Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Million Arab Lives, Small Price For Freedom

Million Arab Lives, Small Price For Freedom
Saeed Naqvi

Just in case you did not know, Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar Assad are victims of a media war, relentless, no holds barred.

I am making this observation with a degree of authority because I returned last week from Damascus, Ham’a, Homs and vast Syrian spaces in between in searing 45°. As for Libya, well, I have been there earlier.

Some months ago, when David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy were salivating at Libyan oil, the International Herald Tribune published a cartoon.

A group of hatted Europeans are sipping Campari under an umbrella. Uncle Sam, looking rather like a butler, says, “There is a fire raging next door”. The European grandees reply: “don’t just stand there; go put out the fire”.

Altruism is obviously at a discount when major fires, like the one in Libya, are to be put out. European leaders may be drooling at the sight of Libyan light crude, but all their representatives, flying in from Malta to Benghazi, have been trumped by the visit to Libyan opposition leaders by Jeff Feltman, US envoy and expert on Middle East. Americans are not likely to loosen their grip on Energy resources.

The ultimate compliment to Feltman came from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah after Israeli reversal in the 2006 Lebanon war. The government of Fouad Siniora, installed with American help was called the “Feltman Government” by Nasrallah. The label was adopted by Lebanese opposition groups.

The US ambassador to Syria, Robert Stephen Ford is no mean operator either. He has been travelling around the country with the audacity of a Special Forces stuntman in diplomatic guise. His visit to Ham'a, a Salafist center, along with the French Ambassador, in early Ramadan created conditions for some frightful rioting against the regime. The army retaliated, killing 75.

Just when the Bashar Assad establishment was seething with rage, last week Ford decided to poke his fingers in the regime’s eye by turning up in Darr’a, another trouble spot where the variety of Muslims in bad odour with the west are up in arms against Assad. But there is no ambiguity in Ford’s mission: he had gone to boost the morale of exactly the variety who, two months ago, had come out on the streets across the border in Jordan, brandishing their swords and demanding Shariah.

But has anyone seen that story? Ofcourse not, because stories about human rights in any monarchy in West Asia are taboo by edict of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on whose coffers an economically declining West has its eye. Only Republican dictatorships are in the line of fire. And towards this end the media has been deployed – BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and Al Arabia, the last two represent the Monarchies (Saudi Arabia and Qatar) now in the coalition of the willing, (Israel is the silent partner) in a blistering media assault on Assad’s regime. Mission Libya, in their perception, is as good as accomplished.

After the Darr’a visit, the Syrian cabinet got into a huddle. Should the meddlesome US ambassador be shown the door? There were divisions in the highest leadership. Ford stays on. Assad knows his clout. When John Negroponte was US ambassador to Iraq, Ford was his deputy. The Pentagon confirmed to Newsweek in 2005, that the two masterminded “hit squads of Kurdish and Shia fighters to target leaders of the Iraqi insurgency”. Negroponte described Ford as “one of those very tireless people…..who, didn’t mind putting on his flak jacket and helmet and going out of the Green Zone to meet contacts”. And now his genius is being put to good use in Syria.

It is universally accepted that disinformation is part of warfare. But who is the Assad regime at war with? In imitation of the choreography in Libya, an impression is sought to be created that the Alawite dominated regime is brutalizing the majority Sunni population.

To amplify this image, totally fabricated stories are being flashed on Al Jazeera, Al Arabia, BBC and CNN. “I have seen with my own eyes,” says a lady hosting some Indian friends, “how arms are being smuggled from Turkey in my hometown, Aleppo, given to the rebels but the subsequent violence is being blamed on the regime”. The lady is a scarf wearing Sunni.

Non Arab ambassadors visited the coastal town of Latakia to verify reports of “heavy shelling from the sea”. Persistent questioning of a cross section of people revealed that no shelling had ever taken place.

Journalists on a tour of Ham’s were shown the police station from where seventeen people, including policemen, were pulled out, beheaded and their bodies thrown in the nearby river. However macabre the story, it gets no play because it is a narrative of the government which is in the west’s line of fire.

The story of “mass graves” in Darr’a makes headlines on BBC and CNN even though inquiries made by embassies reveal that the burial of five members of a family (intra family vendetta) had been exaggerated as “mass graves”, resulting from an army crackdown.

But how is the media circumventing censorship? The New York Times says that “the Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy ‘shadow’ internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.”

Really, what some people will not do for freedom. A million deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and heaven knows how many more to follow in Syria, and wherever else, is but small sacrifice to keep the flame of freedom burning eternally and all flames need fuel.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Anna, Home-Grown-Terror, Sonia’s Health And Other Stories

Anna, Home-Grown-Terror, Sonia’s Health And Other Stories
Saeed Naqvi

Given the media’s preferences, Anna Hazare will, in the foreseeable future, obscure other stories which may be equally important.

An edit page cartoon in the Hindu shows Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaning hard against a cupboard, trying to hold back skeletons. He is pointing at the opposition: “there are skeletons in your cupboard!”

This at a time when Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal issue was threatening to overshadow the monsoon session of Parliament.

The skeletons the Prime Minister is trying to hide are, presumably, corruption cases on a magnitude which have already sent Union ministers and others in that league to jail. But what skeletons is Manmohan Singh pointing out in the opposition cupboard?

For the first time ever, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, admitted in parliament that there “were indications of involvement of Indian module in the July 13, Mumbai blasts that killed 26 people.” Chidambaram continued: “we cannot live in denial; we cannot close our eyes to facts. There are home grown modules.”

What is it that we have been living in denial of? Only when the media takes its eyes off the Anna movement can this frightening story be brought into focus. Even a cursory investigation suggests that the Indian Mujahideen generally blamed for acts of terror since 2008 are actually the “home grown modules” Chidambaram is talking about. At some appropriate moment, for wider credibility, Anna may wish to take this one up too.

According to one of the country’s leading experts on terrorism, Wilson John of the Observer Research Foundation, atleast a dozen major terror attacks since the Uttar Pradesh serial blasts of November 2007, have been linked to Indian Mujahideen who, it turns out, may be these “home grown modules” linked to right wing terror.

Wilson John is candid: “if a fraction of what has appeared in the media about Indian Mujahideen is anywhere near the truth, then we are in for serious trouble – we have a terrorist group capable of networking across this vast country, one which can recruit, train and carry out attacks at will as if intelligence agencies and police forces and a host of federal agencies are either incompetent or complicit.”

The other story that must await its turn to be brought into focus is Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s health and the effect it will have on the Congress succession. Ofcourse the Gandhi family’s privacy has to be respected but the family would be well advised to end speculation. The Congress party could issue regular health bulletins if she is seriously unwell or to make one urgent statement on her health if she is recovering. The calmness with which Rahul Gandhi proceeded to Pune in aftermath of the police firing showed a certain unflappability, that Mrs. Gandhi’s health did not seem to weigh on him.

A spoiler for Anna and his cohorts could well be the fourth cricket test between India and England at the Oval, particularly if, by some miracle, India begins to look good. Principal anchors will then have to wait for custom with their Anna packages while the viewers will have defected to Star Cricket in droves. Rains could also ruin the Anna’s TV potential.

By accident or design, team Anna has hit the political jackpot. He has truck exactly the chord with the people, urban middle class particularly (exactly the one most taken in by the shining India illusion) because he provides them relief from a sense of helplessness in the face of rising prices which in popular perception are jumbled up with rampaging corruption.

The insensitive even cockey handling of Anna by the Congress leadership absolutely justifies the Mail Today banner headline, across two pages: “Cong a Rudderless Ship Minus Sonia”.

When Sonia Gandhi was in control she generally turned to the experience and sagacity of Pranab Mukherjee for all firefighting operations. But just when all political skill was required to handle Anna, the Finance Minister was nowhere to be seen. Nor was the quartet authorized to look after party affairs in her absence – A. K. Antony, Ahmad Patel, Janardan Dwivedi, Rahul Gandhi. A pity the Prime Minister’s apparent absence from issues of political salience is not even noticed these days – except by the opposition to score debating points.

How the Anna phenomena plays itself out is not clear. Should he run out of steam, middle class disappointment will be enormous with unpredictable consequences. The Congress, with luck, must have its leader back soon or, in the alternative, find some way to keep together the flock which has grown accustomed to the apotheosis of a family. A simple way is to hold party elections, never attempted after the Tirupati session of the Congress in 1993.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ramadan Fast for Swami Agnivesh, Lord Meghnad Desai

Ramadan Fast for Swami Agnivesh, Lord Meghnad Desai
Saeed Naqvi

It was an extraordinary group of five that turned up at Delhi’s Jama Masjid at 3.30am last week for “Saheri”, or the last meal before the day’s fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Saheri derives from Saher which means dawn.

