Sunday, June 28, 2009

Unveiling Nicholas Sarkozy

Unveiling Nicholas Sarkozy
By Mubasshir Mustaq

Nicholas Sarkozy is a hypocrite of secular liberalism. His problem is not that he can't accept Eastern tradition of conservatism in the form of burqabut his inability to come to terms with own Western culture of secular liberalism.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is the finest living example of Western hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, bias and double-standard are intrinsic in human nature and Sarkozy is no exception. Sarkozy's racist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant speech at Chateau of Versailles, south-west of Paris on Monday, is bound to draw criticism from the Muslim World. When one dissects Sarkozy and his personal life with the help of a literary and secular knife, he emerges as a confused personality whose hostility against Islam is steeped in his ascendancy; his Jewish origin. His language was quite similar to the one used by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu recently. The draft of Sarkozy's speech itself narrates a tale of his outlook towards Islam in general and Muslims in particular.

The tone of his language must be understood clearly, it is only when one can draw conclusion about his intentions. The burqa, he said, is not a religious sign, it's a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement” I want to say it solemnly. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.

Sarkozy is a self-appointed representative of the same West that believes in the doctrine of freedom. The definition of freedom in Western parlance is absolute. It includes freedom of choice rather than freedom of chance. The expression of freedom has been abused and used to suit Western convenience. So when it comes to freedom to choose one's dress, they have no qualms about bikini but they would always have problem with burqa. A bikini is viewed as a symbol of women's emancipation while a burqa is looked at a form of forced slavery. To men like Sarkozy, the bodily form of liberation is more important than the mental form of liberation. What more, when bodily form of liberation extends their desired limitation, they take the help of a flaccid morality evaporating slowly from the Western geography. So when an old nude photo of Sarkozy's super-model wife Carla Bruni was leaked on the internet, Sarkozy left no stone unturned that it doesn't get republished in any of the French magazine and tabloids!

Will an enlightened West question Sarkozy's definition of secular liberalism? If he really believed in the doctrine that freedom is absolute then he should have allowed his wife's photo to be published. That would have made him an icon and torchbearer of absolute freedom of expression!

Sarkozy's comparison of burqa as a prison sentence can be understood if it is forced and made compulsory in a free Western society. But what if a woman chooses to wear burqa voluntarily? Won't the same freedom to wear a bikini be extended to a lady who wants to don a burqa? In this hypothesis lies the irony of the West. This irony looks like an ugly and a repulsive creature on the mirror wall. The Western leaders claiming to be secular need to take a hard look in the mirror. There they will encounter a bitter pill hard to swallow.

The main problem of Sarlozy is not burqa but his inability to do nothing to stop the rise of Islam in his own country. According to one independent report, Islam is spreading most rapidly in France in the entire Europe. France is the only country in Europe which has the largest number of Muslims, 6 million to be precise.

Sarkozy need to understand the definition of secularism in the Indian context where multicultural and heterogeneous society is flourishing. Noted lawyer Fali S. Nariman has rightly defined secularism as, secularism in India means the ability to comprehend and tolerate an infinite variety of social problems.

The present Century is going to be a Century of soft power. In dress code, if a bikini is manifestation of West's soft-power, then burqa is an Islamic symbol of soft-power. Men like Sarkozy fear that in this bikini-burqa collision, the latter may emerge as a winner given the rise of burqa in the West.

Sarkozy may be comfortable with his wife in a bikini on a beach front but the same will not be true in Eastern countries especially India. No seasoned Indian politician will ever do such a thing. He will not be comfortable in a bikini or a mini-skirt even with his wife. Therefore, if a burqa is a statement of separation as believed by Sarkozy, then a mini-skirt is not an invitation to familiarity.

The ongoing debate about separation of church and state raises some interesting points. If we apply that logic then the Church of England should be disestablished, the blasphemy laws abolished, and religious education in schools replaced by an objective consideration of the role of the various religions as a part of History and Social Studies. Nicolas Sarkozy is a product of secular hypocrisy. He would do well to remember what a British scholar once wrote, My old mother, a very proper Christian lady, used to wear a headscarf“ whether to quell lust or just in order to look respectable I don't know. The simple fact is that in the customs of most societies men and women dress differently.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Real Test of Obama

The Real Test of Obama
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

Is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu following in the footsteps of American President Barack Hussein Obama? Ten days after Obama’s address at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, Netanyahu delivered a speech at the Begin-Sadat Center of Bar-Ilan University in Israel where he laid down his vision to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. One may not agree with his flawed vision but one thing is certain that Netanyahu’s speech was in response to Obama’s castigation of Israel. Then shall we consider it as a step in the right direction? Yes and no.

“I strongly support the idea of regional peace that he (Obama) is advancing”, Netanyahu said on June 14. “I share the President of the U.S.A’s desire to bring about a new era of reconciliation in our region.”

Although his speech was full of flaws, this kind of language has never been used by an Israeli Prime Minister. When was the last time an Israeli prime minister used the word ‘peace’ 32 times in a single six-page speech? We do not hold the view that uttering the word ‘peace’ again and again can bring peace in the Middle-East but there is a fundamental shift in perception-management by the Jewish State of Israel and we have no doubt that this is the result of President Obama’s speech.

Any peace-loving person would be enraged after reading Netanyahu’s speech because apart from the word ‘peace’ which has been used as a camouflage, there is not much in it. The change in lingual tone was to please American President Obama and dullards in United States who believe Israel is committed to the idea of peace. Netanyahu has very carefully pushed the conditional ball of peace in Obama’s court. He wants a “demilitarized” Palestine.

“I told President Obama in Washington, if we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state”, he said in the speech.

Even if one assumes that Palestinians recognise Israel as the “Jewish State”, is it possible for any State or country in the world to be “demilitarized?” Any such condition or assumption will be akin to living in fool’s paradise. Even Maldives, one of the smallest countries in the world with a population of 3, 40,000, has a National Defence Force to defend the security and sovereignty of the country.

Now the real test and truthfulness of President Obama’s Cairo speech lies in just one aspect of Israel-Palestine conflict. How Obama returns the conditional ball of peace in Netanyahu’s court remains to be seen. Obama must ponder over this issue with clarity of mind and conscience. How he deals with this condition will prove to be a litmus test. His decision can make or break America’s relationship with the Muslim World. If Obama wants to win over Muslims hearts and minds, then he must reject any such condition outright.

Netanyahu also warned that the Palestinians must decide between path of peace and path of Hamas. Perhaps Netanyahu has forgotten that Hamas is democratically-elected body of Palestinians. If Netanyahu wants Palestinians and Arabs to recognise the Jewish State of Israel then he must also recognise Hamas as a genuine political and military force in the region.

One common feature in both Obama and Netanyahu’s speech was the language of economics. With world economy looming under crisis, both know that to overcome this depression, Muslims all over the world needs to be involved because of their large population.

Action speaks louder than words. Both Obama and Netanyahu would want us to believe that this Century is going to be the Century of peace and dialogue. Their words must be matched by substantive acts. They also understand that the Muslim world is going through twilight-phase where one world is dead and another is waiting to be born.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Indians angered by U.S. policy in Kashmir

Indians angered by U.S. policy in Kashmir
By Susenjit Guha

If the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama wants to know why anti-Americanism keeps brewing in different parts of the world, it should take a hard look at the dangerous Afghanistan-Pakistan policy it is toying with, at the expense of India, and the inevitable fallout that might result.

What kind of talks did Undersecretary of State William Burns have in mind when he allegedly carried the U.S. message to India last week that dialogue with Pakistan should resume once again? Can India trust Pakistan, especially since nothing serious has been done to arrest the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks that were hatched and carried out from Pakistan?

In the wake of the release by Pakistani courts of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, leader of the banned terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba – now masquerading as an NGO under the name of Jama'at-ud-Da'wah – what can India expect from Pakistan? Saeed has proudly boasted of his organization’s covert jihad in Indian Kashmir. His organization is suspected of numerous terror attacks in India including the carnage in Mumbai last year, which caused the suspension of the India-Pakistan dialogue in the first place.

Indian columnist Tavleen Singh was spot on when she queried, in an article in the Indian Express, why no one had asked Burns during his New Delhi visit whether his country could be persuaded to have a “dialogue” with Pakistan if Osama bin Laden had been similarly arrested and released by Islamabad?

Now the United States is encouraging Pakistan to move its armed forces away from India and toward the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but this is more out of necessity to bolster the U.S. war in Afghanistan than to treat India fairly. Pakistan has moved many of its troops to its western border, but a big contingent still remains eyeball to eyeball with Indian troops on the Kashmir border.

The United States wants India to pull back its troops in Kashmir to ensure that Pakistan will do the same, in order to shore up its western sector where U.S. interests are at stake. This would leave Kashmir in grave danger. Veteran Indian journalist M. J. Akbar called the U.S. advice on Kashmir “lunacy” in a column written for the Times of India.

