23 October 2002
In this issue:
Values, Not Rituals are Essence of Religion
Hong Kong - War on terror starts with respect for human rights
Malaysia - Progressive Islam' won't be born behind bars
Indonesia - Washington's Distraction Opening Door for China
Philippines - Community tired of shouldering terrorism blame
India - Muslim anger at exclusion from top government jobs
Middle East Watch
- Israel's Stance is Incompatible with the Deepest ideals of Judasim
- Israeli minister bans Palestinian water drilling
Pakistan: Sole witness of attack kidnapped
DAGA Press: New publications available at DAGA
|1. FEATURE - top|
Values, Not Rituals are Essence of Religion
by Asghar Ali Engineer
What is religion? In actual practice religion consists of beliefs, dogmas, traditions, practices and rituals. A believer born in a religious tradition inherits all this and takes everything for granted and believes every thing he/she has inherited is an essential and integral part of religion. For him rituals are as important and integral as the values. However, while rituals are performed regularly, values are either violated, neglected or practised mere symbolically. Rituals are, however, observed more meticulously.
There is another trend, which is more modern comparatively. It began with colonialism in nineteenth century i.e. treating religion not merely as a faith but as an ideology, particularly political ideology. These ideologues insist that religion is not merely a spiritual experience but also a political system. For them political system is much more important than the spiritual aspects of religion.
They insist on establishing a state based on religious ideology and then insist that even new legislation is not permissible. It is all perfected in the past - during medieval or even pre-medieval period. These laws are perfect and God-sent and hence no re-thinking is permissible. Anyone who does, commits a serious crime. Change is deviation and deviation is sin against God. Thus a religious state should not only implement these laws rigorously but also punish severely all those who advocate change. It does not matter even if such a rigorous application of laws injures the core-values of religion. For these ideologues of religion all that matters is a political system. They not only build a political system but also set up a political party. No opposition to such a party is entertained as it is projected as the party of God and how can there be opposition to the party of God? Needless to say such a party based on religious ideology ultimately leads to authoritarianism of the worst kind.
For philosophers religion can be divided into four categories: 1) Ritual system; 2) institutional system; 3) Value system and 4) Thought system. Some philosophers of religion maintain that what is permanent in religion is firstly the ritual system and secondly the value system. Institutional system and thought system could and should undergo change with the time as such a change would not injure the spirit of religion.
According to these philosophers the institutional and thought systems are highly influenced by the circumstances of their origin. In fact they do not belong to religious thought as such but reflect the observations, beliefs, traditions, practices and mental development of the time. For example, in the course of time the Greek philosophy and Greek sciences became integral part of thought system of Christianity and Islam and soon they acquired the status of holy dogmas in these religions. The dogma that earth is flat and that it is at the centre of universe and that sun goes round it was acquired from Greek thinkers and philosophers. However, this became integral part of Christian and Islamic doctrines. Anyone challenging it was held to be sinner. When Gallileo challenged this dogma he was punished and made to recant.
Thus it will be seen that thought system is often acquired from alien sources but over a period of time it becomes an integral part of one's faith and any deviation from it is considered an irreligious act. Thousands of people in various religious categories were severely persecuted in the history of religion for challenging the thought system evolved or acquired from other sources.
What is called theology or `Ilm-e-Ilahi or kalam in Islam was evolved by human beings or Christian and Muslim scholars but these human thoughts were elevated to the status of immutable dogmas and doctrines. In fact it acquired the status of revealed scriptures. These human opinions became as sacred as the revealed scriptures themselves. All new scientific discoveries and new social and political institutions were fiercely opposed by the religious authorities in the name of religion and their votaries persecuted.
Such dogmas also had political implications. For example most of the Muslims believed in the dogma of non-createdness of the Quran but the Mu`tazila, a rationalist sect of Islam, developed the dogma of createdness of the Quran. Since the Abbasids aligned with them this dogma acquired an official Islamic status and anyone opposing it was seen as an enemy of the regime, apart from being the enemy of Islam. Even prominent Ulama like Imam Abu Hanifa were persecuted by the Abbasids for their refusal to accept the dogma of createdness of the Quran.
Similarly fierce controversies raged during the Umayyad period between the jabriyas and qadriyas (i.e. between those believing human beings being determined and those believing they are free to act). This controversy was also political rather than strictly religious in nature. The Umayyads openly encouraged those who believed in jabr and persecuted those believing in qadr. Those who believed in determination argued that the Umayyad regime is divinely determined and hence must be accepted while those who believed in freedom of action argued that the Muslims are free to overthrow the Umayyad regime and replace it with more just and benevolent one. This political controversy had, however, acquired religious overtones and believer in either doctrine thought it is integral part of religious belief.
Thus a thought system in religion and theology should not be treated as essential part of religious beliefs. It can and should change over period of time. Many ahadith also reflected the spirit of time rather than the spirit of Islam. No wonder than they clashed with the Quranic injunctions which are truly divine in nature. These ahadith were fabricated by those who wanted their own ideas to be established as divine ideas.
Similarly many prevailing traditions and practices in society wherein Islam originated or whereto Islam spread later were assimilated and sanctified in the name of religion. They even became part of Islamic ritual system. And no opposition to it could be entertained. Even superstitions of worst kind were sanctified by religious authorities and any opposition to these superstitious beliefs was characterised as heresy. It is important to note that what is heresy and what is pure doctrine is determined, not by religious but by worldly or even political considerations. If the heretics did not have their way and if they had not faced persecution nothing would have changed in this world.
