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World Press on Rohingya Refugees and US Elections 2020: New Age Islam's Selection, 28 October 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

28 October 2020

• Inside The Rohingya Refugee Camps: Circumstances Beckon Prudence And Vision

By C R Abrar

• Why Leftists Should Vote For Biden In Droves

By Zeeshan Aleem

• When My President Sang ‘Amazing Grace’

By Thomas L. Friedman

• The Trump Administration Is Illegally Hiding An FBI Report On White Supremacist Terror

By Alex Henderson


Inside The Rohingya Refugee Camps: Circumstances Beckon Prudence And Vision

By C R Abrar

October 28, 2020


In January, the Bangladesh government’s change in policy, which finally allowed education and skills training for Rohingya children, was widely appreciated. Photo: Collected


From an unprecedented shutdown of activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the country is gradually moving to a new normal situation. Although the spectre of the second wave of the contagion looms large, road, rail and air communications are being resumed, shopping outlets are beginning to see customers, mills and factories are slowly resuming production and construction sites are steadily getting active as internal migrants desperate for jobs flock to the urban centres. Many services that were suspended due to the outbreak of the pandemic are gradually being restored.

Like the rest of the country, life in the Cox's Bazar-Ukhiya-Teknaf region has also begun to pulsate. The huge success of the local administration in enforcing a total shutdown, restricting humanitarian responses to critical activities and barring the movement of people and vehicles, have yielded handsome results. It slowed the spread of the virus and provided opportunities to shore up required public healthcare facilities, including establishing isolation and treatment centres for both Rohingya refugees and the locals.

There is little room for complacency. The congested nature of the dwellings in camps has made it virtually impossible for the refugees to maintain social distancing. There is general reticence to use protective gear. The idea that only divine intervention can cure the disease is pervasive.

The negative perception associated with the virus contributes to a general reluctance to visit clinics for test or treatment, particularly for fever and other Covid-19 like symptoms. Even those suffering from non-Covid-19 symptoms, as a result of other illnesses, avoid visiting clinics for fear of being stigmatised. The situation becomes more complex with brewing discontent and tension among the host community that refugees will spread the virus. Disease epidemics have historically been used to create divisions between groups of people and to assign blame.

The emphasis on Covid-19 appears to have overshadowed other critical health needs, such as routine immunisation, mental health services, maternal/child health services, etc. Diphtheria cases are being reported. These types of epidemics, especially of preventable illness, can in turn erode trust in health services and create a feedback loop where healthcare is not sought or services are not utilised. Enhancing trust, through positive and effective risk communication, can help mitigate this, but only if other health services are provided.

Poor quality of services including non-availability of medicines, language barriers and long hours of waiting also discourage service seekers from accessing healthcare facilities. Therefore, there is an urgent need to improve the quality of services and for decisive action to restore regular medical services through adequate mobilisation of resources.

In January, the Bangladesh government's change in policy, which finally allowed education and skills training for Rohingya children, was widely appreciated. Notwithstanding the restrictions that the education must be informal and must not use the Bangla language, it was a refreshing departure from a previous stance that breached Bangladesh's obligations according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. One hopes that this is the beginning of efforts to address existing critical gaps in refugee access to education and skills development opportunities, and will eventually lead to "access to appropriate, accredited and quality education" for all children of the area, including Rohingya children.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has delayed the implementation of the new education and skills training programme. There is an urgent need to gear up efforts, with adequate mobilisation of resources by the international community, so that Rohingya children are not deprived further in their pursuit to realise their innate potentials. Retention of skills requires their application. The next logical step could therefore be planning to engage the refugees in income generating activities.

Education not only provides children with the opportunity to advance in their career, it also enables them to think clearly, make a distinction between good and evil, claim their rights and face challenging situations. An educated, informed and engaged youth will be less prone to irrational ideas, including those of religious and sectarian bigotry and violent extremism. Education not only shapes individuals' mental abilities to its fullest potentials, it contributes to the development of their talents, instills self confidence and empowers them. It is in such a context of harnessing their human potential that the government may reconsider allowing the re-enrolment of enterprising and talented Rohingya youth who secured admissions on merit in formal institutions, continued their studies without any public assistance but were subsequently de-registered through a government fiat.

The recent spate of violence, resulting in the death of five refugees and the injury of scores of others, has been a worrisome development. Although local media have interpreted the incident as "factional fighting" within the Rohingya community, its links with the drug trade, involving powerful persons of the mainstream community, is also a possibility. These incidents are harmful not only for the security and safety of refugees but also for their reputation and public perception. Needless to say, such incidents reinforce the Burmese position that the Rohingya are a violent group harboured by Bangladesh. Robust efforts to ensure law and order are vital. Also, there is a need for proper investigations into the incident.

Another important matter of deep concern for the refugees has been the renewed call by a section of the media and intellectuals for the relocation of 100,000 refugees to Bhashan Char. Presumably to garner support, impressive accounts and footages are being made available in the public domain of what was earlier perceived to be a hush-hush project. Recently, a visit of a group of journalists was arranged "to assess its habitability". Not surprisingly, the visit yielded a general endorsement. After all, the structures and facilities on the "self sufficient" island are surely more impressive than the thatched, rickety shacks that the refugee currently live in.

Last week in Prothom Alo, analyst Kamal Ahmed raised two pertinent questions. Would not the current inmates of the facility, who have been living on the island for months, be the most suitable persons to speak on the issue, and what prevented the journalists from speaking with them? Also relevant is the question of whether this would give a signal to the Burmese, and also the world, that Bangladesh is beginning to accept the Rohingya as fait accompli by building permanent structures for them.

It is regrettable that the project was conceived and executed in haste without engaging important stakeholders who are rendering services for the protection of the refugees. Before carrying out any relocations, the call for a comprehensive technical and protection assessment to evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on Bhashan Char is a reasonable one. In line with its earlier commitment, the government must ensure that relocation will be voluntary and refugees will enjoy access to basic rights, services and livelihood opportunities.

One wonders if the placement of more than 300 refugees in May as the first residents of the island, mostly women and children who were intercepted and rescued on their way to Malaysia, was a prudent one. The persistent refusal of the authorities to grant UN access to these vulnerable and traumatised survivors to assess their protection and humanitarian situation only generates negative publicity. The claims by the inmates of sexual abuse and extortion (while effecting money transfer by relatives) that have been highlighted by international media and rights organisations need to be thoroughly and impartially investigated and acted upon. These, coupled with the insensitive (if not reckless) comments of some state functionaries that the refugees will be forced to relocate, and the suggestion that all imprisoned Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar can be granted bail on condition that they agree to go Bhashan Char, only present it as a penal facility, thereby bolster the perception that life on the Char may not be quite bearable.

There is a need for the emergence of an organically grown leadership at different tiers. A long standing demand of refugees and rights activists has been ensuring the participation of the community in making decisions that affect them. A recently released Amnesty International report "Let us speak for our rights" deftly argues that instituting such an arrangement would not only help in making the right decisions; it will ensure openness, accountability and transparency.

The protracted nature of the Rohingya presence in Bangladesh demands innovative and sensitive policy responses. Jettisoning its earlier approach, Bangladeshi authorities have responded to the felt needs of the refugees and acknowledged the importance of education and skill training. It has lifted the blanket ban on internet coverage. It has acted decisively to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. It is trying its best to bring the sharply deteriorating law and order situation in Teknaf under control.

At a time when Burma is under global scrutiny from international accountability mechanisms, policymakers in Dhaka should ensure that the focus remains on the perpetrators of genocide. They should act prudently and refrain from taking any actions that may amount to the proverbial "shooting yourself in the foot".


C R Abrar is an academic with an interest in migration and rights issues.


Why Leftists Should Vote for Biden in Droves

By Zeeshan Aleem

Oct. 27, 2020


Joe Biden, Photo NYT


If you were to think up a nightmare for the socialist left, it would be hard to think of someone more horrifying than President Trump: an authoritarian billionaire who uses the White House to enrich himself and his inner circle while deploying racism to cleave the working class and shunning international cooperation.

And yet in some quarters of the left there are signs of hesitation about voting for Joe Biden.

Briahna Joy Gray, press secretary for Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, caused a stir in a recent debate with Noam Chomsky by questioning the value of voting for Democrats. And even among those who do support voting for Mr. Biden, it is common to see them attach qualifications that narrow that to swing-state voting.

After Mr. Sanders dropped out of the 2020 primaries, Krystal Ball, a left-wing commentator, argued that leftists should decide whether they want to cast “nose holding” votes for Mr. Biden in the general election. And she committed to not “judging or shaming” former Sanders supporters for weighing their options, a choice each one would have to make “for themselves.”

But Ms. Ball’s formulation, ironically, has a whiff of bourgeois liberalism to it. Leftists don’t tell one another to split up and act in isolation; they derive power and meaning from debating and executing collective action, like labor politics and protests and community organizing. And leftists shouldn’t conceive of politics as self-expression: Politics is about the balance of power in society — between capital and labor, between elites and the marginalized.

It’s evident that while socialists detest Mr. Trump’s embodiment of plutocracy, some still feel icky about casting a ballot for a man pledging to restore the status quo and whose prominent surrogates proudly point out that he could not be mistaken for a socialist. But they shouldn’t. Instead, they should mobilize en masse on behalf of Mr. Biden in every state, without apology or embarrassment — and even with some excitement. To do so would not be to renege on their commitment to socialism, but rather to advance its cause.

A social movement that wants to reshape the world seeks out political terrain more conducive to change.

Mr. Trump’s re-election would mean four more years of scrambling to shield the already insufficient Affordable Care Act, but a win by Mr. Biden would allow socialists to go on offense and push for a Medicare-for-all system. Mr. Trump’s re-election would deal irreversible damage to the planet, but there are signs that Mr. Biden could be pressured to adopt the ambition of the Green New Deal. And without Mr. Biden to rebalance the ideological makeup of the courts, most of the policies that the left is pushing on organized labor or the welfare state would be rendered legally impossible.

These policies would not constitute the realization of socialism, but they would help lay the foundation for liberating workers.

Since Americans are far more motivated to enter the voting booth for presidential candidates than for politicians for any other office, encouraging turnout for Mr. Biden could also tip the outcome of competitive down-ballot races: Socialists and their fellow travelers on the left could ride into office in federal, state and local elections on his coattails, pulling the Democratic Party left and enacting policies that protect the poor and communities of color.

Just as important, it could help ensure that Democrats win back control of the Senate. If Mr. Biden slips into the presidency without the Democrats’ taking control of the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell will filibuster even the most vanilla Democratic bills into oblivion.

The unique threats that Mr. Trump poses to democracy with acts like the politicization of the Justice Department and calls for violent crackdowns on protests should clarify the stakes for the left.

An overwhelming majority of active socialists in the United States today are democratic socialists — they believe that political and economic democracy are both indispensable and interconnected. That means they have a duty and an interest in thwarting the emergence of an authoritarian regime.

Mr. Trump’s efforts to interfere in the elections are yet another reason for a massive left-wing mobilization: Given his attempts at tampering and his questioning the legitimacy of mail-in voting, legal scholars like Lawrence Douglas at Amherst College argue that a huge margin in favor of Mr. Biden may be the country’s best weapon against Mr. Trump trying to steal the election.

A very fringe view on the left holds that the election of reactionaries like Mr. Trump intensifies the crises that will inspire people to turn to socialism and justifies ignoring the polls or voting for third-party candidates. This argument suffers both from ethical and strategic problems.

Subjecting the planet and the most vulnerable people who live on it to suffering on the hope that it prompts people to question capitalism is a cruel gamble at odds with principles of leftist solidarity. Moreover, it’s a reckless wager: Consider that authoritarian regimes that deprive their citizens of rights and prosperity are capable of great longevity, as we’ve seen in countries like Russia and North Korea. No student of history would underestimate the possibility of things to simply get worse.

The left is ultimately investing in its own electoral future by taking voting for Mr. Biden seriously. A great deal of political science literature shows that voting is habitual; lefty organizations should be building get-out-the-vote infrastructure and socializing the left to think about voting as a routine collective action so that they can mobilize more effectively in future races.

While general elections often involve uninspiring choices, the rise of Mr. Sanders and a left-wing bloc in Congress led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have illustrated how Democratic primaries provide critical opportunities for the left to insert itself into American political life. If the left becomes a consistent constituency rather than a periodic threat to potential turnout numbers, it will have more leverage over the party establishment.

A sophisticated and strategic left — a left that strives to win power — knows how to pick its fights and its adversaries. The primaries are over, the party convention is over, and voting has already begun. Change does not begin or end in the voting booth. But voting is one of the simplest and most tangible ways to tilt the playing field and offer some protection to the vulnerable.

Socialists should fight like hell to get Mr. Biden into office — and then fight him like hell the day that he becomes president.


Zeeshan Aleem is a freelance political journalist and publisher of What’s Left.


When My President Sang ‘Amazing Grace’

By Thomas L. Friedman

Oct. 27, 2020

This is my last regular column before Election Day, so what is there left to say? Instead of giving you an answer, let me leave you with a question, which I think is the question. What would you do if your kid came home from school and said:

“Mom, Dad, my teacher said President Obama ordered the killing of the U.S. Special Forces team that supposedly killed Osama bin Laden. My teacher said Bin Laden is actually still alive, that the guy the Navy SEALs killed was a ‘body double.’ He also claimed that Obama’s aides got Iran to send Bin Laden to Pakistan so Obama could have a ‘trophy kill.’ What’s a trophy kill? My teacher said he had heard all of this somewhere on the internet and he just thought he’d pass it along to our class. Mom, Dad, is this true?”

I know how I’d respond. I’d immediately call the school principal and ask how someone peddling such vile and fraudulent conspiracy stuff could be teaching in any classroom in America. Who wouldn’t? It violates the most basic judgment and norms of decency that we expect of anyone teaching in public school or serving in public office.

And that is really the question Donald Trump’s voters can’t ignore: Why would you be ready to fire your kid’s teacher for passing along such disgusting nonsense but be willing to rehire the nation’s teacher in chief — our president, the man with the most-read blackboard in the world — after he peddled exactly these crazy conspiracy theories to some 87 million people on Twitter the other day? Is there anything more warped?

On Oct. 13, “Trump retweeted a post from an account linked to QAnon, a collective of online conspiracists, which has since been suspended,” reported CNN. “The tweet alleged ‘Biden and Obama may have had SEAL Team 6 killed,’ that Osama bin Laden was still alive, and that the man killed in the Obama-directed raid led by SEAL Team 6 was actually a body double. Later that night, Trump retweeted a post claiming top Obama administration officials colluded to bring Bin Laden from Iran to Pakistan for ‘Obama’s trophy kill.’”

The CNN story continued: “Trump’s initial retweet was rebuked by one of the Navy SEAL members of the raid, who is very much still alive. ‘Very brave men said goodby (sic) to their kids to go kill Osama bin Laden,’ Robert J. O’Neill tweeted following Trump’s retweet. ‘We were given the order by President Obama. It was not a body double.’

“O’Neill, who has previously expressed support for Trump, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that the promotion of these conspiracy theories for the purpose of politics is ‘really trampling on the graves of some of the best heroes I have ever personally worked with.’”

When NBC News’s Savannah Guthrie asked Trump why he would spread such a lie, Trump shrugged: “That was a retweet, I’ll put it out there. People can decide for themselves.”

In other words, Trump sees as part of his job as president — with the world’s best global intelligence network at his disposal — not to discredit malicious conspiracy theories, so Americans can better navigate a confusing world, but rather to spread this bile, without even asking the C.I.A. or the F.B.I. if it’s true. Let people sort it out for themselves, he says — as if their resources match his.

I understand that many Americans stand by Trump because of his policies on immigration, taxes, political correctness or selection of judges, or because they feel he gives voice to their grievances against elites who may look down on them. None of that resonates with me, but those are legitimate positions shared by some 40 percent of the country.

But our president is not just a policy robot. He’s also a role model, whether he or we like it or not. So, for all of you who plan to cast your ballot for Trump, I beg you to ask yourselves: How can you tolerate behaviors in a president that you would never tolerate in your kid’s seventh-grade teacher or babysitter?

Trump has so redefined decency down that we have forgotten what is normal, let alone optimal, in an American president. We have forgotten what it is like to have a truth-teller, a healer, in the White House, someone who starts his day with at least the inclination to unite the country and to project America at its best for the world — not someone who has lived every day in office aspiring to be president only of his base, while offering anyone at home or abroad looking to the United States for inspiration just one message: Show me the money.

As I was reflecting on all this last weekend, my friend Elena Park, an executive producer for Stanford Live, sent me a YouTube video — an incredible performance the other day by the singer Meklit and the Kronos Quartet of “The President Sang Amazing Grace.”

The song was written by Zoe Mulford about the 2015 murder of nine people at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., by a white supremacist. It was debuted by Mulford in 2017, telling in song how a different president, Barack Obama, came down to that church for a memorial service and during his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney sang “Amazing Grace,” one of the most moving and healing moments of his presidency.

Listen to Meklit sing it:

We argued where to lay the blame

On one man’s hate or our nation’s shame

Some sickness of the mind or soul

And how those wounds might be made whole

But no words could say what must be said

For all the living and the dead

So on that day and in that place

The President sang Amazing Grace

My President sang Amazing Grace

So, there’s your choice in a nutshell, folks. You can vote for a president who retweets sick conspiracy theories — claiming that his predecessor murdered U.S. Navy SEALs. Or you can vote for Biden, a man who, like Obama, will strive each day to make our wounds whole, and do it, I’m sure, with dignity and grace.


The Trump Administration Is Illegally Hiding An FBI Report On White Supremacist Terror

By Alex Henderson

October 26, 2020

For decades, much of the right-wing media has emphasized the threat posed by violent Islamist extremists while downplaying the terrorist potential of far-right white supremacist and white nationalist groups. But that doesn't make the latter any less dangerous. And one Democratic congressman who is sounding the alarm is Mississippi's Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee and wants to know why an FBI report on white supremacists is four months late.

In an article published this week, journalist Spencer Ackerman — who specializes in national security matters for the Daily Beast — notes that the FBI "has failed to produce a legally required report detailing the scope of white supremacist and other domestic terrorism, despite mounting concerns that the upcoming election could spark far-right violence." That report was supposed to be released in June, and according to Ackerman, Thompson is demanding answers.

"I would hate to think that they are reacting to President Trump's machinations about his dislike for senior leadership in the FBI," Thompson told the Daily Beast. "This report probably would not be viewed favorably by this administration. That, I think, precipitates the report not being released by November 3."

Thompson told the Beast that the American public "needs to know who the real, documented terrorists in this country, based on the FBI's intelligence, really are…. I think (FBI Director Christopher Wray) understands that if he wades too far in the water around this subject, he might drown — or get fired, to be honest."

Trump has had a lot to say about antifa in recent months but precious little to say about white supremacist and white nationalist groups. Conservative Elizabeth Neumann, a former U.S. Department of Homeland Security official under Trump who has been active in the group Republican Voters Against Trump and has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president, had been sharply critical of his treatment of the issue. Neumann has stressed that Trump has spent way too much time talking about Antifa while downplaying the terrorist threat that white power groups pose. And like Thompson, she would like to see an in-depth FBI report on the threat.

Neumann told the Beast, "I have no doubt the FBI is on top of any number of cases of this. I have confidence that the FBI is likely to thwart a lot of these attempts."

Neumann and Miles Taylor — another conservative ex-DHS official who has been active in RVAT and is supporting Biden — both believe that white supremacist terrorism isn't a high priority for the Trump White House. Taylor told the Beast, "The bottom line from the White House was they didn't want us to talk us about domestic terrorism because they worried that if we talked about right-wing extremism, we would alienate many of the president's supporters."

According to Thomson, the Trump White House is putting the public at risk by downplaying the dangers of white supremacist and white nationalist terrorists.

The congressman told the Beast, "The White House, members of Congress, other outside groups, are saying, 'These radical Muslim groups, these radical left-wing groups — we gotta do something about them.' Well, it was clear that when you talk to professionals, these weren't the most dangerous, nor from a numerical standpoint — the statistics were going in the opposite direction. We're still having these incidents occur, but the ideology and the individuals perpetrating them lean more toward the right-wing philosophy. And I think, when that hit, it kind of took the fire out of the domestic-terrorist conversation."



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