyranny will always have contemporary significance. Muslims of the world commonly observe and commemorate Husain’s sacrifice each year, remembering his redemptive suffering for the greater good of humankind. Even 1500 years on, these annual commemorations have not lost their significance, but on the contrary have become even more powerful and potent. Mahmoud Ayoub writes in his book Redemptive Suffering in Islam: A Study of the Devotional Aspects of Ashura in Twelver Shi’ism, ‘in the ritualistic moment, serial time becomes the bridge connecting primordial time and its special history with the timeless eternity of the future. The eternal fulfillment of time becomes the goal of human time and history.”

These annual commemorations help the campaigners of justice and truth re-organise their life around the principles exemplified by Husain, in Karbala. It strengthens their ability and resolve to rise up against autocracy, despotism and treachery. Husain’s uprising and sacrifice promote the enjoining of good. It teaches that notwithstanding the exiguousness of power and numbers, if your stand is right, victory will always be yours. Urdu poet Mohammad Ali Jauhar aptly encapsulates it in these words:

Qatl e Husain asl mein marg Yazeed hai,
Islam zinda hota hai har Karbala ke baad

(The murder of Husain is actually the end of [his killer] Yazeed,
Islam is refreshed by the blood of the martyrs of Karbala)

Muharram Processions Across the World

In the next few days, till the tenth of Muharram, which this year falls on November 25, these processions would be carried out in all parts of the world. Biggest processions are taken out in Tehran, Karbala, London, Sydney, New York, Moscow, Toronto, Karachi, Dhaka, Lucknow etc. In U.S., the biggest procession starts from Park Avenue and culminates in front of the Pakistani Consulate. In Toronto, the procession leaves from Queen’s Park and ends at High Court entrance. In London, thousands of mourners assemble in Central London Marble Arch Hyde Park and take part in the procession. In Iran, millions participate in Muharram processions in all major cities like Tehran, Masshad and Isfahan. In Trinidad and Tobago, it is popular as ‘Hosay’ and not even Sunnis and Hindus participate in these processions, but also Afro-Trinidadians. In eastern Saudi Arabian city Qatif, Muharram means lot of activity and palpable buzz. In Nigeria, large processions are taken out in Katsina state in northern Nigeria. In Pakistan, major processions are taken out in Karachi. In India, major processions are carried out in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Lucknow, and Kargil. “These processions are held across the world to send out a clear message that injustice and tyranny ultimately vanishes and truth and justice prevails,” says Syed Raza, a Kashmiri poet, whose soul-stirring nauhas (elegies) are recited in Muharram processions in Kashmir.
Nov 23, 201: A Kashmiri Shiite mourner runs after he set himself on fire during a Muharram procession in Srinagar. He was protesting a police ban on religious processions marking the Muslim month of Muharram

The Ban in Kashmir

In Kashmir, the story is different and grim, and remains unchanged for the last two decades. The government’s ban on Muharram processions (Muharram 8 and 10) in Srinagar city is in place since 1990, when the armed rebellion against India gained momentum. Despite the clampdown and curfew-like restrictions imposed by authorities, thousands of young devotees carry out processions and are subjected to brutal police action. They are thrashed, manhandled, cane charged, and some are even sent to custody. Some of the senior Shia leaders are put under house arrest to prevent them from leading these processions.

Religious processions were being taken out in Kashmir since 1527 when Sultan Muhammad Shah was the ruler. Shia Muslims (minority), with help and cooperation of Sunni Muslims (majority), used to take out two major processions, one from Namchbal to Imambara Zadibal and other one from Alamgiri Bazar to Khushalsar. In 1977, at the request of the then Chief Minister Shiekh Muhammad Abdullah, it was decided to take out a joint procession from Abi Guzar to Zadibal. “However,” says Hakeem Imtiyaz Husain, “in 1989, the then governor of J&K imposed a ban on the procession, as part of the sweeping measures to deal with the political unrest. Notwithstanding the repeated pleas by the people of Kashmir, the ban still stands.” Hakeem, retired jurist and writer, is presently working on a book that chronicles the history of Shias in Kashmir.

Legal battle

On Jan 17, 2008, J&K High Court had issued a notice to the state government seeking its objections on a petition filed by Ittihadul Muslimeen, a religio-political outfit representing Shia Muslims of state. But government failed to communicate the ban order to them. The petition sought to quash the ban, calling it a flagrant violation of international law and denial of religious rights. On December 5, 2009, High Court again issued notice to the state government directing it to file objections, but to no avail. “The government informed the court that processionists must seek prior permission from authorities, which we did, but the ban was still not lifted. After four years of legal battle, we finally realized that the whole exercise was futile, because they were never interested in listening to our pleas,” Masroor Abbas Ansari, President, Ittihadul Muslimeen, who had filed the petition, says.

People in Kashmir demand revocation of ban on the grounds that violence has abated and situation has improved considerably. “The ban on Muharram processions, as with the ban on the July 13th procession commemorating the Martyrs of 1931, is simply undemocratic and a denial of the basic rights of Kashmiri people,” says Mirza Waheed, author of critically acclaimed novel The Collaborator, which is set in Kashmir. Waheed says the ban on Muharram processions cannot be viewed in isolation. “You have to see it in the context of the larger structure of repression in Kashmir.”

“There is not much we can do other than protest against it. We fought a legal battle and got a green signal from court but government remains unfazed. Every year, in Muharram, our volunteers hold peaceful protests. I have raised the issue in meetings with Indian government authorities and even at OIC,” says Aga Syed Hasan, separatist leader and President of J&K Anjuman e Shariee Shiaan, a constituent of Hurriyat conference.

Muharram and Amarnath Yatra

“While the state provides all support for the annual Amarnath Yatra, which it should—and Kashmiris have always supported and welcomed the Yatra—it has consistently curbed the right to assemble of the local population,” says Waheed.

Khurram Parvez, Programme Coordinator, Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, questions the secular credentials of a state that does not allow people the freedom to practice their religion and participate in religious activities: “On one hand, state patronises, organises, partially sponsors Yatra for Hindus of India and on the other hand, it curbs and criminalises the religious programmes of Muslims like Muharram processions, Milad processions etc. Yet the government has the audacity to call itself secular.”

Zafar Meraj, veteran journalist and chief editor of Kashmir Monitor calls it ‘blatant discrimination’: “Government claims the ban is owing to security reasons but what about similar processions taken out in various parts of Kashmir and some old-city localities? If it can provide security to annual Amarnath yatra that attracts lakhs of Hindu pilgrims every year, why not Muharram processions that have never been under any kind of threat?”

“The contrast cannot get any starker,” says Waheed. “The state wants to develop infrastructure to facilitate and possibly expand the Amarnath Yatra — at potentially disastrous cost to the environment — and at the same time, it has for nearly 20 years now, not allowed people to take out the historic processions of Muharram and July 13.”

Nov 23, 2012: Policemen stand watch behind barbed wires set up as road blockade in Srinagar.

Brutal police action

Each year, police imposes curfew-like restrictions on Muharram 8 and 10 (which fall on November 23 and 25 this year) in parts of Srinagar city, including Lal Chowk, the nerve centre of the summer capital. Iron barricades and spools of concertina wires are put up at almost every entry point to city centre. The cops do not even allow pedestrian movement in Lal chowk, and tough restrictions are enforced in Rajouri Kadal, Gojwara, Nowhatta and some adjoining areas in old city. Senior leaders are put under house arrest to prevent them from leading the processions.

