Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Question of Palestine

The Question of Palestine
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

The siege will last in order to convince us that we must choose an enslavement that does no harm in fullest liberty.
(Late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish)

As Palestinians mark Nakba, the catastrophe, signifying the 61st anniversary of occupation of Palestine by the Jewish state of Israel, a question needs to be asked: Is 61 years of Palestinian suffering akin to the holocaust suffered by Jews? In the above question lies the irony of Israel; a nation carved out by the oppressed has become a nation of oppressors.

Theodore Herzel, a journalist, is the father of modern Zionism who toured the world extensively to propagate the idea of a nation for Jews. He worked hard in a mission to explore the possibility of establishing a state for Jews in Palestine. He promoted Zionism through his writings on the international stage. In June 1896, he met the Abdul Hamed II, 34th Sultan of Ottoman Empire in Istanbul, to convince him that Palestine should be handed over to Zionists. But Sultan refused to cede Palestine to Zionists and said, “If one day the Islamic State falls apart then you can have Palestine for free, but as long as I am alive I would rather have my flesh be cut up than cut out Palestine from the Muslim land.”

In 1898, after meeting with German Kaiser Wilham II, Herzel wrote about Palestine, “a perfect beautiful woman, fulfill all our requirements but married.”

The words of Abdul Hamid II came true when Ottoman Empire crumbled in 1918, nine years after his death. Abdul Hamid was the last Ottoman Sultan to rule with absolute power. Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 is seen by many historians as a turning point in Western Arab relations. According to one of the terms of the agreement, Arabs were promised a “national homeland” through T.E. Lawrence for their support to the British forces against the Ottoman army. British never kept their word. In fact, they negated this promise by issuing Balfour Declaration in 1917 promising “a national home for the Jewish people.” The declaration read, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The Arabs and Christians of Palestine together disapproved of any such move arguing that it could have serious political consequences.

The seed of Israel as planted by Theodore Herzel was watered by fervent Zionist Winston Churcill, who went on to become Prime Minister of United Kingdom in 1940. The seed took shape of a full-fledged tree on November 29, 1948 when United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish territories. Out of 56 members, 33 voted in favour, 13 against and 10 chose to abstain.

Thus was born the Jewish state of Israel in 1948; 44 years after the death of Theodore Herzel.

The tide of history turned against the Arabs and Muslims once again but Muslims all across the world should not be disheartened. Islamic concept of power can be summed up in three words: rise, fall and renewal. Muslims all across the world are undergoing the second phase of Islamic concept of power. Muslims have ruled Palestine from 630 CE to 1918 with a brief Christian rule lasting only 88 years (1099 to 1187).

With the creation of Israel in 1948, 7 lakh Palestinians became refugees. Dispossessed Palestinians were substituted with Jews who come from different parts of the world carrying knives, guns and explosives against the civilian population. A religious propaganda and allegations based on the myth and the falsification of history and heritage, to form that particular ideological falsehoods peddled by the Zionists provide energy to achieve the necessary human colonial project on the land of Palestine.

In the last 61 years Palestine-Israel conflict, Jewish state has annexed thousands of acres of cultivable land and now it almost holds 78% of Palestine.

It is in this context that Nakba must been seen. Commemorating the anniversary of Nakba, is not merely an occasion to remember those who experienced bleeding, homelessness and fear, killed, burned and jailed throughout the sixty one years, but to raise the voices of millions who refuse to accept the basis on which Israel was created as a state. It is a rejection of the project called a “Jewish state “and a determination for the right of return of the Palestinian people to their homeland.

The tragedy which started with the expulsion of 7 lakh Palestinians now affects the plight of at least 10.5 million Palestinians all across the globe. It is a catastrophe, the largest and the most heinous crime committed against a nation. It is against right and reason, human rights and freedom of people.

When Arabs took the initiative of peace in 2002 Arab Summit in Beirut, they demanded that Israel must go back to June 1967 line of control. There must be an establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem at its capital and right of return of Palestinian refugees as per United Nations Security Council resolution 194. All of this was rejected by Israel.

What more, all these years Israel has secretly continued “Judaization” of Al-Quds (Jerusalem). It is not only Palestinians Muslims who have no access to religious sites but also Palestinians Christians are not allowed to visit their holy shrines.

Everybody knows the role United States has played in Israel-Palestine conflict. Will there be a tilt in President Obama’s administration? Going by the recent news item, one thinks Obama is surely going to change US policy although it may not amount to radical change. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s first planned meeting with President Obama has been called off.

Netanyahu was keen to capitalize on his attendance at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington to visit the White House but officials have ruled out any meeting because President will not be “in town.” Experts speculate that Obama would not like to continue the Bush legacy of hosting Israeli prime ministers sometimes with just a phone call’s notice!

Jews have always enjoyed special favour under Muslim rule. When Umar, second caliph of Islam entered Jerusalem on foot, he did an agreement stipulating the rights and obligations of all non-Muslims in the holy land of Palestine. Jews were permitted to return to Palestine for the first time since the 500-year ban enacted by the Romans and maintained by Byzantine rulers. The same tradition was followed by was followed by Harun al-Rashid (786-809) who established the Christian Pilgrims’ Inn in Jerusalem, fulfilling Umar’s pledge to Bishop Sophronious to allow freedom of religion and access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims.

Jews have forgotten the humane angle of the Muslim rule. How can a people who have witnessed holocaust in the hands of Adolf Hitler tolerate the same kind of madness being leashed by their own government on hapless Palestinians?

Monday, May 4, 2009

China is a threat to global good

China is a threat to global good
By Susenjit Guha

As the world watches without being able to bring about a ceasefire, a humanitarian crisis is underway in Sri Lanka with nearly 170,000 civilians displaced and 50,000 trapped in the war zone.

It has become common for rampaging armed forces and also those in cahoots with terrorists the world is battling with, despots and dictators to cock a snook at the UN. Much of the cockiness lies in the covert moral and logistic support lent by China, hungry for resources for widening its reach to get a major slice of business in the troubled regions and make its presence felt.

The Sri Lankan offensive against the LTTE is not faulted as the terrorist organization has used all possible means of violence over the years to foment terror in this beautiful island resembling a tear drop in the Indian Ocean. Lots of blood sweat and tears have flowed for the fight for a separate Tamil homeland in protest for the marginalization of the Sri Lankan Tamils. But the process of terror was always condemnable and has encouraged later day terror groups like the al Qaeda to emulate their suicide attack techniques.

But what happened so suddenly that the Sri Lankan armed forces finally managed to decimate the formidable LTTE?

It was China once again. Having supported despots with blood on their hands in Africa and Myanmar for the sake of resources to feed a surging Chinese economy, Sri Lanka was a natural choice to complete the string of pearls in the Indian Ocean.

Having set about building and ramping up ports in Burma, Bangladesh and Pakistan, which would in be used for docking and refueling of its navy, China is now building a $1 billion port in the fishing village of Hambantota in Sri Lanka’s north east, very close to the fighting zone. It would also double up as the Chinese Navy’s stop-over point during patrols to guard against piracy of oil imports from the Middle East and establish a base in the Indian Ocean all along the arc.

No wonder the Sri Lankan armed forces are fighting perhaps their last battle to crush the LTTE for ever with an urgency never seen before. Shunned by governments the world over including India when Sri Lanka sought arms for the civil war, China chipped in during the last two decades with arms supplies. Chinese arms supplies increased further when the US suspended all military aid to Sri Lanka citing gross human rights violations. Chinese aid to Sri Lanka jumped to $1billion last year leaving other nations far behind.

Like wise, China beefed up the Myanmar armed forces and stood with them when they were accused of human rights violations last year when monks and civilians rose in protest against rampant corruption, price rise and food shortage. Pakistan can act in self denial of not harboring terrorists and fuel terror acts in neighboring countries on the strength of Chinese military aid and support while the US and western powers resign themselves to the reality and cannot do much about it.

According to Jane’s Defense Weekly, Sri Lanka shopped for $37.6 million worth of arms and supplies for its army and navy. China gave 6 F7 fighter jets for free in 2007 as per reports of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. According to media reports, the bulk of arm shipments fro China was handled by Lanka Logistics and Technologies where the Defense Secretary who is the Sri Lankan president’s brother, has a major stake.

And the arms went into killing 75 civilians in a makeshift hospital by the Sri Lankan armed forces which lay very close to the battle zone. It was the only one available for the trapped civilians.

UN reports peg civilian casualties at 6500 since January this year as the Sri Lankan government vehemently denies and keeps the war zone out of bounds for journalists and aid workers.
Sri Lanka is acting with the same nonchalance to global criticism and pressure as Myanmar’s armed forces did last year on the strength of a counter weight like China. Calls for evacuating the civilians have fallen on deaf years.

China’s desperate need for Hambantota had been cautioned by Pentagon’s Air Staff personnel Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher J. Pehrson in a 2006 paper and by the U.S. Joint Forces Command last November.

With a trail of blood from volatile Africa, Myanmar to Sri Lanka, China is a threat to global good and reticent about gross human rights violations and human catastrophes to preserve its own commercial interests.

US have also been accused of partying with despots and affecting civilian casualties, but democracy allows a groundswell of dissent as was evident in the last presidential elections. China has stifled a moral counterweight which makes it more dangerous.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Indian Democracy: Need for a radical change

Indian Democracy: Need for a radical change
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

Now that the electoral dust seems to have settled in Maharashtra with the end of phase III, it’s time we turn our attention to some serious issues plaguing politics, voting and democracy.

The average Indian still does not understand the power of voting. He thinks that a single vote is not going to make much difference because rarely does in India a single vote decide the fate of aspiring politicians. Not many Indians would have heard of Saifuddin Soz whose single vote toppled Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government in 1999. The average Indian voter interprets national politics through the narrow prism of his individual problem. He forgets that his micro problem is part and parcel of India’s macro problem. He is fed of the same old politicians making same old promises. He thinks the only way out is to skip voting. In some areas including Sonia Gandhi’s Amethi constituency, people have boycotted polls. Boycott is a legitimate tool of protest in a democracy but poll boycott is not driven by mere hopelessness alone; it is fuelled by illiteracy. The Indian voter has started believing in the saying ‘If voting changed anything, they would make it illegal’. The only way to remove this erroneous perception is by mass awareness regarding the power of just one vote.

A careful reading of history reveals that one vote has changed fate of many nations across the world. Indians have forgotten that Adolf Hitler became president of Nazi party of Germany in 1934 just because of one vote. Indian Muslims seem to have forgotten this but Jews still remember it. It was the power of just one vote that caused the execution of Charles I, King of England, in 1649. It was just because of one vote that France became a republic from monarchy in 1875. It was because of a single vote that Texas became part of United States in 1845. It was one vote that saved Andrew Johnson, 17th President of America from impeachment in 1868. One vote per precinct would have elected Richard Nixon, rather than John Kennedy, President of America in 1960. And finally it was the power of one vote that brought down Atal Bihari government in 1999. Indian Muslims must remember these historical instances because those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Given the importance of just one vote, should voting be made mandatory?

Making it mandatory may have some merits; like people would be compelled to vote out of no choice. But it has some demerits as well. Indian democracy would edge towards authoritarianism. Only on two conditions voting must be made mandatory. Firstly there must be inclusion of the concept of negative voting like negative marking in competitive exams. Secondly, there should be an option where a voter can press the button ‘none of the above’. In simple words, he can register his protest that he does not find any of the candidates suitable for the job of representation. If this option gets the maximum number of votes, there should be a reelection in the concerned constituency.

This provision will certainly empower an ordinary voter who feels let down by politicians all the time.

Now to balance our argument we must ask this question: how should we deal with political parties and politicians who go on making lengthy promises which read like a scroll of honour?

Political manifestos are inaugurated with much fanfare; but once the parties form government, it goes in the dustbin of history. Can we apply some provision of Indian Contract Act, 1872? Can political manifestos be accorded the status of a civil contract? In simple words, the contents of a manifesto should be treated like an offer; a proposal made with the intention to fulfill it. Anybody who votes for a particular party would be accepting the proposal laid down in the manifesto. Once such a ‘contract’ takes place, it should be enforceable in a court of law! Voters will have the right to implement the contents of political manifestos!

Some might term this as impractical political romanticism; but something urgently needs to be done in this regard because politicians take voters for granted. The current voting system does not encourage voters because he can’t do anything after pressing the voting button. Arundhati Roy had raised this issue in an interview once. She had said, “The stupid thing about democracy is that you go into the voting booth and push the button and you have fulfilled your duty. Now for the next five years you can sit back and allow your candidate whatever he wants.”

These matters are of serious nature and in the interests of the voters. Whoever comes to power at Centre, these issues must be raised, discussed and debated in Indian parliament because essence of democracy lies in welfare of the people.

The mood of the voter in the ongoing election can be summed up thus: Don’t vote for the best candidate, vote for the candidate who will do the least harm!