A religious dogma (of course there are secular dogmas as well) is an authoritative assertion of certain belief and no opposition to such a belief is entertained. Only difference between a religious and a secular dogma is that while one can oppose secular dogmas it is very difficult to oppose religious ones. Religious dogmas are imposed in the name of God, the supreme authority. How can one challenge divine authority. All religions, long after the demise of their founders, developed such dogmas and theologians, formulating these dogmas, imposed their own authority. Through these dogmas they assumed their own divinity.
Each religion, be it Semitic or non-Semitic one, challenged the oppressive and exploitative establishment of their own time and provided their followers with enlightening beliefs and human values, liberating philosophies and oppressive traditions. Every religion provided a great liberating experience by emphasising certain values be it Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity or Islam. Later Sikkhism, Kabir Panth and Bahaism also showed new enlightening paths for their believers.
However, each religion was soon turned into a powerful establishment by some of its followers negating the very spirit of founding moment - a defining moment - of that religion. Once a religion was turned into an establishment certain rituals and dogmas became more important than the liberating values. No major religion has escaped this fate. Once a religion is turned into a powerful establishment lifeless dogmas and newly invented doctrines become central to that religion. Further tragedy is that when this happens reform movements arise trying to restore original spirit of the religion but the reform movements, if successful themselves become another powerful establishment and original values are once again lost sight of. Some reformist dogmas rule the roast at the cost of those fundamental values.
The followers of a religion, unfortunately, cannot, or are not allowed to acquire knowledge of their faith in depth by those who control the religious establishment. Or those who are allowed, must submit to the authority of those who control religious establishment. Thus every religious establishment develops its own politics which becomes much more central to that establishment. The establishment, needless to say, depends on certain dogmas and these dogmas then cannot be challenged. Any challenge to these dogmas will be considered subversive to the establishment. Christianity subverted the powerful Jewish establishment of its own time and remained religion of the oppressed for nearly four centuries. But once Roman Empire adopted it, it became a powerful establishment and developed its own dogmas, which did not allow any opposition. Thus the religion of the oppressed soon became religion of the oppressors.
Islam was a great liberating religion. It challenged the powerful establishment of rich Meccan traders and gave a great sense of dignity to the most oppressed of the system. The most marginalised sections of the Meccan society were black slaves, women and the poor (orphans and widows included). They had no rights in that society. Islam not only treated them as equal human beings but gave them a sense of dignity and proclaimed the most liberating doctrine of equal honour for all children of Adam. Thus all the weaker sections of Meccan society - slaves, poor, women and the youth aspiring for change, rallied round the Messenger of Islam as his doctrines were found to be most liberating of all for them.
Thus Islam laid stress on justice and equality; justice for all weaker sections of society and equality among all including between men and women. Islam also stresses on other values, apart from these two seminal values. Christianity, on the other hand, lays great stress on love and forgiveness, which are very essential for smooth human relationship. Judaism too lays emphasis on justice, being Abrahamic religion. Among Indic religions, Hinduism, stresses Universalism and tolerance, Jainism non-violence and Buddhism compassion. Bahaism, comparatively young religion, lays emphasis on equality of all human beings. And truthfulness is, of course, a common value in all religions.
Thus we see that there are seven most fundamental values in all religions put together: 1)Truth; 2) Non-violence; 3) Justice; 4) Equality; 5) Compassion; 6) Love and 7) Tolerance. If any human being practices these seven values he/she can be most religious and finest of human beings. However one rarely finds a Jew, a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist or a Jain practising most fundamental of these values. They would stress rituals rather than the values. The rituals require a priestcraft and it is the priestcraft, which benefits from insistence on religion. The religious establishment is controlled, among others, by priesthood.
We would like to throw some light here on these fundamental values which make human beings really religious in spirit. If we follow these values there will be no inter-religious conflict. Let us remember that inter-religious conflict is not, as many rationalists tend to think, inherent in religious teachings; inter-religious conflict, in fact, is result of too much emphasis on rituals at the cost of values on one hand, and misuse of religion for political, economic and other personal interests, on the other. It is not my proposition that rituals have no importance or do not play any part in religious structure. They do have an important part to play and have significance of their own.
It is rituals, which impart uniqueness to each religion. Values are not unique to any religion whereas rituals are. Rituals are also important part of religious festivals and festivals are important part of our culture. These rituals and festivals enrich our life and make it more colourful too. For many people these rituals impart great sense of fulfilment and become important psychological support. They feel quite uneasy if they do not perform these rituals. But having said this I would like to emphasise that rituals are not central to a religion while values are. One often thinks that by performing these rituals one has fulfilled ones religious obligations. It is not so. If one faithfully performs ones religious rituals but violates these fundamental values or ignores them, one cannot said to have fulfilled ones religious obligations.
A truly religious person is more conscious of these fundamental values rather than of rituals. Rituals can be neglected, values cannot be. It is also to be noted that rituals can be performed without hurting ones selfish interests but values demand great sacrifice from us. No wonder then we stress rituals more than the values. It is also interesting to note that while priests stress rituals the Sufi and Bhakti saints or mystics stress these values. While priests thrive on these rituals the Sufi and Bhakti saints live starkly simple life and do everything possible to control their desires. In any case one has to keep ones selfish desires under control, if one wishes to practice these values.
Let us discuss the nature and significance of these values. The first and foremost among these values is Truth. What is truth? Truth is not mere conformity with fact though it too is most essential. But there is more to it than conformity with fact. Truth embodies spiritual dimension too. Being truthful requires being spiritual and transcendent. A person who cherishes Truth as a value would never be satisfied with what is; he/she would always strive for what should be. The present reality cannot satisfy as it is imperfect. Thus Truth has a spiritual dimension of perfectness; any traces of imperfectness rob it of the quality of truthfulness.
Thus a person who practices truthfulness would never be satisfied with what is given because what is given is far from being perfect. God is Truth or Truth is God (in Islamic tradition it is huwa al-Haq i.e. He is Truth) precisely because He is Perfect. Thus a person in search of Truth is in fact is in search of moral and ethical perfection. Anyone who is morally or ethically imperfect has traces of untruth in him/her. And a truly religious person keeps on striving for moral perfection and remains in search of truth, which also amounts for search for higher knowledge. Thus there are three important dimensions of truth: conformity with fact, ethical and moral perfection and search for higher knowledge.
I cannot think of any religion, which does not lay stress of truth in these three senses. Thus, it should be understood that value-oriented religion has no potential for conflict. It is all search for Truth, striving for Truth, search for moral and spiritual perfection and constant search for higher knowledge. Search for Truth requires involvement of ones inner being with all sincerity, without any trace of superficiality or any trace of falsehood or pretension. If we become religious in this sense neither there will be inter or intra religious conflict and our world will become an abode of peace.
Another important value is non-violence. Since we have evolved from animal world from monkey to human beings, we have inherited strong aggressive instinct. It is this strong aggressive tendency within us which is store-house of violence within us. In the animal world this aggression was needed for survival and in human beings it assumes even more lurid form - promoting ones selfish desires and usurping others legitimate rights. Hatred is another powerful engine for violence. However, as human beings we are also equipped by God with intelligence and higher consciousness. Being a religious person it is our duty to activate our higher consciousness and curb our aggressive violent tendencies. No religion can sanction violence except strictly for defence. Jainism advocates, among other religions, highest degree of non-violence. It is an ideal. In our world many forms of violence exist in our society. In fact the very unjust structures of society promote selfishness and violence. Mere exhortation will not do. We have to remove structural injustices in order to make a non-violent society possible. More injustices in society more the violence.
Thus it will be seen that only a just society can be a non-violent society. Justice, therefore, is another important value. A truly religious person is just person. What is justice? There is no unanimity and it is a contentious concept. It is also very subjective concept. The mighty and powerful define justice in their own way and the weak define it in their own manner. Thus justice is as much spiritual as material in nature. As long as there are powerful and weak, exploiters and exploited, central and marginalised in the society, justice will remain very subjective concept. A just society is possible only when structural injustices are done away with and a powerful inner spiritual urge is there to do away with all forms of discrimination and exploitation both in material and spiritual sense. Though economic justice is very important dimension of justice is not the only dimension of justice.
There are other forms of justice as well. There has to be cultural, social, regional and racial dimensions. Any sense of superiority - be it cultural, social or racial would lead to a sense of injustice and discrimination. All cultures, societies, regions and races should have equal opportunities to thrive and prosper. There should be no trace of discrimination. Any trace of superiority would lead to sense of injustice and would sow the seeds of unrest and conflict. Thus it would be seen that justice is very much integrally related to equality.
Thus equality is another important value for a truly religious vision. Justice and equality always go together. There cannot be a just society without equality of all human beings. A religious person would have an integral sense of equality of all human beings irrespective of their culture, language, race or nationality. All human beings have strictly equal worth. Any discrimination between one human being and another would be an irreligious act. Religiosity cannot be based on any form of discrimination, as all human beings are creatures of one God. Thus equality of all human beings is the very basis of true religiosity. The very idea of ritual purity and impurity as found in caste hierarchies or of racial superiority as found among whites, is an irreligious ideal. A truly religious person will not entertain any concept of superiority of one over the other.
If all human beings are equal they must be loved equally. There cannot be equal love without equal respect. Thus love is another value for a religious person. He/she will love all equally. Again the question is what is love? Is it mere instinct to possess? A lover is often motivated by the desire to possess the loved one. And such a passion to possess the loved one leads to jealousy which is just opposite of love. Thus it is this passion to possess makes us love our own culture, our own race and our own religion, among others. This leads to being either indifferent or jealous of the other. It is this passion to belong which creates psychological categories of we and others and us and them.
True love is not only non-possession of the loved but also respect for its integrity and autonomy. And love in this sense is not possible unless we respect the right to independence of the one we love. Thus non-possession of the loved one and respect for his/her integrity and independence would lead to a real world of equality, independence and love. Thus love in the sense of non-possession and independence of the loved one leads one to yet another value - compassion.
Compassion is truly a spiritual quality felt for the loved ones. And if we love entire humanity we will have compassion for all human beings irrespective of what nation, race or culture they belong to. Compassion is felt when fellow human being suffers. Thus compassion is born through sensitivity to others suffering. If we develop this sensitivity to a high degree we will have compassion for all those who suffer and others will have compassion for our suffering. There is no human being who does not suffer. Thus it is through compassion that all of us will be bound in a most humane relationship. There cannot be greater human quality than compassion as it is a positive passion for removal of suffering. Thus a religious person is devoted above all to removal of sufferings in all forms from earth. Everything else is secondary to him/her. If we have compassion for suffering we will not permit any injustice, any discrimination, any inequity and any hatred as all these lead to suffering.
Tolerance is another value, which is highly necessary for a society, which holds compassion in high esteem. Absence of compassion leads to hatred and tolerance and hatred are each others opposite. All traces of hatred can be removed only if we develop a quality of tolerance. Hatred leads to suffering and suffering can be removed through compassion and tolerance. Where there is no tolerance there will be hatred and where there is hatred there will be no compassion. Thus compassion and tolerance are also integrally connected. Thus a compassionate person is necessarily a tolerant person too.
Thus a truly religious person is truthful, non-violent, just, respects equality, loves all, is compassionate and tolerant whether she/he performs certain designated rituals or not. In fact rituals in symbolic sense are instruments for realising these values. But these rituals become ends in themselves and hence religion becomes dogmatic, static and indifferent to human suffering and in some cases even cause of suffering. We should strive to promote value-oriented and not ritual-oriented religion in the world. It will be a great boon for humanity.
|2. NEWS in Brief - top|
War on terror starts with respect for human rights
As the United States' unilateral and enthusiastic efforts to somehow convince the world community that Iraq is a danger to world peace and hub of international terrorism continues, it is important to examine the problem of terrorism from a human rights perspective.
Terrorism is probably the greatest danger to human rights and democracy one can think of, but unwise reactions and responses can lead to human rights abuses, as well as threats to the rule of law and democratic values cherished by the free world.
While responses to terrorism and human rights demonstrate the perpetual tension between public protection (national security) and individual rights, this is, in fact, a classic example of deciding what should be done when human rights appear to clash.
The former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, recently presented her annual report before the commission, saying the suggestion that it was not possible to effectively eliminate terrorism while respecting human rights was fundamentally flawed. The only long-term guarantor of security against such violence was through respect for human rights and humanitarian law, she said.
Along with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, it is necessary for civil and political society to promote human development, thereby safeguarding the freedom and dignity of people, culminating in the deepening and widening of democracy.
Human rights are the rights possessed by all people, by virtue of their common humanity, to live a life of freedom and dignity. They give all people moral claims on the behaviour of individuals and on the design of social arrangements and are universal, inalienable and indivisible. Mahatma Gandhi said: "Any eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." The best defence to human rights is the prevention of their abuse and erosion through ignorance. The voices that cry for vengeance urge us to renounce our commitments to protect human rights at all times, including when we are beset with terrorism of the gravest kind. It is during these challenging times that we need to rise to the occasion and not let our past work go in vain.
The world community's response to terrorism needs to be based on the fundamental principles of human rights and dignity, thereby promoting social and economic justice. The post-September 11 world has to recognise that tolerance and respect among people are fundamental tenets of United Nations charter and these must now become crucial components of future security strategies. A world in which one group feels that another is looking down upon it is a world that will remain insecure. The war on poverty is an integral part of the quest for dignity, equality, respect and the chance to be given opportunities. Global security would not be possible in a world of increasing poverty.
It was hoped that the September 11 terror attacks would inspire global unity in facing the challenges of global governance. There were encouraging signals, such as the increased aid committed at this March's Conference on Financing for Development. But there are legitimate concerns among the human rights fraternity that the war on terror has the potential to weaken global institutions, undermine human rights and can result in significant social and economic fragmentation.
A society that is striving in good faith for human rights is one that can lessen the risks of conflict. Strategies of conflict-prevention must, therefore, be built upon strategies of promoting and protecting human rights. The counter-terrorism strategies pursued after September 11 have occasionally undermined international human-rights standards and suppressed or restricted individual rights, such as the right to privacy, freedom of thought, presumption of innocence, and the right to a fair trial.
The warmongers in the administrations of George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair should take care to address the underlying conditions that led individuals and groups to such inhuman and brutal violence. Indeed, there is no doubt that the absence of the rule of law and democracy, rampant poverty, violation of the rights of ethnic and minority groups, and political situations of domination and discrimination contributed to the frustration and hatred of people, leading them to acts of terrorism.
It is important for the Western world to set examples by not supporting, directly or indirectly, undemocratic and autocratic regimes with abysmal human rights records.
It would be a grave mistake, not just from the standpoint of strategies to combat terrorism but also from exerting genuine moral leadership in the world, if the international community chooses to ignore the problems of those countries alleged to harbour and promote terrorism.
We need to underline the fact that only by valuing human rights and promoting civil liberties can deliberative democracies create the precious space for meaningful dialogue, debates and a notion of dissent within a civil and political society.
Terrorism defies all established norms of dignity, decency and decorum, which are mandatory for peaceful existence. As a society, we condemn terrorism of all kinds. At the same time, as Benjamin Cardozo said, "We are what we believe we are" and hence, we should be careful to fashion our response to terrorism for, after all, history will judge us on the basis of our responses. We should take care not to deviate from the universal values of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
** C. Raj Kumar, a lecturer at the School of Law, City University of Hong Kong. [Source: SCMP]
Progressive Islam' Won't be Born Behind Bars
By now most of us should realise that the upcoming attack on Iraq - following swiftly from the bombing of Afghanistan by the so-called 'international alliance' led by the powers-that-be in Washington - is just the prelude to a world-wide conflict that will probably last ten to fifteen years.
The ascendancy of the United States of America as the world's undisputed leader and sole superpower will be the end result. What makes the situation all the more deplorable is the fact that the rest of the world seems to be suffering from a major testicular deficit. The balls remain (literally) in John Wayne's court, and we are forced to watch helplessly as our leaders sell us out for posterity.
From the outset, September 11 was going to be a disaster for the rest of the world, and the Muslim world in particular. Living as we do at a time when practically every single government in the Muslim world is facing a credibility crisis (due to their own deplorable human rights records and economic dependency on the West), the aftermath of September 11 has forced Muslim leaders and governments to take sides.
In every single case, they have erred on the side of caution, at an enormous cost to their standing in the eyes of their own populations. Washington in turn has exploited this gulf of interests to the maximum, pitting Muslim leaders against their own restless populations, who are still waiting for that oft-lauded paradigm shift that political Islam was meant to offer but holds back still.
So the announcement that Ahmad Ibrahim Bilal (photo) an American student accused of being involved in 'anti-American activities' will be sent back to the US to face American 'justice' brings little cheer for those of us who hoped that Malaysia might actually make a difference in the battle for hearts and minds that is going on around us today.
63 individuals detained
Thus far 63 individuals have been rounded up and detained as part of the 'war against terror' that has landed gracelessly on our shores. In an effort to receive the coveted title of 'moderate Muslim state' that Washington is handing out like gilded baubles these days, Malaysia - like the rest of the Muslim world - joins in the race to ingratiate itself to the Western powers to make sure that we do not get into the FBI and CIA's bad books.
But it is precisely here that the contradiction lies: That in the present neo-Cold War climate created in the wake of September 11, states and regimes with the most appalling human rights records can actually gain kudos and earn the honorific title of 'progressive moderate Muslim state', allying themselves to the West (not to mention their invested business interests).
Never mind the fact that those arrested have been detained under draconian laws that do not respect the rights of ordinary citizens, or that in some countries those detained have also been 'questioned' via the use of tactics and methods that can only be described as barbaric. All that matters is that the states concerned should act and do as they are told, and round up all of those who have fallen foul of US political, economic and military interests the world over.
The global concert of silence
If you listen hard enough, you will be able to hear the global concert of silence all around you. During the days of the Cold War, when human rights and political conditionality were the bargaining chips in the clash between the Western and Eastern blocs, religious freedom was used as a weapon by the Western powers in their ideological war against the Soviets.
The rationale then was that the West was more open, democratic and civilised because it allowed for freedom of belief and expression. The 'evil Soviet empire' was that nasty place where having religious and political differences was frowned upon and often regarded as a criminal offence.
These days the tables have been turned. In the neo-Cold War scenario, the West is cast as the final bastion of instrumental rationality, and those who hold on to convictions (particularly religious ones) are deemed a threat to world peace and civilisation.
Thanks to the hegemonic grip of the US on the rest of the world, Washington is able to call the shots and set the tune for the concert that follows. In Malaysia - as in Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand and every other country with a significant number of Muslims in it - arresting and detaining Muslims on the charge of being possible terrorists or supporters of terrorism is now acceptable practice.
While human rights groups and observers continue to bemoan the fate of political prisoners (and I am not suggesting here that their fate should not be a matter of concern for us all), hardly a squeak of protest has been made in relation to the thousands of Muslims who have been arrested, detained, interrogated, denounced and even liquidated the world over as part of the global "war against terror".
While this is happening, those Muslim states with the highest arrest scores have inched their way up the "moderate Islam" ladder, earning brownie points as they cosy up to the American establishment. Fearful of losing much-needed foreign investment and tourist dollars, these states are falling over themselves to prove just how "moderate" and "progressive" they are, by arresting as many Muslims as possible and in many cases without even the slightest shred of evidence save what has been handed to them by the US intelligence sources.
A "good Muslim state"
Notwithstanding this pathetic attempt to curry favour with the US, the fact remains that "moderate" and "progressive" Islam will not be born behind bars and it will certainly not thrive and prosper under repressive and dictatorial conditions. While some Muslim states and governments may think that by arresting the "bad Muslims" they have earned for themselves the title of "good Muslims", they need to be dissuaded of the notion rapidly.
The bottom line is that the neo-Cold War logic of today pits all Muslim states against the rest of the world, and that there is no such thing as a "good Muslim state" in the eyes of the hawks of the US: only domesticated and compliant Muslim leaders who can be manipulated to serve the interests of Western military and economic powers by playing the role of Uncle Tom.
If Malaysia wants to earn for itself the title of "moderate Islamic state", then its leaders as well as its society would do well to remember a few simple facts: Any form of "moderate" and "progressive" Islam will only have any credibility if it originates and proceeds from the premises of Islamism itself, and not according to the ready-made recipe dished out by Washington.
In fact, due to America's deplorable standing and record on human rights (this is the same country that supported the Shah of Iran, Generals Suharto, Zia 'ul Haq and Ferdinand Marcos and was responsible for the death squads in Central America) one could argue that any endorsement from Washington would spell the kiss of death for any truly progressive Muslim state, government, leader, movement or intellectual.
Secondly, no school of "progressive" and "moderate" Islam will ever get off the ground unless and until it commits itself to some of the fundamental tenets of justice and universal humanity that is at the core of Islamic ethics. How can any moderate or progressive Muslim state, government or intellectual defend their image and standing unless they are also committed to human rights, democracy, civil society and the fundamental freedoms of individuals.
No Muslim government can claim to be an example of moderate Islam at work if it continues to arrest and detain its own citizens under various internal security acts without giving them the right to a fair and open trial where they can defend themselves. And no Muslim leader can speak up for the rights of Muslims or condemn the fundamental structural inequalities in the world today unless he or she is also prepared to grant the same rights to the citizens under his leadership.
But sadly the world today is run according to the logic of realpolitik, and in politics consistency counts less than goals and objectives. Despite its claims to the contrary, neither the US government or its allies seem interested in addressing the root causes of terror in the world today, which have everything to do with the ever-growing cleavages of power and wealth that continue to divide the world and tear it to pieces.
America's own record in promoting human rights shows that it hardly merits the label of being consistent. This is the government that has condemned the human rights abuses in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, while remaining blissfully oblivious to the abuses of human rights in other countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia and its bevy of crony states elsewhere.
This is the government that tells the rest of the world to consume and pollute less, while walking out of the Kyoto summit and defending the right of US citizens to gorge on more food than they need, buy bigger cars than they need and pollute more than they should.
The failure of political Islam
Thus far, political Islam has failed to make even a dent in the armour of the US hegemon as it lumbers forward, juggernaut-like, on its march towards its manifest destiny. The reason for this is that Islamists themselves have failed to come up with an alternative paradigm that would radically critique and challenge the premises upon which US/Western hegemony is based.
Political Islam exploded on the global scene in the 1970s with the promise of a brave new world where the inconsistencies and contradictions of the old era would be exposed and done away with for good. But instead of the birth of a genuinely new world order, we have witnessed only the resurgence of a reactionary and defensive form of Islamism couched in terms of a politics of authenticity and nostalgia where Islamists seem to be more obsessed with moral guardianship, sartorial norms and the policing of thought.
Looking at the developments in Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt and even here in Malaysia, one might be forgiven in thinking that what drives these Islamists on is their obsession with the tightness of women's jeans or whether students are making out in the dark on campus. Both Muslim states and opposition movements seem more concerned with trying to use Islam as a discourse of social control and policing, rather than harnessing its critical potential by turning it into a discourse of social emancipation instead. The promised critique of the dominant political and economic paradigm has yet to make its mark, or if it has then its arrival has gone unnoticed by most.
Now, more than ever, the truly progressive and moderate face of Islam must show itself. In the Malaysian context this would mean developing a new voice of Islam that is committed to universalist and humanitarian principles that would critique the abuse of power both at home and abroad.
It would mean a school of Islamic thought that is prepared to take up issues and concerns like democracy, civil society, gender politics and economic justice under its wing. It would also have to be a school of Islamic thought that would consistently condemn the machinations of power on the global scene, and expose the ways through which the workings of geo-politics has an immediate and deleterious effect on domestic politics.
This is a task that has to be taken up by society as a whole; by politicians and laymen, regardless of their racial, ethnic and religious identities. In short, if Malaysia really wants to present itself as a moderate and progressive Muslim state then the first thing it has to do is turn itself into a democracy, to show that Islam is indeed compatible with the values of a progressive, liberal and pluralist age.
It can start by repealing the ISA and releasing the prisoners held under detention without trial by laws and regulations that bind us to the decidedly un-moderate and un-progressive colonial past. Moderate Islam will never be born behind bars.
** Dr FARISH A NOOR is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist. [Source: MalaysiaKini 12.10.02]
Washington's Distraction Opening Door for China in Indonesia
China and Indonesia have stepped up economic and military ties in recent months. Despite Indonesia's historical distrust of Chinese regional ambitions, Jakarta is rethinking its relations in order to gain economic, political and security leverage. Washington's preoccupation with Iraq and the anti-terrorism war appear to have offered Beijing a unique strategic opportunity.
Beijing and Jakarta inked a contract Sept. 26 to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the Tangguh field in Indonesia's West Papua province to China's Fujian province. The deal, signed during the first Indonesia-China Energy Forum in Bali, is valued by Jakarta at $8.5 billion. The two countries also signed at least six other memoranda of understanding covering hundreds of millions of dollars in oil, mining and power-sector deals.
Beyond the energy sector, Indonesia and Beijing also are trying to expand political and military ties. In the past month, Li Peng, chairman of China's National People's Congress, and Defense Minister Chi Haotian both have visited Jakarta. During Chi's visit, the two nations began discussions about possible Chinese arms sales to Indonesia, and Indonesian officials welcomed the idea as a way to diversify their suppliers and reduce the problems caused by international sanctions.
For Beijing, the growing ties are a welcome change after decades of mistrust during former President Suharto's rule. Suharto used the strengthening ties between China and the founding Sukarno government in the 1960s as a justification for his military crackdown on Chinese in the country -- a crackdown which the United States tacitly supported, eventually leading to Sukarno's ouster.
Community tired of shouldering terrorism blame
The Philippine Muslim community is growing increasingly resentful of the terrorist label being pinned on it following deadly bomb attacks in Bali, Manila and the south of the Philippines. Community leaders have warned that making Muslims scapegoats could induce moderates to take extreme measures.
Lawyer Benjamin Lanto complained that "whenever an act of terrorism is committed, they [the authorities and public] always look for a Muslim to blame". "That worries us a lot," said Mr Lanto, a member of the growing Islamic sect called the Tabligh, whose members try to emulate the prophet Mohammed in their daily lives. "We have the feeling we are being alluded to at present and we believe if this continues, it will lead to a holy war, eventually."
The fear is not unjustified, especially after National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said the bomb that killed two passengers in a bus recently was of similar make to the bomb that exploded in a carriage of the overhead Light Rail Transit on December 30, 2000, killing 11 people.
Four other bombs exploded that day - in a passenger bus, near a hotel, in front of the US Embassy in Manila and near Manila's international airport. Dozens of Muslim men were arrested, paraded before the media, jailed for weeks then later quietly released. "Not one was convicted of the bombings," said lawyer Fidel Macauyag.
Muslims fear another crackdown, and if that happens, Mr Macauyag feared, "we can only expect these bombings would continue. These will not stop".
Mr Macauyag, who has defended such cases in court, said some relatives of the men arrested over the bombings two years ago resented the government to the extent of volunteering to join Muslim extremists. He believed one of his clients, Omar Racman, was wrongly arrested for a bombing. He quoted Racman as saying: "I am now suffering for something I did not do ...jihad should be declared for this kind of injustice." He added that these were people more furious than members of the Abu Sayyaf and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front because they are victims of injustice. We are multiplying the number of rebels.
Abhoud Syed Lingga, head of the Bangsa Moro People's Consultative Assembly, shares concern on injustice. "I think government must be responsible enough that if they arrest people, there should be some evidence against these people," said Mr Lingga, whose movement seeks independence through a peaceful referendum.
However, to Omar Ali, mayor of the southern city of Marawi, Muslim extremists "must be one of the suspects". Mr Ali earned a fearsome reputation as Commander Solitario of the Moro National Liberation Front, which made peace with the government in 1996. "You know there is always a very, very small percentage of the Muslim population who are desperate, and would resort to the effective, less costly, but high impact method of terrorism," he said. "This doesn't mean most Muslims like what they are doing."
Mr Lanto said Muslims had asked the Abu Sayyaf "not to bomb in Manila because the branding of the Muslim would worsen".
Mr Ali said Muslim extremists should be suspected in the latest Manila bus bombing, but only among a long list of possible culprits. "Many are angry at President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, many want her to fail, and some elements within the political system and the military have their own interests," he said.
The government seems to have acknowledged this in the latest bombing. Mrs Arroyo has urged the public to fully protect themselves from these secretive and determined extremists but did not identify them as Muslim.
[Source: SCMP 21.10.02]
Muslim anger at exclusion from top government jobs
Resentment has finally boiled over in India at the systematic exclusion of Muslims from government agencies. Thousands of angry Muslims converged on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's official residence in New Delhi recently to demand job quotas and to protest against the government's discriminatory employment policies. The demonstration in the capital's high-security area took security forces by surprise.
N. A. Farooqi, secretary of the socio-religious group Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, which organised the protest, said it resorted to the protest because the group was denied permission to submit a letter to Mr Vajpayee.
Mr Farooqi said: "According to the latest census, there are 140 million Muslims in India but there is not a single Muslim in the country's premier intelligence organisation - the Research and Analysis Wing - the elite Special Protection Group, which is responsible for the security of the prime minister and former premiers, and various other sensitive VIP-related and intelligence-gathering organisations."
The systematic exclusion of Muslims - India's largest religious minority comprising 14 per cent of the population - from government agencies is hardly a secret but officials refused to comment.
The demonstration added to the tensions between Hindus and Muslims. Right-wing Hindu leader Bal Thackeray called on Hindus to form saffron suicide squads to attack Muslims because the government had failed to protect the country from Islamic terrorism - a charge related to a raid on a Hindu temple in Gujarat in September that left 31 people dead.
There is not one Muslim heading the police force or the civilian administration in the 73 districts of India's most populous province, Uttar Pradesh. Muslims account for barely 2.98 per cent of Indian Administrative Service officers and the community's representation in the Indian Police Service and Indian Foreign Service (IFS) is 3.14 per cent and 2.64 per cent, respectively.
If all federal government and state government jobs are taken into account, including public sector undertakings such as Indian Railways, Indian Airlines and the Steel Authority of India, Muslims make up barely 1.6 per cent of class one officers, 3.9 per cent of class two officers and 4.4 per cent of technical supervisory staff.
Community leaders said the recruitment of Muslims in the army, air force, navy and para-military organisations such as the Border Security Force and Indo-Tibetan Border Police had virtually stopped since Mr Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in New Delhi in March 1998.
"Quotas for Muslims in government jobs must be fixed without any delay as the scenario is becoming increasingly dismal, and the community's sense of alienation is growing dangerously," Mr Farooqi warned in a letter handed to Vijay Goel, the minister in charge of the Prime Minister's Office, after the demonstration.
Mr Farooqi said Muslims were deliberately denied jobs in schools, colleges, hospitals and judicial services, heightening the community's frustration.
Former MP and ex-IFS officer Syed Shahabuddin said fixed-job quotas were the only solution to help India's economically and educationally backward Muslims. Successive federal governments have, however, maintained there is no provision in the constitution for reserving government jobs for religious communities.
But Mr Shahabuddin, who edits the monthly Muslim India magazine, said an article of the constitution empowered federal and state governments to identify backward communities and to have protected quotas in government jobs for them.
He said Mr Vajpayee should follow progressive states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam which reserve a percentage of government jobs for Muslims.
Before independence and partition in 1947, Muslims accounted for nearly 35 per cent of government jobs in undivided India. But the community's share of jobs plummeted because the majority of Muslim civil servants and officials opted to live in Pakistan.
Mr Farooqi said: "After the exodus of Muslim bureaucrats, New Delhi pursued an undeclared policy of recruiting as few Muslims as possible. Muslim representation at national level is so abysmally low after five decades of discrimination that now the only way out to ensure social justice is to fix job quotas according to the community's population."
[Source: SCMP 21.10.02]
Israel's Stance is Incompatible with the Deepest ideals of Judasim
Britain's chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, today delivers an unprecedentedly strong warning to Israel, arguing that the country is adopting a stance "incompatible" with the deepest ideals of Judaism, and that the current conflict with the Palestinians is "corrupting" Israeli culture.
In a move that will send shockwaves through Israel and the world Jewish community, Professor Sacks departs from his usual policy of offering only public endorsement of Israel, and broad support for moves toward peace, by giving an explicit verdict on the effect that 35 years of military occupation and decades of conflict are having on Israel and the Jewish people.
"I regard the current situation as nothing less than tragic," he tells the Guardian in an exclusive interview. "It is forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long run with our deepest ideals."
He goes on to speak of being "profoundly shocked" at the recent reports of smiling Israeli servicemen posing for a photograph with the corpse of a slain Palestinian. "There is no question that this kind of prolonged conflict, together with the absence of hope, generates hatreds and insensitivities that in the long run are corrupting to a culture."
He also admits that in 1967 he was "convinced that Israel had to give back all the [newly-gained] land for the sake of peace" - and he does not renounce that view now.
Prof Sacks is at pains to underline his continuing, avowed support for the Jewish state - citing repeated efforts by Israel to make peace, and the Palestinians' failure to take the same "cognitive leap" towards compromise.
Nevertheless, and despite the careful phrasing of his remarks, referring twice to dangers "in the long run", many in rightwing Jewish and Israeli circles will be angered by his comments.
"The nature of these comments are quite unlike anything he has ever said before," one senior Jewish community figure said yesterday. "The right will be surprised and angry." Liberal and dovish Jews are bound to welcome his statements.
Since becoming chief rabbi in 1991 of Britain's Orthodox Jews, and the de facto leader of the country's 280,000-strong Jewish community, Prof Sacks has successfully avoided any overtly political pronouncements on Israel.
He has preferred to be a public defender of the country and to offer broad support for the pursuit of peace as a divinely-sanctioned endeavour. At the time of the Oslo peace process, he was in regular correspondence with the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.
But he has steered clear of opining on the moral status of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, in sharp contrast with his predecessor, Immanuel Jakobovits, who sparked outrage more than a decade ago when he condemned Israel for "lording it over" the Palestinians.
Community insiders predicted that Prof Sacks' latest comments could prompt a similar wave of fury. Much of Anglo-Jewish opinion has followed the Israeli shift to the right since the outbreak of the current intifada two years ago.
The chief rabbi is bound to cause further controversy by calling for dialogue with the most extremist representatives of radical Islam.
In today's interview, timed for the publication of his new book, The Dignity of Difference, which is serialised in the Guardian this week, Prof. Sacks says he would even sit down with Sheikh Abu Hamza - the fundamentalist north London cleric who admits to sharing the views of Osama bin Laden and who describes himself as a Taliban sympathiser. Yesterday the sheikh was quoted saying it was "OK" to kill non-Muslims, and equating Jews with Satan.
Nevertheless, Prof Sacks says a meeting between the two is "a thought worth pursuing. I absolutely don't rule it out."
The chief rabbi, 54, also reveals that he has already met one of Iran's highest-ranking clerics, Ayatollah Abdullah Javadi-Amoli. At a meeting brokered by the Foreign Office and never disclosed until now, the two met for secret talks during a UN conference of religious leaders in New York in 2000.
"We established within minutes a common language", says Prof Sacks, the "particular language believers share."
The chief rabbi's new book is subtitled "How to avoid the clash of civilisations", and aims to offer the world a roadmap away from disaster. He calls on orthodox faiths in particular to realise that difference is not a problem to be managed, but an "essential" part of creation itself.
[Source: Guardian 27.08.02]
|3. Urgent APPEAL - top|
PAKISTAN: Sole witness of attack kidnapped, lawyers and activists beaten by the police
This is an update on the attack at the office of IDAR-O-INSAF (Institute for Justice and Peace) on 25 September 2002, which left seven activists dead and one seriously injured. The sole witness of the incident, Mr. Robin Peeran Ditta (32) was kidnapped by the police and later released. Actually, Mr. Ditta had been illegally held in custody and considered a suspect because only his life was spared. Therefore, his family and lawyers had been feared for his safety and believed that he was being tortured.
According to the information we received, Mr. Ditta was kidnapped and the lawyers and human rights activists was beaten by the police right after he was released under a court order on 22 October 2002. The police attacked as he came out of court along with his lawyers, human rights activists and IDAR members, forced him into a van and took off. A victim of the attack reported that the police were very brutal.
Later the police handed him over to his lawyers, and finally to his mother. According to his lawyers and family it is evident that he was tortured in police custody, so he needs a proper medical examination. After the incident, his lawyers and the General Secretary of the Karachi Bar Council held a press conference and strongly condemned the attack. They also filed an application for contempt of court.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Ditta's wife filed a petition to the court that he was being illegally held in police custody, demanding his release. However, the police did not produce him. The court again ordered the police to produce him and asked a court member to visit him and check whether he was tortured or not.
Please send your appeal to the President and Minister of Interior of Pakistan, urging them to guarantee Mr Ditta's safety and to punish the perpetrators of the kidnapping.
SAMPLE LETTER (You may use your own words or use the following as a sample)
Dear Mr. President,
I am writing to register my serious concern about the safety of Mr. Robin Peera Ditta (32), the sole witness of the attack at the office of IDAR-O-INSAF (Institute for Justice and Peace) on 25 September 2002, which resulted in the deaths of seven persons, and serious injury of one other. I have been informed that Mr. Ditta was illegally confined and investigated by the police since the incident. Even worse, I was shocked to hear that he was kidnapped, and that the police beat up his lawyers and human rights activists right after he was released due to a court order on 22 October 2002. It is also evident that he was tortured while in police custody, even though he was handed over to his family soon after.
Therefore, I urge you to guarantee his safety and to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future, and to investigate the kidnapping, including whether he was tortured in police custody, and punish the perpetrators as soon as possible.
I look forward to learning about your prompt action in this matter.
PLEASE SEND YOUR APPEAL BY FAX OR EMAIL TO:
1. General Pervez Musharraf
2. Gen. (R) Moinuddin Haider
Please send the copy of your appeal to;
Mr. Khalid Ranjha
|4. ANNOUNCEMENT - top|
New Publications Available at DAGA
The following new publications are available from the DAGA office:
1. The War on Terror: Reordering the World By Ninan Koshy [Price:
For more information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA):