Friday, January 23, 2015

India’s Friends Israel and US Differ Sharply On Arab World

India’s Friends Israel and US Differ Sharply On Arab World
                                                                              Saeed Naqvi

The death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia will push the rapidly changing West Asian landscape onto the middle of the agenda President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will discuss on Sunday. Terrorism was already a theme, but now cause and effect of that rampaging evil may also get an airing, something neither Riyadh nor Jerusalem quite like.

Abdullah, even as Crown Prince, was brilliant at managing Washington. Witness how he coped with all the criticism and suspicion when fifteen of the nineteen masterminds of 9/11 turned out to be Saudis.

He was on an equally slippery slope when ISIS was found with Saudi recruits. It also had active cadres inside Saudi Arabia. A few days ago, ISIS militia breached the Saudi border with Iraq and, working on prior intelligence, killed the general guarding the Kingdom’s northern frontier.

The kingdom’s incredible wealth made it more equal than others eversince the discovery of oil, but Abdullah’s recent co ordination of policy with Israel had enhanced his clout with the West in geometrical progression.

When he came out of convalescence from hospital in February 2011 and saw his friends Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as casualties of the Arab Spring in Cairo and Tunis, he swore to block the Spring.

He rained $135 billion on the people of Saudi Arabia, a brazen purchase of support. No monarchy would be allowed to fall, he declared. He even made up with the estranged Emir of Qatar whose singular asset, Al Jazeera TV, was required by him and his western allies for propaganda during the Syrian and the Libyan operations.

Let me explain this:
When war breaks out, the first casualty is the truth. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and operation Desert Storm in February 1991, the global media has been called upon to cover so many conflicts, that principal channels like CNN and BBC lost credibility in the process of dressing up the West’s case. Al Jazeera TV, built up a reputation covering the “other side”. An exhasperated Washington, bombed al Jazeera offices in Kabul and Baghdad. This boosted Al Jazeera credibility sky high, a priceless commodity at a time when audiences were simply not believing CNN, BBC and Fox News. But by serving the interests which the principal western media did in the past, Al Jazeera too has lost its sheen? The field is wide open for a truly Independent Indian global media.

There are other, much more important Saudi initiatives, past and present, which have come a cropper. The terrorist mayhem in the world is commonly traced to the training imported to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. What is not so well known is the late Saudi interior Minister, Prince Naif’s scheme to train Mujahideen in Yemen as a bulwark against Soviet influence in Aden.

It is these which have mutated into today’s Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, linking up with Al Shabab in Somalia and spreading violence along the Sahel upto Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

Nearer home, Saudi Arabia has made itself extremely vulnerable by promoting interests to the South of it which are so unpopular among the people that the Shia Houthis are today in control of Sanaa.

Abdullah always flailed his arms against the Shias but the Arab arc surrounding his kingdom is just what he would abhor. Shias rule in Baghdad; Bashar al Assad (so far) is an immovable force in Damascus; Hassan Nasrullah is the most powerful leader of Lebanon. This has invited an Israeli riposte.

Israeli air strikes have hit where it should hurt: against Hezbullah, Syrian and Iranian military assets in the Syrian city of Quneitra. An Iranian General and six Hezbullah commanders have been wiped out. Iran says they were training Syrian hands against “Takfiri-Salafist terrorists”. There has been no statement from Washington and no retaliation from Hezbullah, Syria or Iran. Sometimes restraint is lethal.

Well, Israel has election on March 17. Kerry is pushing for a nuclear settlement with Iran, also in March. If the Israeli strike in Quneitra invited a response from, say, Hezbullah, the atmosphere would have been fouled up and impeded the nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary, Phillip Hammond, led a conference of 21 world leaders in London to strategize against the ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Consider the irony. Israelis killed military assets who were ostensibly training the sorts of forces that the sponsors of the London conference would require to fight the ISIS.

Are Jerusalem and Washington working at cross purposes?

New Delhi is friendly with both. Here is a chance to obtain clarifications first hand.

#          #          #          #

Friday, January 16, 2015

Did Leaders March In Support of Prophets As Pansies And Punks?

Did Leaders March In Support of Prophets As Pansies And Punks?
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi 

It challenges credulity that Europe did not anticipate terrorist attack after its recent involvement in direct and indirect military action against the people of Libya, Syria, ISIS and so on.

In March 2011, I wrote: “Have President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron ever paused to consider how the 20 million Muslims in Europe will react to their military action in the Arab world?”

I shall never tire of repeating the signal truth: the global electronic media was born when Peter Arnett of the CNN brought Operation Desert Storm into the world’s drawing rooms in live telecasts from the terrace of Al Rasheed hotel in Baghdad.

That day in February 1991, the world was divided into two ever growing sets of audiences diametrically opposed to each other – millions and millions of them. For the West and its friends it was triumphalism, doubly impressive so soon after collapse of the Soviet Union. For Arabs and the Muslim world in general, it was humiliation, defeat and anger.

It was in the shadow of the West’s triumphalism that the correlation of forces altered in India too. Remember, there were no multiple channels to cover the demolition of Babari Masjid on December 6, 1992. They mushroomed soon thereafter in celebration of globalized capitalism having arrived in India too.

After Desert Storm, the global media had an orgy: the two Intefadas, the four year long brutalization of Bosnian Muslims, occupation of West Bank, invasion of Afghanistan, the droning of Pakistan’s North West, occupation of Iraq, Darfur, Mali, Yemen, the 50 day bombing of Gaza. There was no end.

During my journey from Bosnia to Turkey I saw with my own eyes the boost the siege of Sarajevo gave to the Islamists in Turkey.

The expanding conflict between the West and Islam has been given a tactical twist. The conflict being promoted now is between Sunnis and Shias with Riyadh and Teheran as the two poles. This did accelerate attacks on Shias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Pakistan without in any way diminishing the danger of anti western terrorism.

Not only did the West help halt the Arab Spring, in doing so it ended up doing something much more dangerous. Countries with a majority of their populations in their 20s, the youth bulge, had come out on the streets waving their banners of freedom. These are now angry young muslims headed to other parts of the world, including Europe. Did Europe imagine it was exempt from Arab anger after the bombardment of their lands?

The Saudis are the spider in the web in conflicts in Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen controlling Islamic militants as a strategic asset.

Islamic Madrasas along the Afghan-Pak border since the 80s are commonly known. Not so well known are the Jihadist hatcheries set up by the late Prince Naif bin Abdel Aziz, as the Saudi Interior Minister, in Yemen. In those days the Jihadist were being trained as a bulwark against Soviet influence in South Yemen. It is these Jihadis who mutated into todays Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The name of this militant outfit was mentioned in the Paris outrage too.

France has worked out convoluted arms deals with the Saudis. For example $3 billion worth of French arms were diverted to the Lebanese Army. The transaction was financed by Saudi Arabia. Chemical weapons in Saddam Hussain’s arsenal came from France. France has its hands in many tills.  It was neck deep supporting the opposition in Syria. All this mayhem Europe has helped manufacture just the other side of the Mediterranean. The surprise is that retribution has been so late in coming.

Is it retribution at all? The parallel media is replete with conspiracy theories. A question that pops up frequently concerns Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presence in the front row of world leader in the march of solidarity in Paris. What qualifies him to wear the badge of liberty?

While one verifies every side of the Paris attack, one statement can be made with certainty: the carnage in Paris has clearly diverted attention from a crucial campaign launched by ISIS against Saudi Arabia.

Just before the Charlie Hebdo attack, ISIS sent a suicide team across the border into Saudi Arabia. Incharge of the Saudi Northern Border, General Oudah al-Belawi was killed. The Kingdom has dispatched 30,000 additional troops to guard the border with Iraq. The suicide squad clearly had inside information about the General’s precise location.

In the current incredible lineup, Saudis are Israel’s close allies. Their vulnerability to ISIS would be a matter of greater anxiety to Netanyahu than terrorism in Paris.

Postscript: A mild example: Were the world statesmen assembled in Paris conversant with Charlie Hebdo’s wit? In one cartoon God the father is being sodomized by Christ the son. Christ in turn is being sodomized by the Holy Spirit. Should there not be some distinction between smut and humour?

#          #          #          #         

Friday, January 9, 2015

Attack On Good Sense And Left: Editor Was Communist?

Attack On Good Sense And Left: Editor Was Communist?
                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

My first Christmas in London in the 60s surprised me. The BBC camera, having dwelt extensively on Christmas shopping, a church service, finally settled on a pair of singing comedians:
“If every day was Christmas
by some fantastic trick
if every day was Christmas
we’ll all be bloody sick!”

Next, a pair of a woman’s skimpy under garment floats onto the screen. The joke, accompanied by raucus laughter, was:
“You would wonder what these have to do with Christmas?”
Then comes the coarse punchline:
“These are Carol’s.” The pun on a woman’s name and Christmas carols harmonized in those jolly times

In the current global mood, would the BBC mount such a show? Firstly, feminism would have knocked out the second joke. Just a little earlier in chronological time, Josh Malihabadi was keeping the packed hall of the Lucknow University Union, riveted at the annual mushaira or poetic symposium, with his jibes at God:
“Hai waqai muntaqim to khota hai khuda
Sona naheen hai jismein woh gota hai khuda
Shabbir Hasan Khan naheen letey badla
Shabbir Hasan Khan se bhi chota hai khuda.”
(God is a fake if he really takes revenge
He is not pure as gold, only an alloy
Shabbir Hasan Khan Josh never takes revenge
Is this vengeful God even smaller than Josh?)
He would be stoned to death today.

For the most elegant irreverence in world literature, Urdu and Persian poetry remain unparalleled. Only occasionally were a few restrictive rules laid out. One piece of advice was:
“Ba khuda deewana baash o
Ba Mohammad, hoshiar!”
(Take liberties with God but be careful with Mohammad). But Dara Shikoh’s Prime Minister, Chandrabhan Brahman, violates this dictum with impunity:
“Panja dar panja-e-khuda daram
Manchey Parwaaye Mustafa daram”
(My hand is in the hand of God.
Why should I worry about Mohammad?)

When Punch magazine became the premier vehicle for English satire, the Urdu elite in India did not allow itself to be left behind. They proceeded to publish a satirical magazine with anti colonial cartoons galore and proceeded to name it Awadh Punch! From the second half of the 19th century for a hundred years everybody – statesmen, politicians, priests were in the Awadh Punch firing line.

A verse became popular after the frequency of the P & O liners to Britain was stepped up.
“Chaley hain Sheikh kaabey ko;
Hum inglistan dekhenge,
Wo dekhen ghar khuda ka;
Hum khuda ki shaan dekhenge.”
(The Mullah is travelling to Mecca;
I am England bound.
He wishes to see the house of God;
I am more interested in god’s wonders)

What adds exponentially to a feeling of helplessness these days is that several tragedies are brought into focus at the same time – a sort of competition in carnage. How can one compare the murder of French cartoonists with that of 136 Muslim school children in Peshawar? Although both sets of murderers – like hundreds of others in this dreadful decade – appear to have been driven by a similar sense of anger, or desperation.

Clearly, this horrendous attack, like all others, has a context. Our media has never developed the means to keep us informed of the catastrophe that is building up in Europe. The other day, in the central French town of Champlan, the Mayor refused permission for burial of a Roman infant. The incident raised a minor storm.

The ultra right wing, Dawn of Direct Democracy in the Czech Republic, has called on people to walk to “mosques with pigs and dogs” to show their disgust with Muslims. Angela Merkel has called for “counter” rallies against the growing number of anti Muslim demonstrations in Dresden.

Muslim immigrants in Sweden, once the world’s most tolerant country, have invited such a backlash that mosques have been set on fire repeatedly.

The Balkans are on a boil. A giant Serb cross appeared on the hills behind Sarajevo as an act of Serbian assertion. Regular street battles are on between Albanians and Christians in Macedonia. The US sponsored enclave of Kosovo has European troop protecting it in the midst of rampaging Serb nationalism.

All of these will serve another purpose soon: they will take focus away from the real Tsunami about to strike Greece, the mother of western civilization. The Radical Left Party, Syriza, under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras, is knocking at the gates, come the election on January 25. That could set the stage for the unraveling of the European Union.

Interestingly, Stephane Charbonnier, the slain Editor of Charlie Hebdo was a member of the Communist Party. Quite independent of the desired sectarian fallout, this is an attack on another European institution: the progressive, left leaning intelligentsia.

#          #          #          #

Saturday, January 3, 2015

For The Readers, Simple New Year Gifts And Thoughts

For The Readers, Simple New Year Gifts And Thoughts
                                                                       Saeed Naqvi 

In recent years, I have been alert to the possibility that I may one day be identified as a Muslim. Instead of pride, this new sense of being has arrived with doubt. Some items of identity are so close to ones skin that one grows up without noticing them. But we are now advancing towards an age of such concentrated focus that we need to narrow our vision.

I fear I may now be called upon to declare where I stand, say, on the Imam of Jama Masjid or on Khushi Mohammad, the pujari of Goga Mehri temple, the latter being of greater sociological interest because the legend survives tenaciously, away from major highways. I am perfectly willing to put it down to a kind of cowardice, but I have become increasingly quiet on many issues.

Some of this self imposed silence is actually tactical. Since communal polarization is the staple of current discourse, the best step some of us can take for self preservation is to fall deafeningly silent. On provocative issues, if you say nothing, those trying to provoke you cannot retaliate. If you do not present yourself as a foil, communal polarization cannot be affected. Ofcourse, this tactic of silence is offered with the full knowledge that sometimes nothing works.

In Julius Caesar the mob turns upon Cinna the conspirator. The man throws up his hands. “I am Cinna the poet”. Someone in the mob, all charged up, shouts. “Kill him for his bad verses.”

Let us, however, persist with the “silence” theme.

How do you give effect to this policy of silence on a wider, public stage. Well, one trick is to deter self appointed Muslim spokesmen from trooping into prime time TV shows where they are generally knocked out by the double-fisted tattoos of professional harangues.

If this communal polarization can be contained by reigning in the professional Muslim spokesman, the other much more important polarization could grow exponentially – the polarization between good sense and its exact opposite.

A few days ago one thought the nation was on edge because of televised reports of mayhem at cinema halls screening “PK”. But the film, which takes a dig at Godmen, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, down to sects, Shias and Sunnis, has actually, broken all box office records.

This is the important polarization which is obscured by the TRP chasing prioritization of news. Lumpens digging up pitches is news but management of the world’s largest cricket crowds is not. Vested interests keeping artists in exile is news; exponential growth of art galleries exhibiting their work is not. A few vandals outside cinema halls in opposition to PK is news, but record crowds are not.

My sister, Naheed, has given me a simple New Year gift I would like to share with you. She has returned from a driving holiday from parts of North India with an observation which will appear commonplace but it made my New Year Day.

“Spend a fortnight in rural areas, away from TV and newspapers, and the country is quite as lovely as it was when we were children.”

Brother Shanney’s gift for the New Year is a poem which may well have been the inspiration for “PK”.
“Yeh Mussalman hai, woh Hindu,
yeh Masihi, woh Yehud
Ispe yeh pabandiyan hain,
aur uspar ye qayud,
Shaikh-o-Pandit ne bhi kya
ahmaq banaya hai hamein
Chotey chotey, tung khanon mein
bithaya hai hamein
Koi iss zulmat mein soorat hi
            nahin hai noor ki
Mohr har dil par lagi hai
ek na ek dastoor ki
Ghat tey ghat tey mehr e aalam
tab sey tara hua
Aadmi hai mazhab-o-tehzeeb ka
mara hua
Kuch tamaddun ke khalaf, kuch
deen ke farzand hain
Qulzumon mein rehne wale
bulbulon mein band hain.
Kya karey Hindostan, Allah ki 
hai yeh bhi dayn
Dudh Muslim, chai Hindu, Nariyal Sikh,
ber Jain
Apney hum jinson se keeney mein
bhala kya faaeda?
Tukre tukre hoke jeenay mein bhala faeda.

(Here’s a Muslim, there a Hindu, Christian
Here these rules apply to me, and there
those ones are meant for you
In God’s fair name, these priestly types have made such idiots of us all,
They’ve pinned us down in tiny square, where none of us
            can grow at all,
Man, meant to beam his glorious rays, is now
            all darkness and all strife
Confined to curious, cults and cant,
promoting just some narrow life.
In his imagination man was meant to
            hold the oceans, wide
But he now lives in little bubbles, protected from both, time and tide.
Now our fair India shows these trends, why are
            we worried, you and me?
Muslim milk, and Jaini Jam, Sardarji nuts
and Hindu tea.
Let’s free ourselves of bogus priests,
            who make us quarrel for their gain
let’s fly with birds or hide in groves
            and trample on sweet sugarcane.)

This, free translation by Shanney of Josh Malihabadi is offered for improvements.

#             #             #             #