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World Press ( 10 Nov 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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World Press on Love Jihad in India, Myanmar Election and Joe Biden: New Age Islam's Selection, 10 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

10 November 2020

• She's Hindu, He's Muslim And They Faced Online Hate

By Rohini Mohan

• Laws Banning Hindu-Muslim Marriages To Fight ‘Love Jihad’ Gain Steam In India

By Anna Harnes

• Myanmar Elections Reflect A Fractured Society

By Shuprova Tasneem

• US Elections: Toxic Populism Challenges Democracy

By Manzoor Ahmed

• The Joe Biden I Knew Has Been Humbled

By Frank Bruni


She's Hindu, He's Muslim And They Faced Online Hate

By Rohini Mohan



Ms Athira Sujatha Radhakrishnan and Mr Shameem P. at their wedding last December. The couple's application for a civil union was posted online by a stranger and drew hateful comments because she is a Hindu and he a Muslim.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ATHIRA SUJATHA RADHAKRISHNAN


All Athira Sujatha Radhakrishnan, 33, and Shameem P., 34, wanted for their wedding reception last December was a fun party with friends and family. After all, following some initial reservations, Ms Radhakrishnan's Hindu parents and Mr Shameem's Muslim parents had eventually supported the couple's decision to marry.

Both Ms Radhakrishnan, a public policy professional, and Mr Shameem, a start-up consultant, are not religious "so there was no conversation about conversion", Ms Radhakrishnan said.

But because they were from different faiths, the couple had to apply for a civil union under India's Special Marriage Act. In accordance with the law, their application was put on the local marriage registrar office's notice board for 30 days.

A week later, a stranger tagged Mr Shameem in a Facebook post on their application, which also included their photos and home addresses. The post attracted hateful comments and, in half an hour, it was shared 150 times.

"Two weeks later, my mum sent me a (forwarded) WhatsApp (message) in Malayalam which read, 'In this month, around 108 Hindu women have been trapped by Love Jihadis.' It was a document with around 125 applications filed in Kerala under the Special Marriage Act, including mine," said Ms Radhakrishnan.

Although upset and scared, the couple focused on planning for their wedding. They registered their marriage without trouble and had a reception with 250 guests on Dec 26 last year.

She said: "If even the minister's daughter is not spared, what about less-privileged women? I decided to speak up against this nauseating hate and venom."

She wrote about her experience on Facebook and received messages from many other couples about how their personal details had also been shared online.

Ms Radhakrishnan tagged Kerala's state legislators in her post, demanding action. Finally, Public Works minister G. Sudhakaran instructed all inter-faith marriage applications to be removed from the government website.

"Those who talk about 'love jihad' think all Muslim men are potential frauds or terrorists. They think a woman is too stupid to decide for herself and needs saving. Enough of this Islamophobia and misogyny," Ms Radhakrishnan added.

In the middle of last month, she petitioned the country's Supreme Court to have the "discriminatory" 30-day rule removed as a violation of privacy.

She said: "Hindu marriage laws and Muslim marriage laws allow two consenting adults to marry. So why should two consenting adults who want to continue in their separate religions be put through so much trouble?"


Laws Banning Hindu-Muslim Marriages To Fight ‘Love Jihad’ Gain Steam In India

By Anna Harnes

November 8, 2020


Several states in India have proposed a new ban on marriages between Hindus and Muslims. The suggested laws come as many in the nation have been gripped by fears that Muslim men are forcing Hindu women to convert in a strategy deemed “love jihad.”

According to The Straits Times, several politicians have spoken out about the practice as the relationship between the two religious communities remain strained.

“The government is taking a decision to stop love jihad… I warn those who conceal their identities and disrespect our sisters. If you don’t mend your ways, your funerals will begin soon,” stated Yogi Adityanath, the Hindu cleric who is chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state and boasts a population of 166 million, and so an inter-faith ban would have a wide-reaching effect.

“There will be no jihad in the name of love, whoever does such an act will be set right,” proclaimed Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who heads the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

CT Ravi, the head of tourism in Karnataka, tweeted that the southwestern state was also hoping to enact “a law banning religious conversions for the sake of marriage.” Manohar Lal Khattar, the chief minister of Haryana, similarly voiced his support for the measure. Haryana is home to over 25 million people and neighbors India’s capital city of New Delhi.

But despite the strong rhetoric, experts have warned that there is little evidence that “love jihad” commonly occurs. In fact, multiple investigations conducted by Indian authorities have come to similar conclusions, with some deeming it nothing more than a conspiracy theory seeped in Islamophobia. In truth, investigators said that most of the accusations of forced conversion came from families who did not approve of consensual inter-faith marriages.

However, while there is no widespread evidence for “love jihad,” there have been anecdotal instances that have fueled the conspiracy theories. For example, Pakistani human rights campaigners claimed that a 13-year-old Christian girl was kidnapped from her home in Karachi and forced to marry a 44-year-old man who made her convert to Islam, per The Daily Mail.

The case gained headlines and sparked protests after the courts upheld that the 13-year-old had both gotten married and converted to Islam by her own free will — despite the fact that the minor tried to run to her mother in the courtroom and was physically restrained by her husband.

While the actual threat of love jihad remains up for debate, human rights campaigners are warning that a very real danger for Indian girls and women is the increase of trafficking and child marriages due to COVID-19 related lockdowns. As was previously reported by The Inquisitr, the practice is on the rise, partially due to economic anxiety sparked by the pandemic.


Myanmar Elections Reflect A Fractured Society

By Shuprova Tasneem

November 10, 2020

This past week, the world has been transfixed by the high-drama US elections and the soon-to-be ex-President Trump's temper tantrums, as his opponent Joe Biden slowly overtook him to become the President elect of the United States. Overshadowed by the fiercely contested US polls, the November 8 general elections in our neighbouring country Myanmar may have slipped under the radar for many.

However there were, surprisingly, certain similarities between the two countries' national ballots—both elections took place against the backdrop of a global pandemic with massive economic repercussions in increasingly polarised societies, and were considered to be historically significant. The US elections represented a nation-wide pushback against Trump's brand of right-wing populism, and the Myanmar elections represented a new era of democratic reforms that were ushered in after the 2015 elections, where a landslide victory by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) established her as the State Counsellor of Myanmar and ended outright military rule. Or so it was hoped.

Unfortunately, the similarities between the two nations' ballots turned out to be skin-deep—while the US elections, despite many attempts by President Trump and his supporters to undermine the process, proved itself to be a free and fair exercise in a functional democracy, the Myanmar elections could hardly make the same claim.

At this point, one must acknowledge that a democratic process, no matter how flawed, is infinitely preferable to a country ruled by a military dictatorship, as had been the case for Myanmar since the early 60s until the historic 2015 elections. However, the fact that a quarter of the seats in parliament are still reserved for the military sticks out like a sore thumb—if Myanmar is ever to truly function as a democracy, the privileged position of the military, not only in security concerns but in national governance, must become a thing of the past.

At the time of writing this, Suu Kyi's NLD is favoured to come out on top in the Myanmar general elections, despite the fact that the NLD needs at least 322 seats to form a government whilst the army-backed opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) needs only 156. Early on in the day yesterday, NLD spokesperson Dr Myo Nyunt told Frontier Myanmar that the party's internal results showed it had won enough seats to form government—saying "We have won almost every seat in the (Bamar-majority) regions." This was corroborated as results trickled in throughout the day, showing quite a few NLD gains in former USDP-stronghold constituencies, such as in Bago and southern Mandalay. However, the fact that these "centres of Buddhist nationalism" are now voting for NLD and not USDP reflects the dark undercurrent of racial tensions that have marked Myanmar's polls.

It is estimated that a total of 5,643 candidates stood for elections across 1,119 constituencies in national and regional legislatures, with around 20 to 30 million people casting votes across 50,000 polling stations. What's missing from this calculation are the number of voters who were stripped of their right to vote, either due to Myanmar's highly controversial citizenship laws that have excluded the entire Rohingya population by denying them citizenship, or as a result of polling centres being shut down in almost all of Rakhine, as well as in townships in Kachin, Karen and Shan—all states with significant ethnic minorities who are likely to vote against the ruling NLD. Overall, Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 1.5 million voters have been disenfranchised in Myanmar itself, and that is without counting the close to 1.1 million Rohingya who have fled genocide in Rakhine and are now trapped in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

The marginalisation of minority groups in the electoral process, especially while Myanmar is engaged in the worst civil conflict in decades with the Rakhine armed group Arakan Army (AA), raises many red flags. There have also been reports of members of different ethnic groups being denied the opportunity to vote for their specific ethnic affairs minister. According to Myanmar journalist Aye Min Thant, voter suppression can get codified in Myanmar law—"The way "race" is created through Myanmar's law and is then tied to unequal rights mean that huge portions of the population end up in strange limbos".

This division of Myanmar society along racial lines, with the NLD also exacerbating and encouraging these tensions and tapping into Buddhist nationalist sentiments to expand their voter base, despite being the party that spearheaded the democratic movement in Myanmar, is worrying indeed. As journalist and researcher Ben Dunant writes in The Diplomat—"The suffering of these minority groups is not evidence of Myanmar "backsliding" into dictatorship, but of its evolution into an illiberal, majoritarian democracy, in which the government is increasingly responsive to majority demands, but where the only protected minority interest is the military, which still controls key security ministries and retains a quarter of all parliamentary seats."

What do these elections mean for Bangladesh? So far, our government has been inordinately patient with the Myanmar authorities, hoping against hope that a sustainable solution will be reached regarding the repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. However, the total erasure of the Rohingya from the electoral process and the continued demonisation of the minority group, with anti-Muslim hate speech actually being used as a tactic to gain voters, gives us every cause for concern. It seems almost like Bangladesh is being taken for a ride here—the carrot of safe and dignified repatriation of Rohingya refugees is being dangled in front of us, while within Myanmar, the anti-refugee, anti-Muslim rhetoric of electoral campaigns and the mass disenfranchisement of Rohingya voters are only further entrenching apartheid conditions and demonstrating there is still no place for the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Than Htay, leader of the USDP, recently told AFP "I cannot accept useless people in our country" about the stateless Rohingya, and USDP supporters even created a parody of an NLD anthem, claiming Suu Kyi's party had welcomed "Bengali Muslims as if they were gods". The fact that this political mud-slinging entailed accusations of being too accepting of other races and religions, in an attempt to gain support from the majority Bamar population, is very telling of a deep-rooted and insidious culture of assimilation within Myanmar, where different races, languages and cultures are routinely excluded from mainstream society. However, the USDP's tactics do not seem to have worked—NLD is projected to gain an even bigger victory compared to 2015, although the USDP is refusing to concede losses in certain townships.

NLD's return to power, despite the USDP being backed by the military, would be a win for democracy in Myanmar. However, its soaring popularity at home, despite its reputation collapsing in the international community due to Suu Kyi's defence of the Myanmar military at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and her denial of the Rohingya genocide, is an indication of a society that is fractured along communal and racial divides.

Will the newly elected government of Myanmar push for a more democratic and inclusive society, with civic spaces that allow dissenting voices to hold those in power to account? While we hope democratic institutions will continue to evolve and become stronger, it is difficult for us to keep the faith in Myanmar's fledgling democracy while minorities continue to be denied their democratic rights, ethnic conflict continues to escalate within its borders and the armed forces continue to exert their political and economic influence across the country. As the cases of genocide and war crimes against its military at the ICJ and the International Criminal Court progress, the treatment of the country's persecuted Rohingya population will ultimately be the litmus test for democracy in Myanmar.


Shuprova Tasneem is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.


US Elections: Toxic Populism Challenges Democracy

By Manzoor Ahmed

November 10, 2020

Mark Twain reputedly said that God created wars to teach Americans geography. It can be said that God put Donald Trump in the White House to teach America how to protect democracy. Whether the lessons are being learned remains an open question. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have now been declared the winners of the 46th Presidential race. Biden received over 74 million votes, the highest ever in a presidential election in the US.

Trump had announced himself the victor on the election night, demanded that counting of mailed-in votes should be stopped (claiming this to be illegal or fraudulent without any evidence), complained about the election being stolen, and mounted legal battles to press his claim.

Biden, in contrast, had called for calm, unity and patience, and expressed confidence about victory when the counting was done.

Trump had beaten the opinion polls and predictions in 2016 for a surprise win of the presidency. He had run as the candidate against the political establishment of Washington, vowing to "drain the swamp," make America great again (whatever that meant), reduce immigration and build a wall on the southern border with Mexico. He derided international trade agreements and embarked on a trade war with China, the second largest economy in the world.

He pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, calling climate change a hoax. He mismanaged the Covid-19 pandemic abysmally, causing over 240,000 deaths and still counting, with the highest death and infection numbers in the world. He blamed China for causing the pandemic and stopped US funding to the WHO, the agency coordinating the global response to the pandemic.

Trump kept trying to dismantle the Obama-initiated national healthcare plan that offered health insurance to all citizens and coverage of pre-existing conditions, calling it "socialised medicine." He promised a better health plan but failed to come up with any, while risking the loss of insurance coverage of millions.

