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Bangladesh refuses to take back Rohingya refugees

New Delhi: In what is seen as a shocking lack of sensitivity, the Bangladesh government is apparently turning away from its responsibility to take back a group of Rohingya refugees, mostly women, who are currently adrift in the high seas after escaping from refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

India wants Bangladesh to take them back. Bangladesh is passing on the buck to India. This has the potential for a diplomatic problem between the two neighbors, particularly as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to travel to Dhaka on March 26. The Indian government issued a note to Bangladesh, but there is no reply yet from Dhaka.

The recent Home Secretary-level talks between the two countries saw Indian officials making a strong case for Bangladesh to take the refugees back.

However, Bangladesh foreign minister, A. K. Abdul Momen said, “They are not Bangladesh nationals and in fact, they are Myanmar nationals. They were found 1,700 km (1,100 miles) away from the Bangladesh maritime territory and therefore, we have no obligation to take them.”

The boatload of 81 Rohingya refugees — 64 women and girls, 26 men and boys — sailed from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh on February 11. On February 15, the boat developed engine failure, and since then have been drifting on the high seas.

The fact is Bangladesh is finding it hard to handle the Rohingya refugees — in 2017, Sheikh Hasina welcomed them when they were driven out of Myanmar.

According to Bangladesh security officials, the refugee camp population in Cox’s Bazar grows by 64000 a year. (The Times of India)

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India Latest News

‘India committed to development without religious discrimination’

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said this week that his government was committed to ushering in development in the country without any discrimination on the basis of religion.

“I assures that nobody will be left out and not discriminated against on religious lines. Everyone will move forward by enjoying the Fundamental Rights given in the Constitution,” Modi said while addressing through videoconference the centenary celebrations of the Aligarh Muslim University in Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh.

Modi is only the second Prime Minister to address an AMU function after Lal Bahadur Shastri 56 years ago.

The Prime Minister pointed out that during the nationwide lockdown due to coronavirus pandemic, the Union government did not discriminate against anyone and gave free food grains to 80 crore poor.

He said that the Union government had also got opened 40 crore bank accounts, given houses to 2 crore persons and built toilets for 10 crore others under the ‘Clean India Mission’.

“Developmental issues should not be looked at from the political angle. The new India will shun the narrow political outlook,” Modi remarked.

Due to government policies, the dropout rate among Muslim women, which was 70 per cent in the last many decades, had now dropped to only 30 per cent due to increase in the number of toilets constructed in educational institutions, he added.

During his speech, Modi recalled the AMU’s rich heritage of 100 years.

Modi quoted Sir Syed Ahmed Khan — who set up the Muhammadan-Anglo Oriental College that later became the AMU — that a person who loved his country will think of the welfare of the people without any prejudice.

He said that there may be ideological differences but the new India will offer common ground to all, as was the case during the freedom struggle.

The Prime Minister congratulated the university for increasing the number of female students to 35 per cent, adding that the government had provided 1 crore scholarships for such students.

Education leads to employment and entrepreneurship which in turn results in economic independence, he pointed out.

Modi said that during the pandemic, the AMU served the needy and even donated money in the PM-CARES fund to show their responsibility towards the nation.

The AMU had helped India strengthen its relations with Muslim countries and nearly 1,000 foreign students were currently on its rolls. The Prime Minister said that the university should strengthen its soft power.

Modi said that the country was moving ahead after the ban on instant Triple Talaq.

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Violation of religious freedom in Pak by govt: US diplomat

Washington: The violation of religious freedom in Pakistan is done by the government, while in India, much of it is communal violence, a top American diplomat has said, explaining why Islamabad, and not New Delhi, has been designated as a country of particular concern by the US.

US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback defended the action taken against Pakistan.

“(In) Pakistan – a lot of their actions (violations of religious freedom) are done by the government. In India, some of them are done by the government and the law that was passed, and much of it is communal violence. And then when that takes place, we try to determine whether or not there has been effective police enforcement, judicial action after communal violence takes place,” he told reporters during a conference call.

Brownback was responding to a question as to why US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Pakistan as a country of particular concern and not India.

The top American diplomat said that half of the world’s people that are locked up for apostasy or blasphemy are in Pakistani jails.

“We just had really a difficult webinar this morning on forced brides into China, and one of the source places is Pakistan religious minorities, Christians and Hindu women being marketed as concubines or forced brides into China because there’s not effective support, and then there’s discrimination against the religious minorities that make them more vulnerable,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean that India doesn’t have problems. … The violence is a problem. We’ll continue to raise those issues, but those are some of the basis as to why Pakistan continues to be on the country of particular concern (CPC) list and India is not,” Brownback said, adding that he has made several trips to both the countries.

Pompeo designated Pakistan and China along with eight other countries that are of particular concern for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” The US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had recommended to the State Department to designate India also as a CPC. Notably, the State Department did not accept the recommendation.

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The challenge ahead for terror-hit France

By Rakesh Sood

France has faced its own share of terrorist attacks, including from among its own radicalized Muslims. The latest cycle, which has left the country in shock, began with the beheading of Samuel Paty, a school teacher on October 16, killed by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee who was enraged because Paty had shown caricatures of Prophet Mohammed during his lecture on “free speech” to students, after advising them that those offended could leave.

This was followed by a fatal stabbing of three, in a church in Nice by a 21-year-old recently-arrived Tunisian migrant on October 29.

President Emmanuel Macron’s statement at Paty’s memorial service describing him as a symbol of “freedom and reason” and vowing that French freedom of expression means that “we will not give up our cartoons” has provoked angry reactions from Muslims in other countries, fuelled by incendiary responses from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Pakistani Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan and Malaysian leader Mahathir bin Mohamed.

Erdogan said that “Macron needs a mental health check” and called for a boycott of French goods, leading France to recall its ambassador in protest. Behind his animus are growing differences on Turkish military interventions in Libya, in eastern Mediterranean against Greece and in supporting Azerbaijan against Armenia.

If France sees itself as the torchbearer for democratic, liberal and secular values, Turkey under Erdogan (who has been in power since 2003 and ensured his continuation till 2028 through constitutional manipulations) has reversed the Ataturk reforms of the 1930s to reclaim its Islamic identity and role in a neo-Ottoman avatar.

Imran Khan, facing domestic political unrest, issued a series of tweets blaming Macron for “hurting the sentiments and provoking millions of Muslims”. Parliament passed resolutions seeking the recall of its ambassador from Paris before realising that the new appointee hadn’t even joined. Mahathir Mohamed’s tweet that Muslims have the right “to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past” was taken down by Twitter for being offensive. Ironically, none of them has uttered a word about the incarceration of a million Uighur Muslims by China.

PM Narendra Modi condemned the terrorist act conveying solidarity with France, even as foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla was in Paris for talks where the radicalization of Muslim communities would have been discussed.

France is home to six million Muslims, the largest concentration in Europe. It has been aware of growing radicalization in certain sections of the community.

The challenge for France is not easy. The idea that education, hard work and following French laws and customs led to upward mobility has been challenged in recent years and Covid-19 has only highlighted it.

A recent opinion poll among Muslims in France revealed that while an encouraging 60% believed that freedom of expression should include satire, the same poll also indicated that over 75% were unwilling to include caricatures of Prophet Muhammed as acceptable satire.

This is the gap that Marine Le Pen, Macron’s most likely opponent in the 2022 election, will exploit with her populist, nationalist and anti-European Union platform. This is also the gap that Macron needs to bridge with his proposed legislative initiative.

(The article appeared in The Hindustan Times)

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Latest News US Election Special

Muslim Americans could determine who wins Michigan — and the election

Dearborn, MI: When Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hadidi casts his ballot in the November election, there is one issue that rises above all others as he makes his choice — respect.

“In this election, honestly, respect and recognition,” the emergency room physician in Michigan told VOA. “The Muslim community would like to be acknowledged as part of this great American nation, and not as an alien culture to this nation.”

