Monday, May 25, 2009

VIDEO: Palestinians buying houses in Jewish settlements in Jerusalem ...

The text accompanying this Al Jazeera video is as follows:

The Israeli prime minister has said he will not accept limits on the expansion of Jewish housing in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

One of the reasons for Binyamin Netanyahu's support of the construction is Israel's drive to keep Jewish population levels up in areas they claim as their own.

Now Al Jazeera has discovered that hundreds of Palestinian-Israelis have bought houses and are living in disputed settlements in East Jerusalem.

Sherine Tadros reports.

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BLOGS/CRIKEY: Sydney Writers' Festival does blogging ...

To blog or not to blog? That was just one of the questions posed by moderator Rachel Hills to a panel of bloggers, journalists and one burnt-out ex-journalist at a Sydney Writers' Festival gig on Sunday.

The panel consisted of former Sydney Morning Herald scribe and Webdiary founder Margo Kingston, blogger and author Anthony Loewenstein, blogger and tabloid opinion editor Tim Blair and blogger and former editor of Girlfriend magazine Erica Bartle. Their task was to test the following proposition:

If bloggers are all wannabe journalists and journalists are all complacent hacks, why do so few manage to cross over?

The discussion was fairly free-flowing and surprisingly civil, given what one participant has written about two of the others. I'll summarise in "first person" what each speaker said at various points.

Kingston: Paul McGeogh kinda pushed me into citizen journalism via what was once the Herald's Webdiary, and I'm not sure whether to thank or sue him. The interaction with readers was the best thing that happened to me in journalism. Webdiary contributors included concerned expats and rural readers. Journos often put on a persona of detachment because they don't want their own personal failings exposed whilst quite happy to expose the same failings in others. Many future blog-related jobs will be about moderating comments, and those employed have a high burnout rate. Currently sub-editors do this.

Loewenstein: Why can't journalists also be advocates? Many effectively advocate despite the veneer of objectivity. Studies have shown that the vast majority of media stories are generated from one source or press release. Journos rarely talk to real people, content to talk to each other. In many non-Western countries, bloggers are the only source of non-state information and take enormous risks, many jailed and tortured.

Bartle: There are no rules in blogging, unlike journalism. Blogs provide a superficial readership experience. I rarely spend an hour online reading a feature article. So much womens magazine journalism is just googling or desktop journalism, with not enough going out into the "fashion trenches". Rarely do magazine writers speak to people beyond fixed contact lists. Journalist hopefuls should be careful with what they put online as potential employers may not like what you write even if it's well-written.

Blair: I started blogging after a long career in journalism for Time Magazine and the Daily Telegraph. I'm somewhat lazy and the short form of blogging suited me. When you write a blog post, you can't help but tell something about yourself (perhaps something like this?). Blog journalists are surprisingly thin-skinned. I encourage young upcoming journos to blog. It's like an online CV. In these recessionary times, blogging can lead to employment. The Daily Telegraph doesn't have paid comment moderators (Yep, we can tell).

And what did the chairperson have to say? My notes show Rachel Hills saying she only found a few bloggers in mainstream media interesting enough to visit.

First published in Crikey on 25 May 2009.

UPDATE I: A regular commenter on Tim Blair's bog recently commented on the SWF discussion here. Tim leaves his own comment. Readers can draw their own conclusions.

VIDEO: Jesse Ventura on waterboarding ...

"Have we waterboarded anyone else?"

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GREECE: Immigration crisis ...

Though some far-Right bloggers treat recent Greek riots as the result of certain groups behaving badly, the situation is far more complex.

The following clip from AlJazeera English illustrates that the violence is a two-way street, and that much of it is incited by those having views as ugly as the blogger hyperlinked above.

The text accompanying this video is reproduced below.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

Greece's illegal immigrants represent a part of Europe's black economy, often exploited and living in extreme poverty. In Athens, the capital, many say they have no where else to go.

While Greece has been seeking help from the European Union to strengthen its borders, tensions between Greeks and immigrants remain high.

Al Jazeera's Nicole Itano has more.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

COMMENT: Why fight racism when you can incite racism to sell newspapers?

Writing in The Age on May 22 2009, Nazeem Hussain asks some very simple questions about attacks on South Asian (largely Indian) overseas students:

I am another brown person. I can say unequivocally, on behalf of every other non-white person in the country, that hearing about racially motivated crimes frightens us.

To an aggressor bent on beating up a "fob" (fresh off the boat) or a "curry", it does not matter that I was born here, and that my parents came here long before the attacker was born. To the aggressor, I simply match the description of their target.

What concerns me is that each time an attack against an Indian is reported, Victoria Police has quite determinedly ensured the issue of racism is not closely linked to the crime.

