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Islam and Politics ( 9 Sept 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Syrian Refugees’ New ‘Ummah’: New Age Islam’s Selection from Indian Press, 9 September 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

9 september 2015

S yrian Refugees’ New ‘Ummah’

By Javed Anand

 Corporate India Remain Stuck In The 1920s With Muslim Representation Even As It Unfurls Its Global Ambitions

By Pyaralal Raghavan

 A Borderless World: Whether It’s Manipur Or Europe, Shutting Doors To ‘Outsiders’ Is Poisonous Not Profitable

 From City Of Remembrance To City Of Hope

Rakesh Sood



Syrian Refugees’ New ‘Ummah

Javed Anand

Sep 09, 2015

...thousands of Muslims are fleeing the ‘abode of Islam’, seeking shelter in the land of ‘infidels’... As Ziauddin Sardar says: ‘Ummah does not mean the global community of Muslims; it means the global community of the compassionate, religion and race no bar.’

Daddy, please don’t die!” three-year-old Aylan had pleaded with his father as Abdullah Kurdi struggled unsuccessfully to save his two children and wife from drowning in the Aegean Sea. In the end, daddy didn’t die. But he could not keep his family afloat.

Images of little Aylan’s body lying face down on a beach in Turkey now haunts the world just as the iconic image of a terror-struck little girl from My Lai in Vietnam, her “napalmed” body aflame, did half a century earlier. It’s no longer possible for decent folks anywhere to pretend ignorance of the colossal humanitarian crisis that has hit the Arab world.

Abdullah Kurdi’s desperate bid to take his family out of war-ravaged Syria ended in a gut-wrenching tragedy. Yet, left with little choice, hundreds of thousands of Muslims continue to vote with their feet. From Syria mostly but also from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, even Iran, they are fleeing the conflict-torn regions of Darul Islam (abode of Islam), seeking safety and shelter in the land of Christians and “infidels”.

With the resources of neighbouring Turkey (1.8 million refugees), Lebanon (1.2 million) and Jordan (over 600,000 refugees) over-stretched, the hapless refugees are risking their lives hoping to find a new home somewhere in Europe: Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, UK, wherever. Anywhere, ironically, except in the afloat-on-petro dollars Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and UAE in their immediate neighbourhood.

You could ask many legitimate questions: Why did baby Aylan have to die for Europe to recognise that too many people have died? How long will the crisis of conscience last before the anti-immigrant xenophobes come howling down the streets of Europe? Why is the king of Saudi Arabia unmoved and the super-rich sheikhs of the Gulf region unshaken even now? Are the leaders of the Western world cynically encouraging the mass migration of refugees from Syria to create a political climate where the need to “take out” Syrian dictator President Bashar al-Assad becomes a matter of “common sense”?

You could ask these questions or you could suspend reason for a few minutes and listen with your heart.

Listen, to the charity workers and volunteers in Vienna (Austria), Munich (Germany) and elsewhere chanting: “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here.” There’s hot tea and bed for the exhausted men and women. For the refugee children there are candies and stuffed toys too.

Listen, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “The right to political asylum has no limits on the number of asylum seekers. Germany won’t say no to any asylum seeker”.

Listen to Pope Francis, issuing a call during his Sunday Angelus prayer: “Every Catholic parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe should accommodate one family, beginning with my diocese of Rome.” The Vatican he says will house two refugee families.

Listen to the Finnish Prime Minister, Juha Sipila, and his wife, telling refugees: “Take my home.”

Listen to Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, saying: “I am overwhelmed with messages from people across Scotland saying they would be happy to give a home to somebody fleeing Syria.” Listen to her adding that she would be “absolutely happy” to share her official residence — Bute House, the 18th-century Edinburgh townhouse — with a refugee family.

Listen, to British musician Bob Geldof saying he feels “profound shame” over the response to the refugee crisis, and promising he will put up refugee families in his houses in London and Kent. Listen, to British Labour Party leadership hopeful Yvette Cooper offering to share his home too with those forced to flee their own.

Listen, to the message on the placard of a little girl leading a pro-refugee march in Cambridge (UK) last week: “Cameron, please don’t let any more of my little friends drown in the sea”. Listen next to the otherwise reluctant British Prime Minister David Cameron forced to announce his government’s plans to accept more refugees in his country.

Listen, to the football club Real Madrid announcing a one million euro donation for refugees seeking asylum in Spain, and hint that it could be looking for a little boy (like Aylan?) among the Syrian refugees to train him to one day play for it.

Listen, to Patrick Cockburn, veteran journalist and author of The Rise of Islamic State: “The hundreds of thousands of poor and huddled masses who wish to flee further from their tormentors are not sailing in leaking boats to where you might expect them to go — to the ‘ummah’, to Islam’s beating heart, to the land where the Prophet lived and where he received the word of God. No, the destitute of the Middle East are not heading for Saudi Arabia, the wealthy kingdoms of the Gulf, to pray for help from the builders of great mosques and the Keepers of Holy Places”.

Listen also to a Kuwaiti official, Fahad Al Shalami, explaining why the refugees are not heading in their direction: “Kuwait and other Gulf Co-operation Council countries are too valuable to accept any refugees. Our countries are only fit for workers. It’s too costly to relocate them here. Kuwait is too expensive for them anyway. As opposed to Lebanon or Turkey which are cheap. They are better suited for the Syrian refugees. In the end, it is not right for us to accept a people that are different from us. We don’t want people that suffer from internal stress and trauma in our country”.

Why are the refugees heading towards Europe?

Again Patrick Cockburn says: “It’s not because they want to scrounge on our generosity... I think they know that, deep beneath our carapace of cynicism and materialism and our lack of religious faith, the idea of humanism is alive in Europe and that we can be decent, good, thoughtful, honest people”.

The oil-rich kings and sheikhs may not want any refugees in their midst, but the folks in Iceland (total population 329,100) certainly do. Listen to the message from over 13,000 Icelander members of a newly launched Facebook group, “Syria is calling”: “Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host. People who we’ll never be able to say to: ‘Your life is worth less than mine.’”

The next time you hear the word ummah, listen to writer Ziauddin Sardar: “Ummah does not mean the global community of Muslims; it means the global community of the compassionate, religion and race no bar.”

The writer is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy


Corporate India remain stuck in the 1920s with Muslim representation even as it unfurls its global ambitions

Pyaralal Raghavan in Minority View

September 7, 2015, 6

The finding of the ET Intelligence Group analysis that representation of Muslims in in the BSE 500 companies is a minuscule 2.67% is a telling indictment of how the nation has failed to stop its largest minority community from being pushed to the margins. Of the 2324 directors and top executive in the BSE 500 companies only 62 were Muslims. Surprisingly the Muslim representation in the still upper echelons was marginally better with the representation of Muslims in the BSE 100 companies at 4.6% with 27 of the 587 directors and top executives being Muslim.

The fact that a community which accounts for 14% of the nation’s population is so severely underrepresented among the directors and senior executives of the top firms points to some kind of discrimination that obviously cannot be attributed to a paucity of talent. This is a precarious trend and does not fit in with the secular ethos of the nation. Some may say that 138 million Muslims in the country could only spawn 62 top honchos is a misdemeanour that can be corrected in the long term. But then it is only right that then steps are quickly rolled out so that there will be adequate representation to a religious group that is set to touch 310 million and become the largest Muslim population in the world by 2050.

The under-representation of Muslims in the top levels of corporate hierarchy is not something new. Evidence from the early fifties show that only one of the 80 largest publically traded companies had a Muslim at the top. And the scenario was no different at the turn of the millennium when, according to reports, only one of India’s largest fifty largest business groups was headed by a Muslim.

What is most the surprising fact is that Muslims representation on corporate boards has remained stuck at the pre-partition levels. In fact a study of the religious background of the directors of publically traded companies show that there were 69 Muslim directors in 1920 and the numbers went up to 103 by 1940, with their share in total going up from 3.7% to 4% even as their share in population went up from 21.7% to 22.2%. It was also seen that around half of these directors came from a few Muslim communities like Khojas, Bohras, Memons and Girasias.

This was also a period when the share of joint stock companies tripled and the role of the British in the economy declined with the growth of Indian capital.  But the bulk of the gains went to the Hindu directors whose numbers went up from 403 in 1920 to 1043 in 1940, an increase of 158 percent with their share of the total directorships shooting up from 21.6% to 40.1% while their share of population declined from 70% to 69.8%.

Some have attributed the Muslim under representation in the corporate ownership and management to Muslin inheritance system and their need to confirm to religious requirement which made them invest their money in family waqfs which are more compatible with Islamic law. However, the inability of the Muslim community to make full use of the corporate form of organisation can also attributed to their lower education levels and especially in their ability to use English.

This is a lacunae that has remained unchecked even in Independent India and restrained the Muslim community from tapping the potential of the corporate sector. Despite some gains education levels of Muslims have continued to lag behind the majority community and especially in higher education. Numbers show that the percentage of Muslims with graduate and above education has slipped below that of even scheduled castes in the last 15 years.

While the share of Muslims with a graduate degree or more went up from 2.7% in 1999-00 to 3.6% in 2004-05 and then to 4.1% in 2009-10 that of scheduled tribes has gone up from 2.3% to 3% and further to 4.5% during the period. Other surveys of tier one cities also show that Muslims constituted only 2% of the students in business schools and engineering colleges.

The other major factor that is a hurdle to the inclusion of more Muslims in the corporate sector is the dearth of assets and income. Though we don’t have data on income and asset inequalities the numbers on consumption show that poverty levels of the Muslims remains higher than that of the Hindus. The only consolation is that poverty levels of Muslims has fallen below that of Hindus in seven of 16 states where credible number of religious disparities in poverty is available. These include Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

This improvement is a welcome development that raises hopes of the Muslim community making some beginnings to retrieve the lost ground by working their way up the corporate ladder and steering the fortunes of a larger proportion of the top corporate firms in the coming decades.


A borderless world: Whether it’s Manipur or Europe, shutting doors to ‘outsiders’ is poisonous not profitable

September 8, 2015,

The picture of Aylan Kurdi, three years old, dead on a beach in Turkey shocked the European Union to open its gates wider for refugees fleeing horrors in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north and east Africa.

Desperate people are flowing into safer havens in record numbers: the International Organisation for Migration calculated 2,19,000 people had come to Europe by sea in 2014. In the first eight months of this year, the number has crossed 3,50,000.

Similar tragedies occur daily at our doorstep, but nobody gives a damn. Partition left a poisonous legacy in India’s east and northeast. Before the split, Bengal (including Bangladesh, Bihar, Orissa and Assam) was one unit, administered from Calcutta. Trade, migration and knowledge flowed effortlessly across China, Thailand, Malaya, Burma, the northeast and onward, to land at the great ports of Chittagong and Calcutta.

Partition and the 1971 war shredded this multicultural and profitable tapestry. The northeast became a distant outpost of Delhi; people from Bangladesh fled from war and poverty west- and north-wards. Burma was isolated.

Over the last month at least 10 people have been killed in Manipur and the homes of six lawmakers torched. The violence has roots that tap into the darkest corners of identity politics, deprivation and xenophobia.

Till 1891, the British allowed Manipur to function as a semi-independent kingdom. After a revolt in Imphal, the Empire sent in the cavalry and turned it into a puppet state. But it was divided within: 80% of its population, mostly Hindu Meiteis, live in the plains, only 20% of the total area.

The other 20%, many Naga, Kuki, Chin tribes, occupy 80% of the state. These are the hills of Manipur: forested, mountainous, deprived of electricity. Rivers have to be forded on bamboo poles or rope bridges. There are few all-weather roads.

Weapons are available in hills and plains. The border with Burma is porous. Hill people nurse ancient tribal grudges against each other. But they unite against plains-dwelling Meiteis, Manipur’s elite.

Today Meiteis feel threatened by ‘outsiders’ – mostly poor migrant workers from mainland India. They want Manipur to get a shield, called the Inner Line Permit (ILP), which functions in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram. The ILP is a descendant of a British law to protect their interests in tea, timber and oil in the Brahmaputra Valley, enacted in 1873.

The British were regularly threatened by raiding parties from Naga and Lushai hills to the south. Every time, the Empire would have to send shock troops on ‘expeditions’ to punish ‘hillmen’. That included burning down villages and granaries, confiscating wealth and a system called ‘levee’ that forced male prisoners into, well, slavery.

The British claimed this law was to stop planters and mainland folks from venturing into hill areas. Actually, it was intended to keep hill folks from venturing into the Empire’s gardens. This continued after Independence. The law, now called ILP, was intended to protect hill people from the grubby clutches of plainsmen.

ILP stops the movement of people and capital to the northeast. Mainlanders cannot own property or run businesses in ILP areas, and they can’t stay in the hills for more than a few weeks at a time.

