New Age Islam
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Islam and the West ( 29 Sept 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

UN Still Symbol Of Hope Despite Failures: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press,30 September 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

30 September 2015

Should We Blame Saudi Arabia For The Latest Mina Incident?

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat

UN Still Symbol of Hope Despite Failures

Mahir Ali

Are ‘Enemies’ A Political Need?


Putin Changes Game Rules In Syria


Suharto’s Purge, Indonesia’s Silence


An Opportunity To Focus On Human Rights In Iran

Ivan Sascha Sheehan



Should we blame Saudi Arabia for the latest Mina incident?

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat

September 29 2015

More than 760 Muslim pilgrims of various ages, including at least 34 Indonesians, were killed last week in what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most tragic accidents to have occurred during the annual haj.

I pray that the deceased will be accepted to the highest level of Paradise and I also pray for the speedy recovery of those who were injured in the stampede.

It was reported by Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabiya news channel that the stampede broke out at the entrance of the Jamarrat Bridge near Street 204, as pilgrims were on their way to perform one of their last major haj rites, the symbolic jumrah or the stoning of the devil.

This, however, is not the only incident that took place this year. A few weeks ago, a huge crane collapsed onto the Grand Mosque resulting in the deaths of 118 worshippers, including 11 Indonesians.

As was widely reported, storms battered the colossal metal rig, causing it to break and fall to the ground with devastating consequences. Some have made the point that had this occurred after the haj had commenced the number of fatalities would have been much greater.

Following the stampede in Mina, many have questioned what the main causes of the accident were, and who was responsible. Some are putting the blame on the Saudi government, saying that it has not done enough to prevent such tragedies from happening.

Others, however, have suggested it was caused by pilgrims’ lack of discipline, who were too passionate about completing the ritual, and did not pay attention to the procedures.

The fact is there are many parties at fault in this incident. It may sound controversial, but I believe that the Saudi government should not be the only entity held responsible for the stampede and the crane collapse.

Even though it has been widely and understandably criticized, it cannot be denied that in the past years Saudi Arabia has tried to improve infrastructure for the safety and convenience of pilgrims during the haj.

These efforts have included construction of a wider, multilevel bridge, and replacement of the pillars representing Satan during the jumrah ritual, with the hope that this would minimize the risk of a stampede.

However, as Thursday’s incident has revealed, these measures were not enough.

Reflecting on the tragedy, I believe that both the holy cities of Mecca, where the haj takes place, and Medina, where the tomb of Prophet Muhammad is located, do not solely belong to Saudi Arabia, but Muslims all around the world. I agree with British-Algerian journalist Hafsa Kara-Mustapha who said in a recent op-ed that the two cities need to come under an independent body headed by a Muslim-majority state.

The management of the two sacred cities should no longer be entrusted exclusively to the Saudi royal family. The governments of other Muslim-majority nations must be involved also.

The revenues from the pilgrimage will cover the expenses of the development, as well as the maintenance of the cities, and come under a regular review of an international independent entity to make sure spending is available for public scrutiny.

Leaders from across Muslim-majority countries must create a genuine and robust board and they have to agree to crucial changes to the cities and rules governing the observance of the haj.

The body will be required to appoint a leader who will change every few years and will be responsible for the supervision of the two sacred cities.

I understand that something like this will not be realized anytime soon. For now, a more immediate solution needs to be found, such as reducing the number of pilgrims significantly to ease the current overcrowded conditions.

A firm code of conduct must also be applied on worshipers traveling to those cities and individual countries need to ensure that their pilgrims comply with safety rules.

On the part of the pilgrims, Muslims need to understand that completing the haj only once in a lifetime is all that is required, and that any additional pilgrimage only infringes on someone else’s chance to perform it.

It is also the duty of pilgrims to reciprocate the measures taken so far by abiding by the rules and regulations at the holy sites to avoid such incidents from recurring.


UN still symbol of hope despite failures

Mahir Ali

September 30, 2015

Reforms called for, but world would have seen more chaos without intervention by the body.

