After being a freedom fighting colony for centuries, India, since 1947, has assumed the role of a colonialist nation by annexing and occupying neighboring Jammu Kashmir. India has killed more Kashmiris in a few decades than what it may have lost under British rule for centuries. Over year of misrule in Jammu Kashmir, India have burnt its terror fingers in occupied Kashmir, once again, by targeting a n important freedom fighter leader whom Kashmiris respect as their own.
India’s terror strategy is facing serious blow in Kashmir as people stand together to oppose Indian yoke on their soil. Indian state terrorism has reached the climax point. The stage seems to be set for Indian regime to speedily consider surrendering sovereignty to Kashmiris. India should exit from Kashmir – Indexit.
Rising Kashmiri movement
Like many problems in South Asia, the roots of the Kashmir issue stretch back to the partition of British India in 1947. After an aborted attempt at remaining independent during the finals ears of British rule in the region, what was once the princely state of Jammu Kashmir was divided between the two new countries of India and Pakistan, with a de facto border known as the Line of Control. Later Pakistan gave a part of Azad Kashmir to China in exchange for the latter’s economic and military assistance.
Civilian uprisings are not uncommon in Kashmir as military imposes its iron will on the civilians.
In ruthless killing, India has overdone it, again, as its military occupying neighboring Jammu Kashmir has accelerated its attack spree, killing young people as freely as jungle beats do. In doing so, New Delhi has time and again expressed its hatred for Kashmiri Muslims, forcing now the Kashmiris demonstrating in streets protesting against the military killing of a young freedom fighting Muslim.
As India clamps down on Kashmir with an iron grip, it risks permanently losing the hearts and minds of the people. A popular civilian uprising is underway in Kashmir as India’s rule grows weak again.
Indian forces enjoy unprecedented freedom now to kill any Muslim of their choice and governor who represents central government and state government supporting Indian agenda in Kashmir over see the genocides of Kashmiri Muslims with secret orders for the same.
In three decades of armed oppression against the civilian population, supposedly a bid to win back trust in Kashmir, many women and girls have been raped and molested by Indian occupation soldiers. Sexual violence has been used as a channel to impose authority and fear upon the female population, while torture and killings are used to suppress their male counterparts.
While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a tour to Africa, Indian troops back in Kashmir were shooting at peaceful demonstrators who were out on streets after the killing of a popular rebel commander. In five days, 36 civilians have been killed by Indian forces and more than 1,500 injured, including 100 with eye injuries. A medical emergency has been declared while the Kashmir Valley remains under curfew.
Six years after he chose to take up arms against the state, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, 22, was shot dead by a joint party of Indian army and police in a brief gunfight in South Kashmir. Wani was a militant commander of Hizbul Mujahideen – an indigenous rebel outfit fighting for an independent Kashmir
Indian military knows Indian government and its corporate lords in the parliament and state assemblies, and their “trusted” media would shield, as their major responsibility, all its crimes against humanity perpetrated in Kashmir or India. So, Indian solders do not hesitate to kill any Muslims in Kashmir on false pretexts.
Last April, five Kashmiris were shot dead by Indian soldiers in India-controlled Kashmir, shortly after protests broke out in the aftermath of the molestation of a young girl by Indian occupation soldiers in Handwara near the capital city of Srinagar. The attempted sexual harassment, as usual, had gone largely unnoticed until the victim spoke to the media, but it was not the first time that a similar incident had occurred in the heavily militarized region.
People support freedom movement
At the outset one matter needs to be explained. Whosoever Indian government and media lords call terrorists are indeed Kashmir freedom fighters who seek sovereignty back from the occupiers. India might call the freedom fighting groups in Kashmir as terrorist outfits and ask USA and EU to kindly add them in their own terrorist lists and never support them. By doing so, India thinks the Kashmir issue is settled once for all in its favor. It might even consider stopping huge cash transfer to USA regularly for their support against Kashmir sovereignty.