When Burns spelled out the U.S. message that a solution to Kashmir should factor in “the wishes of the Kashmiri people,” he was repeating the rhetoric of rogue elements in the Pakistani administration and military. Burns would like to see demilitarization in Kashmir. So would Pakistan, knowing that it can count on terrorist elements to continue the fight if both the Indian and the Pakistani armies back down. As M. J. Akbar wrote in the same column, “If America wants a DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) in India they will first have to ensure a DTZ (De-Terrorized Zone) in Pakistan.” This is exactly what the United States is shying away from. It doesn’t want to irk Pakistan to the point that it will resist aiding the war effort in Afghanistan.

It is the narrow U.S.-centric interests pursued by the U.S. administration at the expense of India, the largest democracy in the world, that rankles. Proposals like the one from Burns are only shielding Pakistan, which has long carried out covert operations to terrorize India, as part of its state policy.

With branded terrorists like Saeed walking free in Pakistan, is there any point to a resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue? Who will take responsibility for stopping terrorist infiltration into India through the mountainous terrain of Kashmir?

Britain has also been hinting that India should back off from its Kashmir border with Pakistan, as Foreign Secretary David Miliband mentioned Kashmir and India’s role as a major node on the terror war hub when he visited India a few months ago.

Either the present U.S. administration has got it all wrong on South Asia, or it is simply falling back on the age-old tack of pushing U.S. interests even if it means treading on a few toes. The new wave of “change” that the world was led to expect, along with millions of Americans, when Obama took office, could end up being too abrupt and premature. If meting out justice for acts of terror is recalibrated to suit U.S. interests, Americans may still believe in the mantra of “change,” but not Indians.

If the United States is unable to convince Pakistan to trust India, and rather expects India to take suicidal steps in leaving itself vulnerable to attack, this will pave the way for anti-Americanism to rear its head among a large section of Indian society once again.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Racism in Australia and Indian obsession

Racism in Australia and Indian obsession
By Susenjit Guha

With robberies and assault on Indian students’ Down Under spiraling to 1,447 in 2008-09 from 1,083 last year, it is time for a wake up call not only for Australians, but also for Indians.
The self denial by the Australian police and the government so long about the absence of a racial motive in some of the brutal hate crimes we saw lately exposes the nation’s underbelly that is psychologically trapped between the West it tries to emulate and Asia where it lies trapped in the backyard. Despite its proximity to Asia, Australia is yet to brace up as a nation that is separate from the UK or the US and uphold ideals that are unique to the sunny island nation.

On the other hand, a new breed of middle class Indians is increasingly getting obsessed about somehow getting a foreign degree for their wards to enhance marriage prospects and raise status of their families in their community. Chances of settling down also get brighter if they can somehow make it to an Australia university. Compared to the preferred destinations of the US and UK, it is easy to get into an Australian university where expenses are less. Most of the Aus-bound students are academically mediocre making sponsored assistantships like in the US and Canada out of bounds. How could one explain the rush for a certificate degree in automobile engineering that is something so banal academically?

All they need is money and banks are ready to finance if they cannot afford the full expenses. Australian universities and their counselors set up shop each year in India to take in the growing number of gawky students. Recent estimates peg the figure at close to a 1, 00,000 Indian students in Australia. Most of the degrees are available in India and there is nothing extraordinary that Australia can offer unless one has designs of digging in after a few years.

Australian achievers in professions other than sports still do not consider they have arrived unless they are feted by academic circles in the US or UK. In a recent Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece, a concerned Australian raised the specter of academics taking a back seat with the average Australian family. They would rather prefer their children to hit the outdoors more often than study.

Sports and a laidback lifestyle are not new to Australians, but the flood of immigrants from Asia in the last few decades has underscored the need for education. Undergrad and graduate programs are a passport to success and they have a sizable Asian presence. The average fair dinkum Aussie is feeling left out and is unable to come to terms with education being the basis for development along with sports.

The fallout of a deep rooted hatred for ‘the other’ who is not their type racially, but also made of different stuff---with reliance on education for a better life---has exposed the underbelly. It has also exposed the reality that even though Australia is closer to Asia geographically, it has very little in common with the continent and deep rooted resentment still exists. Australians are trapped in an environment with their conscience lying elsewhere. Hard facts like Asian tiger China bailing out the mining industry and making the nation dependent economically in many ways continue to rankle.

And the impoverished condition of the original inhabitants, the Aborigines, around the mining towns of Western Australia and in Northern Territory does not make frequent allusion to the US ethically acceptable. While the US has come out of the past with Barrack Obama, Australia is still trapped in deplorable sins committed in the past despite Kevin Rudd’s apologies to the community.

While saluting George W Bush last year, the Labor Prime Minister in a way resembled a ‘digger’ in awe of an army captain from Yorkshire under whom he fought in the Burmese jungles or in the western desert in WWII. Australia has since changed sides only to emulate the US, but still lacks a soul of its own.

When Victoria’s chief commissioner of police Simon Overland finally admitted that some of the attacks on Indian students were racially motivated, he owned up to an unsavory truth. Racism is embedded in the Australian psyche as a pre-1965 ‘white Australia’ policy still gnaws with successes among the yellow and dark skinned people abounding.

There could be more attacks in future unless the average Indian student gets over the obsession of education in a nation where nearly 85% of the adult population is involved in gambling. Poker is so popular online and in brick and mortar casinos that nearly 30% of the global poker machine or ‘pokies’ production is lapped up by Australia. It cannot be an ideal destination for students of a nation that is aiming to be number 2 in Asia.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Tribute to Kamala Suraiyya

A Tribute to Kamala Suraiyya
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

“Where ever I go, it becomes my home”, Kamala Das Suraiyya, the world renowned-poetess and writer had said in an interview in 2004. The cemetery of Palayam’s Jama Masjid – where she is scheduled to be buried at 8 am today with State honours – will be her new “home” now. She breathed her last in Pune’s Jehangir hospital early on Sunday morning.

Kamala Suraiyya was born in Palghat, Kerala in 1934. She was a woman of integrity and honesty, who had a penchant for writing. She would write for hours after finishing household chores. “There was only the kitchen table where I would cut vegetables, and after all the plates and things were cleared, I would sit there and start typing,” she is reported to have said.

Her conversion to Islam in 1999 opened Pandora’s Box. She earned lot of enemies and had to bear criticism. She was bitterly criticised even in literary circles. She remained steadfast in her new-found Faith and retorted back, “No one came home when I was a Hindu. Islam brought me friends and love. Several poor women and children come to me, they love me and I reciprocate their affections.”

In 2002, a documentary called Malayalathinde Madhavikutty was made on Kamala Suraiyya but fundamentalists threatened the producer and theatre owners of dire consequences if they release the documentary.

Some of her poems generated controversy but Suraiyya stood firm. In one of her poems she wrote, “If love is a flower, lust is its fragrance. Without love, where is lust and without lust, can life be created?”

When asked about her “controversial” writings, she once said, “My strength is my honesty. I tell it like it is, I don’t pretend to be saintly. Perhaps that’s why my house gets filled with so many young people. They feel I am speaking the truth because I never hide anything.”

In 2004, responding to her detractors, she said, “They want me to go to a place of worship and wait for death to arrive. But I’m not ready for death so early. I’m not tired of life. I may have done a lot, but there’s so much left to do. It worries people that I am not frustrated.”

Kamala Suraiyya knew Arabic as well as Urdu. She wrote a prayer book in Arabic in 2002 which was released in Qatar. “This is the first Arabic prayer book written by a woman.” She had said then. She learned Urdu because it suited her poetry. “I even learned Urdu, which I think suits my poetry well” she has said.

Kamala Suraiyya has been the Poetry editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India and editor of Poet magazine. She won many awards including Kent Award for Asian English writing, Vayalar Award for literature. Not many would know that she was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature in 1984. In 2002, Kerala government conferred Kamala Suraiyya with Ezhuthachan Award recognizing her outstanding contributions to the language and literary world. A Canadian movie company made a film on her. It was about Kamala Suraiyya, the writer, the poetess and her experiences with Islam. Every time renowned linguist and intellectual Noam Chomsky visited India, he made a point to meet Kamala Suraiyya.

Suraiyya was a poet with a philanthropic heart. She ran a charity trust called Lok Seva. She was also patron of Raksha School for children with multiple disorders. As a staunch supporter of purdah, she donned a black burqa.

Kamala Suriyya loved gold jewellery. She used to wear 18 smooth gold bangles on each arm. “I am keeping them as my gifts to my grand-daughters!” She once joked.

As a patient of diabetic neuropathy and respiratory disorder, her eyesight almost failed after 2004 but yet she used to dictate poetry.

In the last five years, Suraiyya changed a lot. From a fighter woman, she became a woman of affection. She has said that the only climate she can live in was that of an ocean of friendship and affection. “If I see someone approaching my house and see criticism and mockery in the tension of their jaw, I refuse to let them in. Time is so rare. I wouldn’t like to waste it on people who don’t love me”, she has said.