It's that time of year when the United Nations exemplifies its reputation as a talking shop. Within a few hours on Monday, it witnessed largely predictable perorations from a plethora of well-known international personalities, ranging from Barack Obama,Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping to Dilma Roussef, Francois Hollande and Hassan Rouhani.

Particular attention was inevitably focused on the very different ways in which the presidents of Russia and the United States broached the topic du jour, namely the wretched situation in Syria, with Putin - putting in his first UN appearance in a decade - called for a broader coalition to combat Daesh: one that would include not just the Russians and Iranians, but also forces loyal to Bashar Al Assad.

The latter aspect of the proposal is anathema to many western states as well as most of Syria's neighbours in the Middle East. Putin, meanwhile, has lately been pouring military resources into Syria with the ostensible intention of staving off the Daesh threat, even as a US-led military force seeks to "degrade" the extremist fighting force. Coordination in this respect would certainly make sense.

At the same time, Putin's fairly unequivocal alliance with Assad is obviously problematic, not least because the Syrian president's forces are accountable, at least thus far, for considerably more terror in Syria than Daesh. On the other hand, meagre efforts by the US to train and equip "moderate" Syrian rebels have been a resounding failure, with much of the materiel reportedly falling into the hands of the Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies.

Yes, it's complicated (even without considering the predilections of neighbours such as Turkey). However, last week's American criticism of Russia's use of its veto in the UN Security Council, with its implication that things could otherwise have turned out very differently in Syria, deserves to be taken with a pinch of salt.

For one, there's the whiff of hypocrisy: historically, no permanent member of the Security Council has wielded its veto half as frequently as the US has done on behalf of Israel. Besides, let's not forget that Russia and China have been particularly wary of permitting belligerent resolutions ever since they were persuaded to endorse a mission in Libya whose purpose morphed from "protecting civilians" to facilitating regime change - the disastrous consequences of which are plain to everyone.

Veto powers unquestionably hinder the UN's effectiveness, but so does the composition of the Security Council, which harks back to the geopolitics of 70 years ago. Today, who can seriously contend that Britain and France are more worthy of a seat at the top table than, say, India or Germany? The non-representation of Africa and Latin America (with South Africa and Brazil as the prime contenders) is also a travesty.

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan recently contended that the council risks irrelevance unless it accepts new permanent members. Meaningful reform, however, would entail more than a spot of tinkering. A case could coherently be made, for instance, for empowering the more representative General Assembly to go beyond its present role of passing toothless resolutions, particularly if votes can be weighted to reflect each member-nation's population - so that China or India, for example, has greater say than Micronesia or Nauru.

Looking back on the UN's 70 years, there can be little question that it has served a useful - and in some cases outstanding - purpose in many spheres of human endeavour and global coexistence. In terms of spreading health, education and children's welfare, in sustaining huge refugee populations, in preserving the world's cultural heritage and, perhaps more controversially, inserting peacekeeping forces into trouble spots, it has invariably striven to push human development along a broadly worthy trajectory.

here have, no doubt, also been serious shortfalls in most of these spheres. Many of them relate to funding shortages, given that UN agencies rely chiefly on donations from member-states.

Dag Hammarskjold, the UN's third secretary general - whose plane, circumstantial evidence suggests, was shot down by western allies while he was on a peace mission in Africa 54 years ago - is often cited as saying that the UN "was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell".

The UN's report card reads "could have done better", isn't that equally true of most of humanity? The prospects for meaningful, progressive reform of the UN may be grim at the moment, but surely, for all its shortcomings, its survival provides cause for reassurance and hope rather than lament.

Mahir Ali is a writer based in Sydney


Are ‘enemies’ a political need?


30 September 2015

What many people perceive as their enemy could in fact be a fabrication used to manipulate them for political ends. Historically, it is no secret that many countries have formulated domestic and foreign policies to create “bogeymen” that would unite people and ensure political stability.

The United States, among others, used this strategy during World War 2 against Nazi Germany, then later labeled the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire,” and is now involved in a “War on Terror.”

However, some see this creation of an enemy to be nothing more than an attempt by the purveyors of the “military-industrial complex” to make money out of armed conflict, with the principal stakeholders, politicians and public and private arms manufacturers.

Adolf Hitler united Germans by creating a common enemy that he effectively portrayed with his propaganda machine as those trying to destroy the country. Nazism helped Germany expand rapidly across Europe before its final defeat.

In the Arab world, there are many countries trying to portray themselves as “revolutionary” and “progressive” by labeling Israel as their enemy. These regimes have boasted of waging wars that would wipe Israel off the map.

In reality they have failed to shoot one bullet at the Zionist regime, and have simply used their so-called “noble struggle” against Israel to silence their opponents and remain in power.

Using this strategy, these regimes have blocked any real attempts to ensure democratic measures take root in their countries. Their media houses are guilty of colluding with them to create the impression they are engaged in a war, which has in fact never taken place.

Pierre Conesa, an academic and a former French Defense Ministry official, in his book “Fabrication of the Enemy: Or How to Kill People with a Clean Conscience,” explains how regimes extend their stay in power by keeping alive a manufactured enemy either outside the country or internally.

Bashar Assad in Syria has successfully used this approach to stay in power by creating the impression that Daesh is the only enemy, conveniently ignoring his regime’s terrorizing of the Syrian people.

It is now politically expedient for Assad to ensure the continued existence of Daesh, to divert international attention away from his crimes. Recent statements by politicians from some of the world’s leading nations show that Assad has succeeded in this strategy.

This strategy has deep philosophical roots, which can be traced to that age-old fight between good and evil. There are various manifestations of this conflict, which includes using notions of identity to separate people.

The late Edward Said, the intellectual and thinker on Orientalism, once said that crises of identity are more evident in nations struggling to modernize. As they try to adapt, people tend to hold onto perceived identities and create a defense against the perceived “others,” which is the ideal environment for conflict.

Politics is very much dominated by immoral opportunists. When these operators are allowed to create an enemy with religious affiliations, there is every possibility that these opponents can never be befriended. It then becomes a misguided nation’s sacred duty to eliminate these people.

It is therefore vital to leave religion out of political disputes because this can lead to uncontrollable violence. As they say, the only thing constant in politics is change, where today’s enemies can be tomorrow’s friends.


Putin changes game rules in Syria


 30 September 2015

The rules of engagement in Syria are changing fast as Russia takes the lead and puts itself into the driver’s seat amid confusion and contradictions in the positions of the western alliance led by the United States. President Vladimir Putin has stepped up his country’s military presence in Syria in a bid to bolster the rattled regime of Bashar Assad and kick in a new strategy to battle the pressing threat of militants.

By the time this article is published Putin and President Barack Obama would have had their much anticipated summit in New York. Putin and Obama have delivered their speeches at the UN General Assembly and there was little hint of an impending compromise over Syria.

Russia has dispatched military advisers and almost 2000 marines to Syria, specifically to an airbase near Latakia. It has sent fighter jets, tanks and modern weaponry to help the ailing Damascus regime defend strategic areas after a series of losses. Moscow’s bold intervention has stunned Washington and raised questions about its ultimate goals. Some analysts believe that Putin has moved in to prevent the regime from collapsing as various extremist groups, including Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, made key advances in Idlib in the north and threatened to march into the strategic coastal plain of Syria. Meanwhile, other rebel groups have also made gains in the Damascus countryside. In the meantime there are no signs that Daesh militants are retreating in Riqqa and other areas under their control especially in eastern Syria.

The Russian moves have weakened the western position. The immediate removal of Assad is no longer a precondition for a political solution. This is the new stand taken by London, Berlin and even Paris. For Europe the influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, and fear of terrorist infiltration, has changed the rules of the game. Germany now says it is ready to mediate between Assad and his rivals to form a transitional government. Assad’s imminent departure is no longer on table and his presence in a transitional phase will be tolerated.