It would be worthwhile right here to rewind the Indian freedom struggle when Nehru, Gandhi, others led the movement but for the British rulers they were terrorists punishable under law..
The government’s hold over the territory had strengthened not with positive attitude towards Kashmiris but with the help of mass killings in the early 1990s, and later, with the regional elections held in 1996. In the early 1990s, when India’s grip was weak and the rebels in 1993 had “achieved successes previously unimaginable” and “for the first time established liberated zones,” a government militia was instrumental in crushing popular dissent, leading to the fall of most rebel groups.
Currently, there is one group that is still fighting in Kashmir and continues to gain power: the indigenous Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, also known as the Hizb. In the last few years, the Hizb has managed to climb to the top in terms of popularity, and continues to successfully gain new recruits, who are being celebrated as righteous warriors by the general public.
State crimes and impunity for insane “soldiers”
The armed rebellion against Indian arrogance and misrule in Kashmir started in the late 1980s. In these years of violence, around half a million soldiers in the region used extreme torture and targeted killings against civilians, with hundreds killed in some incidents. Estimates of the number of people killed in Kashmir range from 95,000 to 100,000. And number keeps rising as India continues targeting Kashmiris in fake encounters.
Force was again used in 2008 trying to silence the freedom movement of Kashmiris, when the political narrative in Kashmir took a different shape as youths took over the reins of public dissent and rebellion. Two mass uprisings in 2008 and 2010 showed the brutal face of Indian state machinery to those born during the 1990s, who had not seen such mass violence spearheaded by the state before. Robust military action attacking Kashmiri Muslims further strengthened the younger generation’s anti-India sentiments and brought about a fresh wave of dissent.
India’s draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which provides impunity to Indian soldiers for basically any action, and the Public Safety Act (PSA), which is used to imprison people without due process have been instrumental in crushing the recent popular dissent in the Valley but the résistance has only grown stronger many times.
The lack of political will to account for past and present actions of the security forces, including the state police, is fortified by legislation and aggravated by other obstacles to justice Change of government at the centre, if effected to end the present crisis in Kashmir, would not indeed solve the problem because the trouble India invited has reached the end point and not even Israeli terror goods could bring peace to strategic terror specialists in New Delhi. Amnesty International has been campaigning for the revocation of s the AFSPA and PSA – lawless laws meant for jungle regimes.
The criminal mindset of Indian government gets fully exposed when common people are shot dead by’ soldiers’ in Handwara, for example, and the state government expresses no regret over the killings, and also refuses order an investigation, while the federal government in New Delhi continues to maintain graveyard silence about state terrorism but blaming pro-freedom leaders for instigating the violence. At the core of weeks of violence was an underage girl, who was subjected to attempted sexual harassment and was also forced to refrain from speaking to the media while she was kept under police detention. Activists accused the police of a forced detention to protect the Indian “soldier” who had committed the act; there was no clear response from New Delhi. Government does not open its democratic mouth. The girl was released later. She demanded that an FIR must be filed against the accused soldiers and action be taken against the police officers involved in her detention.
Incidents like the one in Handwara are not the first of their kind such crimes are happening state wide. Men murders and women sexual violence conducted by the Indian forces have long been a mainstay tactic, with no one prosecuted to date. New Delhi and India media lords just shut their dirty mouths and cunning eyes.
On February 23, 1991, Indian soldiers had gone to the two villages for a cordon and search operation. As per various accounts, the soldiers tortured the men and raped the women. The 20-year-old injustice came to light again amidst the swelling public discontent of the last few years. In 2013, a group of women came together to file a public lawsuit that called for further investigations regarding the case. Months have passed since a local court ordered further investigations, but the police have taken no action.
Many of crimes committed in Kashmir by Indian forces come out only 25 years later and secret grave years reveal the death of Indian democracy and law.
Weakening of Indian terror hold
India has pooled all resources in Kashmir to contain and cripple the freedom movement and promote the military and Hindu interests in the valley.
