Sunday, July 23, 2006

Israeli State Sponsored Terrorism

“I very much hope that the Americans understand what's happening to Lebanon …the destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes … and it's very difficult … to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used.” Does it sounds like a statement by an al-Qaida sympathizer? No! Not really, these are the words of British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells. Israel is responsible for state sponsored terrorism in Lebanon and Palestine. Destruction of the infrastructure and killing of civilians is used as a collective punishment. There is an endless spate of war crimes by Israel in this region. USA and its allies have directly or indirectly encouraged Israel to punish its neighbors. On the other hand, United Nations has once again proved that it is an impotent institution so far as Muslims are concerned. This conflict has wider implications for the world and it has the potential to destabilize the Middle East and Muslim countries.

The underlying reason of this conflict was the victory of Hamas in Palestinian general elections in January 2006. The flawed policies of the USA and its allies have caused this conflict to flare up because they do not want to accept the democratic verdict of Palestinian people and they want to impose their own will on them. They declared Hamas a terrorist organizations but a majority of Palestinians rejected that and voted for Hamas. It was pretty obvious that the USA and its allies would be unwilling to digest the victory of Hamas and they would do their best to destroy it. Israel as usual, kept on killing Palestinians and in one incident it killed seven people including children partying on Gaza beach. This caused further escalation of the existing conflict and Hamas started firing rockets into Israel in retaliation to unprovoked attacks by Israel on civilians. Later on, Hamas captured one Israeli soldier on 25 June and Israel responded with ground invasion of Gaza.

The conflict escalated further, when Israel responded disproportionately to the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon to put it very mildly. Israel is certainly guilty of collective punishment by its continued destruction of civilian infrastructure. It has informed United Nations that its objectives are far-reaching than the release of its two captured soldiers. Its main objective is to destroy Hezbollah. The Israeli action has strengthened the support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and across the region according to the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s briefing to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East.

Hundreds of civilians have died or wounded due to Israeli attacks about one third of the victims are children. Most of the civilian infrastructure in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon has been destroyed. Israel has also imposed air and sea blockage of Lebanon resulting in total collapse of its economy.

Since, the start of the war Israel has destroyed bridges, highways, water supplies and power stations. More than one million Palestinians are living without electricity for most of the day and night due to destruction of power station by Israel. Civilians are unable to escape due to damage to highways and bridges.

On the other hand Israelis are dropping leaflets warning civilians to evacuate parts of southern Lebanon. So far Israelis have refused to allow a safe passages to civilians trying to escape. Many people who were trying to escape came under attack and died as a result. Some of the escapees are seen to be waving white flags to evade unwarranted Israeli attacks. There are more than 500,000 people who are displaced due to current conflict. This has created a dire situation for aid agencies to deal with looming humanitarian crisis.

Furthermore, hundreds of thousand of foreigners are caught in this conflict and their respective governments are trying to evacuate them as soon as possible. For example there are 40,000 Canadians, 30,000 Philippines, 25,000 Australians, 25,000 Americans, 22,000 British and 20,000 French citizens who are displaced. Some of the Western countries negotiated a safe passage with Israel to evacuate their citizens to the safety. Most of these foreigners ended up in Cyprus and they are causing enormous burden on its limited infrastructure. Cyprus is facing an uphill battle to cater for these refugees. Foreigners from developing and poor countries are unable to escape due to the lack of resources of their respective governments.

There is an acute shortage of food, medicine and other important supplies. Many trucks carrying medicine and food came under Israeli attack. Once again they are refusing to give a safe passage for humanitarian supplies such as medicine and food. The excuse used by them is that these trucks are carrying weapons. One of the trucks was attacked but no weapons were found. It was carrying food for people displaced due to the conflict.

Hospitals are also facing difficulties to treat injured people. Most of the hospitals are running out of supplies due to an overwhelming number of people to be treated. On the other hand hospitals cannot procure supplies due to attacks by Israelis on trucks and overall damage to the transport infrastructure. This is causing more problems for the hospitals.

This systematic destruction of civilian infrastructure has attracted condemnation from all quarters of the world except from the USA and its client states such as Australia. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his briefing to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, in New York on 20 July said, “Israeli operations have made it impossible for UN agencies and their humanitarian partners to reach almost any part of southern Lebanon, even to assess the needs, let alone to deliver the actual assistance needed.” He further demanded that, “hostilities must stop. But, while they continue, it is imperative to establish safe corridors for humanitarian workers and relief supplies to reach the civilian population.”

Meanwhile, US President George Bush is too busy in rubbing the neck and shoulders of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She appeared to be displeased by this unwelcome sexual advancement by Bush during the G-8 summit. He was likely to be charged with sexual harassment if he happened to be in an office. Leaving this aside, American administration is showing criminal negligence on the issue of Israeli war crimes in Palestine and Lebanon.

Bush was caught on the microphone using offensive language while discussing the issue of Middle East with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Bush said, “The irony is, what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over.” He has given a go ahead for an all out offensive against Palestine and Lebanon. He said, “the world must confront the root causes of the current instability [in the Middle East]. And the root cause of that current instability is terrorism and terrorist attacks on a democratic country … in order to be able to deal with this crisis, the world must deal with Hezbollah, with Syria and to continue to work to isolate Iran.”

Furthermore, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has constantly refused to call for a ceasefire in the beginning of the conflict. She echoed the rhetoric of Bush and said, “the Israelis are, I think, trying to defend themselves … there is a responsibility of Israelis to defend their people. I don't think you can ask any less of any state.” She further added, “if violence ends on the basis of somehow Hezbollah or Hamas continuing to hold in their hands the capabilities anytime they wish to start launching rockets again into Israel … if violence ends on the basis of Syria and Iran being able to turn on the key again anytime, we will have achieved very, very little.” It is very clear that she wants Israel to continue its attack in Lebanon and Palestine and cause as much destruction as possible.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair is behaving like Bush’s poodle. Blair has refused to rein in Israel for its war crimes. On the other hand former British International Development Secretary Clare Short condemned Tony Blair's stance on the Middle East. "We had a debate and most of those who spoke said that they thought Israel's response was disproportionate, that Britain should criticize, that there was a question of war crimes, that there should be a call for an immediate ceasefire," she said.

One of the most stern warning was issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour who expressed grave concerns over the killing and maiming of the civilians in Lebanon and Palestine. "International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligation to protect civilians during hostilities", the High Commissioner said. "This obligation is also expressed in international criminal law, which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity", she added.

She said, "International law demands accountability. The scale of the killings in the region, and their predictability, could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control”. She also demanded the unrestricted and secure passage for humanitarian aid and access for humanitarian workers.

Israeli state sponsored terrorism and war crimes in Lebanon and Palestine have strengthened the support for Hezbollah and Hamas in the region. It has also strengthened their resolve to put up a stiff resistance against the Israeli aggression. This may also strengthen other radical groups in the Islamic world. Moreover, artificial division created by the West between Shia and Suni Muslims is starting to disappear due to this conflict. This is the most significant outcome for the Muslims as a consequence of the Israeli war crimes. On the other hand this conflict has offered another chance to the USA and its allies to implement a long lasting peace in the Middle East. If they failed to do so then the consequences would be far reaching beyond their expectations.

Friday, July 07, 2006

False Sense of Grievance

The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair said, “if we want to defeat the extremism, we have got to defeat its ideas and we have got to address the completely false sense of grievance [among Muslims] against the West.” while delivering a virtual sermon to British Muslims. It is crucial to find out if there are any grounds for grievance among Muslims in United Kingdom (UK). Whether these grievances are based on facts or perceptions. There has been a long debate in the West about reasons of resentment and alienation among non-white migrants and particularly among Muslim youth since September 11. Therefore, it is vital to find out answers to this important debate, because, it will determine the policy direction of the West to manage this resentment and alienation.

Usually, levels of resentments in any community are a reflection of its economic, political, and social conditions. Communities which are economically well off are less likely to resent and show alienation to wider society. However, levels of resentment and alienation can be very high in disadvantaged communities living in ghettoes. This is why most of unrests find its roots in disadvantaged communities. Last year’s riots in France were among socially and economically disadvantaged migrant communities living in ghettoes.

The starting point of these riots was poor housing for migrant communities. Many innocent women and children died due to fires in rundown apartments. There were other reasons as well such as unemployment and discrimination. The German newspaper Berliner Zeitung, pointed out that, “as long as employers prefer to give jobs to applicants with French-sounding names, rather than to those whose names suggest Arab or black African parentage, social policies will be a dead letter”. Now it is time to ask if migrants in UK are in a better economic, political, and social conditions than their counterparts in France?

Migrants in UK are also a part of economically disadvantaged community. Most of the Muslims in UK are from second or third generation non-white migrants. They are also facing high levels of unemployment. This high unemployment translates itself into low levels of income, housing, health and education.

According to National Statistics UK, “unemployment rates for people from non-White ethnic groups were generally higher than those from White ethnic groups…Among men, those from Black Caribbean, Black African, Bangladeshi and Mixed ethnic groups had the highest unemployment rates (between 13 and 14 per cent). These rates were around three times the rates for White British and White Irish men (5 per cent in each case). The unemployment rates for Pakistani and Chinese men, 11 and 10 per cent, were around twice the rates for White British men or White Irish men” in 2004.

People from non-white background were more likely to live in low-income households. For example 68 per cent of the 1 million Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were living in low-income households after housing costs were deducted. Black Non-Caribbean households represented 49 per cent of such group. However, only 21 percent of white population was living among low-income households in 2000/01 according to National Statistics.

The critics of migrants and Muslims can turnaround and say this is their fault that they find themselves in such dire circumstances. But according to human rights point of view this is not the case. It is the duty of the wider community to make sure that minorities also enjoy same levels of employment and disposable income as their majority counterparts. A society in which minorities do not enjoy same standard of living cannot be regarded as an egalitarian society.

For example one can demand high standards from the legal profession of a society. When it come to its openness to offer employment to minorities. However, UK legal profession also failed to employ enough workers from minorities.

Law Society’s Equal Opportunities Committee’s Chairperson Caroline Herbert said due to racism among "sections of the legal profession … ethnic minority students continue to face a difficult task in obtaining training contracts and permanent positions at law firms … the last place in which it should be tolerated is the legal profession, where lawyers are charged to embody the principles of justice”, according to one of BBC reports. She commented on this issue back in 2003. Since then, is there any material change in the status of ethnic minorities in the legal profession of UK?

Non-white minority in UK is almost 7.9 percent of the population. If you look at the House of Commons or House of Lords then it is evident that they are under represented in both houses of the parliament. There are 646 members of House of Commons and numbers of members from non-white minority are extremely low. Muslims are 2.8 per cent of UK’s population that means if they are properly represented in the House of Commons then there should be around 19 Muslim MPs and there should be around 51 MPs from non-white minorities. However, only 15 members represent non-white minorities and out of those only 4 are Muslim.

The editor of the Muslim News paper, Ahmed Versi said, "Whilst welcoming the election of two more Muslim MPs, this reflects the lack of commitment by the three political parties to select Muslims in winnable seats,"

Here is another example of political marginalization this time by the British Prime Minister himself although this is not the first time he did this. It is an established tradition for the politicians in the West to say that he/she will work for the whole community rather than just for the people who voted for him/her. Blair Said, “I am probably not the person to go into the Muslim community... It's better that we mobilise the Islamic community itself to do this.” It is obvious that he is trying to exclude Muslims from his area of responsibility by saying that he cannot face Muslim community. Is he a Prime Minister for whole of UK’s population, which includes Muslims as well? If yes then why he cannot go and talk to people in Muslim community?

The former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has criticized Tony Blair while he was talking about integrating Muslim community into society. He said, “If I'm honest we haven't made enough progress. It's one of the great challenges of government…We never move fast enough. We have excellent initiatives, not soundbites, not some sort of spin, excellent initiatives…We're very poor at following them through.”

Apart from failing in integrating Muslim community into society Tony Blair also failed to improve educational outcomes for minorities. For example in case of admissions in universities minorities do not do well. Most of the elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge prefer students from private schools. It is obvious that minorities which are over represented in low income groups will not be able to afford high fees of private schools. As a result, young people from these minorities will not be able to join elite universities. University admissions have been a big political issue in UK in the past, because, there was a tendency among the universities to ignore students from minorities and disadvantaged socioeconomic background.

According to National Statistics, “In 2004 people from the Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and Pakistani groups were less likely than White British people to have a degree (or equivalent). Among men, Bangladeshis and Black Caribbeans were the least likely to have a degree (11 per cent for each group). Among women, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis were the least likely to have a degree, 5 and 10 per cent respectively.”

Minorities are less likely to have better education but they are more likely to be searched by police. According to a report by the Home Office, "Forcewide, minority ethnic people were 1.9 times more likely than a white person to be searched, however this varies on the divisions,". The arrest rates show that 8.9 per cent of minority people and 8.7 per cent of white people were detained after search. It is clear from these figures that arrest rates after searches are almost identical then, why police searches more people from minorities? If minorities have high crime rates then there should be more arrests after searches. Apart from this, there have been many incidents of racial discrimination by the UK’s Police. Last year police killed a Brazilian man who was mistakenly suspected as a suicide bomber. Recently a man was shot by police but was released without any charges in terrorism related raid. These incidents have been widely criticized by human rights groups.

How to improve human rights of Muslims in UK? If Muslims in UK work hard and become successful even then the problem of discrimination will not be resolved. If we look into the history, Jews in Europe worked very hard and became very successful but did that success saved them from discrimination? We all know the answer to this. Jews used to be massacred in Europe from time to time and they used to seek refuge in Ottoman Empire inhabited by Muslims. The history of minorities is very heartbreaking all around the world, especially in the West. They have to suffer in all circumstances, because, the root cause lies in the discrimination by the majority. If minorities become successful then they are accused of being greedy and exploitative, and if they remain poor due to discrimination then they are labeled as lazy and welfare dependent. The main obstacle is discrimination by the majority. Once this obstacle is overcome then human rights situation of minorities improves.

The economic, political and social grievances among minorities in UK have wider implications for the West. There is a growing evidence of the rise of China and India in the future. On the other hand the West is likely to become less prosperous due to aging population and transfer of jobs to economies in Asia and other parts of the world. If these grievances cannot be resolved now, while the West is wealthier and stronger, then what will happen when the West will be much poorer and weaker? The history shows that in the time of economic difficulties racial tensions tend to rise. The West is busy criticizing other nations for human rights abuses, its time to look into its own backyard.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Is Pakistan a Failed State?

Prophets of doom and gloom are trying their best to portray Pakistan as a failed state. Their propaganda machine is working overtime to propagate stereotypical images of Pakistan.

They are circulating like vulture in a hope that they will have a share in the bounty. Their wishes will not come true. They have failed miserably in the past and this is their ultimate fate. Pakistan has proved that it can thrive under very tough conditions and it has a vast potential to grow and prosper.

Pakistan is among the fastest growing economies in the world. Businesses will never invest in a country, which is unstable. Economic growth of Pakistan is proof that it is a stable and prosperous country.

Pakistan has a huge potential to be an economic and business hub. China is investing billions of dollars in Pakistan. It is involved in building a huge oil refinery in Gawadar, Pakistan. It is very keen to use Pakistan as a gateway to import oil and export finished products because North West China is closer to ocean through Pakistan. Central Asian countries are also landlocked and Pakistan is one of the best routes to access ocean.

Meanwhile, India is starting to engage with Pakistan in various projects to import energy. China and India cannot afford to have an unstable Pakistan because they are going to rely on it to import energy.

It is illogical to assume that Pakistan will be unable to grow while residing besides the fastest growing economies of India and China. History has proved that countries in a region grow together and overall economic trends in a particular region head in the same direction. For example countries in South East Asia and Western Europe grew together.

By Muhammad Azeem Akhter

Islamophobia and Nuclear Technology

The history of Xenophobia and Islamophobia in the West is very old. The genocide of innocent Jews, colonization and existence of ghettoes in the Western cities is a living example of the xenophobic past. These ghettoes are full of non-white minorities such as Arabs, Africans and Asians. Nowadays, there is a tendency to label all Muslims as fundamentalists and supporters of terrorism. Terrorism is used as an excuse to spread Islamophobia. It is very vital to understand the context in which Islamophobia is exercised and its effects on the world affairs. Specially, when a Muslim country tries to acquire or transfer nuclear technology then the use of Islamophobia becomes very evident.

For example, every effort is made to stop technological progress in any Muslim country. When a Muslim country tries to acquire a technology such as nuclear then the West unites to stop it. One of the excuses used to stop technology acquisition or transfer is that the technology might fall in the hands of terrorists. Almost every technology has a potential to be used for a peaceful or a destructive purpose.

Why nuclear weapons are safe in the hands of U. S. A., who used it against civilians in Japan? When U. S. A. supplies nuclear technology to its allies, it is called technology transfer. But, when Pakistan supplies nuclear technology to its allies then it is called proliferation. Why double standards are applied in case of Pakistan? Why countries like Germany can be trusted who committed one of the worst crimes in the history against the innocent Jewish population during World War II? Why a country like Iran is not trusted to acquire nuclear technology for peaceful means?

Why every move by the Muslim countries to acquire or transfer nuclear technology is regarded as suspicious? What are inner motives to stop acquisition or transfer of nuclear technology by the Muslim countries? May be this is the time to look into Islamophobia as a tool to stop acquisition or transfer of technology by the Muslim countries.

By Muhammad Azeem Akhter