In The Name of God: A Communal Rupture Sowed By Communal Legacy

Muslim Matters - 5 August, 2020 - 19:22

At one point of time, there used to be a mosque in Ayodhya. It stood tall and lofty for 470 long years, until a mob of extremist Hindu fanatics came at it with axes and pickets and razed it to the ground. Stemming from the popular belief that it was the birthplace of the mythological figure of the warrior Hindu god called Ram, the act was carried out for the future construction of a temple devoted to him, and one that had to be erected at the same spot where the 16th century mosque had existed for so long. 

“All we need for the betterment of life is Lord Ram, and there is no survival without Lord Ram”.

The supporters of the Ram Janmabhoomi cause kept reiterating this loud and clear in Anand Patwardhan’s documentary film Ram ke Naam (In The Name of God), that still serves as the single-most myth busting source centred round the whole dispute. But this very claim itself is based on partial accounts that stem from loose historicity, as depicted in the footage.

On December 22 1949, Lord Ram was said to have appeared in the dream of a priest in Ayodhya, who along with a few other men installed an idol of the god inside the mosque in the dead of night. The film tracked down one of the priests who had participated in the plan, and identified him as Mahant Ramsevak Das Shastri. He claimed that the erstwhile district magistrate K.K. Nayar was also an organiser of this act and had ensured that Shastri and the others accused were released on bail. Although generally identified as the first breach of communal trust that gradually gave rise to the whole dispute, in truth, this religious fundamentalism has its roots running deeper than most of us fully grasp or acknowledge. 

Even at present, about a dozen places in India and Nepal claim to be the potential birthplace of Ram and there is no consensus among Hindu scholars and historians regarding the same. Ayodhya has been housing many Ram temples since the 19th century, and incidentally, quite a lot of them had claimed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram at one point of time or the other. After the construction of the Babri Masjid in 1528 by the Mughal emperor Babur, historic records show that the first instance of communal riots in the area was not before 1855. Sunni Muslims clashed with Bairai Hindus in the area claiming that the temple of Hanumangarhi (for the Hindu mythological figure Lord Hanuman) was built where once stood an already demolished mosque. Nawab Wajid Ali, the then ruler of Ayodhya promptly intervened and made peace, but not before the incident caught the attention of the colonial overlords. This took place just two years prior to the Great Revolt of 1857. It was the first known pan-Indian unified struggle for independence, and one that was founded upon the Hindu-Muslim unity which had been turning into a growing threat for the ruling East India Company. And of all the temples claiming to be the holy birthplace of Lord Ram, the British chose a mosque having Mughal origins to be the designated one for spreading the rumour that Babur had constructed it after destroying what was once a temple housing Lord Ram’s original birthplace. 

As this notion started gaining momentum, the British installed a fence on the premise, which led to an arrangement that had the Muslims praying inside the inner court and the Hindus being allowed to use the outer courtyard. This communal understanding and secular practice went on and in peace till 1949, until the breach orchestrated by Nayar occurred. 

The 1949 breach then led to communal rifts, which was followed by the mosque being sealed. This marked the beginning of how those in power have been manipulating the masses for centuries, either for ensuring a vote bank, or being mostly fueled by a blind sense of religious fanaticism that made them feel empowered over other religions. 

Repeated petitions were filed to open the locks and allow namaz inside the mosque. While the inner court was kept out of bounds, puja was allowed to be carried out in the outer courtyard. As many as four suits were filed between 1950 and 1961 asking for the restoration of the Muslims’ right to pray, none of which were heeded. Twenty years later, the Sunni Waqf Board finally filed a suit for complete possession of the site, and the one which turned out to be the final blow. Hindu groups in turn formed a committee to protect their rights, and the plan to construct the Ram temple was spearheaded, causing the Ram Janmabhoomi movement gaining momentum like never before, with erstwhile Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) member L. K. Advani giving leadership to the same. 

It was no less than a “political game”, according to the court appointed priest Laldas, who was charged with tending to the Ram idol after the mosque was sealed. During his tenure from 1983 to 1992, he was known to have been critically vocal against the whole Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the premeditated conspiracy that was growing around Babri at that time. He was removed from service 9 months prior to the demolition act and was found to be shot dead a year later under mysterious circumstances. 

“BJP does not believe in Ram, only in hatred…the Hindu Parishad members have never made a single offering or prayed at the temple even once,” he had told Patwardhan during an interview clip in the documentary. 

Surprisingly, none of the subjects that Patwardhan approached in the film knew exactly when Lord Ram was born, or at least even in which century. Not the poor tanner squatting on the ground, not the first year law student brandishing a sword before the march to Ayodhya and not even the saffron clad priest inside the air conditioned Toyota van. But all of them were unwaveringly certain in their belief that Ram’s birthplace was none other than Babri, and how it has been a known fact for many years. 

It was December 6, 1992 that witnessed the right wing mobilisation movement carry out the act of political vandalism quite unparalleled in the modern world, leading to subsequent communal riots, and a massacre which the country has not completely recovered from since. Babri was destroyed. 

Twenty seven years, varying heartbeats, deadly communal violence acts and the loss of about 5,000 odd lives later, the landmark justice on the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute was delivered. 9th November 2019 was a date that meant too much to too many people. It was a day that either meant the end to so many years of rioting, divisibility and cut-throat communalism, or a further tint in the already widening secular fabric of the nation. 

2019 was also the year that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in for a second term and had implemented a number of administrative decisions that gave BJP’s Hindu supremacist ideology a new momentum and utmost urgency. One of the first things that he did after taking office was revoke the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on August 5, 2019, which had so far granted the internationally disputed Muslim dominated region of Kashmir a special status independent of Indian jurisdiction. The abrogation allowed Kashmir to be reinvaded by a strong Indian military, annexed to the Indian subcontinent and put under complete curfew with an internet blackout. And exactly one year later, Prime Minister Modi is about to lay the foundation stone for the newly constructed Ram temple in Ayodhya on the site of the demolished mosque on August 5, 2020, as thanks to the landmark verdict on the decades-spanning historic wound that has completely redefined the politics of the country, the forces responsible for the demolition had found themselves in complete legal possession of the land. 

For many blinded by irrational faith and hyper nationalism, the judgement reinstated the inherent vice of fanatic Hindutva ideology in the sense that their religion is all superior, and one that fuels the necessity to construct the Ram temple at the very spot of the Babri Masjid. But to others still believing in the idea of the independent India that awoke at the stroke of the midnight hour on 15th August 1947, the judgement could have very well been a bigger, and more dangerous rupture in the democratic and secular pillars of the country than the actual act of the demolition itself. 

The current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who was charged with overseeing the construction of the temple had gone on record as early as 2017 during a pre-election campaign to promise a Ram Mandir: 

Agar Samajwadi Party jeetegi to Karbala-kabristan banega, jabki Bhajapa ki Sarkar banegi toh Ayodhya mein Ram mandir banega.

30 years ago it was L.K. Advani who had promised that Mandir wahi Banega and today, it is Yogi Adityanath, the third face in line on the saffron political firmament, who is delivering on this promise.

Vikas Pathak, who is a professor at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai, said that this is Hindutva’s true and unalloyed form, one that was supposedly hidden beneath layers of political exigencies for so many years leading up to this. This claim is further supported by an independent multimedia journalist in Kashmir, who said he feels the same due to the obvious choice of the date of inauguration. Requesting to be anonymous, he expressed his thoughts on how this is more of a planned move than a mere coincidence, and one which gives out a clear message.

“The fact that it’s happening on the anniversary of the repeal of Kashmir’s autonomy, accentuates the importance that the Modi government places on its aggressive pursuit of a Hindu nationalist agenda”, also augmented Michael Kugelman in his comment on the matter. He is senior associate of the Wilson Center and the deputy director of its Asia Program. 

Just like Jai Shree Ram, this Mandir agenda too had been normalised into one which sounded like a clarion call for battle. In Patwardhan’s film, an unnamed Congress politician held a campaign where he asked the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that if indeed a Ram temple should be built, why could it not be anywhere else in the city, as Ayodhya is such a large place. 

“I am amazed at this stubbornness that they will build the temple at the very same spot! And that too, only after destroying the mosque… He (Advani) can easily build a temple anywhere in Ayodhya, but please do not insist that this can only be possible by demolishing an existing mosque. I want to promise that the temple will most definitely be built, but the mosque must also remain.”

As we went on to see in the film, and even twenty seven years down the line, it was firmly decided that Mandir wahi banega, and one existing holy site was destroyed to give rise to another. Come November 2019,  the temple plan gets sanctioned by the Supreme Court of India as well, ironically granting the Sunni Waqf board an alternate piece of land to construct their mosque instead.

While the 5-judge bench lay claim to the demolishing act accepting it as a crime, and while they also accepted that the installation of the idols inside the mosque was an act of desecration, it also gave the land over to those who desecrated it at the same time. A judge on the bench had called it “one of the most important cases in the world,” but when the perpetrators of what the Supreme Court has openly identified as a crime find themselves to be the main beneficiaries of the judgement, it brings to question how just the verdict actually is.

Quite bizarrely, the court had declared that while there was some evidence of Hindus worshipping on the disputed site, no such documentary evidence could be found in the case of Muslims until before 1857. 

“The mosque was built in 1528, and the area was under Mughal occupation till 1722. Then it was ruled by Nawabs, and finally annexed by the British in 1856. It must be self-evident that during this entire period of being under Muslim rule, Muslims were offering namaz inside the mosque and not the other way round”, said a Kashmiri student currently studying at Jadavpur University in Kolkata on the condition of anonymity, adding how such a reasoning based on “balance of probabilities” as one of the reasons to give it to the Hindu side is itself one of inequality. 

On the other hand, the judgement also referred to a 574 pages long report published by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) 15 years ago, which claimed that Babri Masjid was not built on vacant land. Reading the unanimous judgement and considering the report valid on the assurance of being scientifically tested, Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi who was leading the bench said: 

“There was a structure underlying the disputed structure. The underlying structure was not an Islamic structure.”