However, despite the clampdown, thousands of mourners defy the police restrictions on Muharram 8 and 10 every year — as they indeed did today —and take out peaceful mourning processions in the main city. Each time, they are intercepted by massive contingents of fully-armed police and paramilitary personnel. The cops lob tear smoke shells, resort to baton charge and brutally manhandle the mourners who participate in these processions. “It is our right and duty to protest against the draconian ban in peaceful manner, but that does not mean it will become a law and order problem, so brute police action is unwarranted,” says Hasan, who yields considerable clout in Kashmir’s Shia community.

“It is not merely hypocritical but perverse, given that the state itself, appropriating July 13, 1931, a historic moment of resistance against the tyranny of Dogra rule, commemorates the day with official pomp while keeping the people of Kashmir under virtual siege each year,” says Waheed. “When the state bans Muharram, July 13th, Geelani’s public appearances, while making sure Amarnath Yatra gets bigger; it speaks in a language of conquest. And the message is not lost on the people of Kashmir. They see it as an imperial dictat.”

Mohammad Junaid, doctoral student in Anthropology at City University of New York says the government bans Muharram processions because of ‘old colonialist aspersions’ that such moments of solemn mourning would turn into occasions of political critique and subversion. “Remember that Muharram is observed in memory of those who spoke back to power and refused to submit. Muharram processions illuminate the utter incommensurability of power and truth, and this is precisely what those governments whose foundations are based on deception and manipulation absolutely fear,” says Junaid. His research focuses on issues of space, violence and militarisation in Kashmir.


Nov 23, 2012: Shia mourners try to protest after they were stopped to take out a Moharram procession at Batamalloo in Srinagar.

Anti-India sentiments?

The official version that these processions stoke anti-national sentiments and pose security threat finds few takers. “It is hogwash, far from reality. It only suggests that the tall claims of government about normalcy and peace are false,” says Aga Syed Hadi, Vice-Chairman, Aaytullah Yousuf Memorial Trust, which runs hundreds of schools across Kashmir imparting Islamic education. “You see, it must be examined in the context of the state’s repression of all sentiment that it sees as anti-national,” says Waheed.

Hasan finds the argument frivolous. “Muharram teaches us to be tolerant and steadfast in the face of adversities, and it also teaches us to rise against injustice. Government cannot deny us our right to organise religious activities on such hollow and baseless pretexts.”

It is a sinister attempt to keep Muslims divided in this part of world, feels Meraj. “The ban on main Muharram procession that used to be taken from Abi Guzar in uptown, and was joined by Shias and Sunnis in large numbers speaks volumes about the gross discrimination that has been going on in Kashmir for last over decades, and is an attempt to divide the community.”

‘Official’ version

Aga Syed Mehmood, former minister and senior leader of PDP, the main opposition party in the state, says government had to ban these processions in 1990 because of the gravity of the situation. “In 1989, when I was part of government, it had decided to put curbs on these processions but we resisted the decision. As the regime fell in 1990 and the governor took over to deal with the political turmoil, the ban was announced.” However, he hastens to add that the brutalities unleashed on the peaceful processions every year are uncalled for. “Chief Minister Omar Abdullah calls for the removal of AFSPA in Srinagar, then what is the problem with a procession that is completely of religious nature?” asks Mehmood.

Tanvir Sadiq, spokesman of the ruling National Conference says the restarting of the procession like the 8th is under the active consideration of the government. “Kashmir is limping back to normalcy, and I am confident and reasonably sure that soon the processions on 8 and 10 Muharram will resume,” says Sadiq. However, he refuses to admit that mourners are subjected to brutal police action and calls it a ‘precautionary measure’. “There is no brutal police action. The government has asked the police to ensure that religious processions or mourners are not harassed, but having said that, there are times when the police in order to maintain law and order may have to take some precautionary measures.”

Tailpiece:

The unyielding stand taken by Husain in Karbala carries an eloquent message that has gripped the hearts and minds of countless generations throughout history. It gives a sense of hope and optimism to those who believe in the righteousness of their cause. Muharram and Karbala are symbolic, cutting across the barriers of space and time. Today Karbala is Gaza, Karbala is Kashmir, Karbala is Iraq, Karbala is Afghanistan.

“Every revolution has two visages: blood and the message,” says Ali Shariati, the late Iranian sociologist and revolutionary. “Husain and his companions undertook the first mission, that of blood. The second mission is to bear the message to the whole world, to be the eloquent tongue of this flowing blood and these resting bodies among the walking dead.”

In Kashmir and elsewhere, as people pour out on streets every year in Muharram to remember the martyrs of Karbala, they do not intend to create a law and order problem. They are only carrying forward the second mission: bearing the message of blood to the world, lest it remains mute in the history and those who need this message are deprived of it.

(First published in Outlook magazine)

West – breeding ground for terrorism

Karbala in Yemen II.jpg

Syed Zafar Mehdi

“There are two ways to approach the study of terrorism,” notes world-renowned scholar Noam Chomsky in widely-acclaimed book Western State Terrorism. “One may adopt a literal approach, taking the topic seriously, or a propagandistic approach, construing the concept of terrorism as a weapon to be exploited in the service of some system of power. It comes as no surprise that the propagandistic approach is adopted by governments generally, and by their instruments in totalitarian states.” (1) Chomsky, who minces no words in calling spade a spade, maintains there are many terrorist states in the world, but the United States puts its rivals to shame when it comes to perpetuating ‘international terrorism’.

The book, edited by Alexander L. George, apart from Chomsky, has contributions from eminent scholars and analysts like Robert Falk, Micheal McClintock, Bill Rolston, Joseph Hanlon and Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi. It discusses in scrupulous detail the various forms and manifestations of terrorism perpetuated by America and its allies. It also rubbishes and demolishes the vile propaganda that most horrifying terrorist activities are engineered against West by ‘rogue’ states like Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Falk writes on the terrorism that influences the US foreign policy, McClintock gives us sharp insights into the concept of counter-insurgency in US military doctrine, Rolston delves into the terrorism in Northern Ireland, Hanlon writes on South African state terrorism, and Beit-Hallahmi exposes the truth behind Israel’s export of military technology. (1)

A 2010 research undertaken by Professor Mark Sageman establishes the fact that terrorism is a product of the West. The research indicates that 70 per cent of Al-Qaeda recruits come from Western Europe and America. The research report emphatically states that it is not just a reaction by traditional Muslim society, which does not wish to assimilate with the liberal cosmopolitan melting pot, but a geographic and cultural phenomenon, as a product of Western globalization. (2)

Sageman, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and a former CIA officer presented the report, based on an analysis of 382 profiles of terrorists having a direct relationship with the Al-Qaeda network, at an international conference in Washington.

The ominous threat of ‘nuclear terrorism’ does not come from some bitty, ruthless jihadist cluster, but from the western nuclear powers who form the core of the NATO alliance, and keep issuing threats against non-nuclear weapon states in the Global South. (3)

History of US terrorist ‘interventions’ across world

The history of US imperialism is replete with stories of unilateral belligerent military strikes, gory massacres and socio-cultural aggression. In this ‘us versus them’ no-holds-barred tussle, the US and its allies have sought to impose their writ on other nations, more so on those who have refused to swear allegiance to US hegemony.