Only those in the vicinity of mosques make it a congregational affair. And, when the mosque happens to be one of the world’s great monuments, Jama Masjid, people sometimes travel long distances to participate in this remarkable confluence of faith and aesthetics. The incentive to visit the area multiplies because of several well known restaurants, particularly Karim’s renowned for a special fare during Ramadan – Nihari, mutton cooked all night on slow fire and paya, or goat’s trotters, with “khamiri” roti or leavened bread.

These may sound like mouth watering delicacies but not when one of us happens to be an Arya Samaji, acute vegetarian, Swami Agnivesh, from head to toe in his elegant saffron outfit. (I carried home cooked vegetables for him.) Others in the group were Lord Meghnad Desai, a Nagar Brahmin from Gujarat, now member of the House of Lords who was in the reckoning to be the Speaker plus a Distinguished Professor at the London School of Economics. His wife, Kishwar Ahluwalia a Sikh by origin, a writer and their daughter, Mallika, who has just completed her Masters in Politics at Harvard and wishes to plunge headlong into Indian politics – an eclectic group, you would say.

My qualifications as a Ramadan guide would be quite as suspect as Ghalib’s would have been. Asked by a magistrate to declare his religion, Ghalib said: “I am half a Muslim”. The puzzled law officer asked him to clarify. “I drink but I do not eat pork!” In his letters, he is frank about his attitude to fasts. “I keep the fast mollified – a piece of bread here, a gulp of water there”.

Let me place on record the fact the each one of the group except Meghnad (he had to travel) actually fasted that day in exactly the sort of spirit that many of us participate in Deepawali, Holi or Christmas. The simple compact is: your religion exhudes a culture which decorates my spaces too and the other way around!

Every Ramadan, I visit Jama Masjid with family and non Muslim friends in pursuit of a singular purpose. This is my small contribution towards making ourselves aware of the apartheid system in which we live. Apartheid, as we know from South Africa and Rhodesia, means separate development.

In South Africa, apartheid, consisted in parceling Whites, Indians and African Blacks in totally separate compartments. It was in Lenasia, the prosperous exclusively Indian township (two swimming pools per bungalow were not unknown) that I first learnt how comfortable Indians can be with this kind of separation.

Jayant Patil, a Lenasia businessman, told me in 1992 (on TV) that apartheid was “good” because it “helps us keep the race pure”. How would Mahatama Gandhi, who spent 21 years in South Africa, have reacted?

This annual ritual was triggered by an incident in Allahabad. I was jolted out of my shoes during a lecture to a group of youth during communal tensions in Allahabad soon after Babari Masjid was demolished. I asked for the Hindus in the group to raise their hands. Half the hands went up. I asked how many had Muslim friends. Not one. I asked the remainder, all Muslims, if anyone of them had ever seen a “tulsi” (Holy Basil) plant in a traditional Hindu courtyard. Not one had.

Does it not resemble apartheid? In fact, it appears to me to be even more pernicious because here separation has not been imposed. It has evolved voluntarily.

Living in separate compartments, it is so easy for popular imagination to conjure up ogres, one about the other, during periods of stress. Worse than a negative image, however, is total disinterest in each other. This disinterest, at the level of governance, becomes benign neglect of the disadvantaged group, in this case Muslims.

What was the profit from this group’s visit to Jama Masjid. Well, we saw warm, smiling, hospitable people. Declining quality of cuisine. Total lack of any civic contribution to a sense of décor or cleanliness. It were not just the grimy streets, but even the wide stairs leading upto an ill kept gate opening onto a jewel of a monument, one of the very best in the world. History is being lost as the number of visitors, both Indian and foreign, decline in direct proportion to the squalor on the pavements.

There clearly has to be a muscular “Jama Masjid-in-Ramadan-Committee” to take responsibility for lights, cleanliness, and general ambience. The Lt. Governor and Chief Minister must atleast visit the area to see what they can do.

As for corroding the apartheid system, Swami Agnivesh and others were quick to latch onto a social engineering idea the late Basheer Hussain Zaidi spelt out. “Let every Muslim family in the country find a corresponding Hindu one (and vice versa) as a friend to be visited every month – not just for a meal but even such serious consultation as fixing the date for the daughter’s wedding.”

I know this language is syrupy nonsense to most today, but not to Swami Agnivesh.

Incidentally, is uninstitutional apartheid not part of the problem behind the current violence in Britain?

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Where Has It Fled, That Arab Spring?

Where Has It Fled, That Arab Spring?
Saeed Naqvi

If Macbeth is a tragedy of ambition, the last scenes of the Hosni Mubarak saga in Egypt are ending as melodrama on that theme. It is pitiable pathos. There was nothing heroic about Mubarak, essential for a great tragedy.

A fallen dictator, wheeled in on a stretcher, placed before TV cameras in a large, iron cage: it was cunning choreography.

Cunning because it divided the people between those rejoicing at Mubarak’s disgrace and those who have lived in three decades of dictatorial patronage. There was symbolism in the clashes which erupted between rival groups outside the court house.

A nation so divided is unlikely to arrive at an early consensus on a Constitution or candidates for Parliament or the Presidential Palace. Meanwhile, who should hold the fort? The Armed Forces Supreme Council, ofcourse. This was the body given the reins after Mubarak announced his resignation on February 11, 2011.

And who handed them the baton? Vice President, Omar Suleiman, Head of Intelligence, incharge of America’s extensive “rendition” programme, transporting terror suspects to the choicest torture destinations, of which the one he himself ran has yielded such macabre stories as to make one’s hair stand. Where is he? If Mubarak’s court appearance is the beginning of a process, surely Omar Suleiman should also make an appearance in a cage some day? If not, he will one day take over the cage.

Those who have handled “renditions” or messed with Western Intelligence agencies, generally recede from public view – Omar Suleiman, Libya’s Moussa Koussa or nearer home, Pervez Musharraf, who lost his job after the determined Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry pushed him to reveal details about “missing persons”, a euphemism for Pakistan’s role in renditions. Pakistan’s enthusiastic participation in rendition is one of the reasons why the Afghan Taleban are so allergic to an enhanced Pakistani role in the Afghan Endgame which, as I have said repeatedly, is in any case not taking place anytime soon.

In recent days, there has been something of a buzz in Cairo that elections may be postponed. If true, this fact itself will place a construct on the Cairo Court drama. The army will have demonstrated the lengths to which it can go to punish Mubarak and his coterie. With this credit, the Army can buy some more time to stay in power. Then some more time, then more until engulfing tumult makes the Army indispensable for a while!

Washington, Jerusalem, Riyadh and Europe would be comfortable with this delay. September is the month when the UN General Assembly in New York may be required to consider a vote on the state of Palestine. To have such an emotive issue in the vortex of Egypt’s electoral politics is to tilt the outcome in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood which is already being played up as a bogey – illogically, because in dictatorships the only political ventilators are the mosques. In these circumstances to pose the Brotherhood as the bearded ogre is to obstruct movement away from the dreaded Mubarak years.

The gentle Arab spring is a long way behind the region which has entered a phase of unprecedented turbulence, conflict and worse. In Libya, some European leaders are about to eat crow, not the best dish in Ramadan. The west wants Qaddafi’s head on a platter even though there is no provision for a Salome “nautch” in UNSC 1973. A prankster even in adversity, Qaddafi is now fielding his son Saif al Islam to tweak Europe’s nose. “We shall have an alliance with the radical Islamists” and make Libya look like Iran and Saudi Arabia. How can David Cameron and Sarkozy go down on their knees and plead “No, no, not like Iran and the Saudis”.

How can the west criticize the Saudis who are looking more muscular than them (for the moment) dictating the script in the region against Shia Iran. “Saudis are spreading a sectarian conflict in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon”, says Ahmad Chalabi, once candidate for Iraqi premiership.

Events in Syria, particularly Hama, are not encouraging despite a visit to the blighted town by the US and French Ambassadors. Dr. Fayssal al Mekdad, Syrian Vice Minister of Foreign Affair told S.M. Krishna in New Delhi that Saudi King Abdullah was keen for stability in Syria which was only possible if there was no power vacuum in Damascus. Does President Bashar Assad’s continuance forestall such a power vacuum, Hama massacres notwithstanding? As rotational president of UN Security Council, India “condemned” widespread abuse of Human Rights in Syria but urged for an “inclusive and Syrian led political process”. The Lebanese representative at the UN, Caroline Ziade’s vote was a caricature of Lebanon’s position. She accepted the Indian draft but refused to vote. On the west’s behalf, “willing to wound and yet afraid to strike”. She could not have abandoned the club of growing relevance: India, China, Brazil, Russia.

Americans destroyed the Ba’ath Party in Iraq creating vast spaces for the Al Qaeda. Have they now concluded that the Al Qaeda is preferable to the Ba’ath and the “murderous” Alawites. Should Al Qaeda find its feet in Syria, (says this absurd logic) it would be one force that could ram into the Hezbullah in Lebanon!

All the Kings, Potentates and Dictators in the region must have watched with a sense of foreboding the image of Mubarak looking supine and helpless. The last scene in the melodrama should have these grandees in a scrum. The song in the background (to revert to Macbeth) could be sung in American, English and French accents:

“For a charm of powerful trouble
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Shaping The Mind of The Oslo Killer

Shaping The Mind of The Oslo Killer
Saeed Naqvi

Anders Behring Breivik’s monstrous act in Oslo is another leak in the sewer of Islamophobia, anti Marxist fanaticism and worse which runs through the western sub stratum and breaks out into open every now and then.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy terrorized America in the 50’s with his anti communist witch hunt. But there was sufficient muscle in American liberalism of that era to throw up a journalist like Edward Murrow of CBS News who took on McCarthy and almost single handedly created conditions for the Congressional Committee chaired by the Senator, the singular forum for the witch hunt, to be wound up.

If Breivik’s atrocity were a result of some home grown, Norwegian affliction, then I am certain (I have some knowledge of Norway and have met Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in Oslo) it would have been arrested well before it went over the edge. Indeed, the local media would never have created an environment in which such minds are shaped. In this it is not a solely Norwegian event. It can happen anywhere. Breivik’s is a globalized affliction, conditioned in the hot house of global 24X7 media. Murrow could take on McCarthy frontally in the local arena, without any globalized obstruction.

Breivik is the creature of the Murdoch press which has throttled the Murrows of this world. His mind set would synchronize perfectly with Bill O’Reilly’s the famous anchor of Fox News. The coverage of American military action in Afghanistan in November 2001 would have been orgasmic for Breivik. The channel’s star correspondent, Geraldo Rivera, whips out a weapon: “I would shoot him, if I could lay my eyes on Osama Bin Laden!”

In both, vocabulary and image, the agenda pushed by the Murdoch press (and, by infection, others including CNN and BBC) nursed and manufactured the Breivik mind by the sheer incantation of hyped anti Muslim-Marxist hysteria.

In the 60s, Protestant triumphalism of the Orange Marches were disrupted by Roman Catholics and Rev. Ian Paisley was taking up cudgels for Protestants and Unionists by spewing venom on the Pope. Across the Atlantic, Americans were mourning the death of their first Roman Catholic President, John F. Kennedy. It was in everybody’s interest to confine the intra-Christian quarrel to Ireland. In any event, there was no global media in existence then, except BBC radio, a useful colonial habit. The global media made its entrē as part of the triumphalism that the collapse of the Soviet Union brought in its wake.

The first major event covered by the new global media was Operation Desert Storm, Iraq, in February 1991. If Breivik was in his impressionable years then, he would have seen Saddam Hussain painted as a latter day Hitler, barbarous, invader of a neighbouring country, oppressor of his people. A young Nordic mind would celebrate Western triumph. The entire Muslim world – among a host of others – would internalize the outcome differently, as if from the opposite side of the trench.

Is there a hesitation to mention Christian or Hindu terrorists when Muslim names are mentioned as possible perpetrators within hours of the attack? The first scenario sketched by Stratfor after the Oslo outrage dwelt on Muslim terror. A trademark image of Muslim terrorism became vast congregations bowing in prayer. Bush Senior knelt in prayer all night with Rev. Billy Grahame on the eve of that messianic mission, Operation Desert Storm or George W. Bush before the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq: on TV these would have looked too much like medieval crusades. Bush Jr. restrained himself by simply mentioning “crusade” to describe his mission.

In this, too, the global media and its imitative appendage, the Indian media, have played their part. That which is known as the Bosnian war actually began with Serbian attack on Croatian positions – part of an ancient Orthodox Church and Catholic Church conflict. Bosnian Muslims were initially squeezed in the middle. But how did the global media cover the war? It consistently described the conflict as one between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. The Christian denominations were completely hidden from view. And the manner in which Europe kept aloof from the brutalities visited upon the Bosnian Muslims, day after day for full four years on live TV, Sebrenica and all, created conditions for Islamism to grow in Turkey, which has historical memories of Bosnia, and its lethal opposite number – the mind of a lonesome, psychopathic, confused young man in Oslo, making the Klu Klux Klan look like a moderate idea. It is frightening that the fascist badge he wore was designed in Varanasi?

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