While the court relied heavily on this ASI report, independent archaeologists who observed the site on behalf of the Sunni Waqf board differed entirely with the ASI findings. While the six month long court ordered investigation did reveal the existence of an underlying structure beneath the mosque, eminent archaeologists Supriya Varma and Jaya Menon believe that the evidence collected on their part do not support the claims made by ASI. 

Their report read: “underneath the Babri, there existed older mosques.” 

They further added that even if the underlying structures were not of Islamic origin, they closely resembled Buddhist stupas at the most, and in no way anything remotely close to a Hindu temple. This particular claim is in turn also supported by the archaeological surveyor Alexander Cunningham, who was the first individual to survey Ayodhya (around 1862-63), and was known for his interest in tracking down and identifying places associated with Buddhism.

Had India as a country boasted of a very robust and strong judicial institution, such an incident would not have been dragged all the way from 1949 to 2019, let alone pave the way to constructing a temple on the disputed land. December 6, 1992 should have been permanently brought an end to it with strict actions being taken against the perpetrators. While the B.J.P. indeed is directly linked to the whole incident, the Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi allowed the locks to be opened in the 1980s. Following the demolition, the Congress Prime Minister Narsimha Rao allowed them to get away with the violence in 1992. And in 2019, the Supreme Court judges have done the same. 

Ayodhya, for more than a quarter of a century, had been turned into a place of cynical and political revanchism. And thrust between this politics of a loosely manufactured historicity aiming to upend the Republic of secularism by replacing it with a system running on Hindutva ideology, were those that represented what India truly stands for. Of the numerous subjects that Patwardhan interviewed, both Hindus and Muslims, most of them unanimously awaited, and wanted peace. Something that was so easy to understand for someone who lived a simple life of an ironmonger, belonging to the low Bishkarma caste, was at the same time completely unimaginable to those amassing trucks and weapons to demolish the mosque:

“Once it exists, it is wrong to break. If someone tried to break our temple, would we allow it? We’d say go build your mosque elsewhere.”

Zahir Adil, the lead on Save India From Fascism Project of the human rights organization Justice For All also expressed a similar sentiment, saying how he would have actually welcomed it if the temple was not built after illegally destroying a historic mosque. 

“Apart from being a day that RSS criminals are rewarded with a new temple after perpetuating systemic violence in India, 5th August 2020 also goes down in history as the day that the words Jai Shree Ram will be displayed in the iconic Times Square as the Prime Minister will lay the foundation stone for a Ram Temple on the site of the demolished mosque”, informed Masood Rab, spokesperson of Coalition of Americans for Pluralism in India (CAPI). It is one among the coalition of organizations that  have refused to carry forward the programming by the pro-Modi group in Times Square. 

The RSS, or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, being the parent organization of the current ruling party in India has its roots in pre-Independence times and were also known for openly supporting Hitler’s Nazi agenda. They were banned as many as four times when India was ruled by the national Congress, but it has now become the de-facto power under BJP rule, with Modi himself being a known RSS member. 

Indian American Muslim leaders, as well as human rights organizations, having categorically denounced this display of religious bigotry has called for a day long protest in the iconic Times Square from 8 AM, asking for this display of vehement arrogance to be stopped. Those like Adil and Dr. Shaik Ubaid (President of the Indian Minorities Advocacy Network) have also expressed concern on how the proponents of this fascist ideology have become so confident that they are celebrating an illegal and bloody act in the middle of Times Square, and for the entire world to see. But others like Kugelman expect, and have pointed out that while there will be messages in Times Square blaring out communal rhetoric, there may also be messages expressing solidarity for Kashmiris.

“It is perhaps fitting, in this globalized era, if the incredibly polarizing Kashmir issue plays out under the bright lights of Times Square”, said Kugelman over a brief electronic conversation, but added how this juxtaposition is also extremely divisive within the country on the whole.

The mandatory in this case seems more like a political campaign trick than anything to do with actual Hinduism, and essentially a symbiotic Displace perpetrated by a fascist government.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this could be the rise of divisive Hindu supremacy as never seen before. In all its entirety, the day of August 5, 2020 marks the end of an era and the possible beginning of a new one. It detriments the idea that our founding forefathers had envisioned for the nation, and while we may not like it at the same time, this is essentially a new India that is emerging for everyone to see – one that is a land of strident Hindutva and religious dissonance at the forefront. 

LINK to the documentary:


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The Perennial Siege: Kashmir’s Tense Lockdown Anniversary

Muslim Matters - 5 August, 2020 - 05:34

A year after the revocation of Article 370—special status of the valley, Kashmir continues to be under security lockdown, intermittent internet restrictions, almost negligible functioning of education system, amid reports of continuous detentions and across-the-board human rights violations.

Two-day curfew has been imposed in Indian-administered Kashmir in anticipation of containing any form of dissent ahead of the 5 August anniversary—the day Indian government stripped Kashmir of its special status. Officials say the curfew is meant to prevent violence by groups planning to observe 5 August as “black day”.

On August 5 2019, the state was split into two federally administered regions and its semi-autonomous status was revoked. The decision to revoke article 370—part of Indian constitution that guaranteed Kashmir special status—an action with potentially devastating consequences for Kashmiri identity and community was met with anger and feeling of betrayal in the region although it was widely welcomed in the rest of the country. In preparation for this, it put Kashmir into a complete lockdown at midnight on Aug. 4, 2019. Eight million Kashmiris were restricted in their homes. In-an-effort to impose a complete communication blockade, internet connections were cut, and phone connections were terminated.

Everything seems to have come to a halt, and the past experiences have begun to conjure the images of unprecedented violence. Since the revocation or illegal annexation of Kashmir on August 5, the betrayed and besieged population, including me, treated like a prisoner in a forsaken paradise on earth, continue to mourn India’s deceptively organized virulent manifestation of democracy. The fact-finding report, Women’s Voice, counters the state narrative of “return to normalcy,” indicating that 13,000 boys and young men were detained illegally after August 5, including some as young as 14, with some imprisoned for up to 45 days, and with families paying as much as 60,000 rupees ($850) for their release

Kashmiris, however, saw their integration as a threat to the state’s ethnic character, and a milestone on the road to the realization of the BJP’s dream of a fundamentally Hindu nation. Many legal commentators decried the Indian government’s unilateral abrogation as “illegal,” calling it an “unconstitutional deed,” which was “accomplished by deceitful means” (Noorani 2019). 

The Problem oF Kashmir

A brief context of the conflict offers a perspective to understand the problem of Kashmir. “The world is reaping the chaos the British Empire sowed,” Amy Hawkins wrote in Foreign Policy, and “local populace is still paying for the mess the British left behind in Hong Kong and Kashmir.” The anti-colonial uprisings in the Indian subcontinent, China, the Arab world and elsewhere did not result in freedom or democracy for the nations ruled by the British Empire”. In Kashmir, the British left a bleeding wound amid the partition of colonial India. Kashmir in post-partition and to be more succinct, post-1947 emerged as a boiling pot from the cultivation uterus of the two-nation theory.

Since then, Kashmir is known to be the most heavily militarized zones in the world. More than 7 million soldiers have been deployed, as per the reports, to counter what the Indian army itself claims as “cross-border terrorism”. This myth has been busted time and again because of the actions of the Indian government in the last three decades. If there were any doubts earlier, they should have cleared by now. Their real enemy is the Kashmiri people, especially “Kashmiri Muslims”, the hindrance in the way of turning India into a “Hindutva nation” claims Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2019 U.N. general assembly speech.

India’s decision to abolish the state’s nominal autonomy last year is the most far-reaching move in the region in the last 70 years and has been pushed by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) as a development-focused action to “mainstream” the only Muslim-majority state in the subcontinent. While the government —which justified the shutdown as “preventive” — and the leading Indian media outlets are propagating an image of the region as slowly returning to “normalcy”, the reality on the ground, as documented by the New York Times, is very different. 

Kashmir continues to simmer under the siege.

Post 5—August SiegeAnd  Defiance

This season’s siege is more crushing than ever, possibly the worst since the first one nearly 30 years ago, a stratagem designed carefully to humiliate an entire population. There is also an unwavering manifestation of defiance, as by now the Kashmir street is sufficiently educated politically to not pin its hopes on an infusion of benevolence in the government’s Kashmir policy or any practical outcome from the partial solidarity from the international community. The mass arrests, in thousands, including minors and pellet victims [including a cancer patient] holding 7 million populations under eight hundred thousand jackboots has unveiled the façade of Indian democracy. 

“No government in the world has blocked Internet access as frequently as India. An incredible 213 times in just three years”, reports Time Magazine, “which is far more than Syria, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt together”. And more than half of those shutdowns have been enforced on Kashmir—is that because, questions Abid (PhD scholar, Dept. of political science department, Kashmir University) “of the special (autonomous) status Kashmir “enjoyed” in the larger Indian union? Will they also ban clean air, now that the special status has been erased?” 

Picking out promising adolescents; sometimes old men and even women, they branded them, as with batons and red-hot irons, to forcefully teach them how to behave. Abid Khan, 28, and Idrees, 29 from Shopian district in South Kashmir were raided in the middle of the night, tortured for hours by dozens of army men. Khan says he was dragged out and blindfolded along with his brother, who has learning difficulties, on August 14. “They gave electric shocks to my brother on the road outside our home. I heard him scream painfully,” quoted in AFP story, showing marks on his arms, legs and buttocks. Khan said. “Then they gave me electric shocks again on my genitals and wounds. One of them said ‘I will make you impotent’.” On September 13, Irshad Ahmed, a 12-year-old boy from neighboring Buchpora, Srinagar, suffered a serious head injury. His hospital registration card noted that it was a ‘fire-arm injury’, adding the word “alleged”. Those accompanying him said he had been hit by a cluster of pellets in his head. The bar has been raised so high for all forms of political dissent, and the detentions, numbering in thousands have choked any form of political activity on the ground. What remains still is an unwavering manifestation of the overarching defiance against the government-enforced execution of oppression. 

Pandemic Lockdown- In and Out of Kashmir

Since the world has now entered the sixth month of Covid-19 restrictions. With self-isolation, physical-distancing and e-learning online education, for most populations the robust internet and phone service has still provided a lifeline to let them work and be engaged and entertained. But in the Himalayan territory of Kashmir, the repression and militaristic method in the latest indignity in a 73-year cycle of oppression, militarization and scarcity especially since last year August in Kashmir has intensified: communications were completely cut in August 2019 and were only beginning, even after weeks pandemic broke out. Since March, only 2G is available, and only sporadically. As Waheed Mirza, novelist and political commentator on Kashmir asserts “A military siege is like a chokehold on an entire people”.  

For the world, asserts Arundhati Roy:

“Kashmir and Kashmiris signify as a prototype to learn the craft of surviving under a lockdown. For the former, it is a self-imposed precautionary measure experienced for the first time in the recent history by the world to fight against an unseen disease; as for the latter, it is the endless fight against the continuation of a seven month long enforced siege against their will.”

 This reality soon turned into a buzzword “the world is turning into Kashmir”. Azad Kashmir President Sardar Masood Khan asserted India has been using the “cover of the coronavirus” to “mow down” Kashmiri youth and change the Muslim-majority character of the disputed region.  

According to news reports on Kashmir, anyone who violates curfew–even those with valid passes allowing them to leave their homes–risks being detained by soldiers or police and possibly beaten. Even doctors, who’ve been celebrated as heroes elsewhere in the world, report being harassed on their way to work in Kashmir, which already suffers an acute lack of medical resources and staff. Limited access to information has also obstructed Kashmir’s coronavirus fight. The region uses 2G internet, an online connection so slow that it is nonexistent elsewhere in the world. Indian authorities have cut online access in Kashmir 55 times since it was restored in March 2020. According to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies, a local group that documents and litigates human rights abuses “this has delayed doctors’ ability to read emerging treatment guidelines and new research on the disease”.

For some, the repressive methods allude to the fact that the Indian government’s priorities in Kashmir have not been changed by the pandemic. “Any administration that is willing to impose the longest Internet shutdown in history only believes in the right of censorship and surveillance,” says Mishi Choudhary, the legal director at the Software Freedom Law Center, a group that campaigns for Internet freedoms. The period post 5 August 2019 has changed the whole political landscape of the region. This season’s siege is more crushing than ever, possibly the worst since that first one nearly 30 years ago, a stratagem designed carefully to humiliate an entire people. 

Mental health workers say “Kashmir is witnessing an alarming increase in instances of depression, anxiety and psychotic events”.  Doctors Without Borders estimated after surveying 5,600 households in 2015. Nine of 10 have experienced conflict-related traumas. The figures are much higher than in India, according to other surveys.

Education: The Perennial Casualty

Ten months after India unilaterally revoked Kashmir’s autonomy, reports New York Times, “education stands as one of the crisis’s most glaring casualties”. Previously, Kashmiri Valley in particular suffered huge education losses as the students were forcibly kept away from schools and colleges by frequent official curfews and restrictions, shutdowns, incidents of violence and prolonged political unrest stretching for months, the worst of these witnessed in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016. “The long school closures in the valley cause major disruptions in young people’s educational and professional development, producing feelings of insecurity, helplessness, and demoralization,” said Haley Duschinski, an anthropologist at Ohio University specializing in Kashmir.

Around 1.5 million Kashmiri students remain out of school. All educational institutions are closed, and most government and private schools are shut—except for few intermittent opening of educational institutions for some weeks, one of the clearest signs of the fear that has gripped Kashmir since the Indian government locked down the disputed territory. Parents in the Kashmir Valley also show this fear that “they are terrified of sending their children out with any exception reaction from the public amid troops deployed everywhere and on the prowl for trouble”. 

“What if the school or a bus carrying children is attacked?” asked Saqib Mushtaq Bhat, a father worried about violence by Indian troops or militants. “What if there are protests and their faces get shot by pellets?’’ Amid only 2G internet services working in the valley, G.N. Var, chairman of Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK) which has 2,200 schools associated with it, termed it ‘denial of right to education’. The research scholars across the valley have equally suffered due to low speed internet and hugely affected the mental stability of people across the spectrum of the society. 

He said, “The restrictions on high speed internet are making it difficult for our students to avail online courses and access information which is vital in their career-building. We see it as a denial of the right to education.”  Reports suggest “no government in the world has blocked Internet access as frequently as India with 55 Internet blackouts in 2019 alone, including the longest in recorded history, 213 days, when Delhi put the valley on lockdown last year August.

Settler Colonialism

So far, anti-insurgency operations have proved equally devastating for Kashmiris amid the pandemic. As of June 30, 229 killings, 107 CASO’s (cordon and search operation), 55 internet shutdowns, 48 properties destroyed in the first half of 2020. Children and women continued to be victims of violence in J&K as 3 children and 2 women were killed in the first half of 2020. India continues to take possession of Kashmir despite being hit ever harder by the pandemic.

With all the constitutional amendments and new laws India has instituted in Kashmir especially since 5 August last year, the Palestinian case is often invoked to find the parallelism of how this sounds like the beginning of settler colonialism. The recent developments that highlight this process are, on the contrary, a further deepening and expansion of a matrix of control characteristic of such a project, duly aided through laws, to ensure the eventual elimination of the native.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration’s order to withdraw a 1971 circular that made it mandatory for the Indian Army, the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force to obtain a “no objection certificate” to acquire land in the region is also seen as part of a settler colonial project. Not only has the decrees evoked a sharp reaction among locals, which have long feared Delhi’s forceful integration of the restive region with the Indian union, but observers are also accusing Modi’s right-wing dispensation of using the Covid-19 pandemic to advance its Hindu settler colonial enterprise in the region, saying it is a page right out of the Israeli playbook to transform the region’s demographics. United Kingdom-based Kashmiri lawyer Mirza Saaib Bég argues that “J&K’s demography is bound to be altered beyond belief. And at a speed so astonishing that the procedure for issuing a domicile certificate will seem, unfortunately, a quasi-colonial project”.

Around 400 thousand people have been granted domicile certificates in Indian-administered Kashmir till July, 2020 proving right the fears of the beginning of demographic changes in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region. The certificate, a sort of citizenship right, entitles a person to residency and government jobs in the region, which till last year was reserved only for the local population. “The whole purpose of revoking Article 370 was to settle outsiders here and change the demography of the state. Now this provides the modalities and entitles so many categories of Indians whose settlement will be legalised over here.” – Kashmiri law professor and legal scholar Sheikh Showkat Hussain (Al Jazeera, April 1, 2020).

Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden said, “India should take all necessary steps to restore the rights of all the people of Kashmir.” He also asserts “Restrictions on dissent, such as peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the internet weakens democracy,” in a policy paper posted on his website. Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement that India’s latest step was a vindication of the country’s “consistent stance that the major intention behind the Indian Government’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5 August 2019 was to change the demographic structure of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and turn Kashmiris into a minority in their own land”.

“This has long been part of the RSS-BJP’s ‘Hindutva’ agenda,” the statement added.

An  Indian Consul General in New York, Sandeep Chakraborty’s recent call for the ‘Israel model’ in Kashmir should ring alarm bells for the Muslim world. He flagrantly asserted “I don’t know why we don’t follow it. It has happened in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it,” Chakravorty said.

Kashmiris on Twitter were quick to call out Al-Jazeera, accusing them of “promoting settler colonialism”. The social media users were mainly drawing a parallel with expansionist or colonial settlements of Israeli Jews in Palestine or of Han Chinese in Xinjiag to forcibly settle and diffuse indigenous identity.


Kashmir is transformed into an open prison where the state works with a self-proscribed impunity to confiscate or mitigate basic universal rights, while the Indian state is trying to entice assimilatory participation of the common people. That territory-wide control by the state and its various institutions is countered through years of survival, persistence and resistance against the state’s operations over Kashmiri lives.

One inevitable fact that successive union governments since India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru have arrogantly with military highhandedness ignored is the political question of Kashmir. The recent political expedition of the Indian government in Kashmir paradigmatically problematized the political destiny of Kashmir and future of Kashmiris. Even in the 21st century globalized world, in the middle of a global pandemic, 8 million people are denied access to education, livelihood, entertainment, and health respite via a medium that has become an essential service for the rest of the world.

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Indian Myths Channel Genocide in Kashmir

Muslim Matters - 4 August, 2020 - 08:57

India is a land and society of myths. More so now than ever before, under the Hindutva-inspired Bharatiya Janata Party government led by the claim of the myth manufacturer Modi: “India is a democracy; it is in our DNA.”

A much talked about myth has been that India is a secular state, and in the light of the post August 5 2019 developments in Kashmir and the Indian mainland, much sighing is being aired that Indian secularism is endangered.

However, the question arises, when was India secular? Was India “secular,” when it invaded Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) on October 26, 1947 on the pretext that a non-Muslim should rule a Muslim-majority state, or was it “secular” when Hyderabad Deccan was invaded and annexed on September 23, 1948 on the pretext that a Muslim could not rule over a Hindu majority?

Based on a myth about the birthplace of the mythical “Lord Rama,” the 600-year old Babri Mosque was attacked and demolished on December 6, 1992. India’s Supreme Court validated the goon squad’s action on November 9, 2019. Today, the mosque’s attackers rule India.

Even the national anthem ‘Vande Matram’ is not secular, where Muslims object to its idolatrous aspects. For instance, the fourth stanza, addresses motherland India as, “Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, with her hands that strike and her swords of sheen, Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned…”

When a Muslim sings these words, he is forced to equate his country with the Hindu goddesses Durga and Lakshmi, thereby deifying the land of India. This goes against the concept of tawheed (the Absolute Oneness of God), according to which a Muslim cannot supplicate to anyone except God.

The other long-standing myth, which India validated through a presidential fiat last year, is that J&K are its “integral” part – a territory it has occupied since September 1947 with a million-man force. In doing so, it served up another myth: the constitutional relationship between J&K and India.