This blatant chauvinism and sinister desire to inflict suffering on others is best explained by these words of American writer Andre Vltchek. “West has always behaved as if it had an inherited, but undefined, right to profit from the misery of the rest of the world. In many cases, the conquered nations had to give up their own culture, their religions, even their languages, and convert to our set of beliefs and values that we defined as ‘civilized’. The West has never doubted that its cause is the only one that is just, its religions the only ones that lead to God, its greed the only pure and honest expression of human nature.” (4)

Guatemala Civil War that continued from 1960 to 1996 was bitterly fought between the government of Guatemala and various rebel groups, mostly the ethnic Mayans. The government of Guatemala committed worst human rights abuses and engineered genocide of Mayan population of Guatemala. Historical Clarification Commission was set up under the Oslo Accords of 1994 to hear testimony of survivors and report on the origins of the long-standing war. The Commission concluded that the Guatemala military committed murder, torture and rape with the tacit support of CIA. The report said the massacres eliminated entire Mayan villages. The commission stated the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some state operations”. The report, Guatemala, Memory of Silence, found that about 200,000 people – mostly the civilians – were killed or subjected to enforced disappearance during the 34 year long civil war. (5)

Noam Chomsky in his book What Uncle Sam Really Wants writes, “Under Reagan, support for near-genocide in Guatemala became positively ecstatic. The most extreme of the Guatemalan Hitlers we’ve backed there, Rios Montt, was lauded by Reagan as a man totally dedicated to democracy. In the early 1980s, Washington’s friends slaughtered tens of thousands of Guatemalans, mostly Indians in the highlands, with countless others tortured and raped. Large regions were decimated.” (6)

Direct or indirect support for death squads has been an integral part of CIA operations. CIA’s death squad operations in Vietnam led to killing of over 35,000 people. The Vietnam War dominated 30 long years of Vietnam’s history from 1940s to 1970s. The US military intervention started in 1965 and ended in 1973. Vietnam was a display of American fallibility, lack of judgment, lack of understanding of root issues, lack of support for people to determine their own destiny and govern themselves, as well as a display of just how brutal America was willing to be to attempt to get its way.  It was also an example of the extent to which the government would lie to its citizens and the international community in order to get the support for acts of war. (7)

President Ford, reacting to Senate and House committee reports concluded that the CIA had become a ‘rogue elephant’ crushing foreign citizens under foot in its bid to win the Cold War. More than 20,000 Vietnamese were killed during the CIA-guided Operation Phoenix intended to weed out communist ‘agents’ from South Vietnam.” (8)

US role in the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected Popular Unity government of Salvador in 1980s was a watershed moment for the country. Bush family loyalists maintain that President Bush senior’s policies paved the way for peace, turning Salvador into a democratic success story. However, it took more than 70,000 deaths and mass human rights violations, before peace was brokered. To crush the rebels, the US equipped and trained an army which kidnapped and disappeared more than 30,000 people, and presided over large-scale massacres of thousands of old people, women and children. (9)

In the mid-1970s, a big scandal erupted after disclosures that suggested that President Richard Nixon had ordered the CIA to ‘make the economy scream’ in Chile and to prevent Allende from coming to power. Years later, CIA acknowledged its deep involvement in Chile where it dealt with coup-plotters, false propagandists and assassins. (10) Chile has been suffering ever since.

The horrendous events in Chile on and after September 11, 1973 were so disturbing that it became a theme for a Hollywood movie. The film about the coup in 1982 called ‘Missing’ starred Jack Lemmon and Cissy Spacek. Interestingly, it did not probe US involvement very deeply; neither did it focus on the abduction, torture and murder of more than 20,000 Chileans. In a review of book Nixon, Kissinger, and Allende: US Involvement in the 1973 coup in Chile by Lubna Qureishi, Howard Doughty makes a pertinent observation. “The United States and its allies have an unseemly history of hostility to democracy abroad that seems to conflict with their expressed political principles and their stated purpose in engaging in military and diplomatic action abroad. Not only in Latin America, but in Africa, Asia and occasionally in Europe, it has openly and clandestinely supported dictatorships (11)

The US government’s cozy relationship with Israel is no secret. It has paid Israel almost one hundred billion dollars over the years, major part of which is used for occupying Palestinian territories, in blatant breach of international laws and umpteen UN resolutions. Veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk draws parallels between Israel and apartheid regime of South Africa. “No matter how many youths are shot dead by the Israelis, no matter how many murders and no matter how bloody the reputation of the Israeli Prime Minister, we are reporting this terrible conflict as if we supported the South African whites against the blacks. No, Israel is not South Africa and no, the Palestinians are not the blacks of the shanty towns. But there’s not much difference between Gaza and the black slums of Johannesburg; and there’s not much difference between the tactics of the Israeli army in the occupied territories and that of the South African police. The apartheid regime had death squads, just as Israel has today.” (12)

Columbia, which is arguably one of the most violent countries in the world, is the beneficiary of massive U.S. aid. Some political observers like Professor John Barry are of the opinion that US influence has only managed to catalyze internal conflicts and substantially expand the scope and nature of human rights abuses in Colombia. (13) According to author Robin Kirk, most American people remain naïve about the role of their country in Colombia’s historical development and the nation’s continuing violence. (14)

In Cuba, America’s record is far from good. It has been involved in attempted assassinations of state heads, bombings, military invasions, crippling sanctions et al. And, now latest reports suggest that the U.S. government’s covert attack on Cuba’s sovereignty continues unabated. Even after half a century, economic blockade remains in force. The country has been designated a terrorist state, figuring prominently on the State Department’s list of ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’. The five Cuban political prisoners are still behind bars. Now a report from the U.S. General Accounting Office reveals that money is being pumped into projects directed at changing Cuba’s government. (15)

Washington’s support for the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua between 1981 and 1990 is one of the most shameful open secrets. By acknowledging the link between the U.S. government and the contras, the terrorist activities that the contras engaged in and the recognition by the International Court of Justice, it is clearly evident that the U.S. engaged in state-sponsored terrorism in its response to the Nicaraguan revolution. (16) The decision of the International Court of Justice in June 1986 condemning the United States for the “unlawful use of force” and illegal economic warfare was dismissed as an irrelevant pronouncement by a “hostile forum”,” notes Noam Chomsky. “The guiding principle, it appears, is that the US is a lawless terrorist state and this is right and just, whatever the world may think, whatever international institutions may declare.” (17)

On March 8, 1985, in an assassination bid on Sheikh Mohammed Fazlullah by CIA, a powerful car bomb exploded outside a Beirut mosque in Lebanon, leaving 81 civilians dead. Celebrated investigative reporter Bob Woodward stated that CIA director William Casey had admitted personal culpability in the attack while he lay on his deathbed, which he said was carried out with funding from Saudi Arabia. (18)

