Kashmiris try to globalize struggle

A Kashmiri Muslim noticed my Facebook comment about protests over the gang rape of a medical student in India. The 23-year-old woman has died of injuries from the brutal assault. I had applauded the electrifying protests in New Delhi and elsewhere in the country. And I had expressed hope that they would shame the Indian government and society into taking legislative and law-enforcement measures to curb rape and misogyny, which are widespread in India.

“Did you know,” asked the gentleman,  “that more than 10,000 Kashmiri women have been gang-raped by Indian forces? I didn’t see you mention those heinous, those barbarous crimes.”  I promised him to write this post.

Jammu and Kashmir, or Kashmir for short, is indeed one of history’s gravest tragedies, which has been virtually ignored by the “international community.”  The Indian government is in a state of denial about its armed forces’ widely known gang-rape raids in the Kashmir Valley, where a rebellion against Indian rule has been raging for 24 years. Rebel sources claim that 10,042 Kashmiri Muslim women and girls have been raped by Indian troops. Their claim hasn’t been independently verified and the rape figure they provide seems too big to be credible.

But Kashmir, especially the Muslim valley, has been a human catastrophe. India has deployed about 600,000 mostly Hindu military and paramilitary troops to put down the Muslim uprising.  These forces have, besides raping many women, killed some 60,000 protesters and others. In 2011 a human rights group discovered a number of unmarked mass graves in the valley with more than 2,000 bodies, obviously victims of Indian military action.

The Kashmir imbroglio has been complicated by the demographic makeup of the old kingdom. It comprises four ethnic patches. Two of them – the Indian-held valley and the Pakistan-held “Azad Kashmir” – are each 99 percent Muslim.  Both are irreconcilably opposed to Indian rule. The other two segments — both under Indian rule — are Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-majority Ladakh, and they would be amenable to remaining with India.

One reason the unrest in Kashmir festers for so long is the lack of international pressure or concern for the resolution of the predicament, over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars. Western, especially American, governments and societies are known for selective concern about rights and freedoms outside the West.  You hear vociferous denunciation of infraction of human rights and democratic norms in Iran, an American enemy. You hear little about the horrible misogyny, rights abuses and authoritarian rule in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, with which America maintain cozy relations. Western amnesia about Kashmir has to be viewed in light of India being a world power, which has extensive trade and economic relations with other world powers. Yet the Kashmir issue isn’t going to go away.

For most of its history, the Himalayan princedom has been independent of states and empires that existed in the Indian plains.  In 1947 the old India became independent of British colonial rule, and split into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Kashmir was given the options to join India or Pakistan or remain independent.  It opted for independence. But then a Muslim tribal mob from Pakistan roared into Kashmir and occupied a third of it. India captured the other two-thirds after getting the the Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority state to sign an “accession” agreement. The agreement recognized Kashmiris’ right of self-determination and stipulated that they would decide their political destiny through a plebiscite. The U.N. Security Council also passed a resolution, calling for the plebiscite.

India has since reneged on its plebiscite commitment and claims that Kashmir has become its “integral part.”   The Kashmiris point out, however,  that the public and politicians in British India had participated in continual elections and even formed a central government. But simultaneously, they continued their struggle for their independence from British colonial tutelage until they achieved it. Moreover, the decades-long Muslim uprising and India’s extremely brutal measures to suppress it don’t quite prove that the state is integrated into India. One can’t imagine Indians resorting to such mindless atrocities on the population of Uttar Pradesh or Maharashtra, which is a real part of India.

For the past several years, the violent Muslim revolt in Kashmir is showing signs of exhaustion and life appears to be returning to normal.  But Kashmiri Muslims are far from reconciled with Indian rule.  On the contrary, a new generation of educated and technically savvy Kashmiri youth is ushering in a new phase of the struggle.  They’re taking their cause to the global stage through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media outlets, and myriad web sites and other Internet forums.

This new campaign, somewhat like the Palestinian struggle, is meant to raise global and Indian public sensitivity about the suffering of the Kashmiris and their right to self-determination.  Military and law enforcement tools, which  New Delhi has used to suppress the upheaval, can be of little use in this arena.  And the political climate of the 21st century, with its heightening sensitivity about human dignity and freedom, is unlikely to be conducive to the continued suppression of Kashmiris’  aspirations for freedom.

Any just and lasting settlement of the dispute has to take into account the deep-seated hostility of the two virtually all-Muslim parts of Kashmir toward Hindu-majority India. Polls have shown, though, that most inhabitants of the two Muslims segments would prefer becoming independent, rather than join Pakistan, let alone India.  Pakistan opposes, as does India, opposes their independence. These Kashmiris would opt for Pakistan only if independence is off the table.

In any case, Kashmiris are insistent on nurturing their unique culture and values. It’s possible that one day a solution to this woeful tragedy would be found in Kashmiris in the Indian-occupied valley joining their ethnic kinfolk in Pakistan-occupied Kashmiri territory. But such a deal should ensure Kashmiris’ political and cultural autonomy.

◆ Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Islam and the West’.

Back to old Palestine?

Political columnist Pat Buchanan once described Capitol Hill as the third “Israeli-occupied territory” after the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  Those days the White House frequently resisted Israeli pressure to support its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, while Congress routinely supported the Israeli stance.

Thursday, the Obama administration voted against the U.N. resolution that recognized the two Palestinian territories as a “state,” which has yet to become a full member of the world body. The U.S. vote was a high watermark in the current and last administrations’ support of  Israeli colonial policies. Meanwhile, Israel has pulled out of Gaza.  Buchanan could now argue that the White House has replaced Gaza as the third Israeli-occupied territory!

Israel has retaliated against the U.N. recognition of the Palestinian state by announcing the revival of a 3,000-home Jewish settlement project in a territory adjacent to Jerusalem, known as E1.  The project would cut through the West Bank, making the creation of a viable state impossible,. Hence it had been suspended in 2009 under intense international pressure.

So  what could come of the 138-9 U.N. vote recognizing the Palestinian state? Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president,  had told cheering General Assembly delegates that their  landmark resolution would “save the two-state solution and  salvage peace,” which he vowed to pursue through “negotiations” with the Israelis.

I wish I am wrong, but I see his vow to achieve negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians a pipe dream.  It’s  19 years since the Oslo Peace Accords launched the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. During those on-again, off-again talks, successive Israeli governments — both right-wing and centrist — have made abundantly clear that their maximum concessions would fall far short of Palestinians’ minimum demands.  Those demands include the creation of a sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem and return of thousands of Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands in Israel from where they were expelled by Jews in 1948.

The Oslo Accords created the Palestinian Authority and assigned it the task of freezing the Palestinian struggle that could threaten Israel’s security.  While the PA kept a lid on anti-Israeli protests and violence in the West Bank, Israel went on gobbling up  large swaths of the Palestinian lands through the creation of new Jewish settlements. Together with the E1 project, these settlements are meant to be “facts on the ground” that would leave no room for a workable Palestinian state.

On the Palestinian and Arab side, swirling democracy movements have created another set of facts on the ground, which  has further diminished the prospect of a “two-state solution,” meaning the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.  Democracy has cost Israel the two biggest pillars of its regional security system: Egypt and Turkey. For decades pro-Western secularist regimes in both these states maintained extensive security and commercial ties with Israel, defying their citizens’ overwhelming support for Palestinians and their nationalist cause. In both countries now, democratically elected Muslim governments are strongly opposed to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and suppression of Palestinians. During the recent Gaza conflict, the intervention of the Egyptian and Turkish governments, along with those of Tunisia and Qatar, prevented Israel from launching a land invasion of Gaza, which would have defeated Gaza’s Islamist Hamas regime.

So what lies ahead for the Palestinians and Israelis?  The Gaza war has shown that Palestinian missiles can now rain on just about all parts of Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Imagine Israel’s national nightmare when Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese Hezbollah will be able to equip those missiles with GPS and target them to Israel’s population centers and vital economic and industrial facilities. More significantly, while Israel’s  E1  project is putting the last stitch on the coffin of the two-state solution, the old Palestine — comprising Israel, the West Bank and Gaza — is becoming a de facto bi-national state with a Palestinian majority. In such a state Jews can rule only by disenfranchising the majority Palestinians. Would the 21st century, especially the resurgent Arab Muslim world, live with apartheid in the Holy Land? If not,  will most Jews reconcile with living under Palestinian domination?

Mustafa Malik, an international affairs columnist in Washington, hosts the blog site ‘Islam and the West.’

Obama, Romney clueless about Islam

That was a shocker. On Monday, Mitt Romney launched a blistering, if empty,  assault on President Obama’s allegedly “passive”  policy toward Muslim extremists and terrorists. The Republican presidential nominee accused the president of not being able to tackle “violent extremists,” some of whom stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Obama “passive” about extremists and terrorists? Actually,  the president’s highly charged campaign against violent and many non-violent Muslim militants has been applauded more by jingoist Republicans than progressive Democrats. As I will argue, his — and Republicans’ — single-minded focus on extremists has left broad modernizing and  democratizing Islamist movements in their blind spot.

Obama has eaten his 2008 campaign pledge and kept Gitmo open. He has continued the Bush-era Patriot Act, military tribunals, indefinite detentions and extraordinary renditions. And he has intensified and vastly expanded the drone war, killing hundreds of innocent children, women and men, while targeting terror suspects.

In reality, Muslim extremism has been declining steadily, which so far has eluded U.S. politicians and media. The Arab Spring is a glaring example.  In the Middle East and North Africa, mainstream Islamists and other groups waged their democratic struggles peacefully. There were few anti-American slogans or burning of the American flag, even though America had long been supporting most of the repressive autocratic regimes they were tying to overthrow. Whatever violence has occurred between Arab protesters and their autocratic regimes was triggered by violent government crackdowns. Anti-American violence is being committed, as in the Benghazi case, mostly by fringe groups such as Al Qaeda, which have long been at odds with the U.S. Middle East policy.

The Islamist mainstreams’  transition to democracy has been facilitated by their growing popularity among the public, enabling them to pursue their agenda through the electoral process.  During reporting trips in the Middle East and South Asia in the early 1970s, I found most Islamists espousing armed jihad against their secular autocratic regimes and foreign hegemons. Among them Matiur Rahman Nizami, the current head of the Bangladesh Jamaat-i-Islami party. In 1971 he and his Islamist party plunged into an armed struggle against the Bangladesh independence movement, fearing the secular nationalists would secularize Bangladeshi society and outlaw Islamist politics there.

Four years ago I dropped in to see Nizami, then the industries minister of a democratically elected Bangladeshi government, at his office in Dhaka, the country’s capital. I couldn’t believe my ears when he asserted that “democracy is the only way to serve Islam and Bangladesh.” His party had come to power (along with a secular party) through a peaceful democratic election.  I have heard similar comments from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami ideologue Khurshid Ahmed and other Islamist or Islam-oriented leaders and activists.

The spread of Islamism through modern democracy has turned the old Western theory of modernization and secularization on its head.  That theory said education, economic development and public participation in politics would, according to modernization theorist Daniel Lerner, lead to the “secular evolution of a participant society.”  He added that “Islam is helpless” to resist the secularist tide. On the contrary, today’s modernizing Muslim societies are using the democratic process to Islamize.

Egypt’s dictatorships had persecuted the Muslim Brotherhood and banned it from politics for decades. Democracy has catapulted that Islamist organization to power, alongside a vibrant modernization process. Since 1980, Egypt’s national literacy rate has doubled to 71 percent. Especially encouraging is the literacy rate among young women aged 15-24, which is 82%, as UNICEF data show.

Democracy, too, has replaced Tunisia’s secular autocracy with the Islamist Ennahda  party government. During the last three decades Tunisia’s literacy rate also has nearly doubled to 77 percent, with that of women 15-24 an enviable 96%.

As impressive is the pace of democratization and modernization in Turkey, which has replaced a military-dominated secularist regime with the democratic government of the Islam-oriented Justice and Development Party. Turkey’s literacy rate has jumped from 65% in 1980 to 94% this year, including 97% among women in the 15-24 age group.

Westerners who are rightly concerned about the backwardness of Muslim women mostly overlook today’s progressive and liberating trends. Large numbers of the young, educated Muslim women practice their faith and support Islamist movements.

Education and new winds of freedom have inspired Muslims with a deepening sense of self-worth and empowerment. They had been languishing under domestic autocratic suppression and foreign colonial subjugation for centuries.  The awareness of self-worth has heightened their fervor and pride for their own religious and cultural heritage, which translate into pro-Islamist votes in the polling booths.

The United States should appreciate Islamism’s role in Muslim empowerment and the democratization of Muslim societies. It  should broaden its mutually productive relations with Islamist governments. That would help neutralize Islamism’s extremist fringe, which has been feeding on the West’s hostility or disengagement with Islamist movements for freedom, dignity and democracy.

  • Mustafa Malik is an international affairs commentator in Washington. He host the blog, Islam and the West: http://islam-and-west.com




Obama’s sermon on extremism

President Obama  told the U.N. General Assembly that Muslims must shun “extremism” and exercise “tolerance” for their adversaries. He was referring to the violence-prone protest rallies that the American film “Innocence of Muslims” has triggered in many Muslim countries. The amateurish video shows  the Prophet Muhammad in pornographic poses and other demeaning postures.

Some Muslim societies are indeed honeycombed with anti-American and anti-Western extremists. The problem is, you can’t eliminate a vice while nursing it.  Obama and many other Americans don’t seem to recognize America’s role in stirring Muslim extremism.

Muslim extremism and violence against America are fairly recent events. During the era of European colonialism, the Muslim world admired the United States for not colonizing a Muslim country and even criticizing European colonialism.  In 1957 I was a schoolboy in what is now Muslim Bangladesh. I remember folks cheering America in front of a television set after hearing the news of foreign troops withdrawing from Egyptian territory. I learned much later that the Eisenhower administration had led the U.N. effort to force Israel, France and Britain to vacate the Suez Canal area they had occupied the previous year, following Egypt’s nationalization of the canal.

Systematic Muslim violence against America was rare until 1979. That year Iranian revolutionaries attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage.  Through this indefensible action, they were venting their rage over the overthrow of their democratic government by the CIA in 1953 and the installation by the U.S. of a murderous monarchy they had just overthrown.  Ever since, Muslims have resorted to anti-American protests and violence with greater frequency in response to American policies they see trampling Muslim interests or dignity.

I attribute the current spike in anti-Americanism among Muslims to three main reasons. First, the post-Cold War generation of Muslims are better educated and far more politically conscious than their forebears, thanks to the quickening pace of modernization and globalization.  These Muslims have very little tolerance for foreign domination, and domestic political repression, for that matter. Secondly,  during the last two decades, the United States has waged three major wars against Muslim countries: Iraq I and II, and Afghanistan.

These American-led invasions and the prolonged occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan have enraged Muslims everywhere. Thirdly, modernization has,  strangey as it many seem to many Westerners, imbued Muslims with greater appreciation of their own cultural values. Yet America and the West continue to seek to impose their liberal value system on Muslims societies, infuriating many Muslims.  Western defense of  the film “Innocence of Muslims,” the Danish Muhammad cartoons, the novel The Satanic Verses, etc., are classic examples of this cultural aggression.  All these anti-Islamic materials have turned much of the Muslim world into a hotbed of extremists and terrorists.

Through the 1980s and 1990s U.S. administrations tried to tackle Muslim terrorism through legal tools, covert operations and torture by client governments.  Then came 9/11. Fifteen of the 19 terrorists who hijacked aircraft to attack America were Saudis. The core cause of this horrible crime, as I learned during visits to Saudi Arabia, was the 1991 deployment of U.S. troops on that “land of Muhammad.”

America was unhinged by 9/11.  Instead of pursuing the perpetrators of the crime, it plunged into a devastating war with Iraq, which had nothing to do  9/11; and a  pointless one against Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda, a foreign group, planned the attacks on the United States. Tens of thousands of innocent Muslims have perished in the two wars, which have spread anti-Americanism among Muslims as never before. And they have proliferated Muslim guerrilla groups committed to rolling back American hegemony over Muslim societies.

These guerrillas have forced the United States to pull out of Iraq without achieving any of its strategic objectives. In Afghanistan, they have frustrated U.S. efforts to defeat them, compelling Washington to plan the withdrawal of most of its troops from that country by 2014.

One would have hoped that the Obama administration would take a serious look into the colossal failure of its formidable military machine to suppress Muslim militancy. Instead, the administration has lurched into a reckless, illegal and counterproductive drone war in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The Predator and Reaper drones are purported to be targeting terrorists.  As I learned during two research trips to Pakistan’s tribal areas, local CIA informants all too often report their own adversaries or people simply venting anger at America as Taliban “terrorists.”  The result: an unmitigated disaster.

A group of American academics has just put out its findings from nine months’ research of  America’s drone wars.  Barely 2 percent of the drone victims were known militants, said the 146-page report.  Clive Stafford Smith, head of a charity working in Pakistan, told them that Pakistan’s “entire [tribal] region is being terrorized by constant threat of death from the skies.” People’s “way of life is collapsing,” he continued. “Kids are too terrified to go to school. Adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups.”

The first step toward dousing Muslim hostility to America would be to  review the U.S. policy and attitude toward Muslim societies.  As long as Americans continue to their aggressive policy toward Muslim countries and tolerate the demonization of Muslims and their faith, as the video “Innocence of Muslims” represents, sermons about virtues of tolerance and vice of extremism would be  greeted by Muslim youths with hoots of “hypocrisy.”

  •  Mustafa Malik is an international affairs commentator in Washington, who hosts the blog ‘Islam and the West.’