Subodh Varma (“Some Myths About Article 370, 35A and Kashmir”, Sabrang India August 8, 2019) explains that in the process of effectively scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution through a presidential order supported by a Lok Sabha (lower house) resolution, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters regurgitated a slew of myths, half-truths and sleights of hand that have been part of its parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) propaganda for decades. Ironically, many parties and opinion leaders who do not subscribe to the RSS ideology also repeated them, which show how far these myths have traveled. Meanwhile, social media went ballistic with RSS/BJP supporters posting bizarre claims while others started offering land for sale in Kashmir.

Arun Jaitley (d. August 24, 2019), who served as finance minister from 2014 to 2019, had tweeted on August 4, “J&K integration with India took place in October 1947. Article 370 came into force in 1952, Article 35A came in 1954, four and seven years later respectively. How can Articles 370 and 35A be a condition precedent to merger?”

He had sought to prove that Articles 370 and 35A were somehow unrelated to J&K’s “joining” [albeit perforce] the Indian Union implying that they are unnecessary and also that they were the result of some [past] Congress governments’ stupidity.

This is a lie.

On October 26, 1947, India invaded J&K, obliging its ruler, Raja Hari Singh, to sign the Instrument of Accession (IOA); the Dogra ruler’s ancestor having purchased the territory and its citizen from the British. However, this document states that the Indian parliament could only legislate on the state’s defense, external affairs, communications and some ancillary subjects. The agreement’s Clause 5 reads: “The terms of this my Instrument of Accession cannot be varied by any amendment of the Act or of Indian Independence Act unless such amendment is accepted by me by an Instrument supplementary to this Instrument.” Clause 7 says: “Nothing in this Instrument shall be deemed to commit me in any way to acceptance of any future constitution of India or to fetter my discretion to enter into arrangements with the Government of India under any such future constitution.”

Simply stated, it says that many things left pending in the IOA were to be settled later through negotiations. After its invasion, India, which faced the Kashmiri resistance till 1949, finally seeking a UN-negotiated armistice, has yet to lay out the laws and governance mechanism. Accordingly, the UN Security Council adopted successive resolutions call for a plebiscite where the Kashmiris would vote freely to decide their future.

The UN continues to recognize Kashmir as a disputed territory.

The 1947 partition agreed upon by Muslim and Hindu leaders with Britain, the departing colonial ruler, reads that Muslim majority states would merge with Pakistan. Kashmir is a clear case.

To preserve the IOA’s spirit and to reassure the Raja, Article 370 was moved in India’s Constituent Assembly in May 1949, which was voted to be part of the Indian Constitution in October 1949. Consequently, Presidential Orders were issued in 1950, 1952 and 1954 to settle various issues. Jawaharlal Nehru  -India’s first prime minister- and his interior minister Vallabhbhai Patel (d. 1950) were part of these negotiations, which negates the RSS myth that Patel opposed Article 370.

The RSS propped up the full integration bogey to stir up agitation against the land reforms initiated by the Raja-appointed Sheikh Abdullah government. The RSS gave it a communal hue as the landowners were mostly Dogras and Pandits and most peasants were Muslims.

The RSS/BJP propaganda about Article 35A hides the fact that Raja Hari Singh had proclaimed the Hereditary State Subject Order in 1927, which allowed only the state’s residents to own land and to government jobs. The state’s assembly voted to include this order in the J&K Constitution. In keeping with the IOA terms regarding the preservation of rights of state’s residents, Article 35A was added to the Constitution through the Presidential Order of 1954.

Kashmir’s annexation falls under RSS ambition of a pure Hindu India.

The RSS states that J&K, with its “oppressive Muslim-majority character, has been a headache for our country ever since Independence.”

RSS alleges that forces “inimical to Bharat never wanted Kashmir to integrate itself with Bharat …  and in October 1947, these elements conspired with the enemy to defeat every move to save the situation from our [Indian] side.” While, India continues to loudly claim that it was Pakistani tribal fighters and not Kashmiri freedom-fighters who confronted the Indian invading army, RSS claims that it was its fighters who fought alongside Indian troops, adding that if a ceasefire had not been agreed upon, its fighters would have helped completely conquer J&K.

RSS blames the large Muslim presence for J&K being conferred a special status under Article 370, even after its total “accession.”

On December 11, 1991, BJP president Dr. Murli Manohar and Narendra Modi, and also, the now interior minister Amit Shah, led the 15,000 mile “Ekta Yatra” (Unity March) from Kanyakumari -a Tamil Nadu coastal town, the southernmost town in mainland India- which culminated in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk on January 26, 1992 to hoist the Indian flag, signaling that they had “arrived to settle the account.”

RSS claims: “The endless appeasement of the Muslim population, especially in Kashmir, practiced by the successive governments at Delhi, has been the bane of our government’s Kashmir policy. Just as too much mollycoddling and lack of discipline spoil the child, so has been Kashmir, a problem created out of our own folly.” RSS alleges that Pakistan arms militants for armed revolt from within India.

Amit Shah has harped the long-repeated party line that Article 370 is the root cause of spread of terrorism. As a corollary, it is also said that the article was the source of sentimental belief in a separate Kashmir, providing ground to cross-border terrorists to exploit.

However, it is the erosion of Article 370 that has led to increasing disenchantment of Kashmiris and their search for a way out. For instance, Article 370 provided for extending provisions of law to J&K through Presidential Orders, issued after concurrence of the state assembly. However, the 1954 Order has extended almost the entire Constitution to J&K. Out of the 97 entries in the Union List, 94 have been made applicable to the state and out of the 47 entries in the Concurrent List, 26 have been extended to the state. This has largely reduced the state’s powers. Overall, Article 370’s provisions were used at least 45 times to extend Constitution’s provisions to J&K.

Not only have the J&K rights been increasingly restricted, but also the spirit of the section has been violated by simply getting the state government to rubber stamp such extensions.

Also, the J&K Constitution was amended several times using Article 370. For instance, Article 356 was extended removing a similar provision in the J&K Constitution (Article 92), which called for President’s concurrence for imposing President’s rule. Article 370 was used for the extension of President’s rule. Even Article 249 (parliament’s power to make laws on State List entries) was extended to J&K through a recommendation of the governor, bypassing the state legislature.

In the past, Congress governments and later BJP, used these measures to manipulate the politics of the state to install ministries or impose President’s Rule.

Another myth, really a blatant lie, proffered by BJP, is that development was not possible because Article 370 didn’t allow it. Post-August 5, Indian politicians and opinion leaders continue to harp that with the removal of special status, including J&K will now become part of global India. Seriously, how Article 370 stopped any government from providing or encouraging more investment and industry in the state when most provisions of the Constitution, including Union list entries were extended to the state. The Union governments could have undertaken any economic measures or programs they wanted in J&K. In fact, there was nothing except unkempt promises of colossal special packages. No Indian government undertook any economic or political measures that would provide sustainable and long-term benefits to J&K.

Simply, the removal of Article 35A will now free real estate sharks to gobble up properties and use it for setting up private businesses including private schools. It is difficult to believe that private investment will flow into J&K, when an occupied people there are discontented and uncertain.

Indian propagandists in and out of government harp on the myth Articles 370 and 35A, and the arrangements they enshrine, were unique to J&K. In fact, Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and Goa enjoy similar provisions. In other states too, there are laws preventing non-domiciliary persons from owning land.

The Narendra Modi-led central government had, after the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, recently announced that people will now be able to buy land in Kashmir. As a result, the 1971 circular, which restricted land acquisition and requisition without a ‘No Objection Certificate (NOC)” from the Home Department, has now been replaced by the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. And, the displacement of Kashmiris with the replacement of Indians has begun the process of ethnic cleansing, leading to a genocide of the Kashmiri people.

Citizens of India ought not to live by the myth of living in the largest democracy and in greatness but instead should heed to Gandhi, “as human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”

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Why is Boris Johnson popular? Is he?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 2 August, 2020 - 20:07
A still from a 1999 edition of Have I Got News For You, showing Boris Johnson sitting in front of a backdrop consisting of British newspaper cuttings from the time.Boris Johnson on the BBC quiz show Have I Got News For You in December 1999.

Last Monday, a piece called Why Boris Johnson just keeps on winning, by the pro-Brexit academic Matthew Goodwin, appeared on the Tory-dominated opinion website UnHerd, which examined why the Tories continue to be several points ahead of Labour in opinion polls a year after Boris Johnson became leader despite a pandemic and a record contraction of the economy. (The piece is now offered as “best of the week” on UnHerd’s front page.) Goodwin claims that Johnson has “consistently been underestimated” and “routinely mocked and derided by people who have simultaneously failed to make sense of his appeal”. In this, Goodwin claims, he has achieved sustained popularity which has eluded any Tory prime minister since Thatcher. He claims that the reason is that Johnson appeals to a provincial vote which prioritises nationhood and favours stability over change, and rejects what he calls ‘declinism’, an over-developed awareness of Britain’s loss of place in the world.

First, it has to be remembered that it has only been eight months since Johnson won his only election victory so far. His party has a strong majority and thus it can be assumed that there will be no new election until this parliament’s five-year term is up. There is a sense of resignation that Johnson will be prime minister for some time, the people have spoken, and there’s little point in believing someone else should be and perhaps people believe it shows a disrespect for democracy (a point hammered home in the recent Brexit debate). Second, and this should be obvious: coming top of opinion polls is not the same as winning; general (and to a lesser extent local) election results are what can be won. Johnson has won a single election. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair each won three. John Major won one. David Cameron won one outright and won the peace, so to speak, after another. True, a general election can be won on the basis of much less than 40% of the vote when there are two significant opponents rather than just one (see 2005), but three general election wins represent lasting popularity in a way that a single result against a very weak and divided opposing party and a few months’ opinion poll results do not.

Third, we are indeed in the middle of a crisis and there is a saying that “you don’t change horses in the middle of a stream”, a phrase commonly used regarding war but could be deemed to apply equally to the current crisis. Furthermore, regardless of the flattery he may receive from the Labour Right, Keir Starmer has offered only weak opposition, cautiously criticising some of the government’s policies but suggesting no major change in direction. Like many on the timid Labour right, he behaves as if ‘opposition’ is a dirty word despite that being Labour’s position right now. This is a far cry from how Tony Blair behaved during his period as Labour opposition leader. Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has been in some regards scandalous, especially in terms of how nursing homes were swamped with infected patients from hospitals who then infected other residents and staff, but in other respects I believe the public mood supported his actions; there was no appetite, for example, for a stringent lockdown along the same lines as Italy or Spain. Italy’s was justified on the grounds of the terrible death toll in some northern cities which overwhelmed the local health system; Spain’s explicitly on the grounds of protecting the elderly who had supported their families during the most recent economic crisis. In this country, there is not as much love for the elderly in general; twenty years ago, when there were World War II veterans in their seventies, a stricter lockdown for their sake might have been thought justified. Today’s seventy-somethings are those born during the war and early baby-boomers and they are not seen as being anything like as heroic. The other major group of victims are disabled people, who have been victims of a government and press campaign against “benefit scroungers” since the 2010 election. While the death toll has been huge, people unaffected do not regard the victims as being people like them. Poorer minority ethnic communities with a large proportion of manual or health workers have been disproportionately affected. Many families, on the other hand, have lost nobody.

As for Johnson’s provincial vote base, Goodwin’s explanation is his standard dichotomy of the “citizens of somewhere” versus “citizens of the world/nowhere”. He claims that Johnson is unpopular in London, while popular across the rest of the South, popular among Leavers, Tories and the “working class” and unpopular among Remainers and the “middle class”. This ignores some of the results from both the 2016 referendum and the 2019 election; many districts in the “non-London south” voted to remain, particularly west of London, but many of these areas then voted strongly Tory in 2019. Johnson’s base is precisely the affluent western home counties; his original parliamentary seat was Henley in Oxfordshire. He won two terms as mayor of London. As for 2019, the weakness of Corbyn as a candidate for prime minister may have contributed to his success among Remainers, but Tory candidates polled well over 50% in constituencies in the out-of-London Remain belt, while they won with mere pluralities in some of their much-vaunted former “Red Wall” seats (though they won some of them with outright majorities as well).

Goodwin accuses Johnson’s opponents of a “culture of repudiation” which “is reflected in repeated claims that Britain is ridden with racism, that its history was more negative than positive, that its contribution to the world has been more bad than good”. He makes this generalisation about those who respond with approval to Johnson’s popularity polls:

What unites Boris Johnson’s voters is not so much their economic experience, as their values. They prioritise the nation and the national community. They prefer stability over change. And they favour continuity over disruption and discontinuity. This is why they cherish Britain’s history, heritage and collective memory and are more sensitive to attempts to deconstruct them. And while they acknowledge that this history is complex, they believe that, on the whole, it was positive and that Britain has been a force for good in the world. In short, they believe in their country. They are proud of it. And they are proud of their fellow citizens.

This is really preposterous. How can anyone believe in ‘stability’ and ‘continuity’ yet support taking the country out of a major trading bloc when there is no viable alternative, despite warnings of job losses, food shortages, disruption at borders and so on? And of course, people who have never been stopped and searched by police while walking in the street, or who have never been pulled over by police who believed that someone of their appearance with a nice car must have stolen it, will not think Britain is “ridden with racism”. People who were not affected by the British Empire’s atrocities will think it was a force for good in the world. It’s why English is the dominant language in popular culture; it’s why Britain was able to have a cotton-based textile industry (because Indian cotton was shipped in). People who have lived all their lives here have only known modern democracy and imagine that the British Empire was a bit like it; in fact, Britain itself was not a democracy for most of the time Britain had an empire. We do not learn about the famines caused by British policy in India at school; we have started hearing about atrocities against Kenyan natives during the so-called Mau Mau uprising only recently. We barely even know how the British army and police behaved in Ireland; unless you’ve studied it for yourself, you might think the IRA started it all.

He then accuses Remainers of falling victim to what he calls ‘declinism’: “the belief that Britain’s best days are in the past”, “the assumption that, because of decisions that went against their own politics, Britain has become a diminished world power, is falling behind other states and is led by incompetent, amateurish elites who either lack the required expertise or ‘correct’ ideology to reverse this decline or, worse, are actively perpetuating it”. Britain has become a diminished world power; we were an imperial power within living memory and have been reduced to the “mother country” and a few islands dotted here and there. There is an over-developed sense of Britain’s loss of power in some sections of the British elite and political class; this can be seen in how Britain signs extradition treaties that are not fully reciprocal, sending British citizens to face trial in other countries while many other states will not extradite their own nationals for things which are not crimes at home, or will not do so at all; we also do not ensure that the overseas judicial system is fair or not subject to undue delay. But there is a difference between a kind of debilitating consciousness of our own decline, such that our state refuses to protect its citizens or otherwise stand on its own two feet, and being realistic about the economic consequences of leaving the EU without a good deal.

On the contrary, it is Brexit supporters who most hanker for a past that has never existed, one in which Britain “stood alone”, beat Germany in the War and prospered. I have even seen interviews with people in bars who claimed that we were once an empire. Yes, of course, we were; we lost it. There was once a Europe of imperial mother countries — Britain, France, Spain, Portugal — and one that tried to build its empire among them. It was perpetually at war, for centuries. Since the end of World War II, there has been no conflict between any of those countries. Many Remainers do indeed mourn a very recent past in which the EU stood for a bond of friendship and a space in which people could learn each other’s languages and share each other’s cultures, regardless of the blind spots in that vision (it principally applied to white people; many countries became intolerant of minority cultures, and European powers, including the UK, sat on their hands while a genocide took place in Bosnia) but they very much celebrate the peace that has flourished in western Europe for all these decades and spread to southern and eastern Europe from the 1980s on. This is all observable fact; the Britain that “stood alone” is a myth.

Goodwin is, despite his academic background, offering up a profoundly anti-intellectual analysis. He persistently refers to a “liberal establishment” without offering any evidence that it exists. Our commercial media has long been dominated by reactionaries as proprietors know that appealing to base instincts and prejudices sell more copies than offering nuance and telling readers what they do not want to hear (e.g. that prison, for all but the most serious offenders, does not work); on the particular issue of Europe, they have peddled lies for decades. To make Johnson look like some kind of towering statesman, he uses extraordinary euphemisms and trivialises vitally important things; he describes Johnson’s supposed conservative, provincial base as having a “politics of faith” in which “they are generally willing to give him a free pass when he fumbles the more technocratic or process-led side of politics” — in other words, when he proves himself profoundly incompetent, potentially with the result of tens of thousands of lives lost, or shows contempt for parliamentary democracy by trying to close parliament when it should be in session. He proposes a straw man in which Remainers measure the “health of the nation” through GDP alone. No, it’s not the only measure of a nation’s health, but a functioning economy is important. With Britain cut off from its major trading partners, vulnerable to demands from other major players such as the USA and China, we will have much less of one and much less bargaining power. So much for stability.

Boris Johnson does not really connect with the wider Tory-voting public, much less with the ‘converts’ in the former “Red Wall”. Any such connection is fabricated by the sycophantic media; he is firmly based in London and the wealthy Thames valley, much as David Cameron was. His success has much to do with the weak opposition, both under Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer, and the divisions in their party, a matter that Goodwin does not even examine. Johnson has a certain amount of charisma, and has endeared himself to a section of the public through years on game shows and the like; his tenure as mayor of London was not the disaster many feared when an avowed racist and serial liar was elected to such an important role. But Tony Blair was charismatic as well; he also benefited from a divided and scandal-ridden opposition. His charisma only carried him so far — he won a third election by the skin of his teeth and resigned two years later — and the Tories recovered. Much the same can be said for Margaret Thatcher. Unlike either of those two, Johnson has a very long journalistic and political career distinguished for much ill: lying, racist rabble-rousing, wasting of public money, game-show timewasting. He has been in office for a year and it is too soon to describe him as someone who “keeps winning”.

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What Repentance Can Teach You About Success

Muslim Matters - 30 July, 2020 - 20:08

When losing weight, one piece of advice you’ll hear often is the following – if you fall off your eating plan one day, pick yourself back up and think of the next day as a fresh start.

Annoying, isn’t it?

You’ll hear this advice from people who have “made it” – they’ve lost a lot of weight, their lives have changed, and they’ll tell you to stick through it, and you’ll be like, yeah, I have, I tried, and I keep failing. I keep trying, I can’t sustain the motivation, I have life factors, I have stuff going on that makes this difficult.

And you’re right.

You don’t have millions of dollars, a dedicated personal trainer and chef, the free time and lack of commitments others do, the lack of sleep, the injuries, or personal life circumstances that advantage others, nor do they have those that disadvantage you.

That’s not the point.

When you make a mistake, if you run through the process of regret, repentance, and retrying to do the right thing, Allah (swt) is pleased with you. And if you keep failing, repenting, and trying again, and again, and again, until you die, Allah keeps forgiving you.

The process of both recognizing your weakness, of getting out of denial, and humbling yourself and not thinking yourself so high and mighty has its own sobering effect. Not only does it help you in dealing with that atom’s weight of arrogance you don’t want to meet Allah (swt) with on the Day of Judgment, it helps make you a better human being, a more compassionate one, a more empathetic one, when calling others away from mistakes.

I’m not perfect, and you’re not perfect. Perfection is only for Allah (swt). But we’re trying. And the process of recognizing your weakness and at least attempting to rectify it means that maybe you’ll sin a little less, maybe you’ll still not invent excuses for mistakes and you’ll teach others, “Hey man, I know this is a sin, I know this is wrong, I hope you can do better than me.” And maybe they do change, and you’re both better for it.

Maybe in trying and failing again and again, what you end up doing is coming a little bit closer to success, and that process of trying and failing is the teacher you needed to get you out of your weakness and to then help others do likewise. Maybe that learning process serves you in succeeding elsewhere down the road in other treacherous turns and trials of life.

Whether it’s in losing weight, fixing broken relationships, pulling away from a heavy nafs addiction (eg pornography), don’t ever put yourself mentally in a position where “you’ve lost” and “you may as well give up” because “there’s no hope for me”. Don’t identify yourself by your failures.

So then, what is the point?

The point isn’t that you hit your goal perfectly. The point is that give your best, even with the little that you have, and that is good enough for you and for all of us. Ask Allah (swt) to help you better yourself, and in these 10 Days of Dhul-Hijjah, increase in your du’a, cry to Him for help, in whatever area of life it is you’re trying to improve.

And whatever you fail at, don’t fall off for weeks on end. Acknowledge your mistake, own it completely and take full responsibility. Try to figure out where you went wrong in your process, get help from others if you need to. Forgive yourself, and don’t resign yourself to an identity based on your mistakes.

Never get tired of failing, getting knocked down, and picking yourself back up and trying to do and be better again.

It’s always a brand new day tomorrow.

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Help! I Can’t Make Dua For More Than 30 Seconds On The Day Of ‘Arafah

Muslim Matters - 30 July, 2020 - 16:42

Much emphasis has been given on the importance of fasting on the day of ‘Arafah, but don’t forget, this was a day the Prophet Muhammad (upon him be peace) “made du’a from the time of Dhur til the time of Maghrib on the day of ‘Arafah while STANDING.” (Sahih Muslim)

He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) also said, “The best du’a is that which is made on the day of ‘Arafah.” (Sahih Muslim)

If we can develop the capacity to binge watch on Netflix 5-6 for hours a day, we can develop the capacity to make du’a longer than 30 SECONDS on the day of ‘Arafah.

I used to be a person who couldn’t make du’a longer than 2 minutes.

3 things changed

1. I started writing my personalized du’as on a mini-notebook

2. I started reading du’as using Hisnul Muslim (The Fortress of the Muslim)

3. I started following the etiquettes of making du’a.

As an Imam, I have numerous meetings with members of my community. Sometimes, at the end of my meetings, I asked the community member to end our meeting with a du’a. It is surprising that many of them do not know the etiquettes of making du’a. By following the above etiquettes of making du’a, you can make du’a longer than 2 minutes inshAllah!

Here are 16 etiquettes of making du’a from the Qur’an and Sunnah

1) Have 100% conviction that Allah will answer you

2) Find a way to praise Allah before making your request

3) Use the proper names of Allah

4) Send salutations upon Muhammad (upon him be peace)

5) Raise your hand like a beggar

6) Face the qibla

7) Be in a state of wudu

8) Cry

9) Be a lone wolf (Be alone)

10) Ensuring that your food is pure

11) Acknowledge your sins (Privately)

12) Repeat the du’a 3 times

13) Start the du’a by praying for yourself

14) Expand your heart, pray for everyone (in particular those Muslims in China who wish they could fast on the day of ‘Arafah, but they are prohibited from doing so.)

15) Say Amin after making du’a.

16) Make du’a during the “prime-times” (From Dhur till Maghrib on the day of Arafah is primetime!)

Bonus tip: If you’re like me, you may get stuck when making du’a. An excellent tip given by our master Muhammad (upon him be peace) is to use the “filler du’a”. This “filler du’a” was actually what Muhammad (upon him be peace) and all of the Prophets made on the day of Arafat!

He said, “The best invocation is that of the Day of Arafat, and the best that anyone can say is what I and the Prophets before me have said:

Lā ‘ilāha ‘illallāhu

wahdahu lā shareeka lahu,

lahul-mulku wa lahul-hamdu

wa Huwa ‘alā kulli shay’in qadeer.


None has the right to be worshipped but Allah

Alone, Who has no partner.

His is the dominion and His is the praise,

and He is Able to do all things. (Al-Tirmidhi)

To recap, here are 5 action items you and your family can perform on the day of Arafah.

1. Go over the following hadith with your family members.

“Allah frees far more people from Hellfire on the Day of Arafah than on any other day, and Allah comes closer this day and proudly says to the angels, ‘What do these people want and seek?’” (Sunan an-Nasa’i)

2. Say to your family members or whoever you have influence over,

“The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) made du’a on the day of Arafah from Dhur till Maghreb. How long do you think we can make du’a for on this day?”

3. Go over the 16 etiquettes mentioned in this post.

4. Challenge your family members to make a 10 minute du’a.

     Materials needed

  • Whiteboard
  • Markers
  • A Creative mind
  • Brainstorm with your family members what du’a you want to make and then write them on a whiteboard.

5. Whenever you get stuck and you can’t don’t know what du’a you want to make, make the “filler du’a” the Prophet (upon him be peace) made on the day of ‘Arafah.

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 19: My Mercy Encompasses All Things

Muslim Matters - 29 July, 2020 - 05:00

Now that we have learnt about when the angels surround us, let’s now talk about how Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy encompasses all things.

We say بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ  (bismillah Ar-Rahman ar-Raheem) a lot, right? It means ‘in the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.’ 

We say it when we pray, before we eat, and we’re encouraged to say it before we begin any new task. But do we really understand what rahma (mercy) means? 

Question: What do you think rahma means?

Do you know that the word rahma comes from the root word, رحم (rahim), which means womb? 

Question: Who can tell me what a womb is?

That’s right. A baby is usually in their mommy’s womb for 40 weeks. The baby gets all the nourishment it requires; the temperature in the womb is perfect, the nutrients are always administered, it is safe and warm. All the baby has to do is grow, and alhamdulillah all its needs are being met. 

Question: How do you think the womb relates to Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy?

Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy is constantly surrounding us like a safety net. That doesn’t mean that we’ll never experience any pain, but Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is constantly showing us mercy with every breath we take. Even blinking is a mercy from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that we don’t even have to think about. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) even has more mercy for us than a mother has for her own child! 

One day the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was walking with a group of his companions, and they passed by a woman who was frantically looking for her child. She would take any child to her breast and try to feed him/her. Then the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said to the companions: “Do you think that this lady can throw her son in the fire?” We replied, “No, if she has the power not to throw it (in the fire).” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) then said, “Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is more merciful to His slaves than this lady to her son.”

And guess what? There’s even more mercy in the hereafter than we’re experiencing right now. 

Salman al-Farisi reported: The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Verily, on the day Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created the heavens and earth, He created one hundred parts of mercy. Each part can fill what is between heaven and earth. He made one part of mercy for the earth, from it a mother has compassion for her child, animals and birds have compassion for each other. On the Day of Resurrection, He will perfect this mercy.” [Sahih Muslim]

99 parts of mercy on the Day of Judgment! That is one reason why it’s so important to have a good opinion of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)! Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) even tells us in Surat Al-A’raaf:

وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ ۚ

“My mercy encompasses all things” (Surat Al-A’raaf; 156]

And you all, my dears, are all encompassed by Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy, alhamdulillah. 


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Palestinian Activist Taher Herzallah on Solidarity with Black Americans

Muslim Matters - 29 July, 2020 - 03:46

The Middle East Eye recently featured a number of Arab Americans who have taken to the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd. According to the New York Times, at the peak of the protests on June 6, half a million people came out in nearly 500 places across the United States on that single day. The protests brought people together in the call for justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Briana Taylor – all unarmed Black people killed at the hands of police – and an end to police brutality and systemic racism.

In addition to speaking outward, many communities including the Arab and Muslim community have reflected and led initiatives to eradicate racism within their own communities. Palestinian Taher Herzallah was featured in this article and spoke on solidarity with the Black community from his perspective as an advocate for Palestine. Taher has written for Al-Jazeera, spoken for AMP, has been featured in The Electronic Intifada, and has written a manual for activists on university campuses called “Everybody Freeze!

He said, “I feel that as a Muslim American, and as a Palestinian American, I needed to show up where it was needed most, instead of spending time on Facebook, putting [up] a black Facebook profile picture. I wanted to actually be on the ground, putting myself between Black bodies and police, making sure that we were making the best use of our youth and our health to help our brothers and sisters in this moment.”

He goes on to speak on the historic connection between Black and Palestinian movements, saying “The Black Panther Party and Malcolm X were meeting with Palestinian leaders and travelling to the region to engage in these discussions. And I think historically speaking this is a beautiful part of that. We have a history. I’m not doing anything new by participating in these protests, per se. I’m actually just continuing that tradition of solidarity between our two communities and our two struggles.”

Taher has also written and spoken at length on meaningful alliances for the greater, universal cause of justice.

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USCMO Secretary General Oussama Jammal Speaks at ILC-NY 30th Anniversary Banquet

Muslim Matters - 29 July, 2020 - 03:44

The US Council of Muslim Organizations is a member organization of Majlis Ash-Shura, the Islamic Leadership Council of New York. ILC-NY’s 30th Anniversary Banquet brought together organizations and individuals that serve the Muslim community, for a night of reflection and fundraising.450 guest attendees were present at the Grand Prospect Hall in celebration of the work and legacy of Muslims in New York. Attendees included community leaders, partners and allies, mosques, elected officials, activists, and students.
One of the many distinguished speakers at this event was USCMO Secretary General Oussama Jammal. He extended his deep “congratulations for 30 years of service, unity, commitment, and dedication to the Muslim community” to ILC-NY. He said, “bringing people together isn’t an easy job, but it’s a must…Our strength, survival, aspiration will come through our unity and working together.”

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Mohamad Habehh and Other Faith Leaders: United for Mental Health

Muslim Matters - 29 July, 2020 - 03:42

Cynthia Chazen of the Stigma Free Zone News of New Jersey reported on a recent initiative that brought together leaders from a variety of communities to discuss mental health. An event named “Interfaith Roundtable on Mental Health Awareness” was sponsored by the Pastoral Care Team, Central Unitarian Church in Paramus. Exhibitors discussed a range of topics, including similar patterns among different communities and resources that are accessible within the state of New Jersey.

Mohamad Habehh represented and provided insight on the Muslim community in New Jersey, speaking on the struggle for many youth. Bergen County’s Maureen Kerne, Director of Region V Council for Special Education, said, “The mental health of kids is presenting now as the greatest concern for New Jersey educators.” Educator Mohamad Habehh, with the other panelists, agreed that there was a rise in mental illness among youth.

