Archive for April, 2009

‘People want leaders from among them’ : Haji Ibrahim Shaikh, BSP candidate to Lok Sabha constituency of Mumbai North Central

April 13, 2009
we have been asking the Congress and the NCP to nominate a minority candidate in this seat. Muslims and Dalits form a majority here. They refused and continued with the dynasty.’
Haji Ibrahim Shaikh, BSP candidate to Lok Sabha constituency of Mumbai North Central

‘People want leaders from among them’

Swatee KherPosted: Monday , Apr 13, 2009 at 0009 hrs IST

This BSP candidate is looking to slums and Muslim-dominated pockets of Mumbai North Central constituency to take him into Parliament.Haji Ibrahim Shaikh, a 55-year-old Santacruz businessman, is out to give Priya Dutt a tough fight. The first-time candidate, popularly known as Bhaijan, in an interview withSwatee Kher


For several years, you had been active with the Nationalist Congress Party, even acting as the city unit chief until recently. Why did you suddenly switch to the BSP?
Over the past few years, after delimitation, we have been asking the Congress and the NCP to nominate a minority candidate in this seat. Muslims and Dalits form a majority here. They refused and continued with the dynasty. That is why I have joined the BSP and entered the fray. I will work for all sections of the society.


You are up against sitting MP Priya Dutt and BJP candidate Mahesh Jethmalani. Both these parties have their established strongholds in the region, so what will be your pull among the voters?
People want a leader from among them. They don’t want occasional visitors. I have been working with the poor and in the slum areas for several years. The slumdwellers are fed up as they have not seen development for years despite promises.


What are your main planks for this election?
People are living for decades on land reserved for railways, airport authority and the government. I will ensure that these reservations are removed.


Water is a big issue here and I will work for it in my constituency, and ensure implementation of the Sachar Committee report.


Will your entering the field and taking away the Congress-NCP votes help opponents?
Those secular-minded in my constituency will vote for me and ensure my win. People will not vote for a party that has a leader like Varun Gandhi who uses foul language against Muslims. Despite living in Hindustan, we are being attacked. It is a good thing that Mayawati applied NSA on Varun.


There are parts of your constituency that are cosmopolitan, with an educated and well-to-do population. Are you not going to represent them?
In my constituency, there are six lakh minority voters, one lakh Uttar Pradesh natives and about two lakh Dalits. They make almost 76 per cent of the electorate. They are spread across the constituency and they can bring people to power. Apart from the concerns of Muslims and Dalits, there has been trouble for UP natives in Mumbai. I will also be speaking for them.


April 12, 2009
Mera joota jadugar
Meghnad DesaiPosted: Sunday , Apr 12, 2009 at 0115 hrs IST

As E-Day approaches, Indian politics appears to be having a nervous breakdown. As it is there is a highly charged atmosphere once an election is announced. Parties have no ideology and no discipline. Each is a collection of individual holders of large vote banks. So candidates denied tickets by one party migrate elsewhere or are poached by a rival party. The Samajwadi Party adopts Kalyan Singh as if Babri Masjid never happened.

Speeches have overstepped the normal limits. First Varun Gandhi and then Lalu Prasad Yadav in retaliation deserve reining in. Now Vaiko has obviously adopted the slogan: My terrorist is a hero, yours is a jihadi.

But the shoe-throwing has cheered things up. When Bush received the first shoe, I thought it was the sort of futile gesture a weak and powerless people resort to. It may have thrilled Arabs but it did not change the reality on ground. But Jarnail Singh has now proved me wrong. If you have a vibrant democracy and 24×7 media, then you can leverage a shoe into a political whirlwind. It is a mark of how overstretched the Congress leadership has become that no one saw the dangers of parading Jagdish Tytler’s innocence so close to election day. The CBI has lost whatever reputation it had for impartiality once it flip-flopped on the Mulayam Singh case. No one for a moment is convinced by its ‘clean chits’. Indeed the restoration of the CBI’s reputation will be the first challenge to any incoming government.

Indian politics dwells too much on communalism/secularism. The issue is of the rule of law. Can India treat all its citizens on an equal footing or does one only have to flash one’s identity or family to escape punishment with impunity? Three times in the last 25 years—Delhi 1984, Mumbai 1993 and Gujarat 2002—the executive has connived in systematic pogroms of minorities. The usual excuse is made of overburdened courts, interminable inquiry commissions, inordinate delay in acting on their recommendations. Anyone in politics has immunity from punishment and can act with impunity. Even a case like Satyam is not allowed to come to court until Andhra Pradesh is safely in election mode. How convenient for all concerned.

People are not fooled by these tergiversations any more. This time around the electorate is younger, better educated, more tech-savvy, and media focussed. So the anger is now palpable. The shoe throwers are articulate and middle-class. They bring to the surface the seething outrage that those in power, even as they pretend to be humble and prattle on about serving the public, have insulated themselves from the law. They move in a cocoon of high security and expect undeserved deference from their voters.

Thus the elections are carried on at two separate levels. Among the leaders, there is a panic that for those of a certain age, this is the last chance of ever becoming Prime Minister. In this group are Sharad Pawar, Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Yadav. They have seen how time passed Arjun Singh by. They are praying for the Congress to be humbled enough to come begging for their support. If the Congress wins big this time, then the dynasty is back in business and Rahul at 38 is good for another 25 years at least.

It is this fear that has made the BJP fall apart. They may attack Manmohan Singh as weak but they know what will follow if he wins. So they are keeping an eye on the Third and the Fourth Fronts. There are several ambitious party leaders who see Advani’s age and fancy their chances if only they can get a seat at the top table.

This is where the best chance for BSP chief Mayawati comes. The Congress may need her but cannot offer her a possible Prime Ministerial slot. The BJP has co-habited with the BSP before. The BJP has Narendra Modi but he has enough problems getting a visa for foreign travel. Hence Behenji. It will be an uneasy marriage but the irony of the Parivar bringing a Dalit to the top job is delicious. Who said tilak, taraju aur talwar, inko maro joote char?

The Hindu is certainly not tolerant – Wrote Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister

April 11, 2009

From the Print Edition of Outlook, THE WEEKLY NEWS MAGAZINE, in ISSUE DATED April 20, 2009 –

LETTERS – Page:04


—— Let me draw attention to a letter Nehru wrote to our first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad (dated Nov 17, 1953). Panditji pontificated thus: 

“The Hindu is certainly not tolerant and is certainly more narrow-minded than almost any person in any other country, except the Jew”



It is strange that Nehru should have brought the comparison between Hindu and the Jew at such level, back even in 1953, when neither Jews nor Hindutva had earned the notoriety that became their hallmark in later years. 

Being a Brahmin himself, he should have known, that by Hindu, he means the leader of the pack, the Brahmin.

Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai

Israel Cries Wolf – By Roger Cohen – American Jewish NYT Columnist

April 10, 2009

New York Times
Op-Ed Columnist

Israel Cries Wolf

Published: April 8, 2009

ISTANBUL — “Iran is the center of terrorism, fundamentalism and subversion and is in my view more dangerous than Nazism, because Hitler did not possess a nuclear bomb, whereas the Iranians are trying to perfect a nuclear option.”

Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Roger Cohen

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

Benjamin Netanyahu 2009? Try again. These words were in fact uttered by another Israeli prime minister (and now Israeli president), Shimon Peres, in 1996. Four years earlier, in 1992, he’d predicted that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 1999.

You can’t accuse the Israelis of not crying wolf. Ehud Barak, now defense minister, said in 1996 that Iran would be producing nuclear weapons by 2004.

Now here comes Netanyahu, in an interview with his faithful stenographer Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, spinning the latest iteration of Israel’s attempt to frame Iran as some Nazi-like incarnation of evil:

“You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”

I must say when I read those words about “the wide-eyed believer” my mind wandered to a recently departed “decider.” But I’m not going there.

The issue today is Iran and, more precisely, what President Barack Obama will make of Netanyahu’s prescription that, the economy aside, Obama’s great mission is “preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons” — an eventuality newly  inscribed on Israeli calendars as “months” away.

I’ll return to the ever shifting nuclear doomsday in a moment, but first that Netanyahu interview.

This “messianic apocalyptic cult” in Tehran is, of course, the very same one with which Israel did business during the 1980’s, when its interest was in weakening Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. That business — including sales of weapons and technology — was an extension of Israeli policy toward Iran under the shah.

It’s also the same “messianic apocalyptic cult” that has survived 30 years, ushered the country from the penury of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, shrewdly extended its power and influence, cooperated with America on Afghanistan before being consigned to “the axis of evil,” and kept its country at peace in the 21st century while bloody mayhem engulfed neighbors to east and west and Israel fought two wars.

I don’t buy the view that, as Netanyahu told Goldberg, Iran is “a fanatic regime that might put its zealotry above its self-interest.” Every scrap of evidence suggests that, on the contrary, self-interest and survival drive the mullahs.

Yet Netanyahu insists (too much) that Iran is “a country that glorifies blood and death, including its own self-immolation.” Huh?

On that ocular theme again, Netanyahu says Iran’s “composite leadership” has “elements of wide-eyed fanaticism that do not exist in any other would-be nuclear power in the world.” No, they exist in an actual nuclear power, Pakistan.

Israel’s nuclear warheads, whose function is presumably deterrence of precisely powers like Iran, go unmentioned, of course.

Netanyahu also makes the grotesque claim that the terrible loss of life in the Iran-Iraq war (started by Iraq) “didn’t sear a terrible wound into the Iranian consciousness.” It did just that, which is why Iran’s younger generation seeks reform but not upheaval; and why the country as a whole prizes stability over military adventure.

Arab states, Netanyahu suggests, “fervently hope” that America will, if necessary, use “military power” to stop Iran going nuclear. My recent conversations, including with senior Saudi officials, suggest that’s wrong and the longstanding Israeli attempt to convince Arab states that Iran, not Israel, is their true enemy will fail again.

What’s going on here? Israel, as it has for nearly two decades, is trying to lock in American support and avoid any disadvantageous change in the Middle Eastern balance of power, now overwhelmingly tilted in Jerusalem’s favor, by portraying Iran as a monstrous pariah state bent on imminent nuclear war.

A semblance of power balance is often the precondition for peace. Iran was left out of the Madrid and Oslo processes, with disastrous results. But that’s a discussion for another day.

What’s critical right now is that Obama view Netanyahu’s fear-mongering with an appropriate skepticism, rein him in, and pursue his regime-recognizing opening toward Tehran, as he did Wednesday by saying America would join nuclear talks for the first time. The president should read Trita Parsi’s excellent “Treacherous Alliance” as preparation.

The core strategic shift of Obama’s presidency has been away from the with-us-or-against-us rhetoric of the war on terror toward a rapprochement with the Muslim world as the basis for isolating terrorists.

That’s unsustainable if America or Israel find themselves at war with Muslim Persians as well as Muslim Arabs, and if Netanyahu’s intense-eyed attempt to suck America into a perpetuation of war-on-terror thinking prevails.

The only way to stop Iran going nuclear, and encourage reform of a repressive regime, is to get to the negotiating table. There’s time. Those “months” are still a couple of years. What Iran has accumulated is low-enriched uranium. You need highly-enriched uranium for a bomb. That’s a leap.

Israeli hegemony is proving a kind of slavery. Passage to the Promised Land involves rethinking the Middle East, starting in Iran.  


EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
April 09, 2009 7:56 amLink
It’s very welcome to see this kind of analysis coming from from The New York Times, but if we dare to see the Iranian state as something other than a nation of monsters, I wonder then if we aren’t missing a larger point.

Should the goal really be to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?

What if the current Iranian regime was in power back in the late 1960’s, and what if they had nukes back then? Would Israel have felt empowered to begin its policy of settlement in the West Bank? Would their every reaction to an attack on their people be so hugely disproportionate?

I think the real threat that the bomb poses to Israel isn’t in Iran acquiring one, but rather, in Israel’s being the only power in the region possessing one. What kind of nuclear policy is governing the use of these weapons? It certainly isn’t Mutual Assured Destruction, and yet that is the only policy the world has any experience with (and successful experience at that).

No, what Israel is doing is something else entirely, and it isn’t too difficult to see how this translates to how extremist politicians continue to retain power in its government. While in sole possession of the bomb, no military excursion can  really ever fail, because the bomb is there as last resort. So without any check on the use of military force, politicians are free to engage in ever escalating shows of force as a way of differentiating themselves from the rest of the pack.

The results should have been predictable.

If we can manage to distance ourselves from the suicide-bomber stereotype some have attempted to assign to Iran, as Roger Cohen seems to suggest, then we should take the extra step and consider that perhaps the best way to peace is to solve Israel’s problem of being the only nuclear power in the region. And that’s called, a nuclear Iran.

Where would the Middle East be today if Iran were nuclear back in the late 1960’s? Probably in the same place the rest of the world is today, despite the bitter rivalry then between the United State and the Soviet Union. Time heals these wounds, but only if you don’t continually work to open them anew. Neither the U.S. nor the U.S.S.R. engaged in policies analogous to occupation and settlement, because they were afraid of what the consequences might be.

I would suggest that there would have been no policy of occupation or settlement by Israel starting in the early 1970’s with a nuclear Iran, for fear of what the consequences might be, and that this parity then would have led to some kind of relative peace today.

I am of course loathe to see a new nuclear trigger added to the world state, but you know, sometimes the best approach in putting out a fire is by starting a new one.

— nokilli, HI

EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
April 09, 2009 8:40 amLink
Yonkers, New York
09 April 2009

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is what many characterize as a “super-hawk.”

Only recently, before he got the position of prime minister, he vowed that he would “smash” Hamas. That would mean Israeli forces going full-blast into Gaza and killing all member of Hamas, in the process slaying thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians as “collateral damage.”

Netanyahu would thus reduce Gaza into a charnel house.

Now that he is prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu is making all those provocative statements which, obviously, lay the ground for an Israeli preemptive and unilateral attack against Iranian nuclear facilities at Natanz and elsewhere. He compares Khamenei’s Iran to Hitler’s Nazi Germany; impliedly, Iran deserves “regime change.”

There is probably no way the United States can rein in Benjamin Netanyahu. The U.S. has always considered Israel its best ally in the Middle East–which is true. This assurance could very well be Mr. Netanyahu’s license to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

But does Mr. Netanyahu know the unintended consequences if such an Israeli attack should take place?

That is the question which I suggest he ponder long and hard.

Mariano Patalinjug

— Mariano Patalinjug, Yonkers, New York

EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
April 09, 2009 10:29 amLink
Dear Richard,

Another excellent column on this subject. Thanks so much. Gwynn Dyer, in his excellent series of books on the US in the Middle East, makes these same points about Iran always being accused of being just around the corner from a bomb – these charges have been made for the past 20 years. Dyer points out that the Iranian nuclear program has proceeded in fits and starts, usually in response to external threats. Iran had a nuclear program way back in the 80s and 90s (not to mention under the Shah), but largely in response to Iraq’s efforts to acquire NWs. When Saddam’s military was destroyed in the first Gulf War, Iran mothballed its program until the late 1990s, when Pakistan acquired a bomb. And now, according to US intelligence, Iran has mothballed its nuclear program again, at least since 2003.

Beyond this, I should point out that even if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon, that is a long way from it being a real threat to anyone. Indeed, it is completely illogical to assume that Iran would ever attack any other country first, since that would mean national suicide. Israel’s efforts to convince Americans that the Iranians are, indeed, inherently irrational and suicidal is meant to counter this obvious logical problem. In fact, Iran would probably use a nuclear weapon to deter Israel and the US and to provide itself with a way to balance the scales of power in the region and be taken seriously as a party that needs to be treated with respect. All of this being said, I don’t think Iran wants a nuclear bomb – it can get all of the above if it can just demonstrate that it has the capacity to go nuclear if it needs to.

This is the real problem for Israel. The Israelis are used to having the dominant military in the region. But an Iran with a credible nuclear potential means that Israel’s overwhelming advantage is offset. Israel would no longer be able to use its military with impunity. That is why convincing Americans to attack Iran has become so important.

As you indicate, Israel’s hegemony in the region has actually proven to be a curse. Because it has not needed to really make peace with its much weaker neighbours, Israel has refused to make the difficult choices and decisions necessary for peace. If the playing field was more even, the diplomatic situation might actually change for the better.

As a final note, I should point out that back during the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran (weapons built with the help of the West). At the time, Iran had the option of building its own CW and retaliating in kind. It chose not to, apparently for religious and moral reasons – the Iranians honestly believed that CW were too terrible to use and that their use would violate the principles of Islam. I would not trust the West to act with the same kind of restraint. I certainly would not trust Israel to act with that kind of self-control. So, based on this precedent, I think that we need to be more circumspect about how Iran may behave.

— Shaun Narine, Fredericton, Canada

EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
April 09, 2009 11:12 amLink
The iron fist of Israel prefers confrontation to negotiation – that has been repeatedly shown since independence, and resentment, discord and hostilities only grow. It’s time to take a different stance. Can Israel lay down their guns?

— David, Hartford

EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
April 09, 2009 11:52 amLink
Dear Mr. Cohen,
Having followed events in Iran for the last 30 years, I can only agree with you that Iran is not governed by fanatical, (suicidal?) Islamic fanatics. Any intention to develop a nuclear weapons capability is meant not to “wipe Israel off the map”, but rather to deter a U.S. invasion, a fear prompted, no doubt, by Iran’s inclusion in an “Axis of Evil” by President George W. Bush.

— Gary Peschell, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
April 09, 2009 11:52 amLink
Great column. Now comes the hard part: finding a diplomatic solution to the nuclear question. President Obama — in this respect a hardliner — says publicly that Iran must stop enriching uranium even for nuclear power. Iranians — including Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist candidate for president — say they won’t agree to depend on imported reactor fuel. Obama has proposed an international fuel bank. How to bridge these positions?

Former Undersecretary of State Thomas R. Pickering has proposed that an international consortium enrich uranium in Iran, under strict inspection. It’s still an international fuel bank, as in the Obama proposal. After all, such a facility must be somewhere. Making it international reduces the risk of diversion to make highly enriched uranium for a bomb. Putting it in Iran speaks to Iranian national pride — and their legitimate fear that imported fuel might be withheld to force concessions on other issues.

— David Keppel, Bloomington, Indiana

EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
April 09, 2009 11:52 amLink
The question before us, it seems to me, is: Is Iran building nuclear weapons, and how close are they to succeeding at their effort?

Are the Israelis really a bunch of bullying, irrational, uncomprehending dolts who nevertheless control American foreign policy (as some commentators here have suggested)?

Or, perhaps, living in the region and listening to what Ahmadinajad and others say, and watching what they do, Israeli  politicians from all over the political spectrum and not just from Likud (as one writer suggests)have something legitimate to fear.

That the timetable for the Iranina acquisition of the bomb has been improperly predicted in the past, as Cohen begins his article by telling us, does not mean that they are close now. That Iran is filled with young people so to speak dancing in the streets does not mean that they have much say in the development of policy.

In any event, it seems to me that Mr. Cohen pepretrates a central error throughout his series of articles in which he attemps to paint a picture of a rational, pragmatic Iran over and against the stereotype of the mad mullahs.

That error is that we are dealing with a country many of whose foreign policy actions are covert. We do not see the destruction of the Buenos Aires Jewish community center as an Iranian activity. We do not see the dollars flowing to Hisbullah and Hamas (who Mr. Cohen would also wish normalized relations). We are not privy to the discussions as to what use the bomb will be put once ten to twelve of them are built. And we are fairly certain a bomb will be built and relatively soon.

And finally, as rational Westerners, we cannot see the possibility that Iran would risk severe retaliation for one bomb successfully launched at Tel Aviv, because in the end they think pragmatically.

But Westerners in France, Italy, and America (some of the homes of Mr. Cohen’s commentators) do not have to take that risk. Israelis do. Further, Israelis recognize the larger threat posed by Iran as one of the homes of Islamism, as many Westerners, Mr. Cohen apparently among them, do not.

— Philip Cohen, Greensboro, NC

EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
April 09, 2009 11:52 amLink
Mr. Cohen’s column about the position and rhetoric of Benjamin Netenyahu reminded me of the following story, reported in the New York Times in 1998:

“Netanyahu, in U.S., Woos Conservatives”, by Steven Erlanger, Published: Tuesday, January 20, 1998…

Here is an excerpt from that story:

“A meeting with Mr. (Jerry) Falwell was added to Mr. Netanyahu’s schedule at the last minute, officials said, before he met the Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. Mr. Netanyahu will also meet with conservative Republican legislators including Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and will give interviews to conservative groups and commentators like Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network and Cal Thomas of The Washington Times.

His voice hoarse from a cold, Mr. Netanyahu said at the rally that the Jewish people ”are being vilified and scorned and misrepresented.””

Then, as now, the parallels in the tactics of victimization, obstructionism, and belligerent fear-mongering, with an undertone of religious fundamentalism, employed by the right wing in both Israel and the U.S. – by Netenyahu and the Republican Party, respectively – are too close for comfort. This is and has been, figuratively and literally, an unholy alliance that seems to have been designed to, among other things, deliberately thwart peace efforts in the Middle East year after year after year.

— Larry M, Minnesota

EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
April 09, 2009 1:29 pmLink
Anyone who has followed the heartbreaking stories coming from Gaza knows this is not the road to peace. It is time to move beyond the rhetoric and force Israel to, first, act in a more humane manner to their neighbors and, second, accept a two-state solution. That being said, there are enemies in the region. While some may say, don’t even bother to talk, talk implies mutual respect and a true desire for peace. Iranian leaders may rant, but the Iranian public is far more aware.

— Elaine Bergstrom, Milwaukee

EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
April 09, 2009 1:43 pmLink
Netanyahu’s statements are propaganda. Even though Iran is following policies that run counter to U.S. interests, Iran is behaving rationally, considering recent history in the mideast, so one should assume Iran’s leaders are rational. If the U.S. wants to be effective, it should ignore Netanyahu and craft a policy that addresses U.S. interests in this region. That policy should include negotiations with Iran.

— big bill, okemos

EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
April 09, 2009 1:43 pmLink
Thanks to the New York Times and Roger Cohen for this series of forthright columns regarding Israel and the Middle East. Any reasonable observer would conclude how wrong we have been following an aggressive Israel-centric foreign policy that is no longer about the safety of Israel, but for the greater Israel, all on the back of a silent and mostly unaware American public. If this blind support continues to go unchecked with the likes of Netanyahu and Lieberman in charge of the Israeli war machine, it will surely end with a wider war in the Middle East. Mr. Obama will need all the support he can get to apply a good measure of tough love to the new government leaders in Israel

— Ted V, Houston, TX

EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
April 09, 2009 4:01 pmLink
Kudos for a gutsy column with the proper amount of indignation. It should be read closely by Israel’s many friends in Congress — beginning with Sen. Lieberman. Iran’s belligerence, annoying as it is, has to be set against undisputed facts known to every Iranian but to few Americans: e.g. in 1952 the U.S. deposed a democratically elected Iranian leader for his temerity in demanding a bigger cut of his country’s oil, replaced him with a puppet autocrat whose vicious regime we slavishly supported, sided with Iraq in its decade-long war against Iran, mistakenly shot down an Iranian airliner in the first Gulf war, killing all aboard — to say nothing of meekly bowing to Israel’s illegal territorial policies and quartering huge armies on Iran’s borders. Seen in this light, both Iran’s and Israel’s official utterances become clearer. LP

— luke, washington, dc

‘America Seeks Bonds to Islam, Obama Insists” – THE NEW YORK TIMES

April 7, 2009


New York Times

America Seeks Bonds to Islam, Obama Insists

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

President Obama, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, spoke to the Turkish Parliament in Ankara on Monday.

Published: April 6, 2009

ANKARA, Turkey — President Obama formally began his outreach to the Muslim world on Monday when he spoke before Turkey’s Parliament, telling legislators that the United States “is not and will never be at war with Islam.”

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Mr. Obama visited the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, and praised Ataturk in his speech.

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

“America’s relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot and will not just be based upon opposition to terrorism,” he said. “We seek broader engagement based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.”

Showing more self-confidence each day on his maiden overseas trip as president, Mr. Obama, in addressing a majority Muslim country for the first time, appeared to have prepared carefully for one particular line in his wide-ranging speech.

“The United States has been enriched by Muslim-Americans,” he said. “Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country.

“I know,” he said, “because I am one of them.”

And then he paused. Throughout his speech, he had moved swiftly from passage to passage, but this time, he waited for the interpreter to catch up. After about five seconds, the applause came.

The line was a bold one for Mr. Obama, who has been falsely described as a Muslim. The claim persists on some right-wing Web sites, which may try to interpret his remarks as proof of that view.

But Mr. Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, is calculating that the benefits of demonstrating to the Muslim world that Americans are not antagonistic toward it outweigh the potential political fallout back home. His calculus may also reflect an increased belief that he has enough political capital that he can spend some of it in pursuit of strengthening ties between Muslim nations and the West.

Introduced as “Barack Hussein Obama,” the president told the assembly that he planned to push for a two-state solution in the Middle East, despite the view of many foreign policy experts that such a goal will be even more difficult to reach because of the makeup of the new Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not to mention the fractured state of internal Palestinian politics.

In a direct rebuttal of comments made last week by Israel’s hawkish new foreign minister,Avigdor Lieberman, that agreements reached at an American-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, Md., in 2007 have “no validity,” Mr. Obama said: “Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

He added: “That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the road map and at Annapolis. That is a goal that I will actively pursue as president.” The road map refers to a 2003 outline of steps toward a peace agreement.

Turkey is crucial to American interests on many fronts. It borders Iraq and Iran; it has deep influence in Afghanistan; and it is helping efforts to forge a peace deal between Israel and Syria.

In choosing Turkey as an example of the type of relationship that can be struck between the United States and an Islamic population, Mr. Obama also seemed to be pushing for more acceptance of the separation of religion and the state. Turkey is a secular Muslim democracy that has recently seemed at war with itself over its own religious identity. Its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has roots in political Islam, a worry to secular Turks.

On Monday morning, Mr. Obama went to pay his respects at the Ankara mausoleum ofMustafa Kemal Ataturk, a secularist who established modern Turkey, and the president wrote at some length in a guest book at Ataturk’s shrine.

“It is also clear that the greatest monument to Ataturk’s life is not something that can be cast in stone and marble,” Mr. Obama said during his speech. “His greatest legacy is Turkey’s strong, vibrant secular democracy, and that is the work that this assembly carries on today.”

White House officials say they still plan for Mr. Obama to make a major speech to the Muslim world from an Islamic capital in the early months of his presidency, and they were quick to say that Monday’s Ankara speech was not that. There will be another, they say, in which Mr. Obama will try to define, at length, his views on America and Islam.

Mr. Obama also threw his weight solidly behind Turkey’s accession to the European Union, an issue that has split Europe, with France and Germany lobbying against Turkey’s entry.

“Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union,” he said. “We speak not as members of the E.U., but as close friends of both Turkey and Europe.”

The president also waded into the fraught issue of Turkey’s relations with Armenia, and the genocide of more than a million Ottoman Armenians beginning in 1915. Turkey acknowledges the killings but says they did not amount to a systematic genocide, and it has vehemently opposed the introduction of a bill in the United States Congress that would define it that way.

As a senator, Mr. Obama voiced support for the legislation, but during a news conference with President Abdullah Gul before the Parliament speech, he did not use the word genocide and said Turkey and Armenia had made progress in talks.

Armenian-Americans were quick to voice their ire.

“In his remarks today in Ankara, President Obama missed a valuable opportunity to honor his public pledge to recognize the Armenian genocide,” Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said in a statement.

Mr. Obama’s remarks, he said, fell “far short of the clear promise he made as a candidate that he would, as president, fully and unequivocally recognize this crime against humanity.”

During the Parliament speech, Mr. Obama did speak of the Armenia issue, saying, “History is often tragic, but unresolved, it can be a heavy weight.”

He said that the United States “still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of Native Americans.”

In another similarity between Washington and Ankara, Mr. Obama was mobbed by legislators angling for a handshake as he tried to leave the chamber at the end of his speech. In many ways, it resembled the scene in the United States Congress after a State of the Union speech.

Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Paris.



President Obama’s Remarks in Turkey

Published: April 6, 2009

Following is a transcript of President Obama’s remarks to the Turkish Parliament, as provided by the White House.


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PRESIDENT OBAMA: Mr. Speaker, Madam Deputy Speaker, distinguished members, I am honored to speak in this chamber, and I am committed to renewing the alliance between our nations and the friendship between our people.

This is my first trip overseas as President of the United States. I’ve been to the G20 summit in London, and the NATO summit in Strasbourg, and the European Union summit in Prague. Some people have asked me if I chose to continue my travels to Ankara and Istanbul to send a message to the world. And my answer is simple: Evet — yes. (Applause.) Turkey is a critical ally. Turkey is an important part of Europe. And Turkey and the United States must stand together — and work together — to overcome the challenges of our time.

This morning I had the great privilege of visiting the tomb of your extraordinary founder of your republic. And I was deeply impressed by this beautiful memorial to a man who did so much to shape the course of history. But it is also clear that the greatest monument to Ataturk’s life is not something that can be cast in stone and marble. His greatest legacy is Turkey’s strong, vibrant, secular democracy, and that is the work that this assembly carries on today. (Applause.)

This future was not easily assured, it was not guaranteed. At the end of World War I, Turkey could have succumbed to the foreign powers that were trying to claim its territory, or sought to restore an ancient empire. But Turkey chose a different future. You freed yourself from foreign control, and you founded a republic that commands the respect of the United States and the wider world.

And there is a simple truth to this story: Turkey’s democracy is your own achievement. It was not forced upon you by any outside power, nor did it come without struggle and sacrifice. Turkey draws strength from both the successes of the past, and from the efforts of each generation of Turks that makes new progress for your people.

Now, my country’s democracy has its own story. The general who led America in revolution and governed as our first President was, as many of you know, George Washington. And like you, we built a grand monument to honor our founding father — a towering obelisk that stands in the heart of the capital city that bears Washington’s name. I can see the Washington Monument from the window of the White House every day.

It took decades to build. There were frequent delays. Over time, more and more people contributed to help make this monument the inspiring structure that still stands tall today. Among those who came to our aid were friends from all across the world who offered their own tributes to Washington and the country he helped to found.

And one of those tributes came from Istanbul. Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid sent a marble plaque that helped to build the Washington Monument. Inscribed in the plaque was a poem that began with a few simple words: “So as to strengthen the friendship between the two countries.” Over 150 years have passed since those words were carved into marble. Our nations have changed in many ways. But our friendship is strong, and our alliance endures.

It is a friendship that flourished in the years after World War II, when President Truman committed our nation to the defense of Turkey’s freedom and sovereignty, and Turkey committed itself into the NATO Alliance. Turkish troops have served by our side from Korea to Kosovo to Kabul. Together, we withstood the great test of the Cold War. Trade between our nations has steadily advanced. So has cooperation in science and research.

The ties among our people have deepened, as well, and more and more Americans of Turkish origin live and work and succeed within our borders. And as a basketball fan, I’ve even noticed that Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur have got some pretty good basketball games. (Applause.)

The United States and Turkey have not always agreed on every issue, and that’s to be expected — no two nations do. But we have stood together through many challenges over the last 60 years. And because of the strength of our alliance and the endurance of our friendship, both America and Turkey are stronger and the world is more secure.

Now, our two democracies are confronted by an unprecedented set of challenges: An economic crisis that recognizes no borders; extremism that leads to the killing of innocent men and women and children; strains on our energy supply and a changing climate; the proliferation of the world’s deadliest weapons; and the persistence of tragic conflict.

These are the great tests of our young century. And the choices that we make in the coming years will determine whether the future will be shaped by fear or by freedom; by poverty or by prosperity; by strife or by a just, secure and lasting peace.

This much is certain: No one nation can confront these challenges alone, and all nations have a stake in overcoming them. That is why we must listen to one another, and seek common ground. That is why we must build on our mutual interests, and rise above our differences. We are stronger when we act together. That is the message that I’ve carried with me throughout this trip to Europe. That is the message that I delivered when I had the privilege of meeting with your President and with your Prime Minister. That will be the approach of the United States of America going forward.

Already, America and Turkey are working with the G20 on an unprecedented response to an unprecedented economic crisis. Now, this past week, we came together to ensure that the world’s largest economies take strong and coordinated action to stimulate growth and restore the flow of credit; to reject the pressures of protectionism, and to extend a hand to developing countries and the people hit hardest by this downturn; and to dramatically reform our regulatory system so that the world never faces a crisis like this again.

As we go forward, the United States and Turkey can pursue many opportunities to serve prosperity for our people. The President and I this morning talked about expanding the ties of commerce and trade. There’s enormous opportunity when it comes to energy to create jobs. And we can increase new sources to not only free ourselves from dependence of other energies — other countries’ energy sources, but also to combat climate change. We should build on our Clean Technology Fund to leverage efficiency and renewable energy investments in Turkey. And to power markets in Turkey and Europe, the United States will continue to support your central role as an East-West corridor for oil and natural gas.

This economic cooperation only reinforces the common security that Europe and the United States share with Turkey as a NATO ally, and the common values that we share as democracies. So in meeting the challenges of the 21st century, we must seek the strength of a Europe that is truly united, peaceful and free.

So let me be clear: The United States strongly supports Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union. (Applause.) We speak not as members of the EU, but as close friends of both Turkey and Europe. Turkey has been a resolute ally and a responsible partner in transatlantic and European institutions. Turkey is bound to Europe by more than the bridges over the Bosphorous. Centuries of shared history, culture, and commerce bring you together. Europe gains by the diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith — it is not diminished by it. And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe’s foundation once more.

Now, of course, Turkey has its own responsibilities. And you’ve made important progress towards membership. But I also know that Turkey has pursued difficult political reforms not simply because it’s good for EU membership, but because it’s right for Turkey.

In the last several years, you’ve abolished state security courts, you’ve expanded the right to counsel. You’ve reformed the penal code and strengthened laws that govern the freedom of the press and assembly. You’ve lifted bans on teaching and broadcasting Kurdish, and the world noted with respect the important signal sent through a new state Kurdish television station.

These achievements have created new laws that must be implemented, and a momentum that should be sustained. For democracies cannot be static — they must move forward. Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens.

I say this as the President of a country that not very long ago made it hard for somebody who looks like me to vote, much less be President of the United States. But it is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our countries. Every challenge that we face is more easily met if we tend to our own democratic foundation. This work is never over. That’s why, in the United States, we recently ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. That’s why we prohibited — without exception or equivocation — the use of torture. All of us have to change. And sometimes change is hard.

Another issue that confronts all democracies as they move to the future is how we deal with the past. The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history. Facing the Washington Monument that I spoke of is a memorial of Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed those who were enslaved even after Washington led our Revolution. Our country still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of Native Americans.

Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History is often tragic, but unresolved, it can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there’s strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. And while there’s been a good deal of commentary about my views, it’s really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.

We’ve already seen historic and courageous steps taken by Turkish and Armenian leaders. These contacts hold out the promise of a new day. An open border would return the Turkish and Armenian people to a peaceful and prosperous coexistence that would serve both of your nations. So I want you to know that the United States strongly supports the full normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. It is a cause worth working towards.

It speaks to Turkey’s leadership that you are poised to be the only country in the region to have normal and peaceful relations with all the South Caucasus nations. And to advance that peace, you can play a constructive role in helping to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has continued for far too long.

Advancing peace also includes the disputes that persist in the Eastern Mediterranean. And here there’s a cause for hope. The two Cypriot leaders have an opportunity through their commitment to negotiations under the United Nations Good Offices Mission. The United States is willing to offer all the help sought by the parties as they work towards a just and lasting settlement that reunifies Cyprus into a bizonal and bicommunal federation.

These efforts speak to one part of the critical region that surrounds Turkey. And when we consider the challenges before us, on issue after issue, we share common goals.

In the Middle East, we share the goal of a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. Let me be clear: The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. That is a goal shared by Palestinians, Israelis, and people of goodwill around the world. That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the road map and at Annapolis. That is a goal that I will actively pursue as President of the United States.

We know the road ahead will be difficult. Both Israelis and Palestinians must take steps that are necessary to build confidence and trust. Both Israelis and Palestinians, both must live up to the commitments they have made. Both must overcome longstanding passions and the politics of the moment to make progress towards a secure and lasting peace.

The United States and Turkey can help the Palestinians and Israelis make this journey. Like the United States, Turkey has been a friend and partner in Israel’s quest for security. And like the United States, you seek a future of opportunity and statehood for the Palestinians. So now, working together, we must not give into pessimism and mistrust. We must pursue every opportunity for progress, as you’ve done by supporting negotiations between Syria and Israel. We must extend a hand to those Palestinians who are in need, while helping them strengthen their own institutions. We must reject the use of terror, and recognize that Israel’s security concerns are legitimate.

The peace of the region will also be advanced if Iran forgoes any nuclear weapons ambitions. Now, as I made clear in Prague yesterday, no one is served by the spread of nuclear weapons, least of all Turkey. You live in a difficult region and a nuclear arm race would not serve the security of this nation well. This part of the world has known enough violence. It has known enough hatred. It does not need a race for an ever-more powerful tool of destruction.

Now, I have made it clear to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the United States seeks engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We want Iran to play its rightful role in the community of nations. Iran is a great civilization. We want them to engage in the economic and political integration that brings prosperity and security. But Iran’s leaders must choose whether they will try to build a weapon or build a better future for their people.

So both Turkey and the United States support a secure and united Iraq that does not serve as a safe haven for terrorists. I know there were differences about whether to go to war. There were differences within my own country, as well. But now we must come together as we end this war responsibly, because the future of Iraq is inseparable from the future of the broader region. As I’ve already announced, and many of you are aware, the United States will remove our combat brigades by the end of next August, while working with the Iraqi government as they take responsibility for security. And we will work with Iraq, Turkey, and all Iraq’s neighbors, to forge a new dialogue that reconciles differences and advances our common security.

Make no mistake, though: Iraq, Turkey, and the United States face a common threat from terrorism. That includes the al Qaeda terrorists who have sought to drive Iraqis apart and destroy their country. That includes the PKK. There is no excuse for terror against any nation. (Applause.) As President, and as a NATO ally, I pledge that you will have our support against the terrorist activities of the PKK or anyone else. These efforts will be strengthened by the continued work to build ties of cooperation between Turkey, the Iraqi government, and Iraq’s Kurdish leaders, and by your continued efforts to promote education and opportunity and democracy for the Kurdish population here inside Turkey.

Finally, we share the common goal of denying al Qaeda a safe haven in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The world has come too far to let this region backslide, and to let al Qaeda terrorists plot further attacks. That’s why we are committed to a more focused effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. That is why we are increasing our efforts to train Afghans to sustain their own security, and to reconcile former adversaries. That’s why we are increasing our support for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, so that we stand on the side not only of security, but also of opportunity and the promise of a better life.

Turkey has been a true partner. Your troops were among the first in the International Security Assistance Force. You have sacrificed much in this endeavor. Now we must achieve our goals together. I appreciate that you’ve offered to help us train and support Afghan security forces, and expand opportunity across the region. Together, we can rise to meet this challenge like we have so many before.

I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam. (Applause.) In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people.

I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world — including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country — I know, because I am one of them. (Applause.)

Above all, above all we will demonstrate through actions our commitment to a better future. I want to help more children get the education that they need to succeed. We want to promote health care in places where people are vulnerable. We want to expand the trade and investment that can bring prosperity for all people. In the months ahead, I will present specific programs to advance these goals. Our focus will be on what we can do, in partnership with people across the Muslim world, to advance our common hopes and our common dreams. And when people look back on this time, let it be said of America that we extended the hand of friendship to all people.

There’s an old Turkish proverb: “You cannot put out fire with flames.” America knows this. Turkey knows this. There’s some who must be met by force, they will not compromise. But force alone cannot solve our problems, and it is no alternative to extremism. The future must belong to those who create, not those who destroy. That is the future we must work for, and we must work for it together.

I know there are those who like to debate Turkey’s future. They see your country at the crossroads of continents, and touched by the currents of history. They know that this has been a place where civilizations meet, and different peoples come together. They wonder whether you will be pulled in one direction or another.

But I believe here is what they don’t understand: Turkey’s greatness lies in your ability to be at the center of things. This is not where East and West divide — this is where they come together. (Applause.) In the beauty of your culture. In the richness of your history. In the strength of your democracy. In your hopes for tomorrow.

I am honored to stand here with you — to look forward to the future that we must reach for together — and to reaffirm America’s commitment to our strong and enduring friendship. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.

END 3:55 P.M. (Local)

Doha Forum Calls for Tougher U.S. Policy on Israel

April 5, 2009


Doha Forum Calls for Tougher U.S. Policy on Israel



| Mar 26 2009

The Doha Debates, a forum for dialogue and free speech in Qatar, took place in Gaston Hall last night for a discussion entitled “This House believes it’s time for the U.S. administration to get tough on Israel.”
In its first event in the United States since its founding in 2004, moderator Tim Sebastian, founder and chairman of the Doha Debates, was joined by Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Israeli Knesset and senior member of the Labor Party, and Michael Scheuer, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Bin Laden Issue Station, affirming. Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and current president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and Alan Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, spoke against the motion.
In his opening remarks, Burg compared relations between the United States and Israel to the relationship of a parent to a child. He stated that, at times, the parent needs to be tough.
“After 100 years of war … it’s about time to say ‘enough.’ It’s about time to say ‘let’s think differently about it,’” he said.
Burg added that the United States needs to push Israel to cooperate with its neighboring countries in order to attain peace in the area.
“It’s about the well-being of the region and the well-being of the world. Israel is — as tiny as it is — a component which impacts and influences so many other systems,” Burg said.
Dershowitz argued that additional pressure on Israel from the United States would result in a weakened Israel that is more susceptible to attack and would ultimately lead to heightened violence in the region.
“Getting tough with an ally may make us feel macho, but it’s a simple-minded solution to a complex and multidimensional problem. We need to be smart with Israel — not tough,” he said.
Dershowitz said that the United States does not have to put pressure on Israel to attain peace, since it is something that Israelis want for themselves. He emphasized the need to continue to provide Israel with military support.
“What’s smart is for the United States [to] take a position that would never compromise on Israel’s security,” Dershowitz said. “What’s really not smart is using words like ‘let’s get tough’ without discerning where this toughness occurs. Saying we’re going to get tough simply weakens Israel in the minds of its enemies.”
Scheuer later challenged the United States’ financial support of Israel.
“We are under attack by Sunnis around the world — an extraordinary threat to the United States internally and externally — and to think that our support for Israel is not a negative in terms of our ability to defend ourselves is a fantasy,” Scheuer said. “As long as we’re supporting Israel, as long as Israel is using our pennies to kill Palestinians. It’s not going to be a good thing for the U.S.”
While Gold also rejected the motion alongside Dershowitz, he focused on how the U.S. stance on Israel will affect other countries in the region, specifically Iran.
“Getting tough on Israel is getting soft on Iran,” Gold said. “People in the Gulf understand that the moment Iran gets nuclear weapons, its revolutionary guard will be emboldened. … People in the Gulf understand that Israel is a sideshow.”
Scheuer’s opinion that the United States should remain indifferent toward Israel was widely viewed as the most extreme standpoint.
“My position is that we shouldn’t care about Israel. We should make them grow up,” Scheuer said. “We have no business bolstering democracy … I don’t think America has any business building democracies anywhere.”
Following their opening remarks, the speakers took questions from the audience on topics ranging from whether or not the conflict is based on religion, to whether individual rights exist in Israel and the viability of a two-state solution. Additionally, at the end of the debate, the audience was given the opportunity to electronically vote on which argument they thought was stronger.
With a result of 63 percent to 37 percent, last night’s attendees ultimately voted in favor of the motion that the United States should take a stronger stance in its relationship with Israel.
Students attending the event had mixed reactions. Senior Matt Smallcomb (COL ’09) said he thought the argument was too vague for debate and the debate itself was poorly executed.
“First of all, it wasn’t a substantive discussion. Second of all, I think it’s a huge shame that the people arguing the affirmative were so weak,” Smallcomb said. “I think there’s definitely merit to the affirmative argument, but the fact that an overwhelming number of people in the audience voted for the affirmative [given that the argument was weak] demonstrated that people showed up with an idea in mind and were just sort of listening in for entertainment.”
Others felt the debate was a valuable learning experience and an opportunity to hear many diverse points of view.
Josh Mogil (SFS ’11) said that he particularly enjoyed listening to the proposals presented by Dershowitz and Burg.
“I thought this well-reasoned debate — with voting at the end — was a wonderful exercise in American democracy,” he said.
“Dershowitz and Burg, despite being on two different sides of the debate, were the winners of the evening,” Mogil said. “They may have been representing opposing viewpoints, but by the end of the debate they were able to look at their common ground and actually come up with a compromise solution to the entire resolve.”
While Dani Isaacsohn (SFS ’11) said he was generally pleased with the debate, he found some of the speakers to be controversial and particularly extreme.
“I think a lot of what Dore Gold said was very dated, and that he was speaking as if it was still 2001 when it’s really 2009. I also thought that Scheuer was radical and reactionary,” Isaacsohn said.
The Doha Debates are sponsored by the Qatar Foundation for Education Science and Community Development. Recent debates have included “This House believes that political Islam is a threat to the West” and “This House believes the Middle East would be better off with John McCain in the White House.”
Last night’s event will air on BBC World News on April 4 and 5.
Read more: Doha Forum Calls for Tougher U.S. Policy on Israel | The Hoya –

Photo 1 of 1
Courtesy Patrick Forbes
Tim Sebastian, the founder and host of the Doha Debates, led a panel of experts in a discussion regarding U.S. foreign policy in Israel, in Gaston Hall, Wed.

US wants Afghanistan/Pakistan/India as its military base – By Ghulam Muhammed

April 5, 2009

Sunday, April 05, 2009


US wants Afghanistan/Pakistan/India as its military base


It will a great mistake for analysts and leaders of AF-PAK-IN to take Obama or others in the US administrations on their words and work on the premises that US is in Afghanistan and Pakistan only to take out Al Qaida, or Taliban, or Mullahs in Pakistan and then they will leave.


US policy makers, from Obama downwards are once again fooling the world through their carpet to carpet media and public relations blitz to camouflage their real objective of coming back to the sub-continent after they left it 60 year back as ‘tactical retreat’.


India was partitioned at Churchill express plea to US Viceroy Lord Wavell, to ‘keep something for us’ while leaving the country at the mercy of the Brahmins. That was the real genesis of Partition and creation of Pakistan. Churchill convinced the US to take over from where UK is pulling out due to resource crunch after being virtually destroyed by the Second World War.


It was the US that single-handed husbanded Pakistan and started with the very first check to Pakistan’s newly anointed Governor General, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. It was the US that had built up and maintained Pakistan’s armed forces. It was the US that got Pakistan into CENTO and SEATO. It was the US that looked away, while Pakistan got its nuclear arsenal.


It is naïve for Indian policy makers to nourish the wishful hope that US will anytime leave its ‘vital asset’ – Afghanistan or Pakistan — in the neighbourhood and carry out the wishes of some lightweight democrats ruling India, that are obsessed with their private and insidiously consuming hatred of Islam and Muslims and Muslim world. This hatred is seriously blurring their focus on the real issues confronting the subcontinent and its total 1.5 billion people.


An imperialist US, whose children play games travelling to other galaxies to assure their survival in millennium to come, can not be faulted if it has a grand design for Afghanistan- Pakistan- India, as a big consumer heaven that will be the driving engine, pulling the western economies in years to come. However, the US is not for any partnerships. It wants to enslave and rule. Its wish is our command. This is coming of the second age of colonialism for the subcontinent.

And it all happened due to lack of vision by Indian leaders, who were consumed by hatred of Muslims. If they had overcome that negative obsession and had visionary plan of their own to take the whole neighbourhood in a all-embracing economic and strategic unit, Indian subcontinent could have been as independent today as China.


The Brahmin’s need for exclusivity born of pathological insecurities, has throttled the future of the whole subcontinent.


India’s most celebrated security analysts are all obsessed with Pakistan — an obsession that has robbed them of all independent and visionary thinking about alternatives available to them and availed by other in same stage of development. It is sickening to see media headlines about the same old hackneyed phobias consuming the media and analysts and preventing them of the larger picture. Be that Subrahmanyam, Parthasarthy, or all other favourite talk-show panelists, they all end up brainwashing entire nation of the hate filled propaganda about their favourite ‘Other’. That leaves them no time for them to look up from their full plates and see the wider implications of US moves in the sub-continent.


The worst scenario of any US move into Afghanistan/Pakistan/India is the danger of widespread bloodshed. US is deliberately provoking and instigating rogue elements in the north so that it can fool the whole world that it is in these troubled countries, to ensure peace —- peace for the people here and peace for the West, who are targets of terror attack. It is time both India and Pakistan figure out, if the real terrorists are the Taliban or the CIA-Mossad backed operatives in the region. They can always get hire-hands from any group that can suit their current propaganda thrust.


The whole subcontinent is at the threshold of a very trying future. It has no defence against the super-power. It has no diplomatic savvy or vision or courage to cross red-lines drawn around us and go for a wider circle of friends to be helpful at crucial times.


The thoughts for my above rejoinder came about while I was reading Mr. A. G. Noorani’s following article: US’s Afghan lesson 1: Taliban are not jihadis in today’s Asian Age/ Deccan Chronicle. I am not sure if we in India and Pakistan are not wasting our time trying to distinguish between Taliban and Al Qaida while for the US policy makers – all of them are the same ‘terrorists’.  Mr. Noorani did gather courage to write the last few lines:


‘Special conference on Afghanistan met in Moscow. Convened by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), with India and Pakistan participating, it threw its hat in the ring: “The SCO was one of the appropriate fora for a wide dialogue” on the issues related to Afghanistan. It proposed an “SCO-Afghanistan Action Plan”.


But I feel the subject could do with a larger public debate, at least in the media.


While we are being kept engaged in micro strategies, the US is most sure- footed, thanks to Jewish Neo-Cons plans for America’s New Century, and is single – mindedly fixated with macro strategies, whoever may be the President, Bush or Obama.


Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai



US’ Afghan lesson 1: Taliban are not jihadis




April 5th, 2009


By A.G. Noorani


“IT is an infallible rule that a prince who is not wise himself cannot be well advised… wise counsels, from whoever they come, must necessarily be due to the prudence of the prince, and not the prudence of the prince to the wise counsel received”. Niccolo Machiavelli’s sage words aptly sum up the predicament of President Mr Barack Obama on Afghanistan. Unlike his predecessor Mr George W. Bush and his equally rash bunch of advisers, Mr Obama is a sensible man. However, the haste he has shown in crafting a policy on Afghanistan does not reflect wisdom.

He ordered “a careful policy review… as soon as I took office” he said on March 27 in a speech which, like all American pronouncements, did not err on the side of brevity. His own understanding of that country and this region, as his campaign speeches revealed, is not profound. His advisers are none too blessed with the knowledge or understanding either.

Then what is it that emboldened Mr Obama to think that he would hit upon a cure for the ills in
Kabul in record speed? The recipe prescribed in his speech does not reckon with the one fundamental that lies at the root of the problem — the presence of foreign troops on Afghan soil. They went there to be rid of Al Qaeda. The Taliban were affected because they had extended hospitality to its chief Osama bin Laden. Second only to secretary of state Ms Madeleine Albright, her colleague Mr Karl F. Inderfurth was responsible for snubbing the Taliban’s many overtures and for, thus, hardening their attitude. Disdain for diplomacy and indifference to other people’s sentiments are the twin hallmarks of American diplomacy.

They were reflected in the President’s speech and in an article by Mr Inderfurth and Mr James Dobbins, a Bush official. Mr Inderfurth and Mr Dobbins first lay out the sketch of an impressive edifice of an international treaty which ensures peace in
Afghanistan and in the region. The US and its allies will “withdraw all forces from Afghanistan once these other provisions (of the treaty) had been implemented”.

That is a consummation devoutly to be wished for. But how will it be achieved? By the use of military force. “More western troops and economic assistance, more sophisticated military tactics and greater civilian capacity will be needed to turn the tide that is currently running against Nato…”
Mr Obama’s proposals are no different. Deployment of more
US troops. “That’s how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our own troops home”. Is this a realistic exit strategy?

The goal is defined thus: “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in
Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future”. To this end “we must isolate Al Qaeda from the Pakistani people (sic)” — a strange formulation. Even the Economist came to realise by March 28 that “America’s bombing raids inside Pakistan are counterproductive”.

Afghanistan is also asked to wipe out “corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders”. One wishes President Obama will also direct his energies to rooting out corruption in the US Congress which causes Americans “to lose faith in their own people”.

There is no effort to distinguish between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Their agendas differ, as they have always differed. The Kabul correspondent of the Economist reported, “For most Taliban fighters, the ideology of global jihad is less important than other things: Pakhtun nationalism; opposition to the Western invasion; desire to defend conservative Muslim values deemed to be under attack; and a raft of local grievances, tribal frictions, inter-ethnic conflicts and competition for power and resources… Most analysts think that the irreconcilable ideological component of the Taliban remains in the minority. What is not so clear is the answer to the question: how does one go about engaging with the Taliban? So far, the Western aim has been to defeat them; little thought has been given to coming to terms with them. Taliban representatives were not invited to the Bonn conference of 2001, which was supposed to lay the foundations for an Afghan political settlement. (Many analysts have argued that that was a mistake). Since then, other Afghans have used their positions in power to marginalise many who might otherwise have been brought into the political process. The result has been that whole sections of the populace in the Pakhtun south feel alienated, a problem sometimes compounded by the clodhopping tactics of Nato-led forces”.

In contrast, to Mr Richard Holbrooke, Mr Obama’s special envoy to Afgh-
anistan and
Pakistan, the real source of the problem lies in Pakistan. The Taliban, he told Nato ambassadors, were only the “outer rim” of a global jihadist movement. Familiarity with this region was not one of Mr Holbrooke’s qualifications. He is a man who would rather be wrong in speech than be right in silence.

Finally, Mr Obama proposes “a new Contact Group for
Afghanistan and Pakistan” comprising all the stakeholders in the region from the Gulf nations to Central Asia; Iran, Russia, India and China included. A group as large as this cannot serve as an efficient contact group. Its members do not see eye to eye. Some reject Mr Obama’s thesis on the entire region.

The day Mr Obama spoke, a special conference on
Afghanistan met in Moscow. Convened by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), with India and Pakistan participating, it threw its hat in the ring: “The SCO was one of the appropriate fora for a wide dialogue” on the issues related to Afghanistan. It proposed an “SCO-Afghanistan Action Plan”. Mr Obama has a lot to learn — and unlearn.


A.G. Noorani is an advocate and one of India’s leading constitutional expert







Pilibhit: ground zero for polarization – By Liz Mathew and Samanth Subramanian – MINT

April 4, 2009


Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh: Behind the green-white complex of Pilibhit’s Jama Masjid is an arched gate of distinctively Islamic design, the incongruous entrance to the Gauri Shankar temple. The gate was financed by the mosque’s builder, the nobleman Hafiz Rehmat Khan, as a favour to his vizier Gauri Shankar, and for two centuries it has stood as a symbol of what Pilibhit’s residents call the “absolute peace” between the town’s Hindus and Muslims.

Political divide: A defaced poster of Bharatiya Janata Party’s Varun Gandhi in a Muslim-dominated area of Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh. Ramesh Pathania / Mint

Political divide: A defaced poster of Bharatiya Janata Party’s Varun Gandhi in a Muslim-dominated area of Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
The peace still stands, but it has begun to feel uneasy. On Wednesday, abandh day in Pilibhit, street corners were occupied by the Provincial Armed Constabulary, a riot vehicle idled next to locked-down shops, and police stations were deserted, every policeman out on patrol.
Pilibhit’s voters, numbering at least 1.3 million, have been cleanly divided by the events of the last few weeks: an allegedly vicious diatribe against Muslims by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Varun Gandhi, his sharp descent into disfavour with the Election Commission, and his subsequent arrest and charge under the National Security Act (NSA).
Analysts say this polarization, which began in Pilibhit, is spreading across the state, which less than a decade ago was a strong base for the BJP. They believe it could once again touch levels last witnessed in Uttar Pradesh around and after the events that led to the demolition of Babri Masjid, the 16th century mosque, located in Ayodhya in 1992. That’s something that could ensure the BJP an assured block of votes in a situation where the poll contest in the state has degenerated into a four-cornered fight after the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP) decided against a pre-poll alliance. Delimitation, which led to the reordering of constituencies across the country, has only added to the uncertainty.
In a state that elects 80 members to the Lok Sabha and in a situation where no political combination has a clear edge ahead of the polls, such efforts at polarization carry potential.
Ground zero
The communal division is a new experience for Pilibhit. Its former member of Parliament, Varun Gandhi’s mother Maneka Gandhi, has been winning here, except for once in 1991, since 1989—first with the Janata Dal, then as an independent, and finally with the BJP—and she has done so without generating such heated rhetoric. Muslims often voted for her, and Pilibhit, says Bidyut Chakrabarty, a political science professor at Delhi university, was “more secular than, say, Lucknow or Moradabad”.
Outside Varun Gandhi’s shuttered campaign office, with a BJP flag fluttering forlornly atop it, Prem Pal Prajapati, the 30-year-old owner of a prosthetic clinic, sat on his motorcycle under a tree. Prajapati stressed that he was a supporter of no party, but “the victimization of Gandhi”, he says, could only lead in one direction: A huge victory for Varun Gandhi in Pilibhit, and a victory for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
Thanks to the intense media focus on Pilibhit, many Hindu residents now offer their views in a deftly formulated caveat: “There has never been any communal problem here, but…,” Madhuri Mishra, a homemaker, uses it. “We have nothing against the Muslims,” she says first. “But isn’t it strange that when Varun spoke for the Hindus, everybody was up in arms? What about (former chief minister and SP leader) Mulayam Singh Yadav’s sops to Muslims and (chief minister and Bahujan Samaj Party, or BSP chief) Mayawati’s favours to Dalits?”

The video clip of Varun Gandhi’s speech, both Prajapati and Mishra are certain, was doctored. “He just spoke for the Hindus,” Mishra says. “What’s wrong with that?”
The BJP’s careful lionization of Varun Gandhi is, it appears, a strategy to revive its wilting fortunes in the state. In the 1996 general election, the BJP won 52 seats; in 1998, it won 57. But in 1999, it could only muster 29 seats, a figure that further dropped to 10 in 2004.
“In Uttar Pradesh, the party has been consistently declining since we started efforts to encompass everyone,” says a senior BJP leader, who requested anonymity. “The state has too many players and fighters for Muslims and Dalit votes, and divisions along caste line are too clear. So our USP is Hindutva.” But, he admitted, “the situation in other states is different. We cannot win seats on Hindutva card”.
Not surprisingly, therefore, while the BJP has discretely distanced itself from his remarks and not Varun Gandhi’s new strident profile, its ideologies, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, have gone on an all out offensive to not only back their young leader, but also organize statewide protests against his incarceration.
Other political parties are quick to roundly criticize this strategy.
Communal divide: Students and teachers at Pilibhit’s Jama Masjid; the direction of the town’s Muslim vote is still unclear. Pilibhit’s voters, numbering at least 1.3 million, have been cleanly divided by the events of the last few weeks: an allegedly vicious diatribe against Muslims by the BJP’s Varun Gandhi, his sharp descent into disfavour with the Election Commission, and his subsequent arrest and charge under the NSA. Ramesh Pathania / Mint

Communal divide: Students and teachers at Pilibhit’s Jama Masjid; the direction of the town’s Muslim vote is still unclear. Pilibhit’s voters, numbering at least 1.3 million, have been cleanly divided by the events of the last few weeks: an allegedly vicious diatribe against Muslims by the BJP’s Varun Gandhi, his sharp descent into disfavour with the Election Commission, and his subsequent arrest and charge under the NSA. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
“The big mobilization in Pilibhit, the forcing of confrontations with the police, rousing passions by rabble-rousing…are clearly BJP’s campaign strategy,” says Sitaram Yechury, member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo. “Communal polarization is part of their vote-consolidating mechanism. It shows that they have no other issue to garner votes.”
What the BJP basically needed, says Chakrabarty, was a mascot of fiery Hindutva whom it could keep at a convenient arm’s length—close, but not too close. Varun Gandhi duly obliged with his rhetoric, he argues, but the media and other political parties also obliged with shrill responses.
As a result, the BJP now stands to gain significantly in the state’s four phases of the Lok Sabha elections, beginning 16 April and ending 13 May. “There could be a return of core Hindu votes, which have shifted to various parties in the past, to the BJP,” says G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, a psephologist and a member of the BJP’s national council. “There is some kind of consolidation, though it is not heavy.”
Uttar Pradesh is home to 166 million people, the most populous state in the country. The 2001 Census of India estimates that scheduled castes constitute 21% of the population, while Muslims make up 18.5%. While there are no official figures, analysts estimate that Brahmins account for 9% of the populace. Mayawati’s electoral success in 2007, when BSP took majority control of the state assembly in a surprise win, was based on her ability to manage a rainbow coalition of Dalits, Brahmins and Muslims.
Communal insecurity
The shift, a tectonic one in Hindu-dominated Pilibhit, has additionally left its Muslims confused and wary—and thus prime for electoral poaching. “We wanted to go to the bazaar today, but because of the atmosphere, we didn’t go,” says Mohammad Shamshad Raza, an 18-year-old religious instructor at the Jama Masjid, who is attempting, in the midst of all this consternation, to study for his maulvi exams beginning next week.

What the BJP needed was a mascot of fiery Hindutva whom it could keep at a convenient arm’s length
Raza cannot make up his mind about the rapid developments at Pilibhit. “On the one hand, Varun is Maneka Gandhi’s son, and how can we be happy that he is in jail?” he says. “But on the other hand, she never said things like: ‘If we enter Pilibhit, the first sound we hear is the call of the mosque’ and talked about cutting off hands. Varun said this just to win votes. He wanted to become a hero, and he did.”
Before the evening namaz, Maulana Izhar Ahmed Khan Barkati, the thickly bearded Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid, sits by the lily pond in the masjid’s courtyard. He talks for a while right there, under the fading sun, before murmuring: “We shouldn’t be talking about this in front of the mosque” and moving to a cool, dark room to field further questions.
Barkati would like to believe, he says, that “the Hindus here are not naïve enough to fall for Varun Gandhi’s game”. He draws upon Pilibhit’s inter-communal celebrations of Moharram, Holi and Diwali to talk about the love between Hindus and Muslims. “Maneka Gandhi, I think, should have made her son understand,” says Barkati. “She should have told him that he shouldn’t say these things to people who have supported her and respected her for 20 years now.”
The Muslim vote
It is, as yet, unclear as to which party—the SP, the BSP or the Congress, all of which have been aggressively wooing Uttar Pradesh’s Muslims—will win them over here. The elections are still far for the voters in Pilibhit and nearby areas, which go to poll on 13 May.
By booking Varun Gandhi under NSA, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati sent out strong electoral signals to the Muslim community to consolidate her position, the core of which is made up of Dalit voters. If, as analysts claim, polarization of the electorate does take place and the BSP win seems imminent, then it is likely that the Muslim vote will gravitate towards Mayawati. In a state where the polity is fractured in view of these four-cornered contests, such block voting may be the key between victory and defeat.
However, many Muslim voters in this area of Uttar Pradesh are, in fact, not yet aware of the political permutations that are bubbling in the state. In Muslim-dominated Rampur, a couple of hundred kilometres away, Syed Nasr Mia, the owner of a transport service, still believes that the Congress-SP alliance is alive. As does Mohammadia Khan, who runs a highway tyre-repair shop: “The Congress and SP together will win all the Muslim votes.”
Some analysts believe that, in such a tripartite contest for the Muslim vote, the BSP may, in fact, emerge on top. “For the time being, the BSP has an edge,” says N. Bhaskar Rao, chairman of the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies. “As Uttar Pradesh is a sensitive state, Muslims may support Mayawati, as many prominent Islamic leaders have already announced their support to the chief minister. Also, the Muslim community has been showing a tendency of supporting the ruling party.”
And what will happen, in Pilibhit, if Varun Gandhi wins? Barkati smiles at the question. “He’s doing all this now only to be elected,” he says. “But once he achieves that, if anything happens here, others will question him: Why is this danga (riot) happening in your constituency?” After a pause, Barkati adds: “Well, that is the hope, anyway.”

Obama at G-20 and at Strasbourg ‘Town Hall’ meeting

April 3, 2009

Friday, April 03, 2009

Obama at G-20 and at Strasbourg ‘Town Hall’ meeting

It is ‘America First – America Last’ all the way. Obama tried hard to be more civil, more cultured, more conciliatory than his predecessor, Bush, but the message at both his meeting was loud and clear — US militarists and Bankers have spoken and the world better listen. His repeated assurance that he had come to listen, share ideas, come to hold a dialog with Europe was a hollow sales talk on behalf of his handlers back home.

His economic package, as fine-tuned by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, had taken pains to see that the old financial system is not disturbed. It is the G-7 that was in command and will remain in command for all time to company. The sweet talk about emerging market and developing nations was a big eye-wash. Neither the Sarkozy/Merkel teaming up made any difference to the railroad approach of the US-UK bulldozer, nor NATO’s continued reluctance to send ‘their boys to shed blood to defend Afghanistan, where anti-women laws are passed’.

In London, between pomp and pageantry and a symbolic anti-capitalist protest rally chocking city center, Gordon Brown took pride in reeling of figures – all in trillion and billions, none in millions, to pump more credit into a system that has ruthlessly exploited America’s dollar as reserve currency and America’s financial markets as treasurers to the world, and inflicted a grand ponzi scheme on the world, with full impunity.

The same thieves are in business and no amount of oversight can take away their inbuilt, ingrained ability and motivation to build up mountains of leveraged products just to remain in business. The same IMF and World Bank, with their US controlled bureaucrats dispensing credit to the only credit-worthy from their own Anglo-Saxon clientele.

The third world will be relegated to the same drudgery of remaining at the end of the line. The fond hopes of a new world economic system that will eliminate greed and criminality from the whole process of world credit and finance, were dashed against the clout of US economic and military power still dominating the world economy.

Obama as a friendly face — was used to gain sympathy from the third world and raise false hopes of a better deal to the poor victims of world meltdown that had done no wrong to deserve the dire fate of widespread impoverishment and drastic deterioration of their survival level existence. The basics of the old order remain intact.

Over security, Obama posed the same old question with the European audience – Why we are in Afghanistan. This time he answered that the Europeans should trust America as if the security danger was not so acute, US would not be in Afghanistan. So simple! Obama who had come to listen, asked to be given a blank check by his NATO allies. He was not ready to give any credence to the argument that Al Qaida and Taliban terror has some connection with Israel/Palestinian imbroglio and Muslim anger over US forays in Muslim world. Again and again he cited 9/11, as if the world came into existence only on 9/11 and US was innocent of all crimes that could have triggered a reaction. Obama, like his militarist advisors, was not ready to even consider in an academic way, why 9/11 occurred.

It is clear that 9/11 is a convenient tool for America’s militarists, under neo-con prodding, to station western forces around the oil well countries of Near/Central/South Asia. Obama is just a piped piper, trying to mesmerize the world, to lead it to the same destination, where the Neo-con planners had guided Bush to bog down. Bush railroaded Blair to join his misadventure in Iraq. Obama was now instructed to rope in full NATO into the next serial invasion of Afghanistan and Pakistan — faithfully abiding with the old blue-print prepared by American Jewish Neo-cons. Obama’s success was clearly evident by his interaction with Russian, Chinese and Indian leaders. All ate out of his hand. But that could be what the world saw in televised promotion of the Summit. As BBC commentators repeated again and again, the devil is in the details.


Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai

Minorities As Target of Violence & Discrimination – Institutionalised Impunity Major Source of Fear of Recurrence of Massacres – Asma Jahangir’s Appeal to Reconsider Anti-Conversion Laws and Reservation to All Dalits

April 2, 2009

Minorities As Target of Violence & Discrimination

Institutionalised Impunity Major Source of Fear of Recurrence of Massacres

Asma Jahangir’s Appeal to Reconsider Anti-Conversion Laws and Reservation to All Dalits 


1. We welcome UN Special Rapporteur Asma Jahangir’s country Report on India wherein she has observed that “in order to protect and empower members of religious minorities, the State should be proactive and take appropriate measures against all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief”. Her comprehensive observations and recommendations deal with five identified areas of concern: (i) situation of religious minorities; (ii) communal violence; (iii) Kashmir; (iv) religious conversion; and (v) personal laws.

2. She has expressed grave concern over organized religious ideological groups unleashing an all-pervasive fear of mob violence against religious minorities in many parts of the country and institutionalized impunity owing to partisan role of the law-enforcement system, making peaceful citizens, particularly minorities, live in fear.

3. The Special Rapporteur has drawn the attention of the country and the international community to the real risk of communal violence in India similar to Gujarat 2002 happening again unless advocacy of religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence is adequately addressed. Her recommendations include, “appeal to the Indian authorities to take quick and effective measures to protect members of religious minorities from any attacks and to step up efforts to prevent communal violence. Pointing out the misconceived Communal Violence Bill 2005’s failure “to dismantle impunity and state collusion”, she recommends that “specific legislation on communal violence should take into account the concerns of religious minorities and must not reinforce impunity of communalized police forces at the State level.”

4. The Special Rapporteur has noted that victims of violence who are condemned to live with haunting memories of injustice for decades and impunity enjoyed by perpetuators of communal violence like those of 1984, 1992 and 2002 are the major sources of their recurrence. She has emphasized that highest priority should be accorded to large scale communal violence by the investigation teams, the judiciary and inquiry commissions.

5. Recommendations include setting up of truth and reconciliation commissions to encourage healing and reconciliation in long-standing conflicts.

6. The Report also notes arrest of innocent Muslims on ill-founded suspicion of terrorism, some of whom are denied the right to counsel.

7. Referring to the findings of official committees & Commissions, especially the Sachar Committee Report 2006, The Special Rapporteur notes, inter alia, abysmally low share of Muslims in employment in various government departments and lack of their access to good quality education, and observes that “it is crucial to recognize that development without a policy of inclusiveness of all communities will only aggravate resentments”. In this regard she has appreciatively noted that recommendations of Sachar Committee 2006 & Ranganath Misra Commission 2007, expressing the hope of their implementation. She also recommends making composition of empowered Commissions like State Human Rights Commission socially diverse, including women.

8. On Community-specific situation, the Special Rapporteur’s findings include violence against Dalit & tribal Christian communities in Orissa.

8.1 About situation of Muslims the Rapporteur notes ongoing repercussions of communal violence like Gujarat massacre 2002, and also their treatment as a distrusted community, who have to ever prove their loyalty.

8.2 Reference has also been made to her report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/10/8 para 29-62), dealing with discrimination based on religion or belief and its impact on enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.

8.3 It has also noted how radicalization of certain Muslims and their link with cross-border terrorism have been adversely impacting on the condition of the entire Muslim community.

8.4 About Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists the Report notes their concern over their treatment under law as part of Hindu religion and not as distinct religious communities.

9. About S.C & S.T the Report recommends delinking their status for enjoyment of affirmative action benefits from individual’s religious affiliation, restoring eligibility for these benefits to all members of S.C & S.T having converted to another religion.

10. On the issue of religious conversion Special Rapporteur has given a very forthright statement that “right to change or maintain a religion is a core element of the right to freedom of religion” and that “peaceful missionary activities and other forms of propagation of religion are part of the right to manifest one’s religion or belief, which can be limited only under restrictive conditions”. In view of this, the Report recommends reconsideration of various laws & bills on religious conversion in several Indian States. She has expressed concern over the fact that “such legislation might be perceived as giving some moral standing to those who wish to stir up mob violence.”

11. With regard to religion-based personal laws, the Special Rapporteur would like to recommend that such laws be reviewed to prevent discrimination based on religion or belief as well as to ensure gender equality.

11.1 Legislation should specifically protect the rights of religious minorities and of women, including of those within the minority communities.

12. On Jammu and Kashmir the Report has noted that the population is still divided on religious lines, and that “the Muslim community remains vulnerable to excesses of security forces, while the entire population is a victim of violence perpetrated by militant groups of Muslims.”

Elsewhere in the Report the proposal of Jammu & Kashmir is considered as one of those long-standing conflicts which are worthy of being addressed by the proposed truth & reconciliation commission. 

II Comments on the Report

1. As one of Asma Jahangir’s interlocutors in Delhi, during a session in Jamia Millia Islamia, and having submitted written comments on her press statement issued on March 20, 2008, I had pointed out (a) the role of the judiciary in India in encouraging a pervasive climate of impunity for perpetrators of hate speech and communal massacres showing overindulgence to hate-mongers like Bal Thackeray; (b) the judiciary having developed a model of ‘Inclusive Hinduism’ which denies Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Anand Margis etc. distinct religious status; (c) denial of benefits of State’s affirmative action to Dalit convertees to Christianity & Islam; (d) denial of rights to Hindu parents on conversion to Islam/Christianity; (e) special protection under state laws to cow and its progeny being a source of harassment of and violence against Muslims; (f) except for Best Bakery and other Gujarat cases treatment of communal massacres as routine cases by law courts; (g) absence of laws on i) genocide, ii) on rights of victims of violence; (h) wide disparity in ex-gratia payment of compensation to sufferers based on faith affiliation; (i) lack of police reform for its accountability for impartial law-enforcement; (j) justification of uniform civil code being sought under cultural homogeneity of a secular Hindu nationhood; (k) exclusion of religious minorities from benefits of State’s affirmative action on the perverted concept of secularism. 

1.1 I had also pointed out how the higher judiciary had selectively applied rigorous test of essentiality for denial of certain rights to Muslims under article 25, like that of keeping beard by some employers (and now a student) and sacrifice of cow for Bakra-eid festival.

2. It is well that though for understandable reasons the judiciary has been spared any direct criticism in the Report, most of the concerns, including that emanating from judicially developed ‘Inclusive Hinduism’ as well as those related to special measures for protection and empowerment of religious minorities for de facto enjoyment of their right to freedom with dignity, and equality in social, economic and educational development have been adequately addressed.

3. However, the Report has not appropriately dealt with the issue of terrorism by the State and by the Hindu organized groups with an agenda of hate and revenge against Muslims, and the militant Muslim groups in J & K enjoying cross-border support and unorganized periodic acts of retaliatory communal terrorism by frustrated Indian Muslim  youth having lost hope in the Indian police and justice system seeking wild justice in desperation – like in Mumbai 1993, Coimbatore 1998 etc. as testified by Justice Srikrishna Commission and other Reports.

3.1 She has not fully dealt with how counter-terror measures of the State have made vulnerable sections of Muslims in certain parts of the country live in constant fear.


The Special Rapporteur’s Characterization of the Indian State as one “having democratic safeguards within the political system, and the institutions having accumulated a vast experience in protecting human rights and also her assessment of the role of the National Commission for Minorities is seriously questionable on the following grounds:

(i) It is not true that it is the quasi-federal nature of Indian polity which is coming in the way of dismantling colonial structure of governance, like the police functioning with a ruler-ruled nexus and resort to torture by the police not being outlawed. Given relevant provisions of the Indian Constitution and international treaty obligations of the country under human rights law, it is the vested interest of all Governments at the Centre and the States along with the entire mainstream political class which is the main reason for lack of governance becoming democratic.

(ii) Even the Central Government has not taken minimum measures to implement police reforms recommended by all national commissions since 1978 and directed by the Supreme Court in 2006 to enable it to enjoy functional independence, accountable to law ensuring its impartiality.

(iii) Even such a reform as bringing the Police Manual on Use of Force and Firearms into conformity with UN Basic Principles 1990, have not been effected; the police, thus, continues to routinely use lethal weapons for mob-control in ordinary civil situations in the street when the crowd does not pose any imminent threat to life.

(iv) India is yet to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture, enabling the police to routinely subject suspects and accused in custody to torture.

(v) It has not enacted a law on genocide in spite of periodic massacres with hate motives occurring in the country – as was the unanimous verdict of civil society groups about anti-Sikh massacre 1984 and Gujarat 2002.

(vi) State’s liability for reparation and rehabilitation of victims of grave mass violence caused by failure of governance has yet to be recognized under law on rights of victims of violence.

(vii) It has not yet implemented the directive of the Human Rights Council on empowerment of National Commission for Minorities, especially providing it with the machinery for independent investigation. On the contrary the Commission functions as a Department of the Government, which has not mustered courage to ask the Union and State Governments to supply complete information on riot related cases in law courts and wide disparity in ex-gratia payment of compensation to the victims of communal violence. Its chairperson and members continue to be nominated by the Government of India, thus enjoying no independence.

(viii) There is no effort to make institutions, like legislatures and empowered Commissions and the police & judiciary socially diverse with adequate minority representation.

It is not only the political class, including ‘secular’ and ‘leftist’ sections even what the Rapporteur considers a vigorous civil society human rights movement, has not consistently raised the issue assigning any priority to it. It is the most neglected area of public concern, in spite of some rhetoric of inclusiveness gaining respectability. 

Iqbal A. Ansari


Minorities Council

April 3, 2009