Trump's misogyny and behaviour towards women resulted in lawsuits. His administration notoriously separated young children of asylum seekers from parents and placed them in cages. Now, parents of hundreds of them cannot be traced.

Trump's lies in public statements and his tweets (his favourite means of public communication) spawned a fact-checking industry and obliged Twitter to post warnings about misleading information from the President. He declared the press and electronic media to be the enemy of the people.

Trump branded the Black Lives Matter supporters as rioters and looters, refused to condemn white supremacists, declared himself a staunch promoter of law and order and boasted of unanimous police union support from across the country.

He stood by Israeli PM Netanyahu in his aggressive policy of annexing Palestinian neighbourhoods and shifted the US embassy to Jerusalem, shedding all pretence of neutrality in the Arab-Israeli dispute. He boasted of friendship with autocratic rulers such as Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad-bin-Salman and North Korea's Kim Jong-Un. He claimed a special relationship with Russia's President Vladimir Putin when US intelligence agencies were concerned about Russia's interference in the US election process.

Amazingly, Trump garnered over 64 million votes, more than he won in 2016. He built a loyal support base of older, less educated whites and evangelical Christians, bolstered by all kinds of people disaffected with the prevailing system, including a proportion of Blacks and Latinos. The Latino votes handed the critical Florida electoral college to Trump and almost 20 percent of Black voters supported Trump.

Trump has so far refused to concede the election and vows to continue court battles, hoping to bring it to the Supreme Court, where conservative justices appointed by him hold a strong majority. He will try to obstruct the succession process and urges his supporters to take their protests to the streets.

Conservative populism as a threat to liberal democracy is a global phenomenon that has emerged in the beginning of the 21st century. I had written in a column in this daily earlier, "Donald Trump managed to create a support base among the electorate by invoking white male working class resentments and real or imagined fears about various things—non-whites over-running the country, global trade taking away American jobs, hordes of illegal immigrants depressing job markets and causing crime and violence, and Muslims waging a war on Western Christian civilisation."

Politicians everywhere appear to be taking cue and are trying to apply this populist formula to gain political advantage. Playing on people's fears and prejudices is an old populist trick. A populist support base, once created, is not easily shaken by logic or evidence. Outrageous words, actions and policy or non-policy are the stock in trade for populist leaders.

Cases in point are Brazil's Bolsonaro, Europe (including Austria, Hungary, Poland and even France's Macron and UK's post-Brexit Boris Johnson), Philippine's Duterte, and closer to home, India's Narendra Modi and his BJP-led ruling coalition. The good news is that the nail-biting finish in the US has shown that the electoral system there works smoothly, thanks to tens of thousands of election officials and workers in the states and local counties under both Republican and Democratic state administrations.

Demography is another reason for hope. The Republican support in the "red" states such as Texas, Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia has dwindled in 2020 and this trend will continue. The Black population and other minorities, women and urban-suburban educated people are growing; diversity of the population will prevail in the political voice. Kamala Harris, the first woman to be elected as the Vice President, a child of immigrant parents of Indian and Jamaican origin, is an iconic part of this wave of the future.

Trumpism will, however, not disappear quietly into the setting sun. As Kamala Harris said in her victory speech on Saturday night, "America's democracy is not guaranteed, it is as strong as our willingness to fight for it; it takes struggle and sacrifice to protect it." And Biden said, it is time to build and heal, root out systemic racism and restore America's soul with compassion, empathy and concern. The new administration has a big job cut out for it.

There are two major and obvious lessons here for nurturing democracy in Bangladesh. First, the electoral machinery has to be made independent and functional, enforcing its rules and mandates. Second, those who want to be major political forces and steer the country to the future must cultivate and earn the trust of the youth, women and the ordinary citizens; they must rebuild the organisation and structure of the respective political parties from the grassroots, giving all a genuine voice.


Manzoor Ahmed is Professor Emeritus at Brac University.


The Joe Biden I Knew Has Been Humbled

By Frank Bruni

Nov. 9, 2020

You no doubt saw or heard at least some of Joe Biden’s pitch-perfect victory speech last weekend, but what about the victory video that his campaign released hours earlier, just after CNN and other networks declared him the president-elect?

It’s a gorgeous two minutes of music (a rendition of “America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles) and images, precisely none of which show Biden. He cedes the frame and the moment entirely to Americans themselves — to Black Americans, white Americans, Native Americans, disabled Americans, young Americans, old Americans — and to the landscapes in the lyrics of the song.

The video made clear that we, not he, were the focus, the story, the point of all of this. His speech hours later similarly elevated the first person plural over the first person singular, which was singularly transcendent under Donald Trump.

Largely to draw a contrast with Trump, Biden ran one of the humblest presidential campaigns I can recall. He claimed victory in the presidential race last weekend with the same radical humility. And that tonic of a tone could be crucial to his agenda.

His sweepingly ambitious goals include a major expansion of health care, a titanic effort to combat climate change, yet another change in the tax code and much, much more. But he’s wisely fashioning all of that as a public, not a personal, quest, and he’s casting himself as servant, not lord. The best way to ask for the moon is modestly.

That approach — call it the New Humility — was evident in a small detail on Monday morning. He released a written statement about Pfizer’s reported progress toward an effective coronavirus vaccine, and its second sentence extended congratulations to “the brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough.” He directed attention away from, not toward, himself.

He added this: “It is also important to understand that the end of the battle against Covid-19 is still months away.” There was none of Trump’s overreach, the kissing cousin to his self-congratulation. Biden was giving it to us straight. He was giving it to us humble.

It’s often said that people aren’t capable of big change when they’re older. But Biden has changed, in ways as poignant as they are prudent. I sometimes don’t recognize this version of him.

He used to have a way of sucking the oxygen out of a room. He couldn’t shut up. If you gave him the microphone, he thrilled to it, wouldn’t surrender it, sang an aria that turned into a whole damned opera.

A bunch of us Times columnists had lunch with him at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in 2012 and came away commenting on how spirited, upbeat and warm he was, but also on how he talked and talked and talked.

The following year, he visited the Times Building in Manhattan and sat down with a small group of editors and writers. He talked even more. We were lucky to get in a question every 10 minutes.

But something happened between then and now. He got older. He suffered great loss with the death of his son Beau. And Trump happened, too, providing the country with an example of hubris so monumental — and self-fascination so malignant — that any sane and sensitive observer would recoil from it, look for traces of those toxins in himself and purge them, especially if volunteering to be the antidote to that egomania.

Biden’s campaign verged on self-effacing even before the pandemic compelled a retreat from the campaign trail and a shedding of all the pomp that a presidential bid typically entails.

In those early primary debates, while Biden’s rivals talked past their time limits, he’d cut himself off, coloring dutifully within the lines. Technically, physically, he was always in the center of the stage. Effectively, he was anywhere but.

He positioned himself not as the heir to the Democratic tradition or as a messiah charting the party’s future but as a transitional figure. What could be humbler than that? Sure, this was strategic, but it would have rung hollow had it not been matched by his bearing.

His climatic remarks at the Democratic National Convention in August seemed to be the work of a team of people who had hung the most famous line from Trump’s boast to Republicans four years earlier — “I alone can fix it” — on the wall of their writing room and resolved to produce its antonym.

The convention itself was distinctive for how it kept turning the camera around so that voters, not Biden, dominated the frame. When there were Biden-centric testimonials, they described him not in heroic terms but simply as a decent, honest man.

“He was making clear that he wouldn’t rule as some self-obsessed despot,” I wrote then. “He wouldn’t rule at all. He’d govern. It’s a different, humbler thing.”

The assumption that Biden won’t seek a second term as president reflects more than his age, 77. (He’ll be 78 before Inauguration Day.) It reflects his bearing, too. There’s little greed or gluttony in it.

It reflects an ethos that was embedded deep into this campaign, that is carrying over into this transition and that manifests itself in all sorts of ways. Jill Biden’s decision to continue her teaching job even as first lady: That’s part and parcel of the New Humility.

So was Biden’s reticence after Election Day, as he modeled and urged patience with vote counting and steered clear of any tit-for-tat with Trump.

The New Humility means that he and his aides aren’t trying to monopolize the headlines by turbocharging chatter about who might get which cabinet positions but instead sending signals that this is a process, and a sober one at that.

And the New Humility shaped the opening stretch of Biden’s victory speech. “Folks,” he said, “the people of this nation have spoken. They’ve delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory, a victory for we, the people. We’ve won with the most votes ever cast on a presidential ticket in the history of the nation, 74 million!” We. The people.

“I’m humbled by the trust and confidence you’ve placed in me,” he added. Humbled. Trust. This new presidency will force us to dust off an old vocabulary.



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