Inspector Scott Mahoney said that "sometimes, it's just a combination of timing and chance". Is that supposed to mean that the attackers don't see colour when they incessantly find targets of Indian appearance? These "chance" encounters that he describes are occurring with alarming regularity.

With respect, the inspector's analysis is flawed. Victoria Police has itself claimed that people of Indian background are "over-represented as victims". When both the victims and the aggressors claim that these attacks are racially motivated, what purpose does it serve to avoid a discussion about racism?

The police are charged with upholding the law and fighting crime, whatever its causes. There is little benefit in denying the existence of racist attitudes in our communities ...

So far, we have seen police directing their attention to victims and potential victims, telling them they should not speak loudly in their native language or travel on public transport with their MP3 players on display. Police also set up a hotline for Indian victims after the attack on Sharma. I fail to see how these measures tackle the cause of the attacks.

Now the police plan to go to India to educate Australia-bound students on how to minimise the risk of being attacked.

I thought the police said these attacks were opportunistic? Why, then, are they going specifically to India to advise Indians on safety? Or is this simply a business trip to ensure Indian international students continue to bring education revenue into the state by allaying their fears?

If it is racist hate-crimes we are looking at, just call them racist hate-crimes. Who or what is committing them is irrelevant.

But Andrew Bolt, provocateur-in-chief for the Herald Sun, isn't interested about the race of victims. Why is that, Andrew? Are they of the wrong colour? Instead, Andrew wants to accuse the whistle-blower of being involved in a cover-up.

But, since he’s writing in The Age, he does not dare be frank himself and name (directly) one of the ethnic groups most implicated in these attacks ...

Jeez, Andrew, does it really matter what ethnic background they are when the gangs perpetrating the incidents are themselves of no single ethnicity? What is the point of pointing out each ethnicity of each perpetrator? What will it prove? That non-whites have the ability to be racist also? That perpetrators of every race and colour can be inspired by the same violent and racist sentiments that you allow onto your blog? And that companies like Dell (whose banner advertisement appeared on Bolt's blog when I accessed it) sponsor?

The two most senior Muslim coppers in the UK are being had up, separately, on charges of serious fraud. Their defence is that the police ‘system’ is ‘institutionlly racist’. This is what happens when cultures (not races!) who do not share Western values in the rule of law and blind justice (and much more besides) infiltrate rather than assimilate. It is too late for Britain (and Holland and France and Canada) but not too late for Australia.
Why is it that Hindus don’t run around the planet beheading people, stoning women to death, letting off bombs and flying planes into buildings?
Gardez Bien (Reply)
Fri 22 May 09 (08:08am)

Probably because Hindus are too busy getting bashed up in Melbourne.

Had Andrew Bolt and his cyber-buddies read the balance of Hussain's article, they would have understood his point. There's no point Victorian police heading off to India to warn people there of the dangers lurking on our trains. Maybe what they should do is deal with the problem here. And acknowledge that these attacks are almost certainly racially motivated, regardless of who is perpetrating them.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, May 22, 2009

COMMENT: Pollyanna dimwits?

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Some months back, my good friend Janet Albrechtsen expressed her frustration with what she described as

... a sweet but rather dim-witted Pollyanna view of the world.

She was upset that the Obama administration was moving away from torture, secret prisons, extraordinary renditions and keeping dangerous terrorists at the Hotel Guantanamo.

Lord knows how she must feel about Obama releasing the so-called torture memos. And anyone who cares about the future of Western civilisation must be horrified at the prospect of hard-working Bush administration officials, among them senior legal advisers, being prosecuted for sanctioning torture.

Of course, if the torture really was geared toward merely protecting American citizens, torture hawks and opponents of that unruly beast we call the Rule of Law might have a point. But a fair amount of the torture was used merely to elicit evidence supporting a decision to go to war in Iraq. So we torture people to provide us with evidence to prosecute a war in another part of the world where we torture more people.

The dishonesty of the arguments and rhetoric used by many of those supporting torture was illustrated by lawyer and author Philippe Sands during an interview with Lateline recently:

Last summer, I testified before the House Judiciary Committee on a couple of occasions and one of the Republican congressman, Trent Franks, put to me, "What's all the fuss about? If waterboarding was used, it was used on no more than three men for a total of one minute each, grand total three minutes." In fact, we now find out through the release of these memos that two men were waterboarded a total of 266 times, which is absolutely astonishing. One individual 183 times. And you really have to ask yourself, you know, when they got to waterboarding event number 83, did they really think there was anything more they could get out of him?

