Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cause And Cure For Muslim Anger Resides In US

Cause And Cure For Muslim Anger Resides In US

                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

It is a paradox, ofcourse, that rampaging anti Americanism in the Muslim world can eventually be controlled only by the very target of Muslim rage – the United States. In other words calm will not descent unless the Washington establishment gets into a scrum, once it is free of such distractions as the US Presidential Elections.

And distractions are legion. To begin with the US has to once again lead its trans Atlantic friends to face the looming reality of Western decline. There are the reckless in its ranks who would point to Western revival after the two great wars.

Remember, the US economy crested at 50 percent of the world’s GDP in 1945, after the second war, they will say. This extreme school, nursing visions of Armageddon, is fortunately circumscribed by pragmatists.

Many in the West regret the manner in which a great opportunity was lost after the fall of the Berlin wall. Instead of working towards a prosperous, humane order, the West allowed itself to be fitted into a straight jacket of triumphalism by oil companies and giant corporates, and marched into Operation Desert Storm, Iraq, bugles et al.

Bugles, it turns out, were the global channels, led by CNN, followed by BBC world service, TV exactly two months later.

The problematic Muslim world was being brought into focus as early as the 70s and 80s after 1973 quadrupling of Arab oil prices, TWA hijack etc. But technology for live telecast of wars had not been perfected. This happened with Operation Desert Storm in January 1991.

Amplification of Western triumph as the theme acquired a life of its own on the newly born global TV. Understandably, that which came across as triumph for non Muslim audiences, registered as Arab humiliation in the Muslim world. The divide became sharper with the two Intefadas, brutalization of Bosnian Muslims for four years without a break, the post 9/11 occupation of Afghanistan, occupation of Iraq, destruction of Libya (Syria is in the works), sanctions on Iran, an unbroken list of double standards if you consider Bahrain or Saudi Arabia itself, the mindless collateral damage caused by Drone attacks – an image in the Muslim mind of America gone berserk, and in exercise of brute power. Blind too.

For years it was clear to everyone but Americans: devoutly religious Afghans, seething with rage at countless acts like the burning of the Quran in Bagram, marines urinating on dead Afghans, night raids to humiliate a people who value their pride above all else, and worse, that in this atmosphere, American officers would train 3,50,000 Afghan troops and that these “trained” Afghans would not turn their muskets on their trainers? I am surprised that “Green-upon-Blue” did not take place earlier.

And now, just imagine the situation: US officers train Afghan soldiers wearing full armour, visor et al! If only it were not so horrendously tragic, the scene has all the accoutrements of a comic anti-war film.

Ofcourse, Muslims, smarting under an unbroken litany of defeats and humiliation atleast since 1492 when the last Muslim ruler departed from Andalusia, are in no state of mind to balance their response to any provocation – deliberate or accidental.

The instrument for these provocations is the global media – and its internet – variant. These instruments have been callous, even malicious in their focus on Muslims.

Gradually, the West will realize what a priceless asset it has compromised in this process. What with the lies told by the Western media during operations in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan. Never in history has the so called global liberal media been so bereft of credibility. James Reston, Anthony Lewis and William Safire in their era were respected because they based their columns on information that no one else had.

After the fall of the Berlin wall, American op-ed pages were cluttered with attitudes, columnists acting as cheer leaders for Baghdad’s green zone or Kabul’s Bagram. Nothing, ofcourse, could match Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera, aiming a revolver at the camera, demonstrating how exactly he would shoot Osama bin Laden! (It must be added, in parenthesis, that British media has been vastly more professional.)

As I said, the Muslim world will be calmed by a less hyper US. To begin with, its media will have to recover its élan which it has surrendered in motivated journalism. To calm nerves an independent, bipartizan media is required.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Ghaziabad Whodunnit

The Ghaziabad Whodunnit

                                            Saeed Naqvi

Since Muslims across the world are in anguished agitation, I decided to take a short drive from New Delhi, along National Highway 24 to Ghaziabad’s Dasna village leading to the Masoori police station, where six Muslim youth were shot dead by a nervous police on the evening of September 14, three days after the tragedy in Libya.

Ghazi, which means warrior, is common to both: Benghazi and Ghaziabad. This quaint detail is attributable to an earlier spurt of globalization in the medieval period.

Benghazi erupted on 9/11 when US ambassador and his three fellow Americans were killed by a mob after an anti Muslim video, produced in the US, was aired on YouTube. Gradually, uncontrollable rage enveloped the entire Muslim world.

The producers of the film must be pleased at the effectiveness of their mischief. There were the expected expressions of anger in parts of India too, which is host to the world’s second largest Muslim population. Apparently, to boost local anger, pages of the Quran were desecrated near Ghaziabad.

I am not for a moment suggesting a common authorship for the troubles in Benghazi and Ghaziabad. What I am saying is this: the black mood which had spread far and wide because of the video was taken advantage of. That is where pages of the Quran, with “pig” scribbled on one of them, enter the narrative. Mysteriously, in one corner of the “desecrated” page is scribbled a mobile phone number which confuses but leads nowhere.

Behind the Masoori police station, which serves 33 villages, a “bazaar” (village market) is held every Friday. September 14, Friday, was no different. The bazaar did brisk business during the day. By evening, say about 5.00 pm, when shoppers were returning home, a whisper went around Masoori that someone had thrown torn pages of the Quran from a moving train: covering the entire stretch from Ghaziabad to Moradabad. Most of this turned out to be gross exaggeration.

I met nobody who had actually seen these pages. Nor had those I spoke to met anyone who had set eyes on the dreadful piece of evidence.

The Chairman of Dasna Municipality, Sajid Hussain, 6.4 feet, lanky, like a retired fast bowler, narrates the nightmare he lived through. He speaks almost in a daze. Holding his head in both his hands, he mutters: “Yes, I saw the desecrated page very briefly at the police station because I was distracted by the mob.”

Behind Sajid Hussain’s office is the mosque of the adjacent village of Rafiqabad. Someone, who is mysteriously anonymous, brought the pages of the Quran to Abdul Qadir, “Muezzin” (one who calls the faithful to pray) of the mosque. Accompanied by a posse of devotees, Qadir turned up at the Masoori police station, shaking with rage. He announced he had come to file an official complaint. The crowd meanwhile was rapidly transforming itself into a mob. And the mob grew exponentially in size from “Asr” to “Maghreb”, the two congregational prayers, one in late afternoon and the other at dusk.

Sajid Hussain stands up, stretching both his hands which nearly touch the ceiling. “Calls were being given at all the village mosques asking the congregations to rush to the Masoori police station.” That is how the crowd swelled. He then screams into the air: “Who has given them so much power, these Imams of mosques?” And when the situation goes out of control “You expect the secular leadership to douse the flames?”

Earlier when the SHO asked Qadir to let him have the pages of the Quran so he can attach it or make a copy of it for the FIR, Qadir refused. The Quran would become “unclean” if the SHO handled it. Was not that particular page from the Quran already “desecrated”? After all, that specifically was Qadir’s complaint. Moreover anyone can buy a copy of the Quran from bookshops. Qurans thus sold become unclean? I tried looking for Qadir but he remained elusive.

By 6.30 pm DM, ADM, every acronym in the administrative and police catalogue are crammed into one small complaints room from where they all crawl into the “khazana” or the Strong room to protect themselves.

“Reinforcements please” shouts the SP into the telephone, repeatedly “Or, we will be killed.” The mob has held up traffic on NH24, blocking reinforcements, he is told. As the mob, by now in thousands, surges towards the room, setting fire to vehicles in the way, the ADM orders the constable with his finger on the trigger. “Fire in the air.” The constable pulls the trigger. Nothing happens. He shouts “Bandook kharab hai”, (the gun doesn’t fire). Where is the armoury? There is no armoury, just one more .303 rifle. Encouraged by a virtually unarmed police station, the mob breaks the door.

ADM orders the police to fire from the solitary gun in its possession into the crowd. Youngsters, at least three including bystanders, are shot in the head. Three more die of excessive bleeding.

On the way back, I see armed police in several villages, a scary over correction by the administration. Just off NH24 some youngsters, seated on a cot, are sipping tea. This is politics, they say. In the assembly segments, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party did better than Samajwadi Party in recent elections. Culprits apparently wanted a communal riot. “But we did not fall for the bait”, they point to Rajiv Gupta, seated with them. In fact he owns the tea stall. “Inshallah, we, in the villages around Dasna and Masoori will never allow a communal riot.” The “villains” may have planned for a communal riot, but the situation on the ground in Qasbahs and villages is quite different: Rajiv Gupta and Haji Shaukeen pitted against the administration! But this is the picture probably only in the villages. Don’t forget, the MP from Ghaziabad is BJP’s Rajnath Singh: intricacies of first past of the post system.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Libya, Lucknow, Gopalgarh: Radio Coverage Would Have Clarified More

Libya, Lucknow, Gopalgarh: Radio Coverage Would Have Clarified More
                                                                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

There is a delusion that the communications explosion has widened our understanding of global and local affairs. Quite the contrary has in fact happened. There is a cluttering of images, cris-crossing and gathering into a undecipherable knot.

I offer three different stories this week for scrutiny. Take the Libyan tragedy, for instance. We all know that US ambassador Christopher Stevens was attacked and killed in Benghazi along with his three other colleagues. But how did he die? In a car or in the Consulate building? What was hit by rocket launchers, the car or the building? Terrorists with rocket launchers in the middle of a crowd near the Consulate? Where was the multilayered security? Why in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of 9/11? Is Tripoli not yet safe enough?

Al Jazeera brings into focus a vault with a full size door. The reporter points to the door, with a key hole. “This is where Chris Stevens was trapped.”  Trapped? Yes, because someone thought this was the place of utmost security against a howling, rampaging mob. Having securely locked Stevens in the vault, the man with the key actually became so disoriented (who knows, he may have been injured) that either he was taken away with the key or the key was lost in the melee.

Just imagine the young American ambassador, locked in a vault of which the key has been misplaced. Did the rocket pierce the wall from the rear? How was he choked by the smoke?

Now, this is Al Jazeera’s version of Benghazi. As the priest asks in Roshomon, “what is the truth?”

There are two other stories I have been monitoring, both important. And in both instances my experience was the same: no information when one would have expected a glut of it.

You will agree that UP is the key state where Rahul Gandhi had staked his all but Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi party came up trumps?

Minorities were a big issue and, confounding everyone, 69 (sixty nine) Muslim candidates actually won the elections. You will agree that in the build up to the 2014 General Election these details will have to be diligently followed.

During June and July, the state went through municipal elections for 630 nagar nigams, nagar palika parishads, and nagar panchayats. Muslim share in the state population is 18.5 percent. If the community won proportionately as many seats, it would be a triumph of minority representation in elected bodies.

Guess what happened? The state election commission does not provide data on the basis of religions but names are an easy guide. It transpires that out of 11,816 seats, Muslims have won 3,681. This is 31.15 per cent of the seats!

Surely this startling piece of news should have been displayed prominently by all the major newspaper. This did not happen. Instead a teacher at Kanpur’s Christ Church College, A.K. Verma compiled the data which, as far as I can make out, only the Indian Express published. I owe every figure in my piece to Verma’s article. Where is the great news and communications explosion?

The third story I was following and on which too I drew a blank from our noisy press, was the anniversary of the Gopalgarh police firing on a congregation in a local mosque in September last year. This was the first ever police firing inside a mosque in India.

A delegation of Meo Muslims met Wajahat Habibullah of the Minorities Commission. He, in turn, navigated them towards Rahul Gnadhi who contacted Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Like Assam’s Tarun Gogoi, Gehlot has clearly acquiesced in the position that Muslims will not vote for him in any case. Who, pray, will they vote for?

While the debate continues, Rajasthan government has blocked the planned demonstration by imposing curfew and paying Rs.3 lakhs to the next of kin of the 10 killed in the mosque attack, a sort of hush money. A leader of the Meos, Zahida Khan was bought over by being given a cabinet rank job in Jaipur. But action against the alleged culprits was not taken. And none of it has been covered by the media even though Gopalgarh is two hours from Delhi.

These three instances expose media inadequacy despite an impression to the contrary.

What is the solution? I have always been a great votary of the Radio which, unlike TV, is not constrained by having to follow visual images. A radio anchor would have linked Benghazi to other parts of Libya, the Tuareg tribe who have crossed over to Chad, Niger, Mali, linking up with Salafists who desecrated Sufi shrines in Timbuktu – this wide canvas in a 20 minutes capsule.  On the other hand, a linkage could have been established by voice interviews, on the consequences of recent Western misadventures. Iraq, Libya, Syria were efficient, secular dictatorships which the West dismantled (it is at it, in Syria) to bring in Islamist anarchy which is roaming free and willing to strike as it did so viciously in Benghazi. I am keeping my fingers crossed on how the nasty film on the Prophet feeds on Anti Americanism which has erupted as Green-on-Blue in Afghanistan. The 3,50,000 Afghan troops trained by the American are emerging in the surprising profile of an enemy. Was it Kipling who said “never the T’wain shall meet”.

All of this stuff would lend itself brilliantly to radio news and analysis from the spot.

I remember my first day with Nelson Mandela in Archbishop Tutu’s Cape Town mansion. Within hours of his release from the nearby Victor Voerster Prison, Mandela was searching for his transistor to listen to BBC’s Africa Calling.

During the Sierra Leone’s Civil War, guns would fall silent for “Africa Calling”. Melville de Mello, Roshan Menon, Surajit Sen, Deoki Nandan Pandey were iconic images in our minds even though we only heard their voices. Yes, those were the days when Radio was king. It can be so with redoubled vigour since TV, and continue large sections of print, let us down repeatedly.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Priyanka And Rahul Rising Separately?

Priyanka And Rahul Rising Separately?

                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

The other day friends from my village in Mustafabad, Rae Bareli, turned up in our New Delhi house donning their finest Khadi. They said they were on their way to 10, Janpath because ten of the most “carefully selected” Congress leaders from Rae Bareli had been invited by Priyanka Gandhi to discuss the affairs of the country’s premier constituency.

According to them Priyanka has been given charge of Rae Bareli. This, because the party would not like to face in the coming Parliamentary elections the kind of drubbing the electorate handed them in the recent Assembly polls – zero out of five seats. In fact from the twin towns of Rae Bareli and Amethi, the Congress lost eight of the ten Assembly seats despite the fact that Rae Bareli happens to be Sonia Gandhi’s parliamentary seat, just as Amethi is Rahul Gandhi’s.

There could not have been a more resounding slap on the Congress face, exactly what was administered by the electorate accross UP, where Rahul had staked his prestige.

“There is a soul of goodness in all things evil”, says Shakespeare. But there is a “soul of goodness” only if “men observingly distil it out”. In other words the dismal results in UP could have been put to good use by shaking up the party. Nothing happened. The same professional losers are still running the show. For leaders to have the courage to discard dead wood they must be confident of their own hold on the people. The hold, alas, is only on a crafty coterie which provides the leader comfort by not being intellectually taxing and obsequiously hanging around like hardy cockroaches.

Forget UP, where there has been much sound and fury without any action. Even in Rae Bareli there has been no evidence of a decisive leadership.

Why has Priyanka been chosen to galvanize the party? Is it the decision of the Congress Working Committee? The Supreme leader? Or has Kishori Lal Sharma been allowed to trump everybody else?

Who, you might ask, is Kishori Lal Sharma? He came into focus as the side kick to Captain Satish Sharma, Rajiv Gandhi’s Indian Airlines friend, who took charge of the two contiguous constituencies. After Captain Sharma was retired, Kishori Lal Sharma has held the fort for the party continuously. In fact, on his watch the Fort has been collapsing, parapet by parapet.

The irony is that with every collapse of the structure, Kishori Lal Sharma’s control on the Congress in Rae Bareli and Amethi tightens that much more. What magic potion does he have? He it was who led the party workers from Rae Bareli into Priyanka’s presence at 10 Janpath on atleast two occasions in the past month. The next round is in Rae Bareli to be visited by Priyanka soon after the Monsoon session of Parliament. Congressmen in Rae Bareli have their fingers crossed just in case Robert Vadra, Priyanka’s husband, turns up on a mobike, like Easy Rider, to toss his hat in the dynastic ring. Remember how he declared his electoral rights on TV on the eve of February elections in the very heart of Rae Bareli.

For Priyanka’s arrival, Sharma is preparing the ground in the bungalow Sonia has built in Bhue-Mau, outside Rae Bareli. Here Sharma holds court, inviting block level Congress leaders for “interviews”. This itself is creating the sort of heartburn the high command in Janpath is probably not aware of. Many invited leaders are averse to making an appearance before a person whose links with the oldest party are very recent.

While the story has taken root that Priyanka will concentrate on the two seats of direct interest to her family, there is also an inexplicable absence of faith in her stamina to be able to remain focused.

I am sure she must have done the basic homework on the parish assigned to her. Her family’s affiliations with Rae Bareli derive from the fact that her grandfather, a brilliant parliamentarian, Feroz Gandhi (no relation of the Mahatma; indeed it was a traditional parsee name, Ghandi, in which ‘h’ was placed after ‘d’ to give it a purposive familiarity) fought the 1957 parliamentary election from here. Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi in that order inherited the seat. It is therefore not by some ancient divine right that the Gandhi siblings have an interest in Rae Bareli. In truth this is what they inherited from an illustrious, parsee grandfather. It is another matter that Rae Bareli has been part of the nationalist narrative ever since Mir Baqar and his companions were hanged from a tamarind tree for helping the rebels during the 1857 uprising. Priyanka might like to ask why has the tamarind tree made way for an electric pole outside the old court building? Since Rae Bareli is close to Allahabad, Motilal Nehru visited senior Congressmen like Mir Wajid Ali who was, like Motilal, a distinguished lawyer. They spent some years in jail together. Jawahar Lal Nehru first got involved in the peasant movement in Rae Bareli. The hero of the 1857 uprising, Raja Beni Madho from the area helped Begum Hazrat Mahal escape to Nepal.

To revert to current affairs, another rumour doing the rounds in the area is that, come mid September, Rahul Gandhi will assume responsibilities in the party as Executive Vice president. If it turns out to be a false alarm again, the harm done to the government will have been incalculable. Bureaucrats, demoralized, arms folded across the chests, watching the spectacle of a pulverized government, become that much more averse to decision making when speculation is given currency that the Son is about to rise. It devolves on the leadership to clarify whether or not there is any truth in the rumour.

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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Does Teheran Visit Indicate Correction Of A Tilt?

Does Teheran Visit Indicate Correction Of A Tilt?

                                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

Given the circumstances, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia could not have arranged for a higher level representation at the Non Aligned Summit in Teheran. His son, Deputy Foreign Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah, attended instead of the King who, according to the Royal Court in Riyadh, is out of the country for medical treatment. King Abdullah has already had major back surgeries in 2010 and 2011.

Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, who took over after Crown Prince Naef’s death in June, is himself ailing, as is Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal.

Prince Abdulaziz’s meeting with President Mahmud Ahmedinejad on the margins of the summit, presumably followed up on the understanding his father, King Abdullah, built with the high powered Iranian delegation led by Ahmedinejad to the August 14 Mecca Summit.

It was clearly not lost on the Indian delegation, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that some careless drafting at Mecca was not on evidence in Teheran. The Mecca Communiqué has a paragraph: Solidarity With Other Member States. It says “the Summit reaffirms its solidarity and full support for Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir etc…….” the Indian Spokesman, Saiyid Akbaruddin was sharp in his rebuttal: “There is an erroneous and factually incorrect mention about an integral part of India by the OIC…… This is wrong, unacceptable and we reject it.”

In its drafting, the OIC is a careless outfit. Postures struck decades ago are sometimes left uncorrected in documents. The Jammu and Kashmir gaffe at Mecca could be one such instance.

The real danger, ofcourse, has its sources in the way New Delhi adjusted to recent history. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, New Delhi developed an amnesia about the esteem in which it was held in all major West Asian capitals continuously since the days of Nehru.

A narrow-focus policy centered on Gulf remittances and oil was devised which bent New Delhi in one direction like the tower of Pisa. The GCC, Saudi Arabia, Israel and above all, the US, were all crucial but who said these relations would wither should India emerge in any profile on matters of moment if they were even remotely contentious. New Delhi’s acquiescence in Western Unilateralism, the West’s blaring amplification on the Right to Protect, funneling arms and money to help the opposition in Syria and so on.

The world was largely silent when India was being plagued by cross border terrorism in Kashmir since 1989. Shocking that we almost helped refine cross border terrorism in Syria by our topsy turvy UN votes.

Frankly, it seemed that Non Alignment in its earlier incarnation was our only outreach to the Muslim world. End of history having been written by Francis Fukiyama (some nerve) we had to make navigational corrections. But we did not merely change; we scrambled. It was an unseemly scramble too.

Prescient thinkers like Zbigniew Brzezinski had written exactly a decade before Lehman Brothers:
“In the long run, global politics are bound to become increasingly uncongenial to the concentration of hegemonic power in the hands of a single state. Hence, America is not only the first, as well as the only, truly global superpower, but it is also likely to be the very last……..

Economic power is also likely to become more dispersed. In the years to come, no single power is likely to reach the level of 30 percent or so of the world’s GDP that America sustained throughout much of this century, not to speak of the 50 percent at which it crested 1945.”

Given the rapidly shifting backdrop from the Berlin wall to what Joseph Stiglitz calls the West in Freefall, Dr. Manmohan Singh could not have found a better platform than at the Non Aligned Summit to steady himself, straighten the leaning tower. After all, the time he came on the global scene in 1990, more prominently in 2004, Non alignment lay in the dust bin.

Some Indian intellectuals, not without official nudge, put together a document in January 2012: Non Alignment: 2.0.

It was something of a debut for the Prime Minister at a non Aligned Summit which, he said in his speech, represents a “large majority” of mankind and which will be “a powerful force for the promotion of global peace”.

In his speech, the Prime Minister was direct – no dilly dallying as at UN votes: “We should urge all parties in Syria to recommit themselves to resolving the crisis peacefully through a Syria led inclusive political process.”

Since he is primarily more a man of consensus than of aggressive assertion, I believe his delegation must have collected inputs from important capitals like Riyadh before handing him the speech. My guess is that Riyadh is thawing towards Teheran. Saudis cannot be blind to the fact that rampaging sectarianism can in the long run, consume the Kingdom itself even as the right wing in Israel slaps its thighs and laughs its head off.

I am not for a moment suggesting that Syria will be allowed to lose its macabre, telegenic appeal until the Presidential elections in the US are over. Switch off the cameras on Syria, and the great Afghan Army, trained by the Americans will be shown turning viciously upon the trainers.

These very trainers have been promised by their President that they will return home by 2013-14. The new Green-on-Blue twist will become riveting fare, more gripping than any that the opposition can devise to embarrass the incumbent in search of a second term.

As for Egypt’s President Morsi: his arrival at the summit was for Iranian and generally pro Palestinian audiences; his speech on Syria was to keep his Muslim Brotherhood, soft Sunni flock, Washington, Riyadh and possibly Jerusalem in line.

“Sheikh bhi khush rahey
Shaitaan bhi naraaz na ho!”
(Keep the Pope and Satan equally pleased.)

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