Al-Hadidi supported Hillary Clinton for President in 2016 and Gretchen Whitmer as Michigan’s governor in 2018. But this time around, he isn’t sure if he’ll support Joe Biden over President Trump.

One of his concerns is the U.S. government’s “Terrorist Screening Database” which many Muslim Americans feel targets innocent members of their community. A subset of the database is the “no fly” list of individuals barred from boarding commercial flights.

“Definitely that list should be updated,” Al-Hadidi said. “Those who are wrongfully on that list should have their dignity back and should be removed.”

“You’ve got to tell people something to excite them to go out and vote,” said Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News. “Just because Biden is not Trump is not a good reason for me to go out and vote.”

While Muslim Americans make up about 1% of the overall U.S. population, they have an outsized influence in Michigan, a battleground state that President Trump won in 2016 by just over ten thousand votes.
While the state’s 270,000 registered voters of the Muslim faith could impact the outcome of this year’s presidential race, their preferences are just as diverse as their community.

“Some members of our community can believe that Trump is good on the economy, on business,” Siblani said. “But many of us want from Biden to hear some commitment to them to excite them to go out and vote because, frankly, under Obama-Biden, Muslims were discriminated against [as well].”
Siblani adds that many are outraged over Trump’s Muslim ban— a ban Biden has pledged to end. At the same time, he said there is recognition and support for Trump’s efforts to promote peace and reduce U.S. troop levels in the Middle East.

Epidemiologist Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, who ran against Whitmer in the Democratic primary in 2018, differs: “It’s not that people are deciding between Biden and Trump. Often times it’s between Joe Biden and not voting.”

While no poll of Muslim Americans has been issued in the final weeks of the presidential campaign, previous surveys have shown the community backing Democrats more often than Republicans.
Sourced from Voice of America

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Are Indian Muslims victims of their ‘victim’ mindset?

By A Faizur Rahman

In the recent past, Muslims in India have been demonized, abused, suspected and some even lynched with impunity.

A case in point is the merciless killing of Pehlu Khan, a poor dairy farmer from Haryana who was bludgeoned to death by a mob of about 200 cow vigilantes in April 2017 while legally transporting cows for his farm. On what basis can anyone dismiss as unwarranted (or fake) the victimhood, trepidation and helplessness of Khan’s family?

Indeed, institutional recognition of the victimhood of such Muslims who have been psychologically affected by the fate of victims like Pehlu Khan came when the Supreme Court condemned “horrendous acts of mobocracy” and asked Parliament to enact an anti-lynching law against cow vigilantism and lynch mobs.

And a few days ago in a landmark ruling, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court called out the scapegoating of some Tablighi Jamaat members and observed that it was an “indirect warning to Indian Muslims.”

Obviously the court was aware that hate-incidents against Muslims saw a sharp rise after it came to light that several participants in the Tablighi Jamaat’s Delhi conference held in March this year had tested positive for Covid-19. News portals carried horrifying accounts of how Muslims were mercilessly assaulted on suspicion of intentionally spreading the coronavirus. The brutalities included the display of posters banning the entry of Muslims into towns and villages and the circulation of anti-Muslim videos.

Truth be told, the distrust of Muslims goes back a long way to pre-Partition days when the Pan-Islamic politics surrounding the Khilafat Movement was imputed to the entire community and it was charged with harboring extra-territorial loyalties. Historian Neeti Nair’s Changing Homelands provides deep insights into this grim reality. It recounts how during a unity conference in 1925 Lala Lajpat Rai felt that Muslim assertions about their love for India and their “readiness to resist foreign invasions” were so hemmed in by “ifs” and “buts” that they left an “atmosphere of distrust in many Hindu minds.”

Rai’s antagonistic attitude may have been the result of his close association with Arya Samaj which had already come into conflict with the Muslims in the late 1800s when it tried, as Nehru put it in The Discovery of India, “to become a defender of everything Hindu, against what it considered as the encroachments of other faiths.”

According to historian N Gerald Barrier, Arya Samaj’s systematic attack on Islam amplified Hindu-Muslim rivalry and produced a regularized pattern of conflict. In an article in the May 1968 issue of the Journal of Asian Studies, Barrier mentions fifteen major riots between 1883 and 1891 over ‘kine-slaughter’, ‘kine’ being another word for cow.

But the historical Muslimophobia, as the citations suggest, has more to do with the political insecurities of Hindus than any fear of the Muslim religion except perhaps in the case of the Arya Samaj whose raison d’être was to protect Vedic Hinduism from not just the “alien” faiths of Islam and Christianity but also the idolatrous beliefs within Hinduism. At the same time, distorted historical accounts added to the problem by portraying Muslims as products of Islamic intrusions into India.

In India’s Islamic Traditions, 711-1750 renowned historian Richard M Eaton writes that modern textbooks routinely characterize the advent of Persianized Turks in India as a ‘Muslim conquest’, and the entire period from the 13th to the 18th century as India’s ‘Muslim Era’. “That is to say, the agent of conquest is not a people as defined by their ethnic heritage or place of origin, but rather, a religion, the Islamic religion”, he laments.

In comparison, even when the 16th century Spaniards justified their conquest of Mexico in religious terms, modern texts never speak of a ‘Christian conquest’ of America, nor is the post-1492 period ever called America’s “Christian Era.” It is always the ‘Spanish conquest’ of Central and South America and ‘European settlement’ in North America.

Eaton blames medieval Indo-Persian chroniclers for promoting the notion of ‘Islamic conquest’ of India and identifying Islam with the fortunes of their royal patrons. However, Sanskrit sources claim that from the 8th to 14th centuries, Rajput, Brahman and other contemporary Indian elites referred to the invaders not by their religion but by their linguistic identity — most typically as Turks or Turuska. “These findings,” says Eaton, “permit dramatically new ways of conceptualising the character of cultural encounters at the dawn of the appearance of Muslims in north India.”

The challenge for those genuinely interested in India’s rise lies in correcting the skewed annals of Muslims in South Asian historiography and de-linking religion from their imperial past. They must also be part of efforts to mitigate the mutual distrust between Hindus and Muslims by legally neutralizing the purveyors of hate who polarize society for their narrow ends through the fabrication and spread of fake news. Advising any one community to rewrite its victim mindset will only deepen the misgivings.

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‘Right to Investigate’ in International Law

Intro: Is the Indian government justified in their refusal of visas to the USCIRF team? 

By Justice Markandey Katju,
Former Judge, Supreme Court
& Aiman Hashmi
Law student, Delhi University

The Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar has denied visas to a delegation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for visiting India to investigate allegations of atrocities on minorities and assess religious freedom in India. A question arises whether this denial is valid under international law. We submit it is not.

The Peace of Westphalia 1648 gave birth to the principle in International Law that each state has exclusive sovereignty over its territory.  The notion of a “Nation state” by the 18th century would be molded to refer to a community which had a common descent or language. Eventually, these principles would age into the 20th century rise of ethnic nationalism, most infamously effectuated by the Nazi Regime.

After the Cold War, states began to contemplate a post-Westphalian order whereby states would intervene in circumstances of human rights abuses. On the flip side, for a post-colonial nation such as India’s, however, the term ‘intervention’ often carries reminders of imperialist invasions. ‘Humanitarian interventions’ have also been criticized by some to be trojan horses for justifying or veiling invasions by foreign powers.

USCIRF is a non-governmental advisory body to the US Congress.  Mr Jaishankar stated that it “lacks locus standi to pronounce on the state of Indian Citizens”. USCIRF has recommended to the U.S. administration that India be designated as a “country of particular concern”, the first time since the 2002 Gujarat ‘pogrom’.

The USCIRF in April 2020 had stated a concern coming from many quarters that religious freedom has taken a downward turn in India. It referred to the CAA-NRC issue, scrapping of special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Delhi riots in February, creating a “culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities”. According to Mr. Jaishankar, statements upon the fundamental rights of Indian citizens is “misrepresentation” and “unwarranted”.

So is the Indian Government justified in their refusal of visas to the USCIRF teams?  It cannot be disputed that many in the Muslim minority feel persecuted.  Contrast it with the “culture of impunity” which sees Union ministers garlanding lynchers, communalizing instances of animal violence, etc.

There is also weaponization of media, which is complicit in demonizing minorities – note how the religious congregation of the ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ is covered as Muslims being the carriers of Covid 19.

In our opinion, in today’s world neither can a state government claim total impunity relying on an absolute Westphalian principle of state sovereignty, nor can foreign nations claim the right to invade a country giving the pretext of a humanitarian crisis within that country. A middle ground has to be found in International Law. After all, today’s world has become smaller and globalized. What happens in one country may well have an effect on another country.

We therefore submit that while a foreign country cannot validly invade another country on the ground of a humanitarian crisis but it can certainly investigate into what is going on within that country where there is prima facie proof of oppression of minorities or such other atrocities.

After all, states cannot reserve sovereignty over systematic persecution of its citizens. To allow for independent experts to look into allegations of human rights violations is not something that the international body is a stranger to – The Universal Periodic Review also allows for independent assessment apart from reports submitted by States.  To meet an attempt to assess ground realities with vehement denial and disparagement does not bode well for any international standing.

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Modi 2.0: Successes, defects and a challenge

By Chanakya

In the first year of his second term in office, Narendra Modi has seen tremendous political and ideological success. But this period has also led to questions about the robustness of institutions; social harmony; and economic management. It has also made it clear that Modi’s legacy will be determined by how he handles the gravest crisis independent India has seen in decades — the coronavirus pandemic.

First, this year has been a success for him, both on the political and ideological front. It has also been a year of ideological success. Ever since the BJP’s predecessor, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, was formed, “integrating” Kashmir with the rest of India, by removing Article 370, has been a foundational pillar of the worldview of the party and its ideological affiliates. On August 5, the Modi government did precisely this by effectively nullifying the special status enjoyed by Jammu and Kashmir, and dividing the state into two Union territories.

But this has also been a year which has, arguably, left India with a set of deeper defects and challenges.

This democracy deficit extends to the rest of the country in other forms. There are regular crackdown on dissidents and critics of the government through draconian legislation and use of investigative agencies; it has also manifested itself in the weakness of other institutions — be it the Election Commission or the Supreme Court — to assert their own space in the face of a strong executive. None of this is unique to the functioning of the current government, but that is little consolation.

The second deficit is of social harmony. When Modi spoke in Parliament after his second victory, he extended his motto of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas to include Sabka Vishwas. He reached out to the minorities, which was a promise of a fresh beginning, given the trust deficit that exists between the BJP and Muslims in particular. But as the party pushed forward its ideological agenda, this trust deficit only grew. The protests against CAA and a possible National Register of Citizens (which the government later claimed was not on the agenda) symbolized the deep mistrust and anger that Muslims in particular have for the current political dispensation.

The government defended its decisions and even made a strong case about how the legislation will not impact the rights of Muslims — but the fact is it was seen by minorities as changing the fundamental secular character of the Constitution. This has resulted in the worsening of Hindu-Muslim relations over the past year. Given India’s diversity, this is worrying and can have adverse consequences on the political framework, inter-community ties on the ground, and internal security.

The third big weakness was in the realm of economic management. Growth rate in 2019-2020, as last Friday’s figures revealed, was 4.2%. In every quarter of the year, growth has decelerated. Core industrial activity has dropped. Consumption has dipped. And unemployment has risen.

But if these were the contours of the first year in office, it is now clear that the Modi legacy will be defined almost singularly by how he manages to steer India through the pandemic.

On the economic front, the Indian economy is set to contract, which will leave many businesses unviable, and deepen poverty. And on the humanitarian front, as the migrant worker crisis revealed, India’s poorest will have to face the worst consequences of the crisis.

How Narendra Modi migrates these challenges and helps India revive is the key question for 2024.

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