And about Australia's possible involvement in the torture of detainees, including Australian citizens? Philippe Sands again:

Australia and Britain were very supportive of President Bush's war on terror. I haven't focussed on the Australian situation, but if Australia was half as involved as Britain, then it seems likely that material will come out. I mean, the US wasn't on its own on these issues and it's to the great credit, I think, of the present administration that they believe in transparency and openness. They're putting materials out. That's going to cause some difficulties for some of the United States' allies, I suspect.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, May 18, 2009

POLITICS/COMMENT: Rebuking Rumsfeld ...

GQ Magazine carries an interesting and lengthy feature article profiling former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld through the eyes of his colleagues in the Bush administration. You'd think those working with Rumsfeld would be somewhat more charitable than openly ridiculing him. No such luck for Bush'd war monger.

... in speaking with the former Bush officials, it becomes evident that Rumsfeld impaired administration performance on a host of matters extending well beyond Iraq to impact America’s relations with other nations, the safety of our troops, and the response to Hurricane Katrina.

A major criticism of Rumsfeld was his insistence on stalling decisions that had to be made. This had a direct impact on the military tribunals at Guantanamo.

The Department of Justice got a taste of such stalling tactics two months after September 11, when the president issued an order authorizing the establishment of military commissions to try suspected terrorists. Rumsfeld resisted this imposition of authority on his DoD turf. “We tried to get these military commissions up and running,” recalls one former DoJ official. “There’d be a lot of ‘Well, he’s working on it.’ In my own view, that’s cost the administration a lot. Hearings for detainees would’ve been viewed one way back in 2002. But by 2006”—the year commissions were at last enacted—“it’s not so appealing.”

Rumsfeld also wasn't so keen to share access to American intelligence capabilities to its allies including Australia.

Similarly, Rumsfeld delayed the implementation of a 2004 presidential order granting our Australian and British allies access to the Pentagon’s classified Internet system known as SIPRNet. “He always had what sounded like a good reason,” says one of Bush’s top advisers. “But I had a lot of back channels and found out that it was being held up.” It finally took Australian prime minister John Howard forcibly complaining to Bush about the matter in the fall of 2006 for SIPRNet to become accessible.

It's great to see Howard putting his foot down to Bush about something.

Friday, May 15, 2009

COMMENT: Adventures with Wikipedia ...

I've been having fun following changes to an entry made about me on Wikipedia. In particular, I've enjoyed following some more malicious entries made by one person who calls him/her/itself "Johnnyturk888".

It seems JT888 is determined to paint me as some kind of child of bin-Ladin.

While in Pakistan, he attended an Islamic religious school, called a maddrassa where he came to believe in sharia law and an Islamic form of government.

I attended a madressa in Karachi for a period of 6 months. I was 6 years old at the time. How a 6 year old could come to believe in any particular legal and governmental system beats me.

Then there is this classic:

In 2009, Yusuf was part of a Christian photo opportunity washing the feet of the homeless.

Actually, I have been washing feet with Bill Crews and a few Buddhist monks on the Thursday morning before Easter since 2006.

I'm not sure who Johnnyturk888 is, but one Wikipedia moderator has this to say about him/her/it:

Johnnyturk888 has been on a continuous campaign to smear and undermine the subject of this biography. The problems with his edits have been pointed out repeatedly, yet he repeats them over and over again ... His attacks on Yusuf aren't overt, but their derogatory intention is clear in the aggressive insistence on misleading and inaccurate depictions including poorly sources material and statements taken out of context. I don't want to spend any more time reverting his edits, so I think it's time that Johnnyturk888 is encouraged to move along.

It's a bit hard for someone in the throws of complete obsession to move along. Still, JT888's strange fixation with me does make entertaining reading.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

VIDEO: US troops handed out Bibles in both Iraq and Afghanistan ...

What's the big deal with a bit of evangelism? Better a Bible than vicious dogs at your testicles, I say.

Except that handing out Bibles confirms all the stereotypes Arabs and Afghans have of Coalition forces occupying the country just to bring Iraq and Afghanistan into the broader "Christian empire". Taliban propagandists will have an even bigger field day than they are already having with US bombardments on US civilians.

Here is the text accompanying this video:

The highest ranking military officer in the United States says it's not the military's position to ever push any specific form of religion, in response to an exclusive Al Jazeera report that showed a group of US soldiers in Afghanistan in possession of Bibles translated into local languages.

The troops discussed giving the Bibles to Afghans as gifts - despite military directives banning soldiers from spreading religion, as Al Jazeera's James Bays reports.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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CRIKEY: Feudalism is the worst form of government there is, except for all the rest ...

We’re living in the age of bailouts, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari knows it. During his recent meeting with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Zardari likened his request for billions of dollars in military and other aid to the US government bailout of AIG.