US Secretary of State John Kerry announced after meeting Iran’s Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif that he sees an opportunity to bring a political solution in Syria and Yemen. The new US effort could bring Russia and Iran into an enlarged coalition that includes Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Ankara’s about-face is more likely than that of Riyadh. But Putin is talking to all parties and he seems to have the initiative. The recent announcement that Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria have set up a “joint information center” on Daesh could be seen a slap in Washington’s face, whose campaign to defeat the militants and train moderate opposition fighters in Syria have been described as ineffective.

For Russia the Syria card is of pivotal importance. Aside from the naval assets that Moscow has in Tartus it now seeks to build at least two new airbases. This will give it permanent presence along the Eastern Mediterranean. Defeating Daesh, which has hundreds if not thousands of fighters from Chechnya, is a strategic goal for Putin. But the Syria involvement has provided the Kremlin with the chance to break out of its international isolation following its takeover of Crimea. Some see Moscow’s stepped up intervention in Syria and Iraq as a response to America’s regional failures in resolving the crises in both countries.

But Russia’s gambit in Syria carries risks as well. So far Putin has said that no Russian soldiers will fight in Syria. But can a rehabilitated regime army defeat the jihadists on its own? And what will happen if the so called moderate rebels, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are targeted? In Putin’s view Russia’s support of the “legitimate” Assad government is in accordance with the UN charter, but further military involvement could become a clarion call for more foreign fighters to pour into Syria. Putin still needs to sway Saudi Arabia into accepting a role for Assad in a transitional government.

And then you have the Syrian National Coalition which has refused any role for Assad in Syria’s future. Putin would seek to divide the Syrian coalition and isolate those who insist on Assad’s departure. And finally you have the rest of Syrian rebel groups on the ground who are not part of Al-Nusra Front or Daesh and who are against Moscow’s involvement.

Assad’s political survival will boost Iran’s intervention in Syria, something that Gulf states view with increased anxiety. Their response to Putin’s latest overtures will rest largely on his vision for the future of Iran and Hizbollah in Syria and by extension Iraq. Moscow’s growing presence in the region will alter the geopolitical structure of the region which has been an American domain for decades.

There is always the risk that Moscow would repeat the mistakes of the past and find itself stuck in a region that is both volatile and chaotic. Certainly the Russian adventure in Syria cannot be compared to Putin’s interventions in Chechnya, Georgia and the Ukraine. But for now the logic in war-torn Syria has been transformed from regime change to recruiting that regime to fight terrorism.


Suharto’s Purge, Indonesia’s Silence


This week marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of a mass slaughter in Indonesia. With American support, more than 500,000 people were murdered by the Indonesian Army and its civilian death squads. At least 750,000 more were tortured and sent to concentration camps, many for decades.

The victims were accused of being “communists,” an umbrella that included not only members of the legally registered Communist Party, but all likely opponents of Suharto’s new military regime — from union members and women’s rights activists to teachers and the ethnic Chinese. Unlike in Germany, Rwanda or Cambodia, there have been no trials, no truth-and-reconciliation commissions, no memorials to the victims. Instead, many perpetrators still hold power throughout the country.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation, and if it is to become the democracy it claims to be, this impunity must end. The anniversary is a moment for the United States to support Indonesia’s democratic transition by acknowledging the 1965 genocide, and encouraging a process of truth, reconciliation and justice.

On Oct. 1, 1965, six army generals in Jakarta were killed by a group of disaffected junior officers. Maj. Gen. Suharto assumed command of the armed forces, blamed the killings on the leftists, and set in motion a killing machine. Millions of people associated with left-leaning organizations were targeted, and the nation dissolved into terror — people even stopped eating fish for fear that fish were eating corpses. Suharto usurped President Sukarno’s authority and established himself as de facto president by March 1966. From the very beginning, he enjoyed the full support of the United States.

I’ve spent 12 years investigating the terrible legacy of the genocide, creating two documentary films, “The Act of Killing” in 2013 and “The Look of Silence,” released earlier this year. I began in 2003, working with a family of survivors. We wanted to show what it is like to live surrounded by still-powerful perpetrators who had murdered your loved ones.

The family gathered other survivors to tell their stories, but the army warned them not to participate. Many survivors urged me not to give up and suggested that I film perpetrators in hopes that they would reveal details of the massacres.

I did not know if it was safe to approach the killers, but when I did, I found them open. They offered boastful accounts of the killings, often with smiles on their faces and in front of their grandchildren. I felt I had wandered into Germany 40 years after the Holocaust, only to find the Nazis still in power.

Today, former political prisoners from this era still face discrimination and threats. Gatherings of elderly survivors are regularly attacked by military-backed thugs. Schoolchildren are still taught that the “extermination of the communists” was heroic, and that victims’ families should be monitored for disloyalty. This official history, in effect, legitimizes violence against a whole segment of society.

The purpose of such intimidation is to create a climate of fear in which corruption and plunder go unchallenged. Inevitably in such an atmosphere, human rights violations have continued since 1965, including the 1975-1999 occupation of East Timor, where enforced starvation contributed to the killing of nearly a third of the population, as well as torture and extrajudicial killing that go on in West Papua today.

Military rule in Indonesia formally ended in 1998, but the army remains above the law. If a general orders an entire village massacred, he cannot be tried in civilian courts. The only way he could face justice is if the army itself convenes a military tribunal, or if Parliament establishes a special human rights court — something it has never done fairly and effectively.

With the military not subject to law, a shadow state of paramilitaries and intelligence agencies has formed around it. This shadow state continues to intimidate the public into silence while, together with its business partners, it loots the national wealth.

Indonesia can hold regular elections, but if the laws do not apply to the most powerful elements in society, then there is no rule of law, and no genuine democracy. The country will never become a true democracy until it takes serious steps to end impunity. An essential start is a process of truth, reconciliation and justice.

This may still be possible. The Indonesian media, which used to shy from discussing the genocide, now refers to the killings as crimes against humanity, and grassroots activism has taken hold. The current president, Joko Widodo, indicated he would address the 1965 massacre, but he has not established a truth commission, issued a national apology, or taken any other steps to end the military’s impunity.

We need truth and accountability from the United States as well. U.S. involvement dates at least to an April 1962 meeting between American and British officials resulting in the decision to “liquidate” President Sukarno, the populist — but not communist — founding father of Indonesia. As a founder of the nonaligned movement, Sukarno favored socialist policies; Washington wanted to replace him with someone more deferential to Western strategic and commercial interests.

The United States conducted covert operations to destabilize Sukarno and strengthen the military. Then, when genocide broke out, America provided equipment, weapons and money. The United States compiled lists containing thousands of names of public figures likely to oppose the new military regime, and handed them over to the Indonesian military, presumably with the expectation that they would be killed. Western aid to Suharto’s dictatorship, ultimately amounting to tens of billions of dollars, began flowing while corpses still clogged Indonesia’s rivers. The American media celebrated Suharto’s rise and his campaign of death. Time magazine said it was the “best news for years in Asia.”

But the extent of America’s role remains hidden behind a wall of secrecy: C.I.A. documents and U.S. defense attaché papers remain classified. Numerous Freedom of Information Act requests for these documents have been denied. Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, will soon reintroduce a resolution that, if passed, would acknowledge America’s role in the atrocities, call for declassification of all relevant documents, and urge the Indonesian government to acknowledge the massacres and establish a truth commission. If the U.S. government recognizes the genocide publicly, acknowledges its role in the crimes, and releases all documents pertaining to the issue, it will encourage the Indonesian government to do the same.

This anniversary should be a reminder that although we want to move on, although nothing will wake the dead or make whole what has been broken, we must stop, honor the lives destroyed, acknowledge our role in the destruction, and allow the healing process to begin.

Joshua Oppenheimer is a documentary filmmaker.


An opportunity to focus on human rights in Iran

Ivan Sascha Sheehan

As world leaders gather in New York for the 70th United Nations General Assembly, Iran's future will be much discussed. Although Tehran's nuclear pursuits will grab the spotlight, it is the regime's record on human rights that deserves scrutiny.

UpFront - Arena: What is the future of US-Iran relations?

The Iranian regime continues to execute its citizens at a higher rate than any UN member state. In fact, the regime boasts the highest rate of executions per capita in the world, surpassing even China. More than 2,000 people have been executed on President Hassan Rouhani's watch in just two years, more than in any similar period in the past 25 years.

The Iranian people yearn for a democratic, tolerant, gender-equal, pluralistic state.

Amnesty International has referred to Iran's "execution spree" as "staggering", and the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights, too, has decried the rising tide of executions - also carried out on juvenile offenders - during Rouhani's tenure.

Today, hundreds of Iranian dissidents, including minority and women's rights activists, are behind bars, and Iran has become the largest prison for journalists in the Middle East.

Despite Rouhani's repeated promises to respect civil rights following his election in 2013, serious rights abuses continue. The regime's record of arbitrary detentions and unfair trials, discrimination against minorities, mistreatment of political prisoners, and restrictions on freedom of expression, have led UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to deliver a sharp rebuke in March 2014.

But in recent months, security issues have distracted the US and world leaders from the regime's domestic troubles. As the UN General Assembly gets under way, it is time to refocus the world's attention on human rights.

Ban has called this year's assembly a time of "turmoil and hope". Turmoil, he notes, "because conflicts have deepened in so many places, and civilians are paying the price". Hope, because global leaders are again gathering to forge solutions to the world's troubles, he says.

But the reality is less hopeful for millions of ordinary Iranians who are imprisoned by a regime that cares little for their welfare. Indeed the circumstances are bleak for millions of Iranians trapped by a regime that has grown adept at consolidating its own power and influence while doing little to support the people's aspirations for a more just and tolerant society.

As world leaders take their seats at the UN, the primary agent of Middle East instability will have a seat at the table. But officials should know that Tehran's leaders don't speak for the Iranian people.

The Iranian people yearn for a democratic, tolerant, gender-equal, pluralistic state, and today, supporters of the principal Iranian opposition will gather near the UN headquarters to give voice to the voiceless.These individuals - thousands of them - will denounce the presence of Rouhani and Iranian officials at the UN General Assembly and demand that the international community hold the Iranian regime accountable for its abysmal human rights record.

These expressions of dissent arrive at a critical moment when the US Congress is voicing broad, bipartisan disapproval of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and when human rights watchdogs are voicing near uniform disapproval of Tehran's internal repression, treatment of minorities, and gender apartheid.

The rally in New York will include men and women, young and old, and individuals of diverse backgrounds in a show of extraordinary solidarity. The event will be a demonstration to the world that there is a democratic alternative to the Ayatollahs. But more needs to be done to highlight this principled resistance and the values it upholds, commitments consistent with the very charter of the United Nations.

When Iran's foreign minister sat recently with his Western counterparts in Geneva - shaking hands and celebrating a possible nuclear accord - the lifeless body of a young man hung from a crane in a bleak public square in Tehran. As world leaders gather, Iranians are rightly asking if the world will continue to disregard human rights and their moral commitments in the interest of cosmetic diplomacy or whether a tipping point has finally been reached.

Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution makes the case that regime change in Tehran is the "best non-proliferation policy". But regime change from within may also be the best strategy to uphold human rights.

President Barack Obama makes a mistake by treating Tehran as a fixture of the Middle East landscape, but other US officials need not make the same mistake. International law does not simply guarantee sovereignty - it upholds human rights. States are instruments of and by the people - not the other way around.

As the UN General Assembly convenes, the Iranian opposition's calls for freedom and human rights, peace and security reflect these noble hopes and aspirations, and their determined resistance reflects the arc of history bending towards justice.

Ivan Sascha Sheehan is director of the graduate programme in Global Affairs and Human Security at the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore.