Category Archives: International

Does the killing of Osama bin Laden solve the problem of terrorism?

Just after it was declared that Osama bin Laden has been shot dead someone tweeted, “Good, now can I bring my shampoo when travelling by air?”

Although it was said in jest there are many who believe that the killing of Osama bin Laden is a big victory against terrorism. Hardly. It is a moral victory, of course, and a victory that has come too late. Right now in the world of terrorism bin Laden holds no significance. He had begun to turn into a relic. With public rising against dictators (most of them supported by the USA, ironically) all over the Arab world and with no support from Osama bin Laden and his ilk he has been relegated to insignificance. The last video he released was in 2007 .Understandly there haven’t been much hue and cry over his killing in the Arab world save for a few commisoratory demonstrations by fringe fanatical groups.

Big terrorist names only act as inspiration, the actual groups at the ground level mostly work independently due to logistical problems. Terrorist groups derive massive support from governments and secret agencies and they are basically tools in the hands of these governments and agencies (for example Pakistan, China and Sudan). So killing one leader here and another there isn’t going to make the problem of terrorism go away. There has to be an international consensus regarding how to deal with such regimes. Unless this is done no amount of terrorist-extermination is going to provide a solution and we will keep on living in the contemporary fearful atmosphere.

Since terrorism may exist in many forms we also need a clear definition of what exactly is terrorism so that it becomes easier to deal with them. Terrorism for one can be justified resistance for anotherr. For example there are many groups fighting against unjust governments and despotic rulers. Just because you’re taking up arms against an establishment or a government this shouldn’t turn you into an internationally certified terrorist. Take for instance Maoist insurgency in some parts of India. There is a known collusion between various mafias, industries and government agencies and they are perpetually exploiting local people, looting them, depriving them of their lands and resources and murdering them. When the law that is supposed to protect you begins to exploit you and there is no platform available to you where you can voice your dissent sometimes you have no option but to take up arms.

Having said that, I’m not saying that blowing up buildings and buses and killing people in the name of a justified struggle is excusable, I’m just trying to explain the difference between a resistance and an act of blowing up a building like the World Trade Center.

Of course there are arguments and counter arguments in every case as it already happens. There are apologists who don’t know where to draw a line and then there are “civilised” extremists who again, don’t know where to draw a line. There is no balanced analysis of the reasons why terrorism crops up. People often say that the very ideology of Islam breeds violent Jihad and terrorism but personally I don’t agree with this. There are murderers and fanatics in every religion. The recent peaceful protests in countries like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have shown that Muslims don’t need support from Jihadi groups and professional terrorists to rise up against their governments.

It’s a pleasant development that Facebook played a more significant role than the al Qaeda.

Just as there are fringe fanatic groups in every religion there are also fringe fanatic groups among Muslims.

In order to contain and destroy terrorism the international community first of all needs to realise what actually breeds terrorism and what sort of support various terrorist organisations derive from established governments. There has to be a sincere effort. The way America has been turning a blind eye to Pakistani adventurism is appalling and it smells of some deep-rooted conspiracy, whatever may be the reason. So we need to get rid of such dualism and hypocrisy and come straight to the point. It took the Americans more than nine years to hunt down Osama bin Laden. It shouldn’t have taken them more than two months had the effort been sincere and realistic. Needless war and destruction has been imposed on multiple countries in the guise of finding him.

The Muslim community all over the world needs to be more vociferous against the violent elements amidst the community just as they have risen against their dictators. Being a terrorist shouldn’t be an act of valour and terrorists must be treated as criminals and hence families supporting them must face shame rather than incite awe. Whenever you want to glorify terrorism just think of Beslan (Russia) where they had taken 100s of schoolchildren hostages and forced them to take off their clothes or the innocent Jewish family butchered during 26/11 Mumbai attacks. It is very difficult to change a cultural ideology but community leaders must make a start somewhere; during Friday prayers every week they can exhort them to distance themselves from violent and terrorist elements. This is a long-term goal and may take many decades to show some results.

The short-term goals must be to employ a zero tolerance policy against countries abetting and supporting terrorist groups in the name of Jihad and freedom struggle. Indigenously the justice system must be made stronger and effective and if the United Nations need to but in then so be it. For instance if the Indian government doesn’t go into the root cause of the Maoist insurgency then the United Nations must interfere. When you start killing your own people then it is no longer a question of sovereignty and internal matter.

So it has to be a multi-pronged approach: strengthen domestic justice system and implement a zero tolerance policy against countries breeding terrorism. Only then the problem of terrorism can be solved.

The French ban on the burqa

french-burqa-ban

The French government recently banned Muslim women from wearing the niqab. Some Muslim baiters that I follow on Twitter were naturally upbeat about the entire thing: “these Muslims want their way everywhere they go and it’s good that France is being strict with them” was the general refrain.

Is it about freedom of religion when people oppose the ban or are they simply catering to a religious sentiment that represses women? Changing religious beliefs is quite difficult, and this holds true for every religion, not just Muslims.

The problem with Muslims is, no matter what progressive, seemingly westernised Muslims claim, women and freedom are anathema to each other in the popular perception of Islam; call it a communication gap, Islamophobia, or whatever (to be fair even non-Muslim communities in Asia and Africa treat their women in quite a cruel manner). The Western perception of other religions is quite dismal, accepted (Hindus being pagan, etc.), but the perception of Muslims even among non-Western-non-Muslim countries is hardly positive. They have a millennium of history of violence and forceful conversions. Being a Sikh I’m more sensitive towards their violent nature because Sikhism and its symbols were born to fight against barbaric Mughals.

The moment they try to defend their thoughts and symbols the first expression that comes to one’s mind is “God, they go to other places but never adopt indigenous cultures, they always have to impose their own culture and way of life. ” Of course this is a narrow way of thinking because once a Muslim becomes (or rather a person from any other religion) a citizen of a particular country all the rights and responsibilities are automatically applied to him or her too. So if a country ensures religious freedom this freedom must be available to everybody irrespective of to what religion that person belongs.

Burqa, in reality, shouldn’t be viewed as a “them versus us” problem. It is about suppression of women. It is about devoiding them of an identity.

So what is burqa? It is a full body veil (again, it doesn’t have to be a full body covering, it can also be a scarf over the head are just covering the hair) that Muslim women have to wear when they go out. Muslim women are not supposed to show their faces to other men except for their husbands, brothers and father. Muslim men are easily given to temptations and hence their religion demands that other women be kept under veils so that impure thoughts don’t enter the men’s minds. Even in the pre-Muslim era in India there was no tradition of hiding women’s face; Hindus had to adopt this tradition to save their womenfolks from Muslims who would kidnap any woman they liked. This is a known history, I’m not aware of any other version.

One logic could be since this tradition originates from the hot sands of Arabia and Sahara, perhaps this was done to protect the women’s skin from burning (their veils were of a lighter shade and wearing black burqas in such conditions would be counter-productive). Later on it turned into a religious symbol. Many a times, religious symbols originate from traditional practices.

Hence women wearing burqas do it with two frames of mind: accepting subjugation as a normal consequence of being a Muslim woman, or accepting it as a religious symbol demanded by the Sharia law.

So is the French government wrong when it forcefully asks women to give up their burqas or else face discrimination? Personally I’m in favor of such practices and I often recommend them here in India also. Backward religious and cultural practices must be discouraged, even by force if required. Why so? I don’t think burqa, if used as a tool for repression, is any different from the practice of Sati, or forcing women into the devdasi system or tearing their hair off their heads when their husbands die. The sad reality is it takes years for cultures to adopt new ways of life and sometimes these new ways have to be enforced to save lives. For instance if I am a Muslim and if my sister or my mother is forced to wear a burqa I would like this practice to be abolished NOW and not wait for some cultural or social awareness to set in.

But you may say that the burqa doesn’t kill anybody or harm anybody physically and I totally agree. But it is a symbolic repression. I would call it religious symbol if even men wore burqas. For example in Sikhism both men and women can wear turbans because they are religious symbols of empowerment (the French government banned even turbans a couple of years ago, I don’t know what happened after that). Sikh symbols are never used to portray women as inferior or always requiring protection. Once you become a “Kaur” hhypothetically you are a warrior princess.

Burqa on the other hand encourages Muslim women to hide behind the veil so that they don’t have a public identity. They shouldn’t be recognized. They should be talking and walking oblique structures and they should only presume an identity once they are within the peripheries of their father’s or husband’s residence. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Why do many Muslim women insist that they wear burqa? Lack of awareness, I would say. Or Stockholm syndrome may be. Or religious conditioning. A sense of security (as they may feel that they will be more open to sexual assaults once they begin to appear without a veil). Education doesn’t have to do anything with it. Even some of the known journalists in India, including Barkha Dutt (in the name of religious freedom) support the tradition of wearing burqa; so you don’t have to be illiterate or ill-informed to sympathise with such practices.

It is high time Muslim women took a stand and opposed such practices instead of sticking to them. I think the French government has provided them with an opportunity to think progressively and declare their independence. Instead of defining they should support the burqa ban.

Can’t we have it as a rule?

First, I read a very outrageous headline yesterday on Google news: “Maoists kill a cop, Nitish’s security tightened”. It is any body’s guess what is the attitude of our politicians when it comes to common folks being killed by Maoists and terrorists.

Anyway, I’m not going to talk about this. I was just thinking, with so many people being taken hostages by terrorists and other extremist groups wouldn’t it be better if we had an international rule that the moment people are taken hostage in order to get an individual released that individual must be killed? It is just a thought and I don’t know what would be its implications. But I’m sure this trend of taking people hostage will be drastically reduced because it would mean immediately getting your chap killed.

For instance if I am a terrorist or a Maoist in jail and my people take hostage civilians or policemen, and threaten that the hostages will be killed if I am not released, then I should be immediately put down. This will send a strong message to such organizations and they will only resort to this at the cost of the person they are trying to help.

And this needs to be an international law or rule because for a single country it will be difficult to implement or there won’t be any political will, for example, in the case of India, it’s our politicians who don’t seem to be willing to solve such problems. On top of that there are some misguided intellectuals and the so-called human rights activists that provide vocal support to such extremist groups even when they slit throats of their captives and then organize press conferences to boast about their acts. If it is an international law then countries like India will have to implement or toe the line.

I know, in the current international scenario this is not going to happen but I think the citizens of all the countries must put pressure on their respective governments; this will really help reduce the number of such instances and in fact they may cease to occur completely.

About that mosque at ground zero

Personally speaking, I’m not in favor of expressing views that are not directly concerned with me and that too from thousands of miles away but since I am coming across so many views and counterviews on whether a mosque should be allowed near the 9/11 bombings or not I thought, well, let me do some vocal thinking.

First of all I’m not clear whether it is a mosque or a cultural center they are talking about. If it is a cultural center then I wonder what the point of opposing it is. A cultural center — if it is actually a cultural center — is a good place to raise awareness and reduce animosities and chunks of misinformation floating around. It may bring people from different races and creeds closer. In fact such a cultural center would be a fitting reply to the perpetrators of the bombings. Just because the idea of this cultural center is coming from Muslims it shouldn’t be opposed.

What if it is a mosque? Frankly, I have no idea what to say. I have no objection to people building mosques but — and I may be wrong — it may end up sending the wrong signals to those who support fanaticism. It’s like, “Our religion and approach eventually triumphs; we first brought down the buildings and now there is a mosque there.” It may end up being the greatest symbolic victory for terrorists.

I am not saying that since a few Muslims are fanatics so the remaining ones must live under restrictions — religious or social — but a mosque at or near ground zero will definitely send wrong signals and encourage more Muslim youths to take up arms against other religions and ideologies. This is such a simple thing and I wonder why nobody is talking about it. This has got nothing to do with freedom of expression or practicing religion, this is common sense.

Even for a while if we ignore the “sending a wrong signal” point, why many people may be opposed to this idea is because most of the Muslims — and this is a sad reality — don’t vociferously come forward to denounce the violent side of Islam but when it comes to participating in token gestures like building mosques and religion-centric cultural centers all of a sudden they develop loud voices. I think this is the basic problem: this duality. It is so uncommon for the Muslims to protest against violent Islamic acts that whenever they do it becomes a news. If they openly and routinely oppose violence like everybody else does they will automatically become a part of the global society and consequently people of other faiths and religions won’t look upon them as some race quietly condoning violence or promoting it.

I would also like to make another suggestion to my Muslim friends. Just as they support the idea of building mosques in non-Muslim countries they should also put pressure on Muslim countries to let people from other faiths build temples and churches in Muslim and Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, etc. This way it will become a two-way approach rather than always demanding without giving. If Muslims want to be embraced they must also learn to embrace.

Mourning celebrities, right or wrong?

Whenever I publish a new article or blog post on one of my websites, these days I post a link in my Twitter account. The day Michael Jackson died I had logged on to my Twitter account to post a link, and I read something like, “WTF! Michael Jackson is dead!”

It was very late in this part of the world. Our daughter had gone to sleep at 10 PM and awakened at 1:30 AM. After a futile attempt that lasted almost 90 minutes (involving copious vacillations between hope and despair) I gave up the idea of forcing her to go back to sleep, switched off the alarm I had set on my phone and came to my room at around 3 in the morning, grumpily.

First there was a trickle of messages; many people claiming to have come across rumors of Michael Jackson’s death. Many denied it. Then people started posting links to the CNN website that said he was in the hospital after a coronary arrest. The TMZ website said that he was dead. After about 30 minutes, 95% of the messages I got talked about his death. The messages ranged from “Unbelievable”, “weird”, “shocking”, “devastating”, “RIP MJ” to “Child molesting psycho is dead”. In fact so many people expressed themselves after his death that this article says that when Michael Jackson died he almost took the Internet with him.

So yesterday when I was reading this blog post titled Why Do We Mourn Some and Not Others?, I thought about it too, and felt like sharing my thoughts. Why does this happen? As rightly depicted in the blog post, children are starving to death almost every minute. The post talks about the children in Africa, but a recent study concluded when it comes to hunger and malnutrition, India fairs worse than the most sub-Saharan, perpetually famished regions. So why does the death a Michael Jackson or a Farrah Fawcett move us more than the death of a street child or a child in a starving country? There surely are deaths that are far more tragic and painful than the deaths of celebrities who mostly die due to their own personal follies (most). Remember this Pulitzer-prize-winning photograph? The photographer committed suicide because he simply left the place after clicking the photograph, leaving the child at the mercy of the approaching vulture. When you saw this photograph (if you did) how much time did you spend trying to know about the background of the whole story (I’m not questioning you, lest you think I’m accusing or preaching)?

These days you can easily say that this is about media; media creates so much hype around a celebrity death that you don’t even realize that you are being sucked into a whirlpool of commiserations, remembrances, trivia and anecdotes by all and sundry. All of a sudden, every other living celebrity has sounbites regarding the departed celebrity. It’s a party of the herd-mentality too: all of a sudden everybody wants to talk about a particular event and wants to throw his or her two cents.

On social media websites, since everybody following you or being followed by you is talking about it you too want to feel like a part of the communication upheaval. You have to say something, and it can be anything. Take for instance this blog post; the blog post above sparked the idea of this blog post.

Celebrities like Michael Jackson become personal despite the seemingly unsurpassable mental and physical distance. You may have put up his posters in your room, danced to his songs, idealized him or tried to imitate his steps. Secretly or openly you may have wanted to become like him (minus getting the face all messed up, of course). You may have even had sex with him in your imagination. You may have even detested him for the various charges he was facing. So somewhere, consciously or subconsciously, people like him become personal, you seem to know them intimately, you talk about them as if you’re bosom buddies. Hence, their death jolts you and encourages you to talk about them, and their death. This is a personal shock, and talking about it, reading about it and hearing about it is very comforting. For once, you are not the only one who is suffering. You can experience common suffering during a natural calamity too, but then you cannot talk about it with equally suffering people from the comfort of your bedroom or drawing-room.

An unknown child who is dying of starvation, on the other hand, although equally, or rather more heart-rending, is distant from your personal space. You aspire to become a Michael Jackson, but you don’t aspire to become a hungry, dying child. You don’t put the hungry child’s posters in your bedroom, you don’t buy songs with an emaciated child on their cover. It is scary. It jolts the foundations of your hope. What you like about the celebrities and famous people is that they have the ability to move the masses, they can inspire millions and they can also inflict anguish upon millions (like your favorite cricket or baseball team losing the match). A dying, hungry child is a total antithesis of this powerful feeling. I’m not saying this is good, and I’m not even placing a judgment, but this is how our emotions work. You may want to feed that child, you may want to rehabilitate him or her, and you may devote your life to the amelioration of such children, but you certainly don’t aspire to be in his or her place.

So there’s nothing wrong in mourning the death of a celebrity. But don’t lose track of the actual world around you, don’t stop feeling a part of it. That hungry child may not motivate you to spend two hours in front of your TV or post copious messages on various social networking websites, he or she is as real as Michael Jackson, and just you as could have ended up being Michael Jackson, you could have also ended up being that child.