The anti-India rebellion grows in Kashmir in a big organized way as an indigenous movement. Rebel, India says, have been using this strategy for the last few years, taking service rifles and other weapons from the police or paramilitary troops and using them. It also shows the rebels are mainly focusing on their particular areas, mostly in the south of the Kashmir Valley. But lately some attacks and rebel activities have happened in North Kashmir and Central Kashmir also. In the absence of any political solution in the form of sovereignty, the youth have become restless and their anger has intensified.
Today the world believes that the ongoing freedom struggle in the Kashmir Valley is a populist movement. The Indian Army has also started acknowledging the change in the Kashmiri situation. One of the senior military commanders in Northern India, Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda admitted that Indian soldiers occupying Kashmir have little hope of competing against the rebels for public sympathy and Indian forces finds the situation a big problem, a challenge for conducting anti-militant operations now. “Militarily, there’s not much more to do than we already have done … We’re losing the battle for a narrative.”
Growing anti-India sentiments and rapidly rising support for Pakistan among people in India-controlled Kashmir has badly damaged Indian claims and status.
The chief cleric of South Kashmir’s Ummat-i-Islami, Mirwaiz Qazi Yasir said: “symbols are more important and the new rebellion is a symbol,” he says. “Even if there are no resources with them , but still this is a symbol.” However, he acknowledges that “a long-term rebellion” will find it “hard to survive without resources.” India would count on this aspect but both China and Pakistan could help them with resources. .
Pakistan has always tried to show it as an indigenous movement and it is an indigenous to a large extent. “If Pakistan wants to help the movement here, they will have their own interests also. Some observers also believe that Pakistan has changed its approach too, from involving itself on the ground to becoming the political backbone for the Kashmir issue globally.
This endeavor to advocate on behalf of the Kashmiri people was evident at recent United Nations meetings, where Pakistan continuously raised the Kashmir issue, as well as in bilateral talks with India. As a result, India has declared that Pakistan is “needlessly” internationalizing the Kashmir issue. Recently, Indian strategic people ask the Modi government to invade and annex Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir for which Israel would readily extend military support. Now USA won’t support either Pakistan or Kashmir but has to side with Indian narrative, though might not offer military support.
The situation in Kashmir may look better compared now to the peaks of violence in the past, in the heart of the Valley, the rise of anti-India sentiment has weakened India’s control.
JK is being ruled by a coalition of People’s Democratic Party and the Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party with PDP CM and BJP deputy CM. BJP is pushing for its Hindutva agenda in the valley especially by promoting all Hindutva promotional activities. In order to rule the state, the PDP supports whatever the BJP wants to do in t Kashmir. The rich in PDP, National Conference, Congress and BJP are sharing the resource loot behind the coalition government. .
Further, anti-India forces are hugely motivated by the extreme force used against dissenting voices by the newly formed regional government. The new head of the region’s government, Mehbooba Mufti, recently said that there are only four bunkers of Indian forces in the Valley – a statement that highly angered the people, who have to face soldiers and police regularly in their daily lives. The regional government’s anti-dissent tactics combined with the disappearance of opportunities to construct a solid political solution to provide respite to the ordinary people in Kashmir has only made things worse.
Insane Indian oppression and Angry Kashmiris
Even mourning a so-called terrorist’s murder by military is seen as a major political statement in contemporary Kashmir, as thousands of people join funeral processions for fighting terror of Indian soldiers.
Meanwhile, while Indian core media continue target Kashmiri Muslims as terrorists, social media remain, controlled by Indian agencies also abuzz with people who idolize rebel commanders, like Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a 23-year-old Hizb commander in South Kashmir who has become the face of the new rebellion for sovereignty for Kashmir. The people’s acceptance of this rebellion has grown with the decline of any political process that can hope to empower them. Wani’s brother Khalid was among those killed by the soldiers, and this year, a cricket tournament was organized to remember him, with team titles dedicated to various rebels.
The change in Kashmiri mood against Indian occupational terror tactics to silence the freedom fighting Kashmiris, has its roots in the 2008 and 2010 mass uprisings in Kashmir, during which Indian troops and police, on instructions of Indian government (Home ministry) and JK governor mercilessly shot more than 200 teenagers dead on the streets. This has gradually led to major protests on a permanent basis, drawing in the younger generation, with people from all walks of life vehemently rejecting India’s continued rule in Kashmir.
From the army to the local government, the alarm bells are ringing, but no one in New Delhi is ready for a political solution to solve the long-standing issue. They don’t want to listen to anything anymore as enough is enough and they want all Indian boots are cleared of Kashmir valley forthwith and soverign handed over to Kashmiris. It is no more any formality from common Kashmiris but they are serious about protesting and can go to any extent to achieve their goals
The Modi government is now fully aware of the fact that informally told me that the new generation is angry.
Freedom leaders to fight till sovereignty
Resistance leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik has appealed to the Imams of the Mosques to lead Nimaz-e-Jinaza in absentia to the 40 young brave hearts who were snatched from us by the cruel and inhuman Indian forces and local police in the last week after the martyrdom of Hizb Commander Burhan Wani and his associates. They also appealed them to lead the protests against the brutalities of Indians in uniform. Leaders have condemned the use of brutal force against the protesters and compelling the traders and transporters not to support the ongoing struggle.
Leaders have affirmed their resolve to lead this movement to its logical end no matter how brutal and cruel Indian aggression may be. People have been assured not to panic but show steadfastness, dedication and discipline so that any of the ill intentions of the enemy are not allowed to derail our struggle for the goal of self-determination.
Leaders have assured the nation that they have been fighting the Indian aggression and brutalism for decades and now we are facing do or die situation which demands utmost discipline and determination. They further said that we will never succumb to any pressure as we believe ours is the just cause and we will fight to achieve it till our last breath. Commenting on the more troops from Delhi leaders said that not only three battalions even if India sends whole of its army to Kashmir we will fight them tooth and nail and like always this time also they will be defeated. Leaders further said it is a long and continuous struggle and we need to be prepared for a prolonged but definite phase now. They have appealed people not to fall prey to the nefarious designs of the Indian imperialism or their local stooges and follow the combined programme in letter and spirit.
Insane oppression of Kashmiri Muslims, both men and women, old and youth, by Indian occupation forces merit the urgent attention of UN, ICJ and OICC.
Yes, India is fast long Kashmir as Kashmiris, after the ghastly murder of their leader by the military, see Indian government as their enemy and they continue to seek the support of Pakistan. Unless India changes tactics — big brother India never changes its policies or tactics as it is aggressively arrogant – Kashmir will continue to slip away.
Time is ripe for Kashmiris to gain full and complete independence from India and establish a soverign Kashmir. India may let its military and police stay on in Kashmir until the soverign Kashmir government makes alternative security arrangement.
State terrorism tactics of India have worked devastatingly making the peace loving: Kashmiris to erupt naturally and violently protest against India’s prolonged Zionist occupation of Kashmir: India needs to consider Indexit!
World leader USA and other veto states must help the Kashmiris get speedy justice in the form of soverign Kashmir. They should advice their “anti-terror” companion India to leave Kashmir by opting for Indexit at long last, at least sympathetically.
Indian occupation forces have killed enough Kashmiri Muslims.
The Not-So-Missing Case of Indian Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Hitendra Singh and Gauri Noolkar-Oak*
Recently, an article published in Modern Diplomacy caught our attention. The author has cited Mr. Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and found his famous statement on Indians lacking enterprise and innovation to be ‘music to his ears’. He has then gone on to paint Indians in broad strokes – ironic, for it is something he has accused Indians of doing – and labelled them as a nation lacking entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. While his reasoning certainly has an element of truth and an instant appeal, our response looks to add nuances to his argument and provide a more realistic and complete picture of enterprise and innovation in India.
