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World Press on Assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Khan Sarwar Murshid and Covid-19: New Age Islam's Selection, 8 December 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

8 December 2020

• The Assassination Of An Iranian Scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Will Make Joe Biden's Job Harder

By Mohamad Bazzi

• Covid-19, Industry And Bureaucracy

By Rubana Huq

• The Intellectual Journey of Khan Sarwar Murshid

By Tazeen Mahnaz Murshid

• On Iran, Biden Can Bide His Time

New York Times Editorial


The Assassination Of An Iranian Scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Will Make Joe Biden's Job Harder

By Mohamad Bazzi

7 Dec 2020


Iranian scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh


The assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, on 27 November, which is likely to have been carried out by Israel, was intended to undermine the possibility of a quick US-Iran detente once the president-elect, Joe Biden, takes office in January. It’s part of a scorched earth campaign by Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump to make it as difficult as possible for Iran to resume negotiations with the Biden administration and return to the 2015 nuclear agreement.

But the brazen killing is also designed to exploit rifts within Iran’s factional political structure: between conservative politicians and hardline factions aligned with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the reformist camp led by the president, Hassan Rouhani. In January, the US assassinated Iran’s most powerful general, Qassem Suleimani, in a drone strike outside Baghdad’s airport. That attack exposed weaknesses in Iran’s security apparatus and the regime was unable to follow through on threats to avenge the targeting of its top officials. Iran did fire missiles at US bases in Iraq in retaliation for Donald Trump ordering – and later boasting about – Suleimani’s killing. But that was a largely symbolic act and Tehran has not targeted a US official of equal stature, as it threatened to. Since Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, hardliners have been calling for tougher action in order to restore some deterrence with Israel and, by extension, the US.

In a speech on 29 November, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the parliament speaker and a conservative leader, warned that a “strong response” was the only way to deter future attacks. He also cautioned Iranians against “sending any signals indicating weakness”. Hossein Salami, the top commander of the Revolutionary Guards, vowed at Fakhrizadeh’s funeral: “Enemies should be awaiting our revenge.” The hardline Kayhan newspaper, whose editor was appointed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, published an opinion article urging the Iranian leadership to attack the Israeli port city of Haifa if it concludes that Israel assassinated the nuclear scientist. The article argued that Tehran’s previous responses to Israeli attacks had not gone far enough.

These fiery denunciations are not unusual, especially from hardliners, after an attack on Iranian interests attributed to Israel or the US. But leaders of the military establishment, conservative politicians and analysts are signalling to the supreme leader, who has the final say on Iran’s foreign policy and nuclear programme, that even if it waits out the final weeks of the Trump administration without retaliating, Tehran can’t negotiate with Biden from a position of weakness. That vulnerability has been exposed by the recent assassinations and a series of mysterious explosions and fires at Iranian facilities connected to its nuclear enrichment programme.

The perception of exposed weakness could lead the Iranian regime to launch a series of escalations – revenge attacks against Israeli targets; advancing its nuclear enrichment; using allied militias in Iraq to attack US troops there; or risky skirmishes with US forces in the Persian Gulf – to try to establish an upper hand to show the world and the Biden administration that it is not weak. Many of these options carry the risk of a wider confrontation, especially if they’re carried out in the waning days of the Trump administration.

And Tehran has failed at some past attempts at retaliation. From 2010 to 2012, Iran blamed Israel’s Mossad for assassinating at least four of its leading nuclear scientists, part of a wider sabotage campaign against Iran’s nuclear programme. In February 2012, Iranian agents tried, and largely failed, to carry out revenge attacks against Israeli targets in India, Thailand and Georgia.

If the hardliners’ rhetorical message is that Iran should exact revenge to avoid appearing weak, internally they’re trying to undermine Rouhani’s ability to negotiate with the Biden administration. The conservatives argue that Rouhani will essentially be a lame duck since Iran is scheduled to hold presidential elections in June 2021. Rouhani, who was first elected in 2013, will have served two terms and is not eligible to seek re-election.

The conservatives are jockeying to reassert their control over the presidency. In February, conservatives and hardliners swept a majority of the new parliament, winning 220 out of 290 seats. The election was marred by problems: more than 90% of reformist candidates were disqualified by the Guardian Council, an oversight body controlled by the supreme leader, and voter turnout was 42.6%, the smallest of any parliamentary election since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Some conservative politicians are pushing for the next president to come from the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards or another part of the military establishment. It’s possible that the Guardian Council may block any reformist candidate from even running.

The Iranian election means that the Biden administration has only a few months after it takes office on 20 January to reach an agreement to return to the joint comprehensive plan of action, under which Tehran had agreed to limit its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from international sanctions. In May 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the deal and imposed new sanctions that crippled Iran’s economy.

While some Iranian officials, such as Rouhani and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, may view Biden as far more predictable than Trump, others in the Iranian regime are wary of restarting negotiations that can be undone by future US administrations. Already, Biden’s top foreign policy aides have said that in order for the US to re-enter the nuclear agreement and provide sanctions relief, Iran must commit to follow-up negotiations on broader issues, including Iran’s ballistic missile programme and support for militant groups in the region. That will be difficult even for moderates to accept, with Iran’s presidential election months away. And it’s likely to be a nonstarter for the supreme leader, who wants to project a sense of strength.

The other variable in the coming weeks is whether Netanyahu’s government will carry out more provocations that seek to further exploit Trump’s recklessness and divisions within Iran. Fakhrizadeh’s assassination highlighted Israel’s ability to act with relative impunity, especially in evading criticism from the US and much of Europe. The killing is likely to have been in violation of international law, as Agnes Callamard, the UN rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, noted on Twitter. Even a former CIA director, John Brennan, lashed out at the targeting of an Iranian official, saying if a foreign government was responsible, it would be “an act of state-sponsored terrorism”.

The top scientist’s killing may not set back Iran’s technical capabilities, but it could weaken and humiliate the moderate Iranian factions that are most open to rapprochement with a new US administration.


Mohamad Bazzi is a journalism professor at New York University and former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday


Covid-19, Industry and Bureaucracy

By Rubana Huq

December 08, 2020


When the sky isn't looking clear anymore, to say you are watching the clouds go by with the hope of a better day is being cautiously optimistic. If there's rain in the process, one gathers that it is what it is and a sense of ease settles in, looking at the freshly cleaned landscape. With Covid-19, it's been neither clouds nor rain. It's been a clear sense of a lingering thunder which has frightened humanity and shooed us to our cubbyholes. There's no bravery that's been able to confront this monster, no shield that's been enough. The world, at the most, has just watched it unfold and handled it to its limited capacity.

Throughout the world, Covid-19 is indeed being approached with caution and advisories at all levels. Governments all over the world have reacted and rescued; businesses all over have wailed and suffered. Yet, through all the losses and tears, trepidations and predicaments, many lives and enterprises have learnt to cope with the oscillations of the pandemic.

At our end, the single largest industry of readymade garments had to deal with the crisis of such magnitude. The impact of the pandemic on the lives, livelihoods and the overall economy cannot be overstated. The USD 3.15 billion worth of cancellations put a dent on the essence of trust between the suppliers and the brands, and the inevitability of repatriation of funds had become a reality overnight. At a time like that, the impact could have been more severe in the absence of the incentive packages and policy interventions announced and implemented by the government. Quite often, we hear about bureaucratic hurdles ("amlatantrik jotilota") but, during this pandemic, the promptness and efficiency of the bureaucratic response had given the industries in Bangladesh a fresh air to breathe in.

We are grateful to the prime minister for providing the critical direction to the industry and for having saved industry-related livelihoods. We also salute our workers who have literally saved the industry from being doomed. And we must also applaud the finance ministry, commerce ministry, Bangladesh Bank and all other ministries and departments of the government for their fast response and painstakingly implementing the incentive packages. These were absolutely crucial for re-coursing the industry from obvious destruction.

At the very outset of the calamity, the concern that grappled us immediately was saving the livelihoods of four-million workers and their dependents from any possible financial crunch. As the industry embraced the tsunami of cancellation resulting in export slashed by 85 percent in April, the severity was foreseen by the government, and the BDT 50 billion loan stimulus meant for paying workers' wages in April, May, June and July marked the first turning point for the industry to stay afloat during the peak of the storm, i.e. April-July 2020.

As far as the salary packages are concerned, the integrity of the disbursement of incentives could not be questioned. The farsightedness and pragmatism of the government had made the digital wage payment possible, and this itself ensured transparency. Needless to say, at a time when the West came to a dead halt by lockdowns and emergencies, the "financial flow" came as the lifeline of the industry. Thanks to the Ministry of Finance for efficiently stitching up the much-needed rescue package for the industry, and thanks to Bangladesh Bank for particularly having eased off and enhanced the export development fund. Apart from this, the retention of foreign currency in single pool for back-to-back import payments, extension of the tenure of realisation of export proceeds, and suspension of loan classification till December 31, 2020, served as saviours.

It's true that our expectations from the working capital loan assistance packages was higher, particularly for the SMEs since the working capital loan was meant for supporting the affected factories. In reality, it was difficult for the RMG SMEs, who are the most-affected groups, to access this support to a large proportion due to the nature of business and conditions set out to access the incentive.

However, while enthralled by the revival in exports since July (by 0.82 percent during July-September), albeit short-lived, the emergence of the second wave of Covid-19 is extremely worrying for the industry. The dwindling retail sales in the West and further slowdown in export since October could be early signs of a resurgence of the situation we have passed through earlier this year. The approval of vaccines is a great source of hope, but as far as trade is concerned, the worries may still persist as the global economy may take time to generate momentum in employment, consumption, spending and trade. The double-edged sword of the pandemic is slicing the price. Data suggests that our RMG has been consistently losing unit value by around 5 percent since September.

The industry has contributed so much to our nation, and we only have a nominal share in the global market, thus we have a great potential to grow further. We have painstakingly prepared ourselves for the renewed opportunities over the past few years in the area of industrial safety, sustainability and eco-efficiency. Therefore, the needs of the industry are clear: 1) The industry needs continuity of the supports received to stay afloat in the upcoming days, along with additional supports to withstand any adverse impact; 2) The industry would expect the empathy of the authorities in ensuring legal protection for our exporters who dealt with bankrupted buyers to deal with the losses and outstanding liabilities, because without resolving these issues, the affected factories (supposedly employing hundreds of thousands of workers) cannot fight back. And essential alignment between the policy makers and the industry must continue.

While exports dip and concerns are heightened, this should not be taken as a cry-wolf syndrome. With the cry and the ask also comes the promise of turning around by 2021. With the vaccines, a better time and a better consumption trend will surely set in. Besides, we are better-placed than most of our competitors. Ethiopia is politically troubled, Vietnam's export basket isn't prioritising RMG and won't grow capacity overnight, Myanmar is questionable in terms of capacity and ethical sourcing, and Cambodia has just lost its GSP. Therefore, it's important to stay on course and be hopeful.

There's no alternative to depicting the real picture. Reality cannot be exaggerated. Projections cannot be amplified. The only answer is to handle the situation as it comes and hope that the policy makers stand by our side and help us swim through the troubled waters, as they have in March 2020. It's an industry where 4.1 million workers are engaged. The numbers cannot be ignored, the impact cannot be underestimated, and the potential cannot be insulted by scepticism.


Dr Rubana Huq is President of BGMEA and Managing Director of Mohammadi Group.


The Intellectual Journey Of Khan Sarwar Murshid

By Tazeen Mahnaz Murshid

December 08, 2020

In the black-and-white cultural milieu that often engulfs us, we are frequently unable to grasp a man's intellectual worth when neat categories cannot pin them down. But man is a many-splendoured being. I have tried to understand what had made the man, my father. I delved into family history, and in his activist and teaching roles. I knew him to be detached from any ostentatious show of religious affiliation, a man who questioned all assumptions and yet continued to search for moral order and spiritual certainty. For him, truth and beauty were integral elements of that quest. Intellectually, at one level, it led him to explore philosophy and study the great literary minds of the early twentieth century, both Eastern and Western. At another level, he came to appreciate refined culture, arts, manners, and etiquette. Gradually, he evolved into an aesthete.

An unexpected finding has enabled me to explore some of these dimensions of his intellectual world when I chanced upon his moth-eaten thesis with a letter of recommendation for its publication by his external examiner, Professor Bullough of the Department of English Language and Literature, University of London's King's College. Indian Elements in the Works of W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot and Aldous Huxley is now awaiting publication by the University Press Limited. The following ruminations follow from my many readings of the manuscript as I prepared it for its publication in 2020. I hope that my father will forgive me for this audacious task. Being a perfectionist, he only brought out one or two articles from this work. When he undertook this study, it was an uncharted field. It was many years later that the theme of Indian elements was touched upon by other scholars. The work remains relevant for us today because it touches on issues of moral responsibility, right conduct and social order.

What transpires are the musings of a young man navigating the crossroads where the great minds of the West meet those of the East. It required considerable courage for a young man to tell the Occident, in the immediate aftermath of the end of empire, that the East had exacted its revenge on the West. The western intellectual milieu had been changed forever.

Through this study, along with what we know of Murshid's life and other interests, we can picture the image of a more complex and nuanced human being than what we had supposed. It provides the missing link that helps us understand his own development better, for the impact of his study on himself had been no less profound than it had been on his subject matter: the intellectual worlds of Yeats, Eliot and Huxley.

We had always sensed that the Buddha had a special place in his heart: not only was the bust of the Buddha one of his two most cherished possessions, next to that of the ancient Greek goddess, Venus, but he had also lovingly called his first-born Gautam Firdous, after Gautama Buddha! But the manuscript reveals how that connection manifested itself.

Reading his literary treatise, it struck me that some of the basic values he sought to inculcate in us were, in fact, Buddhist in origin, particularly the ideas of sangha and moral responsibility. Young Murshid shared Huxley's idea that a minority of individuals can "attain enlightenment" and make a difference. His life and works came to embody that value. He championed the values of right conduct, followed a path of legitimate action in its defence, and sought the company of like-minded people in its pursuit. He painstakingly promoted the selection of suitably qualified persons for given tasks in the interests of an orderly society. His passion for teaching to train young minds in critical thinking was an aspect of promoting that ideal.

Like Eliot, Murshid was fascinated by the idea of the "Eternal now"; and like Yeats, the concept of the "unity of Being" exercised him. However, the Buddhist concept of anatman—that there is no soul, but there is rebirth—left a sense of uncertainty. Surely this is the only life we know, and this was the only life to be lived. Beyond death was the realm of the mysterious unknown. Like Rilke, he found it slightly fearful.

He identified most with Yeats. Both opted for a this-worldly approach to life, where love, beauty and delight have a place. Eliot and Huxley chose detachment but fell short due to their excessive loathing of the body and preoccupation with negativity, such as with "dung and death", possibly due to their traditional Christian upbringing centred around concepts of original sin and guilt. They missed the cue of the ancients that life is to be delighted in even as we separate ourselves from its attachments.

At the core of Murshid's world view had already evolved the concept of values. It included ideas of order and moral responsibility, justice and right conduct, truth and beauty as the measure of such an order. He summed these up in his concept of values. To him, values were what made a man, and those values are what held society together. He had already come to call these new values when at the ripe age of 25 years he began to publish a journal from Dhaka in 1949, called New Values, several years before he embarked on his spiritual journey into ancient Indian philosophy in the context of his literary studies. The influence of the Buddhir Mukti Andolana of the 1930's in Bengal can be traced to the secular appeal of the journal. Some may even venture to relate this stance to the values of the European Enlightenment. He had also explored other spiritual systems focussed on the Qur'an and Sufi thought, his interpretations bringing out their hidden wonder and depth.

With hindsight, it would appear that his intellectual pursuit for an orderly society based on the values of right conduct, truth and beauty found a spiritual counterpart in his quest to understand the nature of man's relationship with God. In essence, one could conclude that these two journeys—the intellectual and the spiritual—that compelled him to action all his life were one and the same. Notably, however, he was the living embodiment of the values he upheld and the world view he adopted.


Professor Tazeen Mahnaz Murshid is a social scientist and historian, and daughter of Professor Khan Sarwar Murshid, who died on this day eight years ago.


On Iran, Biden Can Bide His Time

New York Times Editorial

Dec. 7, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden has made it clear that his preferred method for dealing with Iran is to find a way back to the nuclear deal the Obama administration concluded in 2015, while bargaining for an extension to some of its key provisions.

“If Iran returns to strict compliance,” Biden wrote in a September op-ed for CNN, “the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.”

The Iranian regime, for its part, has made it clear that, in reaction to last month’s assassination of its nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, it intends to ramp up its production of enriched uranium while threatening to expel international inspectors by early February if the United States doesn’t immediately lift sanctions.

The regime has also ruled out any extensions to the nuclear deal, from which President Trump withdrew in 2018. “It will never be renegotiated,” says Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. “Period.”

There’s a way out of this impasse. The Biden administration should — and, more important, can — bide its time.

Tehran is desperate to have sanctions lifted. In 2016, after the nuclear deal had taken effect, it exported roughly 2.1 million barrels of crude oil a day. In 2020, after the Trump administration imposed sanctions, it exported less than a quarter of that. The inflation rate is running somewhere between 42 and 99 percent. Protests a year ago, triggered by a rise in fuel prices, led to massive street demonstrations calling for an end to the regime.

The regime’s response to its economic and political crises has been to up the stakes. It wagers that it can provoke a nuclear crisis and then stampede the new administration into giving up its immense economic leverage even before meaningful negotiations begin. Once the main sanctions are lifted, Tehran can concede things it never had a right to withdraw, such as U.N. access to its nuclear facilities under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, while haggling for things it shouldn’t be allowed to get, such as the lifting of sanctions on an Iranian airline that supports the regime’s proxies.

But Tehran’s escalation is also a bluff. There’s a limit to how far it can go in provoking a nuclear crisis with the United States without risking a confrontation with an enemy that is much closer to home.

In the last six months, explosions in Iran have destroyed large parts of a centrifuge manufacturing facility in Natanz, a secretive military installation at Parchin, a power plant in Isfahan, a missile facility in Khojir and an underground military installation in Tehran, among other places. Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Al Qaeda’s second-highest leader, was gunned down in August in the streets of Tehran. As for Fakhrizadeh, he was not the first Iranian nuclear scientist to meet a violent end, and probably won’t be the last.

Nobody has taken responsibility for these attacks, but nobody is in much doubt about their source, either. They reveal an astonishing degree of penetration of the Iranian security complex. If Tehran tries to race toward nuclear breakout, it knows it will encounter a determined and effective challenge. There’s a limit to how far the regime can go with its provocations before those provocations become dangerous to the regime itself.

In short, Tehran’s negotiating position is weak and its options for escalation are limited. (Even its apparent attack last year on Saudi Arabia’s oil installations, while technically impressive, did little permanent damage to the Kingdom while accelerating the recent Arab-Israeli rapprochement.) If disputed rumors of the 81-year-old Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s ill health prove true, the country would experience its first transfer of real authority since 1989, another tumultuous event for an already unpopular regime.

Contrast this with the Biden administration, which will come into office holding four powerful cards — assuming it chooses to play them. First, it can credibly outsource effective deterrence to Israel without having to bear the immediate risks. Second, it can leverage the military, economic, intelligence and diplomatic resources of an increasingly united Israeli-Arab front. Third, it doesn’t have to impose new sanctions to cripple Iran’s economy. It merely has to enforce the ones already in place.

Finally, there is growing evidence that Iran has long been in breach of its past commitments by hiding hundreds of tons of nuclear equipment and material that should have been disclosed under the terms of the nuclear deal. The Biden administration and its European partners have a right and responsibility to insist that Tehran provide a full accounting of that material as the entry price of negotiations.

There is a road toward a credible and durable deal with Iran that can muster the kind of regional support and bipartisan buy-in the last one lacked. It’s a deal that forces the regime to choose between a nuclear program or a functioning economy, rather than getting both. A Biden administration that has the patience to see through Tehran’s bluster can be rewarded with a lasting diplomatic achievement that a future administration, unlike the last one, will not easily erase.



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