Mohamad Habehh is currently the National Development Coordinator with American Muslims for Palestine, and has been featured extensively for his insight on advocacy, campaigning, community building, and solidarity movements. He spoke on the condition in the Passaic County Muslim community, describing the efforts as “knee-deep in efforts to better understand mental illness and educate.”

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A tax on progress

Indigo Jo Blogs - 27 July, 2020 - 16:04
Statues of two iguanadons on rocks in a public park.Outdated statues of the extinct iguanadon at Crystal Palace Park, London

Today it was announced that the chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, was considering introducing an online sales tax, citing such reasons as a need to “protect the high street” from fears about coronavirus at a time when a number of department stores have been closing stores or going out of business, as well as the pollution caused by delivery vans. According to Steven Swinford of the Times (on Twitter), the government is looking at two models: a 2% levy on the sale of goods online, which would raise around £2bn annually, or a charge for deliveries of goods bought online, “which would form part of campaign to cut congestion and toxic emissions”. This ignores the reasons for why people prefer to shop online, especially at a time when there is a well-founded fear of the coronavirus but even before. It is clearly discriminatory towards disabled people for a number of reasons.

First, department stores and high-street clothing retailers were having difficulties long before coronavirus hit. People preferred to shop online simply becuase it is easier to find many types of garments in a website or app than in a physical store, because stores are often arranged according to the product range or concession rather than by the category of item. So, say you want to buy a long skirt in a particular colour: on an app, you can just search for it. In the store, you have to know where the item is, as it will not be with other long skirts but with other clothing items from the same range or manufacturer which has a concession in the store (as found in John Lewis, House of Fraser and most others). The department store model relies on shopping being a leisure activity and that you might not be looking just for that item but whatever might take your fancy while browsing. If you just want the skirt, however, it’s easier to just buy it online. Menswear is often a bit more rationally arranged with T-shirts, jeans, chinos and so on grouped together.

At times like these, retail therapy is starting to seem a lot less therapeutic for many people. Especially at weekends, town centres have become crowded and there is no pretence of social distancing. Clearly there are some who are sick of lockdown and just want to get out and enjoy themselves but for others that represents an obvious health risk. Many people are still shielding or have a close relative who is fragile and has to be protected from exposure to the virus. Some people are under mandatory quarantine because of having the virus or having been exposed to it. They cannot just get out and help “save the High Street” which is dying anyway; they are still reliant on online deliveries. Many disabled people cannot easily get out to shop at the High Street, perhaps because of chronic illness, perhaps because of the inaccessiblity of the shopping area itself, lack of reliable public transport, the lack of suitable toilets (my local town centre, Kingston, does not have a Changing Place, meaning anyone who cannot transfer manually has nowhere to relieve themselves), the lack or unreliability of disabled parking; there could be any number of reasons. To people dependent on disability benefits (because their health or lack of accessible employment keeps them out of work), this new tax will mean they have less to live on when they have no alternative, short of sending a friend into town.

As for the tax being targeted at pollution, surely online ordering reduces emissions because it reduces journeys made by individuals to town centres. Many people travelling to town centres to meet up with friends or relatives and browse the shops do so by car (possibly more so at the moment, as public transport is restricted), and cause pollution while queuing for car parking or getting stuck in traffic on the way; newer retail parks are often designed to be driven to, often located off motorway junctions (e.g. Bluewater in Kent). If goods are delivered directly to consumers, this also saves on a truck journey from the distribution centre to the store. There are already taxes on vehicles which are aimed at keeping older vans and trucks which produce more emissions either off the road or out of heavily-populated areas. So, the pollution angle seems like an excuse.

This new tax seems calculated also to support incumbent large businesses such as department stores, while many smaller manufacturers depend on online distribution chains as well as Amazon. These companies offer choice to consumers that the High Street often does not; if you want an item of clothing which simply is not available in the shops because some committee somewhere has decided it’s going to be out of fashion this season, an online seller is likely to offer it. There are also specialist, niche clothing manufacturers which have never had access to high street shops, such as Lucy & Yak and Wash Clothing, which specialise in lightweight dungarees and denim clothing respectively, as well as the various modest clothing vendors here and overseas (such as Shukr and Modanisa) which a lot of Muslims rely on. Just because our clothing choices aren’t mainstream, why should we pay an extra tax to support a few large, outdated companies?

Of course, Rishi Sunak needs to raise tax revenues urgently. People are losing jobs, spending is down, many people do not want to go out for long, companies that were already struggling are facing a final straw, and he has cut VAT to 5% for hospitality services such as restaurants and take-away food, though only for the rest of this year. Much as people always said he was pursuing policies more socialist than Jeremy Corbyn could have dreamed of, we always knew he would have to pay for it somehow, and would insist on doing so sooner rather than later. This tax is a latter-day “red flag” law; it is a tax that seeks to hold back the march of progress. In the past, businesses based on outdated practices and models which were losing out to competition were called “lame ducks” and were refused public support; the same must be true of Debenhams, House of Fraser and other retail dinosaurs which cannot compete with well-designed websites and apps. This tax is regressive (in every sense of the term) and discriminatory and should not be allowed to proceed.

Image source: Jes, via Wikipedia. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) licence, version 2.0.

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Garmin’s four-day outage reflects incompetence

Indigo Jo Blogs - 26 July, 2020 - 18:28
A screenshot of Garmin's (@GarminUK) Twitter feed, which contains information and apology about the recent outage but no explanation about its origin or how long it might take to fix.Garmin’s Twitter feed, Sunday evening (26th July)

Last Thursday when I started work, driving a truck for a flooring company, I attempted to connect my new Garmin sat-nav to get software updates. It told me it couldn’t connect to the update server. I assumed it was an issue with my mobile network and resolved to try again later. However, later that evening, the Garmin Express app on my home computer told me the same. I looked at Garmin’s Twitter feed and there was a pinned message that all of Garmin’s systems were down, including their update servers and their phone systems, which meant they could not offer telephone support either. Over the last few days, it has emerged that the outage is result of a ransomware attack, in which a malware program encrypts the victim’s files and demands money for the key to decrypt it, by a Russian-based group which has attacked a number of other large companies and demanded millions of dollars each time. While it doesn’t affect the day-to-day running of my sat-nav, it does affect other devices, including smart watches and aircraft navigation units, which rely on connectivity with Garmin, and this has resulted in planes having to be grounded. As of Sunday evening, the Garmin Twitter feed only offers the notice of the outage and an apology, with no explanation nor any indication of how long the problem will take to resolve. (However, Garmin Express, the update system for sat-navs, seems have come back online as of Sunday evening.)

The new sat-nav I tried to update last Thursday is my fifth Garmin sat-nav. I make a point of buying new devices in the £300-400 price bracket when they come out and reviewing them, sometimes sending them back if they are inadequate (which both TomTom units I bought were). I have been using Garmin devices for most of the time I have been driving trucks and they are the best on the market, which does not mean they are not sometimes frustrating to use. They have the best selection of features available; I don’t need a built-in TV (offered on some Snooper devices), though people might if they have to stay away several nights, but I do need hands-free phone use which is inadequate on TomTom, absent from Snooper and Aguri and a few years ago, Garmin’s Dezl 780 dropped the feature without explanation. Oddly, the smaller 580 retained it; I reasoned that it was the result of the 780 having a new Android back end, so as to enable it to link to new American tachograph systems, but I had to file a report with Garmin to find out that the omission was by design. As I drive different trucks week to week, I need vehicle profiles and not just the ability to set the weight, height etc for the specific journey, which is all TomTom’s devices offer. And I need it to be fast and responsive; TomTom’s truck navigators certainly aren’t.

That Garmin could fall victim to a scam like this is a very poor reflection on their competence, to say the least. Surely their data should have been backed up regularly, so that any malware attack could have been circumvented by simply restoring an update from before the malware took hold. This kind of backup system is easily obtained and built into some operating systems (Mac OS, for example). Surely also their update repositories should have been mirrored on other servers around the world, as is the case with open-source software which can be downloaded from several servers in each country. Admittedly, organisations offer mirror services to open-source projects as a service to the community, but surely commercial organisations like Garmin could pay for space as well. It will need to be investigated how this malware became active on Garmin’s systems; according to Bleeping Computer, it is distributed using fake software update notifications issued by the attackers’ own JavaScript framework. The attacks take advantage of vulnerabilities in Windows, of course. It raises the question of why anyone is still using this operating system for mission-critical back-end use when there are much more secure alternatives available.

The new sat-nav (the Dezl LGV 700, which breaks with the old naming conventions), incidentally, is a moderate improvement on the old one. The new screen is great; the mapping is a lot more detailed than on the 580 which had only a 5in screen with poor resolution (poorer than on the 780). The voice command system has been redesigned and is somewhat simpler, with the old menu system removed (perhaps because it was deemed a distraction) and seems to offer less functionality. You can still use it for hands-free calling, but you have to know who you’re calling because it doesn’t offer call lists or a scrollable phone book (you can access this with the touch screen, though). The new system seems to have eliminated the ‘history’ voice command, which when used in front of an iPhone would cause it to wake up and activate Siri as it mistook the word for “hey Siri”, so you can now turn that feature on your phone back on. It takes a bit of hunting through the settings to get filling stations, parking and other points of interest to show on the maps, which they really should as standard. It also offers only two route suggestions, like the 580; previous 7in units offered three. Traffic news now comes through its Garmin Drive smartphone app; older devices had an antenna attached to the power lead, and the new service is more reliable but invariably uses your mobile data.

There are three devices in the new series, the 700, 800 and 1000, the numbers reflecting the size in inches of the screens, and the two larger units can be deployed vertically or horizontally (portrait or landscape); however, only the 700 is compatible with old mounting devices (this is not made clear in any of their sales material) and no new ones seem to have been produced to accommodate the bigger units’ new larger ball joint. This means that you might find you have nowhere to put your navigator if you buy one of the two larger units; it offers a screw-down and large suction mount on a rather awkward and inflexible mounting arm, as well as a ‘male’ ball joint connector to attach to third-party devices (not the same as the ‘female’ ball-joint connector that is on the 700 and other smaller Garmin units). So, the 700 is the only consumer unit here; the 800 and 1000 are for installation on specific vehicles, most likely by the owner. This is a shame as I would have liked to have had the extra information on screen that a larger screen offered. All in all, it’s a good upgrade, but despite appearances, it’s not that radical a departure from the old devices. If you want a decent-sized unit with hands-free phone access, though, this one is for you.

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Potential problems with face masks

Indigo Jo Blogs - 15 July, 2020 - 21:34
A woman with hair partly dyed purple wearing a pollution mask with white, green, yellow and blue stars on it. To her right are some flower pots and behind her is a light green, three-storey building with wooden cladding.A woman wearing a Vogmask. (Note: masks like these with filters are not suitable for virus containment. Their other masks may be.)

So, finally yesterday the government announced that face masks were to be made mandatory in shops in England, as they have been in Scotland for weeks, from the 24th of July (Friday week), which although it has attracted criticism for lack of urgency, gives people a chance to prepare (ie. buy enough to have one for any shopping trip they may make). This reflects growing acceptance that face coverings do inhibit the spread of the virus in confined spaces such as shops; previously reusable cloth masks were thought to be ineffective (as opposed to medical grade masks) and to make people careless about keeping their distance or, in the early days of lockdown, staying at home. Some disabled people and those with breathing difficulties are exempt although it remains to be seen how these exemptions will be enforced.

I have personally never worn a mask; I have some small surgical ones that my mother bought from a local Korean shop, but it wasn’t big enough to cover my chin; I suspect I will have to remove much of my beard to get a mask to cover me effectively. However, I try to avoid others in shops, often without much success. Shop aisles are too narrow and some of them are too popular to remain uncrowded. The worst experiences I have had are in mini-markets such as the local Tesco stores. You can’t pass people at anywhere near the safe 2m distance. In addition, supermarkets have stopped controlling entry; I have not seen a queue outside any supermarket in weeks. I don’t feel comfortable while shopping and probably won’t until the pandemic is over, mask or no mask. I don’t browse for pleasure anymore.

I don’t have any truck with the idea that masks are an intolerable impingement on freedom. The people that do are typically those who resent having to do anything differently to benefit other people besides their own family or friends, which is reflected in the political choices of many of them. While I have seen many women object on these grounds, another source for the hostility may lie with the fact that face coverings have up until now mostly been worn by Muslim women, making them both foreign and feminine (strangely, I have not seen a substantial uptake of the traditional face coverings among Muslim women recently; those I have seen with covered faces around here and even in parts of Birmingham I have passed through have mostly been wearing masks rather than veils). The only places we are being asked to wear them is in shops and on public transport, which are indoor environments where space is often restricted and it is difficult to keep apart from others. As Covid-19 is a disease which often produces long-term chronic illness even if it does not put someone on a ventilator, needing to wear a mask for a few minutes a day is much less of a restriction on your liberty or that of someone else you might meet than a damaged lung.

However, I can see some teething problems and I hope it is not enforced too aggressively in the first few days. (Shop staff have been told to inform the police if they see someone shopping without a mask; this is likely to amount to an awful lot of calls.) This is new to most people, including me. I don’t know which type of mask is most comfortable, best fitting or most effective. A lot of people are going to be buying masks over the next week and a bit to try and find out which works best for them. It is clear that supermarkets do not have enough to fulfil the demand that is likely to arise over the next week. For example, a branch of Sainsbury’s near where I was working had only a few packs of five with the same set of patterns, two of them decidedly girly (though the website has other pattern sets and says “more stock arriving soon”. I was advised to go online if I just wanted a black one. John Lewis and M&S are only selling the type of face mask that comes in a tube and that you peel off.

Some of us use phones to pay for things that rely on facial identification (newer iPhones for example). They will not identify us with masks on. Of course, it won’t hurt anyone to remove it for just a second, but that depends on shop staff and management having common sense.

So, while wearing masks is a good idea in confined spaces, if they are to be compulsory then they need to be readily available. In other countries governments have provided masks to people; in this country we are expected to just find them or make them ourselves, regardless of our financial state (including indicators of poverty the state knows about, such as receiving benefits). As with soap in the couple of weeks before lockdown, when washing our hands was being promoted as key to stopping the spread of the coronavirus, they are neither readily available nor prominently advertised. We will all need plenty of them — possibly as many as we have T-shirts — and there aren’t plenty available when a large supermarket with something like a quarter of its space given over to clothing has only two packs of five and none for men.

Image source: Liz Henry, via Flickr. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 licence.

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Hagia Sophia: Mosque or Museum?

Inayat's Corner - 11 July, 2020 - 00:04

One of the most memorable highlights of all my visits to Istanbul over the years has always been the time spent in the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) museum. First founded as a Christian cathedral in 537 CE by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, it was converted into a mosque when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih in 1453. In 1934, following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire some years earlier and the establishment of the modern Republic of Turkey, President Ataturk issued a decree reclassifying Hagia Sophia as a museum. Alongside the Topkapi Museum, the Hagia Sophia has been the most visited and top rated tourist attraction in Istanbul for many years now.

But what will happen now that President Erdogan has reversed that 1934 decree and restored Hagia Sophia’s status to being a mosque? Will people from all backgrounds still be able to visit Hagia Sophia and gaze upon its beauty and many historical treasures?

The official spokesperson for President Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, tried to reassure the world, saying “all are welcome to visit this beautiful house of worship and magnificent cultural site.”

This does not directly address concerns about what those visitors will actually still be able to see – and perhaps more importantly – no longer see when they visit the Hagia Sophia.

For example, will the below 10th century Byzantine mosaic of Christ Pantocrator still be on display or will it now be covered up?

Will the below Apse mosaic of Mary with the infant Jesus on her lap which adorns the central dome in Hagia Sophia still be on display?

The Hagia Sophia abounds in many such historical riches and it would be a tragedy if people were no longer allowed to directly see and study them.

Judging by the remarks on social media, the decision earlier today in Turkey to restore the status of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque has divided many Muslims living in the West.

When I last visited Istanbul in May 2019, I stayed in the Sultan Ahmet quarter, less than a two minute walk away from the Hagia Sophia. It was Ramadan at the time and early every morning I was woken by the call to prayer and went to the stunning Sultan Ahmet mosque (Blue Mosque) which is situated directly opposite the Hagia Sophia – it was also a two minute walk away from my hotel.

Istanbul is a city of many such glorious mosques. However, there is only one Hagia Sophia.

At a time when the world desperately needs to take steps towards more freedom and greater tolerance, it would be a shame if Turkey took a step in the opposite direction. We will have to wait and see.

Use the justice that’s there

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 July, 2020 - 23:24
A white woman holding a mobile phone with a small yellowish dog standing up against her, wearing a white face mask, standing on a wood-chip clearing next to a path in a wooded area of a park.Amy Cooper

This morning it was revealed that the woman who was videoed making a malicious phonecall to New York police earlier this year after a Black bird-watcher videoed her with her dog off the leash in an area of Central Park where this was banned, had been charged with filing a false report, which is a category A misdemeanour which carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail (this would be a local jail in New York City, not a state or federal prison). The incident happened on 25th May, a few days before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis which led to the widespread Black Lives Matter protests. The news was greeted with dismay by a number of ‘abolitionists’ who are against using the ‘carceral’ justice system to achieve redress in a case involving racism. These included a Twitter thread from Josie Duffy Rice (of The Appeal and the Justice Podcast) who said, “I do not believe those consequences should be criminal charges, because I do not think this system has the legitimacy or value to address her wrongdoing”. In response to another thread from Marc Lamont Hill, I responded that the system was the only one there is. This produced a reaction from Dr Usaama al-Azami:

I don’t think using the law to punish a racist who tried to use the police to get a Black man at best roughed up and at worst killed amounts to condoning slavery or Jim Crow on the grounds that it’s the law. Making malicious reports to the police is a crime pretty much everywhere, although it’s called different names, and it should be. That it rarely results in punishment does not mean that when it is done obviously and caught on video, that it should be. Rape, in many parts of the world, is difficult to prosecute, especially where the victim knew the attacker, but when evidence is sufficient (or it’s caught on video, as in the case of Reynhard Sinaga in Manchester last year), nobody sensible would argue not prosecuting and locking up. There’s no restorative justice that can make a serial rapist safe to be on the streets. Sometimes testifying to a crime is more traumatic than it is worth, but this may not prove to be the case here as the evidence is all on video and it is the City that is bringing the charge, not the victim (Christian Cooper).

No society has ever done without a criminal justice system. No civilisation has relied purely on restorative justice for serious crimes; they used physical punishments and the death penalty. Islam’s criminal justice system makes little use of prison; the standard punishments consist of the death penalty, floggings, amputations, retaliation in the case of personal injury and financial penalties although of course the Muslim world has always had them except in the very early days. Western justice systems have prison as a standard punishment for most serious crimes as a replacement for the physical punishments it used in pre-modern times (in fact, the birch — flogging — remained part of British justice until the mid-20th century and the death penalty persists in the USA to this day) along with preventative measures such as banning someone from running a company or having custody of a child. In the US specifically, punishment is often disproportionate as a result of racism, poverty and resulting disparities in the quality of legal advice and representation and because of lobbying from the prison industry (in such guises as victims’ rights groups) and demands from the right-wing media. People are in jail for long periods, in some cases life, for sometimes very trivial offences. But that doesn’t mean imprisonment is wrong in itself.

No oppressed group should martyr itself and sacrifice its right to justice or safety on the grounds that the system itself is corrupt or the hope of a better one some day and it’s irresponsible for activists and commentators to encourage them to. The options are to use the system there is, to resort to illegal and violent means to punish people who threaten your community, or put up with the threat. Campaigning for a better system or against corruption does not mean abstaining from using the system where someone has committed what is justly a crime. And sure, jail might not make her any more racist, but it might teach her (and others like her) to think before they reach for their phone and call the police any time a Black person annoys them. Such people already know that Amy Cooper has a court case hanging over her (she is not expected to be arraigned until October) and this already may have a chilling effect on them. This may not deal with the underlying problem, but it will have some benefit at least in that immediate area.

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