To begin with, the terms ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ cannot be used interchangeably; not all entrepreneurs are innovators, and vice versa. There are more than 50 million medium and small businesses operating in India which contribute 37% of India’s GDP and employ around 117 million people. These numbers sufficiently prove that entrepreneurship is alive and kicking in the Indian society; Indians are running businesses not only in India but are leading and successful entrepreneurs in many countries of Asia, Africa and rest of the world. Hence, an argument that Indians lack entrepreneurship does not hold much strength.
In the case of innovation and creativity, a different story is emerging. It is slow but is happening and it is solving some of the largest social and developmental challenges in India – from grassroots, to research labs, to top-tier institutions such as ISRO and various DRDO labs. At a global level, India has not only moved up six places in its GII ranking in 2017, but is also ranked second in innovation quality. India has also won international acclaim for its innovative and cost-effective technology; such as its first mission to Mars in 2014, the Mangalyaan, was successful in the first attempt, made entirely with domestic technology, and cost less than the Hollywood movies ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Martian’. It is surprising that the author spots lack of innovation in a household broom but does not see innovation in a nation that sends a successful Mars mission on a budget that is less than that of a Hollywood movie about Mars.
At the national level, grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship are gaining more and more institutional recognition; the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and the annual Festival of Innovation at the Rashtrapati Bhavan are perhaps the only high-level government initiatives supporting and celebrating innovation in the world. Additionally, many universities and educational institutes across the country host innovation competitions, festivals and incubators.
Several remarkable individuals are nurturing India’s growing innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.Prof. Anil K. Gupta founded SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions) in 1993 and the Honey Bee Network in 1997 to connect innovators from all sections of the society to entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors. For more than 12 years, he has walked around 6000 kilometres across the country, discovering extraordinary grassroots innovations on the way. Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, an eminent chemical scientist, has led multiple scientific and technological innovations in the country, earlier as the Director-General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and now as the President of the National Innovation Foundation.
And then, there are thousands of common men and women, hailing from various walks of life, innovating continuously and creatively to solve pressing everyday problems in the Indian society. There are the famous Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a cost-effective way of manufacturing sanitary napkins, and Mansukhbhai Prajapati, who invented a clay refrigerator which runs without electricity. Then there are Mallesham from Andhra Pradesh, who sped up the process of weaving Kochampalli sarees and reduced the physical pains of the weavers, and Shri Sundaram from Rajasthan, who found a way to grow a whole tree in a dry region with just a litre of water. Raghav Gowda from Karnataka designed a cost-effective and painless machine to milk cows, while Mathew K Mathews from Kerala designed a solar mosquito destroyer. Dr. Pawan Mehrotra of Haryana has developed a cost-effective version of breast prosthesis for breast cancer survivors while Harsh Songra of Madhya Pradesh has developed a mobile app to detect developmental disorders among children.
Three women from Manipur, OinamIbetombi Devi, SarangthenDasumati Devi and Nameirakpam Sanahambi Devi invented an herbal medicine that is proven to promote poultry health. Priyanka Sharma from Punjab developed a low-cost biochip to detect environmental pollutants, while Dr. Seema Prakash from Karnataka revolutionised eco-agriculture by inventing a cost-effective plant cloning technique. AshniBiyani, the daughter of Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani, leads the Khoj Lab, which collaborates with the NIF to help commercialise grassroots innovations and ideas.
These and thousands of such examples present a very encouraging picture of the creativity and innovation of Indians. The innovation that the author admires are rooted in a context. Apple and Google (or Lyft or Uber or Spotify) could be created because there was an end consumer who was looking to pay for their products. There are many India innovator-entrepreneurs, such as those mentioned above, who have created products for a necessarily less glamorous but useful India context. Products like brooms and packaged food add convenience to the time-stretched urban and middle and upper middle classes; with a large unskilled and semiskilled workforce competing vigorously for such jobs, does the Indian society have an incentive to invest in innovating them?
Having said that, it is true that upsurge of innovation in India is relatively recent, i.e. about two to three decades old. It is also true that the Indian society has been experiencing socio-economic affluence on such a broad scale only for the past three decades, since the market reforms of 1991. It has been 70 years since Indians have gained sovereignty and control over their resources. The top five innovative countries according to the GII – Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, USA and UK – have been sovereign states for about at least two and a half centuries. It would perhaps then be more accurate to compare India’s current innovation scenario with, for instance, the USA’s innovation scenario in the mid-19th century.
Further, given the economic and resource drain faced by the Indian society over centuries, Indian innovation was geared more towards surviving rather than thriving. This explains the ‘group mentality’ strongly rooted in mainstream Indian society; staying and cooperating in a group increased one’s capacity to cope with and survive through all kinds of adversity. Individualistic aspirations, beliefs and actions were then a price to be paid for the security blanket it offered. And yet, once relative stability and affluence began to set in, the innovative and creative instincts of Indians lost no time in bursting forth.
Long story short, both innovation and entrepreneurship are thriving in India. They might not be as “macro” or glamourous as Apple or Uber, but they are solving fundamental problems for the Indian masses. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of room for improvement and growth – India has a long way to go to be recognised as a global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the scenario is not by any means bleak, as these many examples point out. The trajectory of enterprises and innovation in India is only upward. The future is promising.
* Gauri Noolkar-Oak is Policy Research Analyst at Pune International Centre, a liberal think tank based in Pune, India.
Views expressed by the authors are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation.
Changing Perceptions: How Pakistan should use Public Diplomacy
Traditionally in International Relations the concept of “hard power” remained the basic focus for states so as to achieve power and dominance in international anarchic system but with the changing scenarios in the age of globalization, economic interdependency and rapid spreading of information through various tools, “Soft Power” concept emerged which had great impact on states’ foreign policies. This term of soft power was first coined by Joseph Nye in mid-1960’s which could be defined as the ability of the state to influence others without coercion and this soft power technique basically revolves around three major instruments such as Culture, political values, and foreign policies. Apart from soft power concept, there is another basic concept called as “Public Diplomacy”. This could be described as the further dimension of soft power because by practicing Public Diplomacy state can initiate their soft power policies and can achieve the desired outcomes by winning the hearts and minds of foreign audience and non-governmental entities because by doing so it will enable government and decision making bodies of foreign states to act accordingly.
In context of South Asia particularly taking into consideration the important developing state Pakistan whose basic concern is to maintain friendly and neutral relations with other states Public diplomacy could, however, help it to maintain its relations in the regional complex structure where India is seen as the dominant power and alongside India the powerful rise of China as an external actor in South Asia. By efficient usage of Public diplomacy, Pakistan can improve its bilateral ties with the neighboring states.
The image of Pakistan in foreign media is portrayed as the state which is full of many internal and external challenges and it is also not portrayed as the safe country to travel into. In order to improve the image, Pakistan firstly needs to improve its relations with states within the region and for that India which is considered as hostile neighbor Pakistan should effectively use its public diplomacy tool it should introduce exchange programs because by educating youth and by deploying positive image in their minds Pakistan can influence them which could bring change in the coming years and also by increasing tourism activities. This would make foreigners aware of the fact that Pakistan is a secure state. Similarly, cultural activities, sports diplomacy, literature, art, and media could also have a great impact so as to change the perceptions.
Hence it could be suggested that for the development of state it is important for Pakistan to improve its public diplomacy by changing perceptions of public and elite of neighboring states it should take basic steps which could change the negative image which is in limelight since 9/11. Pakistan by enhancing the public diplomacy in other states as the tool to implement its soft power policies would, however, be able to economically, culturally and politically improve its stance in the International arena.
Rolling back militancy: Bangladesh looks to Saudi Arabia in a twist of irony
Bangladesh, in a twist of irony, is looking to Saudi Arabia to fund a $ 1 billion plan to build hundreds of mosques and religious centres to counter militant Islam that for much of the past decade traced its roots to ultra-conservative strands of the faith promoted by a multi-billion dollar Saudi campaign.
The Bangladeshi plan constitutes the first effort by a Muslim country to enlist the kingdom whose crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return Saudi Arabia to an undefined form of ‘moderate Islam,’ in reverse engineering.
The plan would attempt to roll back the fallout of Saudi Arabia’s global investment of up to $100 billion over a period of four decades in support of ultra-conservative mosques, religious centres, and groups as an antidote to post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal.
Cooperation with Saudi Arabia and various countries, including Malaysia, has focused until now on countering extremism in cooperation with defense and security authorities rather than as a religious initiative.
Saudi religious authorities and Islamic scholars have long issued fatwas or religious opinions condemning political violence and extremism and accused jihadists of deviating from the true path of Islam.
The Saudi campaign, the largest public diplomacy effort in history, was, nevertheless, long abetted by opportunistic governments who played politics with religion as well as widespread discontent fuelled by the failure of governments to deliver public goods and services.
The Bangladeshi plan raises multiple questions, including whether the counter-narrative industry can produce results in the absence of effective government policies that address social, economic and political grievances.
It also begs the question whether change in Saudi Arabia has advanced to a stage in which the kingdom can claim that it has put its ultra-conservative and militant roots truly behind it. The answer to both questions is probably no.
In many ways, Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism and militancy, violent and non-violent, despite sharing common roots with the kingdom’s long-standing theological thinking and benefitting directly or indirectly from Saudi financial largess, has created a life of its own that no longer looks to the kingdom for guidance and support and is critical of the path on which Prince Mohammed has embarked.
The fallout of the Saudi campaign is evident in Asia not only in the rise of militancy in Bangladesh but also the degree to which concepts of supremacism and intolerance have taken root in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan. Those concepts are often expressed in discrimination, if not persecution of minorities like Shia Muslims and Ahmadis, and draconic anti-blasphemy measures by authorities, militants and vigilantes.
Bangladesh in past years witnessed a series of brutal killings of bloggers and intellectuals whom jihadists accused of atheism.
Moreover, basic freedoms in Bangladesh are being officially and unofficially curtailed in various forms as a result of domestic struggles originally enabled by successful Saudi pressure to amend the country’s secular constitution in 1975 to recognize Islam as its official religion. Saudi Arabia withheld recognition of the new state as well as financial support until the amendment was adopted four years after Bangladeshi independence.
In Indonesia, hard-line Islamic groups, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), earlier this month filed a blasphemy complaint against politician Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, a daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno and the younger sister of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who leads President Joko Widodo’s ruling party. The hardliners accuse Ms. Sukarnoputri of reciting a poem that allegedly insults Islam.
The groups last year accused Basuki Tjahaja Purnama aka Ahok, Jakarta’s former Christian governor, of blasphemy and spearheaded mass rallies that led to his ouster and jailing, a ruling that many believed was politicized and unjust.
Pakistan’s draconic anti-blasphemy law has created an environment that has allowed Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatives and powerful political forces to whip up popular emotion in pursuit of political objectives. The environment is symbolized by graffiti in the corridor of a courthouse In Islamabad that demanded that blasphemers be beheaded.
Pakistan last month designated Islamabad as a pilot project to regulate Friday prayer sermons in the city’s 1,003 mosques, of which only 86 are state-controlled, in a bid to curb hate speech, extremism and demonization of religions and communities.
The government has drafted a list of subjects that should be the focus of weekly Friday prayer sermons in a bid to prevent mosques being abused “to stir up sectarian hatred, demonise other religions and communities and promote extremism.” The subjects include women rights; Islamic principles of trade, cleanliness and health; and the importance of hard work, tolerance, and honesty.
However, they do not address legally enshrined discrimination of minorities like Ahmadis, who are viewed as heretics by orthodox Muslims. The list risked reinforcing supremacist and intolerant militancy by including the concept of the finality of the Prophet Mohammed that is often used as a whip to discriminate against minorities.
Raising questions about the degree of moderation that Saudi-funded mosques and religious centres in Bangladesh would propagate, Prince Mohammed, in his effort to saw off the rough edges of Saudi ultra-conservatism, has given no indication that he intends to repeal a law that defines atheists as terrorists.
A Saudi court last year condemned a man to death on charges of blasphemy and atheism. Another Saudi was a year earlier sentenced to ten years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing atheist sentiments on social media.
Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations have long lobbied for the criminalization of blasphemy in international law in moves that would legitimize curbs on free speech and growing Muslim intolerance towards any open discussion of their faith.
To be sure, Saudi Arabia cannot be held directly liable for much of the expression of supremacism, intolerance and anti-pluralism in the Muslim world. Yet, by the same token there is little doubt that Saudi propagation of ultra-conservatism frequently contributed to an enabling environment.
Prince Mohammed is at the beginning of his effort to moderate Saudi Islam and has yet to spell out in detail his vision of religious change. Beyond the issue of defining atheism as terrorism, Saudi Arabia also has yet to put an end to multiple ultra-conservative practices, including the principle of male guardianship that forces women to get the approval of a male relative for major decisions in their life.
Prince Mohammed has so far forced the country’s ultra-conservative religious establishment into subservience. That raises the question whether there has been real change in the establishment’s thinking or whether it is kowtowing to an autocratic leader.
In December, King Salman fired a government official for organizing a mixed gender fashion show after ultra-conservatives criticized the event on Twitter. The kingdom this week hosted its first ever Arab Fashion Week, for women only. Designers were obliged to adhere to strict dress codes banning transparent fabrics and the display of cleavages or clothing that bared knees.
In February, Saudi Arabia agreed to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels after its efforts to install a more moderate administration failed to counter mounting Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism propagated by mosque executives.
Efforts to moderate Islam in Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar, the world’s only other Wahhabi state that traces its ultra-conservatism to the teachings of 18th century preacher Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, but has long interpreted them more liberally than the kingdom, have proven to be easier said than done.
Saudi King Abdullah, King Salman’s predecessor, positioned himself as a champion of interfaith dialogue and reached out to various groups in society including Shiites and women.
Yet, more than a decade of Saudi efforts to cleanse textbooks used at home and abroad have made significant progress but have yet to completely erase descriptions of alternative strands of Islam such as Shiism and Sufism in derogatory terms or eliminate advise to Muslims not to associate with Jews and Christians who are labelled kaffirs or unbelievers.
Raising questions about Saudi involvement in the Bangladeshi plan, a Human Rights Watch survey of religion textbooks produced by the Saudi education ministry for the 2016-2017 school year concluded that “as early as first grade, students in Saudi schools are being taught hatred toward all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought.”
Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle noted that Prince Mohammed has remained conspicuously silent about hate speech in textbooks as well as its use by officials and Islamic scholars connected to the government.
The New York-based Anti-Defamation League last year documented hate speech in Qatari mosques that was disseminated in Qatari media despite Qatar’s propagation of religious tolerance and outreach to American Jews as part of its effort to counter a United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state.
In one instance in December, Qatari preacher Muhammed al-Muraikhi described Jews in a sermon in Doha’s Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque as “your deceitful, lying, treacherous, fornicating, intransigent enemy” who have “despoiled, corrupted, ruined, and killed, and will not stop.”
No doubt, Saudi Arabia, like Qatar, which much earlier moved away from puritan and literal Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, is sincere in its intention to adopt more tolerant and pluralistic worldviews.
Getting from A to B, however, is a lengthy process. The question remains whether the kingdom has progressed to a degree that it can credibly help countries like Bangladesh deal with their demons even before having successfully put its own house in order.
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