In the mountains, they say Hindu Meiteis, who are neither tribal nor hill dwellers, shouldn’t dump the ILP on Manipur. Nor should they demand tribal reservations, as they’re doing now. Tempers are frayed and people are dying. Poor folk on all sides struggle to leave the region.

Similar conflicts have played out since the late 1970s in Assam. What began as an anti-Bengali agitation spiralled out of control and real or imagined ethnic grievances spilled over.

Along our borders, other hatreds shut more doors. The Chakmas, a Buddhist community straddling the borders of Bangladesh, Tripura and Mizoram, are persecuted by Mizos, a Christian-majority people. Meanwhile Buddhist-majority Burma gives a lot of grief to Muslim Rohingyas, who live in the Arakan Hills. Man-made boundaries made these people stateless.

It need not be so. The Cambridge Economic History of India dates our global trade, commercial and financial relations to at least 1,000 years ago. On our western coast ships modelled on Arabian dhows, crafted from Malabar teak lashed with ropes, would connect with the vast Arab-Central Asian world of commerce; in the east, ships were modelled on Chinese junks, as their ocean-going vessels were called.

In 2000, historian Claude Markovits published research tracking the paths of Shikarpuris and the Hyderabadis from Sind. Despite turbulence, war and imperial rivalry these hardy merchants built worldwide networks from the early 1700s. The Shikarpuris concentrated on Russia, Central Asia and northern Africa, the Hyderabadis traded with modern day Indonesia, China, and all the way to Kobe in Japan. They had the benefit of borders that were more open then, than now.

Immigrants might spark short term jealousy and pain for host populations. But they work harder and bring new knowledge, capital and worldviews with them. Remember, ‘algorithm’ and ‘algebra’ are named, respectively, after Arabic scholar Mohammed al-Khwarizmi and his book Al-Jabr.

National boundaries are recent. The formal system of passports, visas and so on was introduced between 1920 and 1926. From a relatively borderless globe, are we going to slice and dice ourselves further to create a more unstable world?


From city of remembrance to city of hope


60 years since ‘Little Boy’, Hiroshima remains a conscience keeper for nuclear weapon states.

When the sun dawned on August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was just a large Japanese city with a population of 3,50,000 that had escaped the destruction of massive aerial bombing. That day ended early, at 0815 hours when Colonel Paul Tibbets, flying a U.S. B-29 Super Fortress bomber named ‘Enola Gay’ (after his mother), dropped the Little Boy over the city, making Hiroshima an unforgettable chapter of human history.

Little Boy was a three metre-long gun-type nuclear device using highly enriched uranium. Its 16 KT explosion killed over 70,000 persons instantly, with the toll doubling before the end of the year, and flattened all the buildings in a 3-km radius from the hypocentre. The fireball raised temperatures to over 3,000 degrees Celsius and roof tiles bubbled; a stone step carries the shadow of a person as he/she just evaporated. A sixth of the energy release was in the form of radiation to which 3,00,000 people were exposed. The skies darkened with the mushroom cloud and as temperatures came down, there fell a black rain of radioactive soot and dust. Sixteen hours later, U.S. President Harry S. Truman announced to the world that Hiroshima had been destroyed by a new kind of weapon, the atomic bomb.

Rakesh Sood

Three days later, the U.S. dropped another device, Fat Man, a plutonium based implosion bomb of 20 KT explosive power on Nagasaki, a major shipbuilding centre. Given the topography of the town, the number of casualties was slightly lower. The original target was the nearby city of Kokura but because it lay covered under a pall of smoke arising from the previous days’ conventional bombing strikes, visual sighting was not possible and Major Charles Sweeney, commanding the B-29 Bockscar turned southwards to Nagasaki, the alternative target. On August 15, the war ended with Japan’s unconditional surrender.

Reconstruction from the ashes

Today, Hiroshima ranks as one of Japan’s industrialised cities, with a population of over a million. Its nuclear past renders it unique though. The Governor of the Prefecture, Hidehiko Yuzaki, launched a Hiroshima for Global Peace Plan in 2011, as a symbolic point of origin for pursuit of peace, abolition of nuclear weapons, post-conflict reconstruction and hope in the spirit of man. Mayor Kazumi Matsui chairs an initiative called Mayors for Peace which brings together over 6,700 cities worldwide that are committed to seeking global nuclear disarmament by 2020. Around the hypocentre, a Peace Memorial Park has been created overlooked by the skeletal remains of the dome of the Exhibition Hall. In addition to a museum and an eternal flame, it contains a cenotaph where the names of those affected by the explosion continue to be inscribed after their death. Currently, it bears nearly 3,00,000 names. The hibakushas (atomic bomb survivors) today number about 1,80,000 and at an average age of 80, remain a potent reminder of the agony and suffering that this city has witnessed.