In December 1989, almost 27,000 US soldiers invaded a small Central American country of Panama to arrest General Manuel Noriega, a CIA asset-turned-rebel. In the ‘Operation Just Cause’, bombs rained down on three neighborhoods – Colon, San Miguelito and El Chorillo. El Chorillo was burnt to the ground and got a new nickname –‘Little Hiroshima’. According to the conservative estimate, between 2,000 and 6,000 people were killed in the events that unfolded. Many of them were dumped into mass graves. According to eyewitness reports, U.S. troops used flame-throwers on the dead, and the bodies shriveling up as they burnt. (19)

Congo has been through violent times since its independence. Many observers and activists trace it to the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of independent Congo, which was apparently done at the behest by the then U.S. President Eisenhower. A recent letter to the London Review of Books has reignited the debate over who was behind the assassination of revolutionary leader who enjoyed massive public support. House of Lords Member David Lea writes that Park (consul and first secretary in Leopoldville from 1959 to 1961, also head of MI6 there) believed, as many in the West, that if a pro-imperialist regime did not take control of Congo, the country’s mineral resources would be available to the Soviet Union. Hence, Lumumba was labeled a communist, and the Western media used such propaganda to justify the coup against him and his brutal assassination. (20) The U.S. role was documented by the 1975 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearings, chaired by Senator Frank Church. A former National Security officer, Robert Johnson, disclosed that the decision to assassinate Lumamba was arrived during a high level meeting involving Eisenhower and senior intelligence officers. (21) The overt and covert role of CIA in numerous destabilization operations, coups and assassinations in Africa and other parts of the world has been widely documented. (22)

In Haiti, the U.S. backed the Duvalier family dictatorship for 30 years, during which the CIA worked closely with death squads, executioners, and drug traffickers. The father-son duo’s three decades at helm was marked by brutally crushing dissent with the assistance of secret police and the Haitian army. Thousands were killed and tortured – many of them dumped in mass graves. Hundreds of thousands fled the country to escape from violence. (23) Now there seems a hope that Haiti’s former dictator will face human rights charges in court, but there are impediments, and US government is one of them. Asked about Duvalier after her visit to Haiti in January 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted that Duvalier’s past abuses were forgivable, and that trying him could hamper efforts to “stabilize” the country. (24) “The Haitian government must end this pretence of justice and take a clear, public stance on the case against Jean-Claude Duvalier,” said Javier Zúñiga,” says Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International. (25)

The 1983 invasion of Grenada was the first major American military assault since Vietnam War. The news was blocked as the U.S. government didn’t want the world to witness the great superpower bashing up a small island nation and murdering its civilians. Why did the United States invade Grenada? “Many believe that Grenada was seen as a bad example for other poor Caribbean states,” opines Stephen Zunes, author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism. “Its foreign policy was not subservient to the American government and it was not open to having its economy dominated by U.S. corporate interests. A show of force would cause states with similar leftist nationalist ideals to think twice. If a country as small and poor as Grenada could have continued its rapid rate of development under a socialist model, it would set a bad precedent for other Third World countries.” (26) In their seminal work Ethics and Intervention: The United States in Grenada, Terry Nardin and Kathleen D. Pritchard maintain that the intervention was the mockery of law. “Both UN ambassador Kirkpatrick and OAS ambassador Middendorf argued that there was a sound legal basis for the action.” (27)

In Greece, America supported a coup against an elected leader George Papandreou, which followed the years of murder, torture, and fear in the late 1960s. The tyranny of a fascist-military junta had backing of United States and NATO from 1967 to 1974. As per the rough estimates, around 10,000 workers, students, political leaders and social activists were imprisoned and brutally tortured. (28) In 1969, the European Commission of Human Rights found Greece guilty of torture, murder and other violations. The European members, said Amnesty International, believed that only the United Sates had the power to bring about changes in Greece, yet it chose only to defend the repressive rule of junta. (29)

In Cambodia, the US resorted to carpet bombing to overthrow President Prince Sihanauk, who was replaced by Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge and that led to millions of civilian casualties between mid 1950s and 1970s. “The impact of this bombing, the subject of much debate for the past three decades, is now clearer than ever. Civilian casualties in Cambodia drove an enraged populace into the arms of an insurgency that had enjoyed relatively little support until the bombing began, setting in motion the expansion of the Vietnam War deeper into Cambodia, a coup d’état in 1970, the rapid rise of the Khmer Rouge, and ultimately the Cambodian genocide,” write Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan in The Walrus. (30) Between 1965 and 1973, the U.S. dropped 2.7 million tons of explosives – more than the Allies dropped in the entirety of World War II – on Cambodia, whose population was then smaller than New York City’s. (31)

In 1965, which New York Times called ‘one of the most savage mass slayings of modern political history’, U.S. embassy had compiled lists of ‘Communist’ operatives in Indonesia, from top echelons down to village cadres, as many as 5,000 names, and handed them over to the army, which then hunted them down and killed. (32) Speaking at an international conference in Singapore in the summer of 2009, historian Brad Simpson said the United States and British governments, supported by Australia, were deeply complicit in the murder of more than half a million communist sympathisers in the wake of the 1965 Indonesian coup. According to the paper presented by Simpson, there was “a lot of evidence that the US was engaged in covert operations… to provoke a clash between the army and the PKI… to wipe them out.” (33)

Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. used the Marshall Islands to conduct nuclear tests. All the inhabitants had to flee their homes. It is still not safe to consume food grown there. In the words of Robert Alvarez, “the people of the Marshall Islands had their homeland and health sacrificed for the national security interests of the United States”. (34) The nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 remains the darkest chapter of history. Almost 150,000 people paid for their lives instantly, while millions more died of radiation poisoning later. Truman ordered the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, followed by a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki on August 9. The same day, the Soviet Union attacked the Japanese and, in the following two weeks 84,000 Japanese were killed. The United States continued bombing Japan with non-nuclear weapons before the Japanese surrendered. (35)

West’s War on terror post 9/11

Contrary to the widespread but flawed notion in the west, the 9/11 attacks in the US were carried out by individuals with warped worldview and not inspired by the religion of Islam or Muslims. Some self-styled intellectuals vigorously assert that Islam breeds terrorism and it is the religion of violence and anarchy. The same faulty hypothesis has been effectively used by hawks in west to train their guns at Muslims, leading to a wave of Islamaphobia. Today, especially after 9/11, Muslims are viewed with suspicion and hostility everywhere.

“The Western mass media complements the self crafted notion to poison the public thinking and perceptions and source of judgments against the Arabs and Muslims as “terrorists” making the treacherous claim as if Islam was at the threshold of the paradigm. The US neo-conservatives gang helped to rob the mankind of its human heritage. The perception of ‘radical Islam’ was invented and enhanced by the ‘fear’ of terrorism as if Arabs and Muslims were born in the eye of the storm and terrorism was an exclusive domain of the Islamic religious tenets,” notes Dr Mahboob A Khawaja, who specializes in global security, peace and conflict resolution. (36)

Many intellectuals and political observers have repeatedly emphasized that the notion of a ‘war on terrorism’ is an absurd concept. Thierry Meyssan, French intellectual and founder of Voltaire Network also holds the same view. (37) From New York and Washington on September 11 to Madrid in March 2004 and to London in July 2005, the terror attacks have been used as a pretext to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. People can be arbitrarily arrested under the antiterrorist legislation and detained for an indefinite period. Citizens are being tagged and labeled, their emails, telephone conversations and faxes are monitored and archived. Thousands of closed circuit TV cameras, deployed in urban areas, are overseeing their movements. Detailed personal data is entered into giant Big Brother data banks. (38)

“The myth of the “outside enemy” and the threat of “Islamic terrorists” was the cornerstone of the Bush adminstration’s military doctrine, used as a pretext to invade Afghanistan and Iraq,” opines Michel Chossudovsky, author of the international best-seller The Globalisation of Poverty. (38) And, consider the fact that in the name of fighting their enemies, the U.S. government had directly been supporting Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups for the decade before 9/11 happened. (39)

A majority of high-ranking security experts agree that waging war in the Middle East has weakened US national security and increased the threat of terrorism. (40) A top military interrogator remarked that torture by American military of innocent Iraqis is one of the main reasons that foreign fighters started fighting against Americans in Iraq. (41) And, it is a well known fact that there was no presence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq until U.S. invaded that country. (42) Some CIA officers have acknowledged that the use of drone warfare (like in Yemen, Pakistan et al) increases the risk of terrorist incidents, as victims are forced to resort to extremism. (43)

University of Chicago professor Robert A. Pape, who specializes in international security affairs, argues that the causes of suicide terrorism prove Islam isn’t to blame; rather the root of the problem is foreign military occupations. (44) This argument is supported by an extensive research study that suggests that more than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation. It further says that since the United States occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, which have a combined population of about 60 million, total suicide attacks worldwide, have risen dramatically from about 300 between 1980 and 2003, to 1,800 between 2004 and 2009. The vast majority of suicide terrorists hail from the regions threatened by foreign troops. (45)

Marjorie Cohn, a widely-known professor of international law, in an article written in November 2001 maintained that the bombings of Afghanistan by the United States and the United Kingdom were illegal. His argument was based on the premise that, according to UN Charter, disputes have to be brought to the UN Security Council, which alone may authorize the use of force. Also, if your nation has been subjected to an armed attack by another nation, you may respond militarily in self-defense. Afghanistan did not attack the United States. Indeed, the 19 men charged with the crime were not Afghans. (46) There were reports indicating that the United States had made the decision to invade Afghanistan two months before the 9/11 attacks. At least part of the background to this decision was the United States’ long-time support for UNOCAL’s proposed pipeline, which would transport oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea region to the Indian Ocean through Afghanistan and Pakistan. (47)

Twelve years down the line, the foreign military troops are still stationed in Afghanistan, hundreds of billion dollars have been spent, and at least 31,000 people in Afghanistan (civilians, insurgents, Afghan military forces, and others) have been killed in the war. (48) According to Anthony H. Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), The U.S. is slowly and steadily losing the war in Afghanistan at the political level by failing to win the support of the Congress, the American people, its allies, and the Afghans. (49)

More than a decade after U.S. invaded Iraq, it’s still not clear why they did it. “The Bush administration made the argument that in the post-9/11 climate there should be a belated reckoning with Saddam Hussein. He had continued to sponsor terrorism, had over the years invaded or attacked four of his neighbors, and had killed tens of thousands of his own people. He was surely more a threat to the region and to his own people than either Bashar Assad or Muammar Qaddafi was eight years later,” says a National Review report by Victor Hanson. (50)

It’s a fact, even acknowledged by the western media that the war for Iraq was a war for oil. “Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq’s domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. A decade of war later, it is largely privatized and utterly dominated by foreign firms,” read a CNN report. “Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq’s domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. A decade of war later, it is largely privatized and utterly dominated by foreign firms.” (51) Stephen Zunes, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, believes that even a decade after Iraq debacle, U.S. has not learnt its lessons. “Despite all this, 10 years later, some of the same politicians in Washington who pushed us into war a decade ago are trying to do so again. This time, with Iran,” says Zunes. “Once again, then, we have a bipartisan group of senators pressing for war against an oil-rich Middle Eastern nation, exaggerating the alleged threat, refusing to consider the consequences of war, and dismissing the caution of experts.” (52)

Back in 1953, a joint British-American operation toppled the democratic government chosen by the Iranian parliament, and installed their loyal dictator. “The coup restored the Shah to absolute power, initiating a period of 25 years of repression and torture, while the oil industry was restored to foreign ownership, with the US and Britain each getting 40 percent.” (53) Again, the shadowy forces are working overtime to nail Iran, employing war rhetoric, brinkmanship, sabre-rattling. But, Iran stands firm, ready to defeat all the sinister designs.

Good terrorism, bad terrorism

“I am sure that hardly any Americans or Europeans were aware that on the day of the Boston bombings, 45 people were killed and more than 300 injured in a bomb blast in Iraq,” writes Evan Eland. “They were probably unaware that also on the same day eight people died in Kabul, Afghanistan, and a week earlier 11 children and one woman had been indiscriminately murdered in the Afghan province of Kunar by a NATO-airstrike.” (54)

While there were three casualties in Boston, hundreds of civilians are killed every day in countries like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But there are no major headlines or discussions on prime time news shows, perhaps because they are the victims of ‘good’ terrorism perpetuated by West to establish ‘peace and world order’. Be it the drone strikes inside Pakistan, sponsorship of foreign terrorism in Syria, bomb blasts in Afghanistan and Iraq, all of this comes under ‘good terrorism’, backed by US and its allies. ‘Bad’ terrorism is when Iran executes a person on serious charges of espionage, Syrian government retaliates against the foreign mercenaries, or Hezbollah hits back at Israel for threatening its sovereignty.

In a 1986 interview, Noam Chomsky argued that the word “terrorism” had been redefined in political and popular discourse to only refer to the violent acts of small or marginal groups – what he refers to as “retail terrorism”. This is in contrast with violent acts performed by the State in its own interest which orthodox terrorism studies often exclude from consideration. (55)  “From 1945 to the end of the 20th century, the USA attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the USA caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair,” writes William Blum, author of Rogue State. (56) It will not qualify as ‘terrorism’ because the perpetrator is the world’s only super-power.

For the US and its closest ally Israel, the Tunis bombing was not an act of terror but justifiable retaliation for the murder of three Israelis in Cyprus. The 1985 Iron Fist operation of the Israeli army in southern Lebanon was also guided by the same logic. Holding the civilian population hostage by threats to ensure its acceptance of the political arrangements by Israel for southern Lebanon and occupied territories was not an act of terror, precisely because it was done by US and Israel, and not Iran or Syria.

Glenn Greenwald, the whisteblowing journalist, says labeling the violent acts of Muslim Others as terrorism but never our own is a key weapon used to propagate the warped worldview. “The same is true of the tactic that depicts their violence against us as senseless, primitive, savage and without rational cause, while glorifying our own violence against them as noble, high-minded, benevolent and civilized (we slaughter them with shiny, high-tech drones, cluster bombs, jet fighters and cruise missiles, while they use meat cleavers and razor blades)”. (57) Greenwald revisits the question of the selective use of the word ‘terrorism’.  “When it comes to the actions of western governments, it is a conversation-stopper, justifying virtually anything those governments want to do. It’s a term that is used to start wars, engage in sustained military action, and send people to prison for decades or life, to target them for execution, shield government actions behind a wall of secrecy, and instantly shape public perceptions around the world. It matters what the definition of the term is, or whether there is a consistent and coherent definition. It matters a great deal.” (58)

It is educative to recollect what George Orwell said in his classic 1946 essay Politics and the English Language. “Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.” (59)

The political leaders and scholars in Muslim countries have to muster courage to condemn the so-called ‘good’ terrorism spearheaded by US and its allies like Britain, Israel, France. On May 09 this year, Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani took the lead, blaming the West for spreading terrorism across Asia, and warning that the policy will ultimately backfire. “This evil phenomenon is the gift of the West to the region, but nurturing terrorist and extremist groups is bad and worrying even for the future of Western countries, namely the United States,” said Larijani. (60) One of the staunch critics of US foreign policy Russia also joined the chorus earlier. “Western nations accept acts of terrorism when it suits them politically, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said while commenting on the refusal by Western members of the UN Security Council to condemn recent attacks in Syria. Another senior Russian diplomat, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, also accused Western nations of double standards over their refusal to condemn the Syrian terrorist attacks. “So there are ‘bad’ terrorists who should be condemned and those whose actions can go without a reaction from the international community,” he wrote on Twitter. (61)

It is time for other nations too to wake up from blissful slumber and raise voice against this ‘good’ terrorism that breeds ‘bad’ terrorism and makes this world a dangerous place to live in.

The End

 

References:

 

 

 

 

And they vanished into thin air

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Parveena Ahangar’s small world came crashing down on the fateful night of August 18, 1990 when her 16-year old school-going son Javed Ahmed vanished under mysterious circumstances. The boy was picked up by Indian paramilitary forces during a midnight raid at his uncle’s house in India-controlled Kashmir. The grief-stricken mother spent sleepless nights waiting for her son to return. She never saw him or heard from him again.

This Himalayan valley of shimmering lakes and beautiful meadows has been the bone of contention between the estranged South Asian neighours India and Pakistan for more than six decades. The two nuclear powers have gone to war on two occasions to claim the disputed territory.

In 1989, a full-blown armed insurgency broke out in Kashmir. The anti-India sentiment assumed a whole new dimension. In order to quell the popular uprising, Indian armed forces would resort to unbridled use of force against the civilians. The sense of fear and susceptibility was overpowering. Young boys would leave home for a game of cricket and never return. Many of them would be abducted from their homes and dragged to various interrogation centers. The traumatized families would run from pillar to post to know the whereabouts of their loved ones.

Day of Disappeared:

Like every year, the International Day of Disappeared was observed across the world on August 30. In Indian-controlled Kashmir, people assembled in Pratap Park in the heart of Srinagar to show solidarity with the families of the missing. The relatives – mothers, sisters, daughters – sat quietly, holding the posters, pictures and placards, as cameras zoomed into their wrinkled faces and sunken eyes. One of them was 80-year-old Hajira, who had come all the way from North Kashmir’s Bandipora district to attend the protest. Her three sons were killed at the time when militancy was at its peak, and the fourth went missing. She has become weak but the resilience is infectious. The protest was also joined by JKLF Chairman Yaseen Malik and parents of the youth who were killed by Indian forces during the 2010 unrest.

“For unknown reasons, unmarked graves in the disputed territory of the world’s largest democracy have not been deemed scandalous enough”

This year, the protest had a creative element to it. Many young artists took active part in the daylong silent sit-in. Some of them wrapped themselves in banners with faces white washed, while some scribbled notes in black ink on their bare bodies. The trend of artistic resistance has become increasingly popular in Kashmir of late, with the young breed of artists, cartoonists, singers, and poets taking the center stage. “The resistance movement has become inclusive and youth are taking the lead now. These are the children of conflict who grew up in the turbulent period of the 90s and they pretty much know the art and science of resistance,” says journalist Hilal Mir.

Events to mark the Day of Disappeared were also held in JNU New Delhi, and TISS Mumbai, where Kashmiri students and activists spoke on the phenomenon of disappearances in Kashmir.

Getting together for a cause:

Ahangar’s is not an isolated case. Thousands of young men mysteriously disappeared during the turbulent 1990s. The law enforcement agencies did not move. With no help coming from anywhere, Ahangar decided to run the gauntlet. She got together some of the families whose members had disappeared under similar circumstances. In 1994, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) was born. Without any formal education, she still managed to create a stir. “I knew there were thousands of poor hapless mothers like me, so I decided to get them on board and carry forward our struggle collectively,” says Ahangar. There is another organisation by same name working for the same cause, run by J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS).

Young boys would leave home for a game of cricket and never return

Over the years, both the associations have become bigger with more than a thousand members who have similar tales of despair and despondency to narrate.

Nazima Jan (31) of North Kashmir district has been waiting for her missing three brothers for the last 15 years. She joins a protest in a public park in Srinagar – the summer capital of Kashmir – on the 10th and 28th of every month, against enforced disappearances.

On August 30, the families got together again and took a pledge to continue their search for the missing. However, their protests are largely ignored by mainstream Indian media. “No doubt India has a powerful and free media but many editors and other key players in the industry, if not all, have drawn a line in certain issues and areas including Kashmir. They call it ‘national interest’,” says Yusuf Jameel, senior journalist who covered Kashmir for BBC in 1990s.

“The phenomenon of enforced disappearances started in 1990, says Zahir ud Din, senior journalist and activist. “Initially it was not part of a bigger design to scare people. Brutal torture claimed hundreds of lives and their bodies were disposed of in rivers, lakes and elsewhere. Then the security agencies realized how it can be used as an effective tool to scare people. It became a policy,” says Zahir ud Din, who authored a book ‘Did they vanish into thin air?’ on Kashmir’s disappeared.

APDP has played an instrumental role in bringing the issue of enforced disappearances in Kashmir into limelight. Ahangar (49) is now a member of AFAD (Asian Federation of Involuntary Disappearances). She has travelled to many parts of the world like Philippines (2000), Indonesia (2004), and Europe (2008) to speak on the phenomenon of enforced disappearances in Kashmir. In 2008, the United Nation’s Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture granted funds to APDP, which are spent on the medicines, clothes and other necessities of the families of victims.

Mass graves and missing people:

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance adopted by UN General Assembly on 20 December 2006 explicitly terms the systematic practice of enforced disappearances a ‘crime against humanity’.

Human rights activists in Kashmir claim that close to 8,000 people, including combatants and non-combatants, have been subjected to enforced disappearance in the region over the last 20 years. The International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) in its report released in December 2009 revealed 2,700 unmarked graves containing more than 2,900 bodies in more than 50 villages in north Kashmir. Due to some operational constraints, the research was confined to select villages, so the observers believe the number could be much higher.

In August 2011, the 11-member police investigation team of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) verified 2,156 unidentified bodies in unidentified graves in Bandipora, Baramulla, Kupwara, and Handwara districts. It was a moment of vindication for the families of victims; however, no further investigation was done to get to the root of matter. “For unknown reasons, unmarked graves in the disputed territory of the world’s largest democracy have not been deemed scandalous enough,” says Mirza Waheed, author of The Collaborator, a critically acclaimed novel set in Kashmir. “Doesn’t such an astonishing discovery merit a serious inquiry and investigation by the Indian State?” he asks. “In the long run, state will not want to penalize itself on anything, least of all disappearances which it enforces as a matter of representational threat to people to safeguard its imagined sovereignty,” says Ather Zia, Kashmir-born and US-based anthropologist and writer.

Many believe the missing persons have been killed and dumped in these unmarked graves. “Many families are ready to volunteer their DNA samples to confirm if their kin is buried in these graves to gain closure, at the same time many see it as another deferral tactic by the government, since the tests are not happening any soon,” says Zia.

To be or not to be

Twenty-nine year old Nusrat (name changed) is a resident of southern Kashmir district. She is known in her locality as a ‘half-widow,’ a term used for women whose spouses are missing. “The simple fact that their men have disappeared and not been declared dead has left thousands of these women in a wretched state with no legal protection,” says Aliya Bashir, Kashmir-based journalist, who has done extensive research on the half-widows of Kashmir.

“Half-widows face the worst kind of economic, social and emotional insecurities. They live between hope and despair, hope of seeing their loved ones again, and despair of not finding a clue since last 25 years,” says Zia.

Perpetrators and inaction:

On December 6, 2012, the IPTK released a report, “Alleged Perpetrators – Stories of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir”. The meticulous research work of two years uses data from official state documents and witness testimonies. It examined 214 cases of human-rights abuses and the role of 500 alleged perpetrators. Among the 500 perpetrators were 235 army personnel, 123 paramilitary personnel, 111 Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel and 31 government-backed associates. The list of alleged perpetrators included two major generals, three brigadiers, nine colonels, three lieutenant colonels, 78 majors and 25 captains. “Cases presented in this report reveal that there is a policy to not genuinely investigate or prosecute the armed forces for human-rights violations,” said a press handout by the IPTK.

Taking serious cognizance of the report, Amnesty International called for an “impartial probe into the allegations of human-rights violations made in a report”. The Asian Federation Against Enforced Disappearances said the study “clearly points to a high level of command decision, given the involvement of top ranking officers of the Indian Army”. So far, no action has been taken on the report. “Many people in Kashmir,” says Waheed, “have resigned to the idea that justice is a far-fetched dream, and the perpetrators may never be booked.”

Notwithstanding the hopelessness and helplessness, Ahangar is not tired of waiting for her son. “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.

(First published in The Friday Times, Pakistan)

Adultery and stoning in Afghanistan: Blast from the brutal past

stoning.jpg

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Stung by the scathing criticism from various quarters, the Afghan government has backed away from the plan to reintroduce public stoning as punishment for adultery, which was first exposed by US-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch last week. 

Stung by the scathing criticism from various quarters, the Afghan government has backed away from the plan to reintroduce public stoning as punishment for adultery, which was first exposed by US-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch last week. A report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week sent shockwaves across the world. The report made a startling revelation that the Afghan government is reconsidering stoning, a medieval punishment that was once the hallmark and the most hideous symbol of erstwhile Taliban regime. The HRW report said the Ministry of Justice has proposed public stoning for married adulterers and flogging for unmarried offenders in a draft revision of the country’s penal code.

The idea of stoning in today’s Twitter and Facebook age as anachronistic as that of the Taliban regime was especially given the decade long nation building and ushering an era of democracy in Afghanistan.  So when the news of the stoning law spread, it did not go well, justifiably, with the human rights advocates and Afghans around the world.

In a country like Afghanistan where religion is deeply politicized and people can be tried for blasphemy by both state and non-state actors, the reintroduction of heinous and inhumane law like stoning can have damning repercussions.

Stung by the scathing criticism and denunciation from various quarters, Afghan government did a volte-face, criticizing the reports about reintroducing stoning in the penal code. “It is not correct. The Minister of Justice has rejected it,” President Karzai told Radio Free Europe, soon after the HRW report came out.

An ancient practice, stoning has existed as a form of punishment since Ancient Greece, and contrary to the widespread perception, its origin is not from Islam. According to historians, the practice is rooted in Ancient Greek mythology. “It is only a co-incidence that the practice is prevalent today mostly in countries with Muslim majority, while the fact is stoning has existed throughout history,” says Jameel Yazdan, Kabul-based historian.

An ancient practice, stoning has existed as a form of punishment since Ancient Greece, and contrary to the widespread perception, its origin is not from Islam

Stoning is not part of only the Islamic Hudood crimes; it has been specified as a penalty for various crimes under rabbinic laws in the Old Testament. It is also widely prevalent in some Iraqi tribes. In 2007, a young girl was stoned to death by the community, who practice ancient Yazidi religion. The incident took place in a small town in Ninawa Governorate and became public through a mobile phone clip that was widely shared over internet.

While other countries have successfully brought reform in their justice delivery system, Muslim countries in general and Afghanistan in particular are still lurking in the dark.  Last summer, there was a massive public outcry against the public execution of 21-year-old woman Najiba in Shinwari district of Parwan province, located on the outskirts of Kabul city. The incident snowballed into a big controversy and caused major embarrassment to the Karzai government after a harrowing three-minute footage showing the women being executed in front of cheering crowd of men leaked out. The woman was accused of adultery by the influence-yielding warlords of the province. Taliban denied involvement in the killing, which NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen called “an atrocity of unspeakable cruelty”.

Najiba’s killing, however, is not an isolated case of brutality against women in Afghanistan. The public executions by stoning and gunfire have not stopped entirely after the fall of Taliban regime in 2001, says Jalal Ahmad, Kabul-based political analyst. “The barbaric practice continues in many insurgency-hit areas of Afghanistan, infested with Taliban elements.”

Many of these gruesome incidents go unnoticed, as locals do not lodge the complaint for fear of retaliation. Some of the incidents, however, have come to light. In the province of Ghazni, a mother and daughter were stoned to death in November 2011. A couple was stoned to death in Kunduz in August 2011. In 2005, a 29-year old woman accused of adultery was stoned to death in Badakhshan. In each case, the Afghan government condemned the incident.

Even in areas with little or no presence of Taliban forces, there have been honor killings of women who revolted against their abusive husbands or eloped with someone they want to be married to.  All these killings have taken place outside the ambit of law and in local courts called Jirgas, traditional dispute mechanisms, where tribal leaders pronounce verdicts against women accused of among other things adultery, infidelity, and betrayal. In most such cases, men get away because of the influence they yield.

Even in areas with little or no presence of Taliban forces, there have been honor killings of women who revolted against their abusive husbands or eloped with someone they want to be married to

On November 25, HRW released a report based on the leaked draft of the penal code, which said Afghanistan Ministry of Justice was planning to introduce new provisions in the penal code that would allow stoning as punishment for adultery. According to the report, married individuals accused of adultery would be stoned to death and unmarried individuals accused of same crime would face 100 lashes as punishment. “It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.

The statement issued by HRW asked Afghan government to “immediately reject a proposal to restore stoning as punishment for adultery” because it violates international human rights standards, including prohibitions on torture and cruel and inhuman punishment. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, HRW statement said, allows countries to impose the death penalty only for the most serious offenses, which does not include adultery.

The report created tremendous furor prompting civil rights activists to launch scathing criticism at the Karzai government. Many leading activists, academics, senators, commentators denounced the move. Amnesty International also issued a statement warning that it will “mark a dangerous return to legalized state brutality” and urging authorities to reject the plans. “Stoning and amputation are always torture, and so is flogging as practiced in Afghanistan. All these forms of punishment are strictly prohibited under international human rights treaties which are binding on Afghanistan,” said Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan Researcher at Amnesty International.

The HRW report stirred the hornet’s nest outside Afghanistan too.  A senior British minister, Justine Greening, who has made women’s rights the priority for her government’s aid operation in Afghanistan, met President Karzai to express her indignation. The Foreign Affairs Minister of Netherlands, Frans Timmermans also joined the chorus, warning that Afghanistan will be risking its relationship with his country if it introduces stoning as punishment for adultery.

Taken aback by the torrent of blistering criticism, Afghan government backed away from the proposal to reintroduce public stoning.

Abdul Rauf Heerawi, Head of the Legislation Directorate of the Ministry of Justice, had confirmed that public stoning to death for adulterers was included in the draft to amend the penal code. “The Islamic Sharia instructs us to do so. There is a verse in the Quran about it,” he was quoted by Wall Street Journal. But after a few days of growing international criticism, the Ministry of Justice issued a statement saying it would not appear in the revamped penal code because there was no need to amend the issue. “The legality of the crime and punishment is fully addressed and there is no need to regulate the issue in the new code. So, the Ministry of Justice does not intend to regulate it in the new draft code,” read the statement.

Taken aback by the torrent of blistering criticism, Afghan government backed away from the proposal to reintroduce public stoning. In an interview with Radio Free Europe, President Karzai downplayed the reports about stoning being reintroduced in the amended penal code. “It is not correct. The Minister of Justice has rejected it,” he said, indicating that stoning would not be coming back. According to privy sources, it was the brainchild of the Minister of Justice, Habibullah Ghalib, a known hardliner who has a knack for courting controversies. Following a barrage of condemnations and sensing trouble, President Karzai stepped in and quashed it.

According to Syed Yosuf Halim, the Deputy Minister of Justice, the criminal law in Afghanistan, introduced in 1976, needs to be reassessed and revamped to address and conform to the current realities of Afghanistan.  “The proposal of introducing stoning in the penal code was put forward by one member of the committee, which was not accepted by others,” says Mr. Halim. He says a committee has been working for the past eight months to revise and amend the penal code.  And a member of the committee had suggested the Hudood, Qisas and Diyat already stated in the code should be made clear.  But, the committee decided to leave it “as is”.

Some top government officials, however, have termed it a ‘western propaganda’.  “The timing of the report is suspect.  As the stalemate continues over the US-Afghan bilateral security pact, it looks like a conspiracy by western spin doctors to discredit and shame Karzai’s administration,” says Matiullah Kharoti, a political analyst.

While welcoming the decision of the Afghan government not to include stoning in the revised penal code, HRW rued the fact that the human rights, especially women’s rights still face threat on multiple fronts. “Of course it’s a huge relief that the government appears eager to disown this proposal now, but this is not an aberration that appeared out of the blue,” Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch told The Guardian.

The crime of adultery is not new to Afghanistan.  It is even referred to in the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law and reference is made to punishment under Hudood – stoning

The Afghanistan Constitution, contradictory and pluralistic at places, clearly outlines the application of Islamic law. While Article 3 says no law must be made in contravention of the holy religion of Islam, Article 130 tells the courts to apply first the provisions of this constitution and the other laws to cases before them, but when no provisions are found in either, then to resort to Hanafi Jurisprudence. Further, the courts are instructed to apply the Hanafi Jurisprudence “within the limits set out by this Constitution” and to “rule in a way that attains justice in the best manner.”  And Article 7 also obligates Afghanistan to observe United Nations Charter and Human Rights Declarations.

Sharia expert and Professor at Kabul University, Nassirullah Khalid explains the crimes falling in one of the two categories under Hanafi School of Jurisprudence: “Haad” (meaning limit in Arabic) or “Ta’zir” (meaning discretionary punishment in Arabic).  In other words, Ta’zeeri (plural of Ta’zir) are crimes that do not fall under Hudood (plural of Haad) or crimes that lack sufficient evidence to prove under Hudood.  Hudood refer to those crimes ordained by Allah.  The punishment for these crimes is fixed in the Quran and or Hadith. However, the punishment of stoning for adultery, a Hudood crime, is not stated or fixed in the Quran but claimed to have roots in Hadith, says Professor Khalid. He further states that the standard of proof is beyond reasonable doubt so it is very difficult to prove such crimes, to begin with.

Article 1 of the current Afghan Penal Code, codified in 1976, states that the Penal code is promulgated to regulate Ta’zeeri crimes and punishments, and the “crimes of ‘Hudood’, ‘Qasaas’, and ‘Diyat’ shall be punished in accordance with Islamic religious law (the Hanafi religious jurisprudence)”. So the Penal Code clearly states the punishment for Hudood crimes, including adultery, are to be administered under Hanafi jurisprudence.

The genesis of specifying stoning and lashing punishment for adultery cases stems from one of the two probable scenarios: since the international community’s intervention a decade ago, the adage applies that everything in Afghanistan must be looked at to modernize, improve, modify or amend. Or some Islamic scholars fear that courts will misinterpret Article 1 of the Penal Code, leading to travesty of justice with respect to Hudood crimes because it does not clearly outline the burden of proof and the standards of proof, and the Afghan judiciary lacks the necessary capacity in Hanafi jurisprudence to apply Hudood crimes. It is, thus, suspected that both scenarios played a role in the committee’s decision, which consists of both Afghan and International legal experts, to include amending Article 1 of the Penal code by enumerating the punishment for Hudood including adultery. Thus, the draft amendment that describes the punishment for adultery (stoning and lashes) that everyone is now talking about and condemning.

Even though clearly stated in the code, since 1977, there is no record of any Afghan regime, except the Taliban, that has applied stoning as punishment

The crime of adultery is not new to Afghanistan.  It is even referred to in the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law and reference is made to punishment under Hudood – stoning. It is part of Hudood crimes that is clearly included in Article 1 of the Penal Code and for which there is clear punishment under Hanafi Jurisprudence.

But what is interesting is that after HRW warned of the potential inclusion of specifying the punishment for adultery in the draft amendment, mainstream media in the west, true to their style, sensationalized the whole affair. The western media too suffers from the classic syndrome of “Khaitalogy”.  Media institutions like the Wall Street Journal and BBC misquoted officials, misspelled names and used the wrong names all together, but most egregiously, claimed that stoning is in the verse of the Quran.  Both Nathan Hodge who has been reporting from Afghanistan for several years and understands Dari and his colleague, Habib Khan Totakhil, did not bother to check the veracity of Mr. Heerawi’s statement before publishing it.

Even though clearly stated in the code, since 1977, there is no record of any Afghan regime, except the Taliban, that has applied stoning as punishment. The idea that Hudood and other crimes stated in Article 1 of the Penal Code ought to be specified with the requirements for proof does not necessarily mean Afghanistan is going back to the Taliban era nor it should be sensationalized or threats made about funds or relationships.  Further, mere protest or threats of removing the specificity of the punishment as leaked in the so-called draft amendment did not render mute the potential application of stoning to punish adultery.  It is still there under the Hudood umbrella, and if a judge so desires will apply the punishment in adultery case. But rather, the penal code should be looked at both from a historical aspect and an Afghan perspective and amended to reflect their wishes and views and aligned with today’s universal human rights standards.

(First published in Afghan Zariza)