Thursday, July 24, 2014

A criminal silence

Written July 18, 2014
All men are not created equal. One Israeli life is equivalent to 200 Palestinian lives. And, once again, the world has better things to do than stop Israel’s genocide.

It was not the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers that started it. Two Palestinian boys, acting on their own, kidnapped the three teenagers hoping to use them as hostages to get Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel. One of the Israeli boys was able to call the police with his cell phone; the Palestinian boys panicked and killed them. Legal machinery and due process did not come into action — raw revenge did. Orthodox Jews, typically non-violent, burned Mohammad Abu Khdeir alive. His cousin, Palestinian-American Tariq Khdeir, was held down by an Israeli border police officer while another kicked and punched him in the face. Tariq miraculously survived. The US murmured a protest to Netanyahu and was told that the police officers had been suspended for 15 days, and might face criminal charges. Had it been an Israeli-American teenager bludgeoned by Palestinians, the story would never die.

The current rain of death on the Palestinians is about the usual thing: land. The very creation of Israel is based on the dispossession of Palestinians and their continued siege since 1948. Israel has long planned and carried out attacks on Gaza and the West Bank so that it can conquer more land, build more illegal settlements and reduce Gaza to an enclave surrounded by Israel so that the question of nationhood does not arise. This Israeli offensive began on July 8, 2014, a week into Ramadan. As many as 213 Palestinians, all civilians, have been killed, Israel’s air force has destroyed a mosque and leveled a rehabilitation center for the disabled. The water supply to Gaza has been affected to the point that the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that 70 percent of its water is not potable. Four children, playing on the beach in Gaza, were murdered by Israeli fire.

That the children of Holocaust victims could wreak the same havoc on people whose land and homes they stole, and worsen their persecution with each offensive, is very challenging to the mind. Misfortune humbles most people; perhaps with some, victims become monstrous perpetrators. Those who cannot stop this atrocity just look the other way. The US, the country that has armed Israel into becoming the most sophisticated army in the world, can barely protest. The Israeli lobby has bought over essentially all of Congress and a word against Israel can guarantee loss of funding and votes in the next election.

For those, Muslims included, who think that Israel is retaliating against Hamas rocket attacks, I will quote Jewish-US philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky: “Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques, and slums to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command in control, no army...and calls it a war. It is not a war, it is murder.”

Also, Israel has the Iron Dome, a mobile missile-defense system that intercepts short-range rockets. The one billion dollar program, subsidized by the US, has served Israel well; Hamas rockets are either destroyed 90 percent of the time or land in fields.

Europe and Canada are the US’s little sidekicks so no expectations there. Pakistan protested but its redundancy on the world stage is a topic for another lament. The impotence of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is even more pathetic than Pakistan’s. Iran is itself ostracized in the world community. Turkey is conspicuously mum. Saudi Arabia is too busy quelling revolt within the kingdom against its oppressive rule, as well as funding and grooming the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in its agenda of killing non-Wahabi Muslims, especially Shias. Egypt, not an honest broker due to its anti-Hamas agenda, tries for a ceasefire and talks only to Israel. Hamas finds out through the media and justifiably refuses. How can there be a ceasefire without terms and direct discussion? Hamas, unaware that a ceasefire was in effect, continued rocket-fire and now Israel’s fans are screaming: “See? They do not want a ceasefire” and so Israel resumes its attacks. Brilliant PR move! Hamas’ terms of a ceasefire are reasonable: that Israel lifts the blockade of the Gaza Strip, ends aggression in the occupied territories and releases Palestinian prisoners.

The United Nations is made up of the leadership of these same sorry nations and the mumblings of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are as worthless as they are incoherent.

In my despair I do see some hope. The Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is a US organization that works to achieve a lasting peace, which recognizes the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination. It works through grassroots organizing, education, advocacy and media, and has 100,000 online activists. The JVP supports nonviolent efforts in the US and in Israel-Palestine to end Israel’s occupation, expand human and civil rights and implement a US policy based on international law and democracy.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is big news in 2014. In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. A truly global movement against Israeli apartheid is rapidly emerging in response to this call. The BDS movement covers all Israeli products but it reserves a special focus for companies that are actually involved in — and make hefty profits from — occupation policies. On your shopping trips you might want to avoid Hewlett-Packard, Sodastream, Victoria’s Secret, Jaffa oranges and Eden Springs Water to name a few. Netanyahu and his ministers consider BDS “the greatest threat to Israel” and Netanyahu mentioning it 18 times in his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March this year paradoxically focuses attention on Israel’s state-sponsored terrorism and spurs the BDS movement. 

And my perpetual, inveterate hope is in God who says, “They plan and God plans and God is the best of Planners” (8:30). The anguish of mothers who have lost their children, the cries of suddenly orphaned children and the hunger, fear and desperation of 1.5 million Palestinians is heard by the heavens in the guarantee: “And when My servants ask you concerning Me, tell them I am very near; I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls on Me” (2:186).

In blessing us with free will, God watches our actions. All-forgiving, He gives us chance after chance to shape up but when we wreak havoc and spread devastation on earth, God hits His tipping point. And then we really need to watch out.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Detoxifying mindsets

The military operation in Waziristan was a long-time coming. Great gains against entrenched terrorists have been made with air, and now, ground offensives. Fortunately Zarb-e-Azb has support all across the country.  

The Pakistan Protection Ordinance 2014 was just passed by the National Assembly giving dramatic and sweeping powers to the government in its fight against terror. Searches can occur without a warrant, militants can be shot on sight with orders from a Grade 15 police officer or higher, suspects can be kept in custody for 60 days after a judicial remand, and convicted terrorists could face 20 years imprisonment.  

Opposition groups, mainly the JUI and the PTI, and human rights activists have expressed immediate protests, fearing that the Pakistan Protection Ordinance would provide legal cover for the government’s repressive agenda. Especially after the police brutality in the Model Town tragedy, as well as the missing persons’ saga, these concerns are understandable.  

But to think that a military offensive in North Waziristan by itself would be enough to rid us of the daily ravages of terrorism is myopic at best. There are some built-in protections in the Pakistan Protection Ordinance to curb its abuse.  

Pakistan is at a point where there needs to be a multi-dimensional approach to free it of the chokehold of terrorism. In peaceful times we would have the luxury of safe-guarding human rights; at a time of war with an enemy that has invaded the hearts and minds of significant segments of the population, preserving the integrity of Pakistan, as well as countless lives and major national assets, far outweighs the possible violation of human rights.   

Zarb-e-Azb is an immediate surgical event; the Pakistan Protection Ordinance will serve to combat terrorism in the short to medium-term. They need to be bolstered by a well-organized and properly implemented effort to detoxify mindsets, for it is terrorism-condoning mentalities and America-Israel-India hating conspiracy theories that have created and sustained monsters in our middle.  

The Pakistani mind has undergone a gradual and sustained poisoning. The 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan created a refugee crisis in Pakistan, an already economically weak and overpopulated country. Prior to 1938 Saudi Arabia was only known for its vast deserts, and as home for Islam’s two holiest sites. As its oil industry progressed through the 1970s so did its hegemonic aspirations. Billions of dollars were, and continue to be, spent in its world-wide export of its literalistic Wahabi-Salafi ideology. A significant part of this move has been the literature that sports the stamp of the Saudi Religious Ministry.  

I grew up in a soft, attractive, tolerant and inclusive environment in Lahore and Karachi. We went to a milad every day in Rabiul Awwal, visiting shrines of famous Sufi saints helped me to reflect on how they formed and solidified their relationships with God. And the beautiful shalwar kameez worked for us in comfort, cover and style. The long arm of literalism ruined all that. Honoring Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has to be guarded for it is considered bidat or innovation by some, paying respects to Sufi saints is classified as blasphemy and modesty is only defined by jilbabs (head to toe gowns), hijabs, niqabs and gloves. Never mind the prominent premise in Islam that all actions are judged by their intentions, and all intentions are known only to God.  

The Wahabi-Salafi mindset is devoid of the joy of faith. And it rationalizes corporal and capital punishment for offenses contrary to the five schools of Islamic jurisprudence.  

Poverty stricken, uneducated, disenchanted and hopeless segments of Pakistan’s population were swooped up as victims to an ideology that promised the nebulous but delivered death.  

Perhaps we need the creation of the Pakistan Protection Ministry, focused solely on the eradication of terrorism in Pakistan. Curricula in public and private schools as well as madrassahs need evaluation and necessary amendments. Perspectives on history is one thing but rewriting it altogether and inoculating young minds with extremism is quite another.  

Friday khutbas in mosques across the country need to be monitored as well. Notifications to all mosques of fatwas against suicide bombing issued by Al-Azhar University of Egypt as well as prominent Pakistani clerics need to be sent by the government to each mosque, and imams persuaded to regularly mention the sanctity of life as revealed in the Quran and practiced by  Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).   

The media has an important role to play especially in this age of technology and social media. Television programs with Islamic scholars like Javed Ahmad Ghamdi and Shujauddin Sheikh are not only packed with knowledge and infused with perspective; they are veritably nourishment for the soul.  

There can be no vacillation with regard to our commitment to banish terror from the boundaries of Pakistan. Each one of us needs to grasp this and promote it in every way on a daily basis.  

We are a nation made of the steely determination of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the vision of Allama Iqbal, the brilliance of Dr. Abdus-Salam, the martyrdom of Aziz Bhatti and the courage of Malala Yousufzai, among numerous other inspirations. Together we can make Pakistan an icon of peace and progress; unity, faith and discipline can make it happen. I know so.