The implication of this, of course, is that Pakistan is being severely mismanaged in much the same way as bailed out corporations. Many Pakistanis won’t dispute this. Two nights ago during a TV debate on the independent Pakistani cable news channel Aaj TV, there was near-unanimity among pundits (including former leaders of Zardari’s Pakistani People’s Party) that the government has stuffed the whole Taliban thing up. Yet still the Obama administration has no option but to deal with the elected government.

Pakistani villagers, however, do have other options, which the Taliban is taking full advantage of. The New York Times reported last month that the Taliban were:
... engineering a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small
group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants … [T]he militants
organized peasants into armed gangs that became their shock troops. The approach
allowed the Taliban to offer economic spoils to people frustrated with lax and
corrupt government even as the militants imposed a strict form of Islam through
terror and intimidation.
Asif Ali Zaradari is scion of Pakistan’s feudal political establishment, as are many in his PPP and in other more secular parties such as Opposition Leader Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League. The vast majority of Pakistanis live in villages and certainly are not wealthy land owners. The Taliban could repeat the same strategies in other Pakistani provinces, orchestrating what could become a peasant-based revolution.

However, victory for the Taliban isn’t just as easy as pitting peasants against feudal lords. What many Western observers forget is that the Taliban’s style of Islam is deeply unpopular in a region where the indigenous Muslim culture has had centuries of interaction with (and influence by) other faiths such as Hinduism and Sikhism.

The Taliban’s narrow sectarian agenda worries Shia Muslims, who make up around 20% of Pakistan’s population. The Taliban regard Shias as non-Muslims and have already shown disdain for at least one minority.

Still, the Taliban are only within 100 miles of the Pakistani capital. As Pakistani troops march in, an army of refugees from the Swat Valley are marching in the opposite direction, many headed for refugee camps once occupied by Afghan refugees fleeing Soviet invaders.

First published in Crikey on 7 May 2009.

VIDEO: Just how serious is Obama about ending torture?

The Obama Administration has repeated the mantra of the Bush Administration - that America does not torture. But just how serious is Obama about torture? The following video might provide some clues. Here is the text accompanying the video:

As Barack Obama prepares marks his first 100 days in power, pressure is mounting to hold the administration of George Bush, the former US president, to account for its role in authorising torture.

While it's still unclear whether anyone will be charged, Al Jazeera's Avi Lewis sat down with a panel of experts to find out where the debate over torture now stands.

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PAKISTAN: Talking Taliban around the clock ...

You only need a smattering or Urdu and access to Pakistani cable TV news channels to understand just how worried many Pakistanis are about the Taliban incursions. Government officials surely must be worried about the Taliban's ability to win hearts and minds, especially if this report in the New York Times is anything to go by.

The Taliban have advanced deeper into Pakistan by engineering a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants, according to government officials and analysts here ...

In Swat, accounts from those who have fled now make clear that the Taliban seized control by pushing out about four dozen landlords who held the most power.

To do so, the militants organized peasants into armed gangs that became their shock troops, the residents, government officials and analysts said.

The approach allowed the Taliban to offer economic spoils to people frustrated with lax and corrupt government even as the militants imposed a strict form of Islam through terror and intimidation.

“This was a bloody revolution in Swat,” said a senior Pakistani official who oversees Swat, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by the Taliban. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it sweeps the established order of Pakistan.”

The Taliban’s ability to exploit class divisions adds a new dimension to the insurgency and is raising alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal.
The government in Islamabad is seen as representing more of the feudal economic status quo. One can hardly expect the Pakistan Peoples' Party government to do much about land reform when the PPP is dominated by wealthy land owners. Even the Predident Asif Ali Zardari comes from a land owning family.

Successive Pakistani governments have since failed to provide land reform and even the most basic forms of education and health care. Avenues to advancement for the vast majority of rural poor do not exist.
But why would people turn to the Taliban for social justice? After all, they know that the Taliban will close down girls' schools and stop women from going into the marketplace. The Taliban are also notoriously anti-Shia, and will close down many traditional Sufi shrines that play an important role in the indigenous folk Islam.

Mahboob Mahmood, a Pakistani-American lawyer and former classmate of President Obama’s, said, “The people of Pakistan are psychologically ready for a revolution.”

Sunni militancy is taking advantage of deep class divisions that have long festered in Pakistan, he said. “The militants, for their part, are promising more than just proscriptions on music and schooling,” he said. “They are also promising Islamic justice, effective government and economic redistribution.”
The strange thing is that at the last Pakistani elections people in Swat, like in so many places in the "tribal areas", refused to vote for religious parties. Instead they opted for secular parties.

Some nights back, I saw a TV debate on Aaj TV in which Pakistani analysts were questioning the Pakistan Army's ability to defeat the Taliban. It's impossible to overstate the impact that the takeover of Swat has had on the country. Swat may be among the "tribal areas", but it is still only within 100 miles of Pakistan's capital Islamabad.

VIDEO: A victim of extraordinary rendition speaks out ...

Here is the text accompanying the video from AlJazeera English concerning the extraordinary rendition of Canadian citizen Maher Arar.

Maher Arar is the most well-known victim of the Bush administration's notorious
policy of extraordinary rendition. In an exclusive interview, Arar talked to
Josh Rushing.

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MEDIA/VIDEO: Are American print newspapers dying?

Here is the text accompanying this video from Al-Jazeera English.

US newspapers are battling to survive amid a recession and changing technologies that are leaving even the best known titles struggling.

John Terrett went to Roanoke in the state of Virginia to find out how one newspaper is managing to stay afloat in stormy times.

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PAKISTAN: More on the culture of religious pluralism in areas now held by the Taliban ...

There is a popularly-held notion in some Australian media sectors that the people in areas now ruled by the Taliban are somehow less cultured and more intolerant than people in other parts of the country. It's as if anyone who comes from the same ethnic background as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban leadership - anyone from a Pushtu-speaking tribe - must share the Taliban's intolerance.

Yoginder Sikand is an Indian writer and commentator who has written extensively on South Asian Islam. He notes that North Indians, including those from Punjab and the from the Pushtun regions, share much of their religious heritage with non-Muslims. Sikand provides numerous instances of this shared heritage during his travels across Pakistan.

'Numerous Punjabi Sufi saints, whose works are still immensely popular, are known for their breath of vision, seeing God's light in every particle of the universe, in the mosque as well as the temple', says Saeeda Diep, my host in Lahore. She takes me to the shrine of Madho Lal Husain in downtown Lahore, a unique Sufi dargah that houses the graves of two male lovers, Madho, a Hindu, and Husain, a Muslim, who were so close that they are today remembered by a single name. She waxes eloquent about the unconventional love relationship between the two that angered the pundits and mullahs but won the hearts of the masses.

This is the folk religious culture of Pakistan, which borrows from various Indian faiths including Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism. The special role Sikhism plays to this day among Punjabi Muslims is well known, as Sikand discovers when he meets of Sufi Muslim.

In Lahore I also meet Pir Syed Chan Shah Qadri, the custodian of the shrine of the sixteenth century Sufi Hazrat Miyan Mir. The saint was the spiritual preceptor of Dara Shikoh, son of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, a renowned mystic in his own right. Dara was the first to translate the Upanishads [ed: Hindu scriptures] into Persian and sought to draw parallels between Hindu and Islamic mysticism and thereby bring Hindus and Muslims closer together. Hazrat Miyan Mir was no less of an ecumenist, the Pir tells me. In recognition of his spiritual stature, he was invited by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh guru, to lay the foundation stone of the Harminder Sahib or Golden Temple in Amritsar, the most holy shrine of the Sikhs. The Pir informs me that many Punjabi Muslims still look upon Guru Nanak, the first Sikh guru, as a great mystic in the Sufi tradition.

Pushtun (also known as Pathan) Muslims also have a special relationship with Sikhs which has strong historical roots in the Sikh faith and extends to times when Sikhs were persecuted by Indian Muslim kings.

In Syed Chan Shah's home I am introduced to Zahoor Ahmad Khan, seventh generation descendant of two Pathan brothers Ghani Khan and Nabi Khan. When Gobind Singh, the last guru of the Sikhs, was pursued by Aurangzeb's forces, he was sheltered by the brothers. They disguised him as a Muslim saint, the Pir of Ucch Sharif, and, carrying him in a palanquin, they slipped through the Mughal lines. In gratitude, Khan tells me, the Guru presented them with a letter written in his own hand, announcing that, as Khan says, 'Whoever among my followers loves and protects these two brothers loves me, too'. In recognition of the service rendered to the Guru by the brothers, Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh kingdom in Punjab, granted their descendants a large estate in Mandara, a village in present-day Indian Punjab. The family resided in the estate till 1947, when, during the Partition riots, they fled to Pakistan. 'When the whole of Punjab was burning, when Hindus and Sikhs in western Punjab and Muslims in eastern Punjab were being massacred and driven out of their homes, the Sikhs of Mandara pleaded with my father and other relatives not to leave. But we had to, so terrible was the situation then', says Zahoor Khan, who was a young lad of fifteen when he came to Pakistan. Last year he went back to his village for the first time since he and his family had left it, at the invitation of a Sikh organization that seeks to revive and preserve the memory of the two Pathan friends of Guru Gobind Singh. 'I was given an enthusiastic welcome when I arrived in Mandara. The whole village came out to greet me', says Khan, his eyes brimming with tears.
In fact, many Muslims revere the Sikh gurus, amongst them the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak.

Also present during our conversation is Naim Tahir, a middle-aged, soft-spoken man, who introduces himself as a descendant of Bhai Mardana, Guru Nanak's closest companion, a Muslim of the Mirasi caste. Tahir tells me about the relationship between his ancestor and Guru Nanak. Both Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana were born in the village of Talwandi, and grew up together as friends. 'Bhai Mardana had a melodious voice and used to play the rabab', and 'when Guru Nanak began his spiritual mission of bringing Hindus and Muslims together in common worship of the one God and denouncing caste and social inequalities, Bhai Mardana joined him. Together they traveled together to various Hindu and Muslim holy places, including even Mecca and Medina. Guru Nanak would compose his mystical verses or shabad and Bhai Mardana would sing them while playing the rabab'.

Tahir tells me that his family tradition of singing the verses of Guru Nanak and other Sikh gurus has been carried down through the generations. 'Yes, we are Muslims,' he says, 'but there is nothing in the teachings of Guru Nanak that is incompatible with Islam. In fact there are many verses in the Guru Granth Sahib written by Muslim Sufis, including the well-known Chishti saint Baba Farid'. Tahir confesses to know little else about Bhai Mardana, other than the fact that after Guru Nanak died he traveled to Afghanistan and is buried somewhere there. 'You should speak to my father Ashiq Ali Bhai Lal about this', he advises. 'He has even sung shabads in the Golden Temple and is regularly invited to sing in gurudwaras and gurumandirs, Sindhi Hindu shrines dedicated to the Sikh gurus, in different places in Pakistan'.
This is the reality of religious coexistence on the ground in Pakistan and has been the case in this region of the sub-Continent for centuries. The Taliban represent an historical and theological aberration.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

PAKISTAN: The tragedy of the Sikh minority ...

The Taliban militias in Pakistan appear to have turned their sights on the country's small and vulnerable Sikh minority. If reports appearing in some Pakistani newspapers are correct, Taliban leaders have transformed Islamic sacred jurisprudence into an instrument of oppression.

Sikhs in Pakistan are of both Punjabi and Pathan ethnicity. Pathan Sikhs, like Pathan Muslims, speak Pushtu. The Taliban themselves are largely of Pathan heritage. The Sikhs currently being attacked by the Taliban are themselves Pathan. Many are living as refugees in the large Gurudwara Punja Sahib complex in Hassanabdal, among the holiest shrines of Sikhism.

Pakistan's respected Dawn newspaper reported on 30 April 2009 that houses were being bulldozed by Taliban vigilantes.

The Taliban on Wednesday night demolished 11 houses of the Sikh community in the Orakzai Agency for refusing to pay ‘Jazia’.

The action was ordered by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan chief for Orakzai Agency, Hakeemullah Mehsud, after the deadline given to the Sikh community for payment of Jazia passed on Wednesday ...

The Taliban had asked the Sikh community living in the tribal area for centuries earlier this month to pay annual Jazia because “Sharia had been enforced in the area and every non-Muslim had to pay protection money”.

The Sikh community comprising 30 to 35 families shifted from the Feroze Khel area to the nearby Merozai in Lower Orakzai Agency because they could not arrange Rs150 million demanded by the Taliban.

The Taliban had forcibly occupied shops of two Sikh businessmen, Sewa Singh and Kalak Singh, and houses of several Sikhs to force them to pay Jazia. Later, the Sikh community refused to pay Jazia and decided to leave Orakzai and settle in some other area.

The Dawn further reported on 1 May 2009 that Sikhs in some villages have been pressured to pay the jizya tax and have had their properties confiscated or even bulldozed.

The Sikh community living in lower Orakzai Agency for centuries started leaving their village on Thursday following threats and forced occupation of their shops and houses by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

On Wednesday night, the TTP destroyed 11 houses of the Sikh community, which forced 60 to 65 Sikhs to auction their shops and leave the Feroze Khel area permanently.

The plight of the Sikhs has seen the usual comments from Indian officials and the usual denials from Pakistani officials. A Pakistani foreign office spokesman was quoted by Dawn as remarking:

Sikhs living in Orakzai agency are Pakistani citizens and hence of no concern to India.
Yeah, right. Try telling that to this chap. The plight of his co-religionists surely must be of concern to the first Prime Minister of India to come from a religious minority. Although India's own religious minorities aren't always treated the best. India's failure to properly conduct an investigation into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots has led to its Home Minister being the subject of some Bush-in-Baghdad treatment.

Still, some Sikh refugees are denying reports of Taliban abuses to Sikh property. The News International quoted one Pakistani Sikh leader remarking:
Believe me that the state of Pakistan treats us like a gul (flower). We are better off than the majority Pakistanis.
(It sounds less ridiculously flowery in Urdu!)

In such a situation, it's hard to know how else a vulnerable religious minority would react. Still, Pakistan's former Information Minister Sherry Rahman didn't have any such hesitation. The Hindustan Times reported:
Describing extortion demands from the minority Sikh community by the Taliban as a “criminal act”, former Pakistani minister Sherry Rehman on Sunday said such incidents must be condemned and “halted at all costs”.

“We hear that Sikh families are being harassed and forced out of their homes, as if non-Muslims don’t have a right to live peacefully and with clear citizenship rights in Pakistan,” she said while responding to reports of Taliban issuing threats to Sikh families in the Aurakzai tribal region.

“This is dangerous nonsense and must be condemned and halted at all costs. Sikh, Christian, Hindu communities and other citizens belonging to any religious denomination have full rights to live in Pakistan as per our constitution,” Rehman, a close aide of slain former Premier Benazir Bhutto, said ...

“The families that have decided to move out of the area need to be extended maximum assistance by the government. At the same time, parliament must take note of the violation of constitutional rights of the Pakistani citizens and make serious efforts to extend necessary protection to minorities,” she said.

Rehman said the government’s efforts to "counter non-state actors should proceed with the understanding that not only are they challenging the writ of the state, (but) they are attempting to take over our territory and establish their own unconstitutional and illegal order by way of force".

She said, “What happened with Sikh families is just one example of the way the neo-Taliban are attempting to establish their own authority in the region.”
Perhaps the ultimate measure of a nation's civility is in how it treats its minorities. Pakistan must act to stop attacks on its Sikh and other minorities.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

VIDEO/TORTURE: Condi Rice's tortured reasoning on waterboarding ...

Condoleezza Rice's attempts to clarify her expressed views on the legality of torture are about as clear as mud, as the following video from AlJazeera English illustrates.

The text accompanying this video is below.

Condoleezza Rice, the former US secretary of state, has dismissed claims she approved the use of torture when she was US National Security adviser.

The former secretary of state caused a storm when she said if harsh interrogation methods were authorised by the US President, then they were not illegal.

Al Jazeera's Monica Villamizar asked her about the controversy her statements have caused.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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AFGHANISTAN/VIDEO: US troops caught out evangelising among Afghans?

US troops are caught with resources to convert Afghan locals to Christianity. This is a serious development. The video footage below was taken 12 months ago. Who knows how long all this has been happening?

The sensitivity of religion in this part of the world cannot be over-emphasised. This kind of video footage can and no doubt will be used by Taliban propagandists to undermine the Karzai government. This could well threaten the security of our own troops.

The US army has some explaining to do. So does Kevin Rudd.

The text accompanying the video is reproduced below.

US soldiers in Afghanistan have been filmed with local language Bibles and urged to be "witnesses for Jesus" despite anti-proselytising rules. Al Jazeera's James Bays reports.

Monday, May 04, 2009

CRIKEY: Trouble is that Turnbull's dead wood is right ...

Malcolm Turnbull didn’t become a multimillionaire by being a stranger to big business. This former merchant banker, lawyer, internet entrepreneur and corporate wheeler-and-dealer knows his Party’s relationship with sections of the business community is the closest financial and institutional equivalent it has to the ALP’s more formalised relationship with the trade union movement.

So when business donors threaten to turn the financial tap off if Turnbull doesn’t ...
... personally driv[e] a large scale renewal of MPs in the parliamentary party ...

... as reported in The Australian today, Turnbull will listen carefully.

There’s just one problem. The 14 MP’s listed as dead wood by these business donors include powerful forces in the NSW Right. While business donors may hold the purse strings of the NSW Party, the Right Wing holds the Party’s t-sticles.

Among those on the corporate hit list is NSW Senator Bill Heffernan. "Farmer Bill" (as the former President of Junee Shire Council is known in urban Party circles) was elected to the Senate some months after the Howard government was swept to power in March 1996. Heffernan employed a rightwing Young Liberal powerbroker named Nicholas Campbell. The NSW Right were at that time weak in both the Young Libs and the Big Libs, but their star was rising.

Today Mr Campbell is President of a NSW Liberal Party firmly controlled by the Right. Campbell is likely to use his considerable Machiavellian skills to protect his old employer’s position ... unless Campbell himself is Heffernan’s likely replacement.

The Right will also do anything to protect Bronwyn Bishop, whose electorate of Mackellar takes in the NSW State electorate of Pittwater currently held by 34 year old Rob Stokes.

A former environmental lawyer, Stokes served as electorate officer (read branch stacker) to former NSW Opposition Leader (and Liberal Left powerbroker) John Brogden. Together, they actively stacked local branches with lots of small-‘l’ liberals, to the extent that the Left almost had the numbers to challenge Mrs Bishop in a preselection.

Bishop was paranoid of Brogden and she wouldn’t exactly be stoked by the young Stokes. Her departure will almost certainly see a small "l" liberal be the next MP for the blue ribbon Liberal seat of Mackellar. A Left MP will employ Left staff with time and resources for factional work such as stacking the nearby branches of Tong Abbott in the adjoining seat.

So Turnbull is in a Catch-22. On the one hand, his Party may find its biggest donors withdrawing their financial support unless he brings in new talent. On the other hand, this could involve going to war against powerful rightwing warhorses in his home state. Watch this space.

Then again, my entire analysis might just be dismissed on the basis that the report in The Oz is just a case of Glenn Milne reproducing what he’s learned from Mr Costello’s office. In which case, nless Costello is again setting the scene for a possible challenge that is unlikely to eventuate, ignore this space.

First published in Crikey on Monday 4 May 2009.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

REFLECTION/FILM: What’s that idiot doing?

I have a terrible habit of watching the same movie many times. If it’s a silly comedy, and if I take a liking to it, don’t be surprised if I would have already seen it at least 5 times within the first 12 months of having watched it. And don’t be surprised if I’ve memorised some of its more memorable gags.

It’s a habit I developed from childhood when video cassette recorders first came onto the market. It was around this time that we learned it was possible to record shows and movies shown on the TV. The vast majority of our video cassettes were of Indian movies. Fittingly, the first movie we had recorded from the TV also was an Indian movie. Well, kind of.

Peter Sellers’ The Party was played over and over again in our house. Sellers starred as Hrundi V. Bakshi, a bumbling Indian actor imported to Hollywood to play a soldier of the British Raj fighting (as luck would have it) in Afghanistan. At least the area on the set looked like Afghanistan, until Bakhshi accidentally blew it up while strapping up his sandals.

After being sacked from the movie, Bakshi somehow manages to score an invitation to a party hosted at the home of the magnate who owns the studio where the explosions took place. Sellers’ Indian accent sounds to me like a stereotypical American attempt to mimic the Indian accent.

His behaviour, dress and mannerisms (he’s even shown playing sitar at home) is such that you’d expect Indo-Pakistanis to be most peeved. But my memory is of my father and Indo-Pak uncles laughing heartily at Sellers’ accent, not to mention his awkward antics at the party. One of their favourite scenes was when he spoiled a gorgeous song whilst searching for a toilet. Perhaps my uncles appreciated that this party was Bakshi’s first such gathering, and they could relate to an Indian being marginalised by people because of his accent, his smiling clumsiness and his attempts to fit into any conversation he can find, all the while strictly avoiding a glass of wine. And they would have enjoyed the fact that, by the end of the party, it was Bakshi who was the only person (apart from the French actress he befriended at the party) that remained in one piece.

Perhaps they also realised that, in reality, The Party is less a spoof of Indians than of the American high society of the time. On the one hand, there is the hostess of the party who is happy to have an exotic Indian man along to the same dinner where she will also have Russian musicians and dancers performing - remember that this was during the heart of the Cold War! On the other hand, the majority of the guests as well as the host treat Bakshi with disdain. Even the daughter of the hosts, who appears with her friends later in the movie along with an elephant painted with hippy slogans that offend Bakshi sensibilities, soon bends over backwards to placate him buy having her friends scrub the poor beast.

A fair few of the scenes from The Party have been mimicked in other movies in both India and the United States. The Naked Gun 2½ featured a scene involving Frank Drebin (played by Leslie Nielsen) flipping a piece of food into Winnie Mandela’s headscarf. Meanwhile Arjun Singh (played by Amitabh Bachchan) manages to lose his shoe in some water in the Bollywood classic Namak Halal.

There are many classic gags and scenes I grew up with and whose broader significance (presuming they had any) I couldn’t appreciate until now. You can watch some of them below while I get ready to hit the sack. It’s 3:15am.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

VIDEO: Uighurs from Guantanamo settled in Albania ...

Here is the text accompanying this DW European Journal video:

Two years ago, four Uighurs were released from the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay. They belonged to a Muslim minority group in China who had traveled to Pakistan via Afghanistan because they alleged they had suffered human rights abuses in their home country. In 2000, Pakistani police arrested the men and transferred them to US custody and spent years in detention. They found asylum in Albania but life in the foreign country is everything but easy and hopes of reuniting with their families have completely faded.