Every year, a peace memorial ceremony is held on August 6, marked by remembrance but also coloured by the politics of remorse. People gather to pray for their relatives; make paper cranes, in memory of Sadako Sasaki who succumbed to leukaemia in 1955 before her 13th birthday, believing that making a thousand paper cranes would make her wishes come true; and at dusk, float thousands of paper lanterns on the river with messages to guide the spirits of the departed.

This year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech in Hiroshima skipped the three traditional non-nuclear pledges (not possessing, producing or permitting nuclear weapons on Japanese territory) which were first spelt out in 1967 by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato and have been reiterated since, including by Mr. Abe in 2013 and 2014. The omission immediately stoked speculation and wanting to avoid further controversy, Mr. Abe reiterated the pledges in his Nagasaki speech on August 9. There is a rising tide of nationalism in East Asia which reveals that historical memories of the regional conflicts are deep-seated and overshadow the remorse that Hiroshima generates.

Looking beyond the myths

The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have helped generate a norm against nuclear weapons and this gets strengthened with every year. Yet, it has not proved possible to take decisive steps towards nuclear abolition. Part of the reason is the myth-making that has been associated with this issue since the very beginning.

For a long time, the prevalent view was that dropping the atomic bombs in 1945 helped end the war because the only alternative was an invasion of Japan which would have claimed the lives of half a million U.S. soldiers, and a greater number of Japanese lives. New scholarship now makes it clear that it was the USSR’s entry into war against Japan on August 8 which convinced the Japanese leadership that it had no choice now but to surrender.

Second, contrary to popular belief, no specific warnings were given to the Japanese people about the bomb and the idea of a demonstration explosion was rejected on the ground that it might not work and as there were only two devices available. Politically, the use of the bomb did not yield any advantage to the U.S. in its post-World War-II negotiations with the USSR but hardened Stalin’s resolve to accelerate its nuclear programme, setting the stage for a long-drawn Cold War accompanied by an obscene accumulation of more than 70,000 nuclear weapons by the two superpowers.

During the Cold War, another myth got generated that the best route to nuclear disarmament lay through nuclear non-proliferation. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) took shape during the 1960s and today enjoys widespread adherence. It may have helped prevent proliferation but even its staunch supporters are hard-pressed to show that it has made any impact on nuclear arms reductions. The fact that the five countries acknowledged as nuclear-weapon-states in NPT are the same as the five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) may have been a coincidence in the 1960s, but today, is a liability that diminishes the NPT.

The NPT framework cannot accommodate India’s position or tackle China’s flagrant assistance to Pakistan; its review conferences have repeatedly failed in grappling with Israel’s programme; the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea walked out of the treaty; and most recently, Iran ensured that it will retain a non-weaponised capability in terms of its enrichment programme. Clearly, the NPT has reached the limits of its success and even exhausted its normative potential.

Today’s nuclear world is very different from the bipolar world of the Cold War dominated by the superpower nuclear rivalry. The centre of gravity has shifted from the Euro-Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific region and this is a more crowded geopolitical space without any overarching binary equation. Different players have widely disparate nuclear arsenals and different doctrinal approaches. Even as the number of variables and the number of equations have grown, there is an absence of a security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region.

As a nuclear conscience keeper, Hiroshima can provide the world a dialogue platform to explore new thinking for lowering the risks associated with nuclear weapons and doctrines, reducing numbers of weapons to minimal levels and eventually creating conditions for abolition of nuclear weapons. Such a platform will certainly strengthen the norm against the use of nuclear weapons. However, there must be a willingness to go beyond the myths that have coloured the discussions on nuclear proliferation and disarmament. From a city of remembrance, Hiroshima can then become a city of hope where the first meaningful steps for a nuclear weapon free world were negotiated.

(Rakesh Sood, a former Ambassador, was the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation till May 2014. Email: