As it was facing the threat of extinction following the rout in the local polls in Delhi state which it rules, Delhi’s ruling party Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has won a by-election for the Bawana seat by a big 24,000 votes, leaving behind the real threat BJP and the Congress, which had hoped to enter the Delhi assembly as it ran neck and neck with AAP in the early rounds of counting.
While the BJP has 4 seats in the Delhi assembly, the Congress party has none.
Victory for AAP’s Ram Chander is sweeter as he defeated Ved Prakash, who had won Bawana as an AAP candidate in the assembly elections but quit the party just before key civic polls in March this year and joined the BJP.
Bawana seat is a reserved seat (Scheduled Caste), with a large number of Dalit voters. The AAP succeeded in playing up BJP’s presumptive ‘anti-Dalit’ image in its favour. Even in the past, this segment of voters had proved to be bankable for AAP.
In fact, the Aam Aadmi Party has retained the Bawana assembly seat in Delhi in a booster shot particularly for Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who has no answer yet to the shocking defeat of his party in the parliamentary and local polls.
The win is significant as AAP was also trounced by the BJP in the Delhi civic polls, only weeks after being pummeled in assembly elections in Punjab and Goa.The poll was also seen as a test of the popularity of the rival parties ahead the 2019 national election, in which the BJP hopes win all seven Lok Sabha seats as it did in 2014.
Victory for AAP’s Ram Chander is sweeter as he defeated Ved Prakash, who had won Bawana as an AAP candidate in the assembly elections but quit the party just before key civic polls in March this year and joined the BJP.
AAP has demonstrated clearly as to who is boss in Delhi- Kejriwal or Modi. The Modi-Shaw duo that dictates term to national politicians could not pierce through Delhi assembly politics of Kejriwal.
After his ambitious national runs that almost always ended in disaster, Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal seems to have finally learnt his lesson. And AAP’s victory in Bawana by-election by a record margin of 24,052 votes is a proof of that.
Kejriwal is back to the grassroots that catapulted him to power in 2015. He’s back to his old strategy and his greatest strength — connecting with people, especially the weaker sections and voters of rural areas, unrecognized colonies, and slum dwellers.
For a party that was trounced by the Congress in Punjab, by the BJP in MCD and by both in the Rajouri Garden bypoll, the Bawana result presents an opportunity for revival. Kejriwal’s outreach in the Outer Delhi constituency speaks to his party’s base – the urban poor.
Faced with popularity crisis, the Delhi Chief Minister, his ministers and other top party colleagues campaigned hard in Bawana, with the supremo Kejriwal camping there every Sunday for the past few weeks, asking voters to choose his party again.
During its campaigning in Bawana, AAP played up the ‘bhagora’ (deserter) factor against BJP. Ultimately, Bawana voters rejected the ‘detractor’ and BJP candidate Prakash. Besides, apart from its senior leaders, both Kejriwal and deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia virtually camped in Bawana to oversee both development work as well as an election strategy
First of all, learning a lesson from its past, AAP fielded Ram Chander, a candidate who had never won any election before. He had contested the last election as a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate. During Rajouri Garden by-election, AAP had lost because the voters rejected the party for its decision to allow the then-sitting MLA Jarnail Singh to quit the seat and contest the Punjab election.
Out of the six wards in Bawana, BJP had won five in the MCD election. Immediately, after the MCD polls, AAP had set an agenda of bringing development in the unorganized colonies, JJ clusters, villages, etc. The focus was on improving the long-pending civic problems of these areas. This helped the party to reconnect with its grassroots voters. AAP’s relentless demand for Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system was accepted and all the EVMs used in the Bawana by-election were equipped with VVPAT.
Delhiites have found the AAP and Kejriwal still relevant in their lives. People see AAP still better than other corrupt parties.
Huge setback for BJP
For the national ruling party BJP and PM Modi, the loss of Bawana is a big embarrassment, a land slide. Riding high on a series of victories, especially the by-election to the Rajouri Garden Assembly constituency in Delhi and the elections to the Municipal Corporations of Delhi (MCD), BJP’s hyperbole failed to cut ice with Bawana voters.
The Bawana by-election was important for the BJP and PM Modi as they have to prove that people are behind the decision of the AAP MLA who quit the party and joined the BJP. It was also a prestige battle for the BJP’s Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari, who draws key support from Delhi’s “Poorvanchali” voters, made up of people from UP and Bihar. Bawana, one of Delhi’s biggest assembly constituencies, has a big presence of Poorvanchalis.
The Bawana by-poll result underscores BJP’s failure of strategy and misplaced optimism.
Why did BJP fail to corner Bawana seat? Answer looks very simple. AAP’s strategic attack on BJP failed the BJP’s Delhi assembly strategy.
PM Narendra Modi, trying to take back Delhi poll in the next poll, was said to be watching the Bawana election closely. The BJP and Modi had hoped to add a fifth seat to its kitty after snatching the Rajouri constituency from AAP in another by-election earlier this year.
Contrary to his ‘anti-Narendra Modi’, ‘anti-BJP’ image and criticisms, Kejriwal maintained a stoic silence and restrained communication, ever since the MCD result was announced. Abandoning his strategy of attacking Modi, Kejriwal single-pointedly focused on carrying out the development of the area. An internal post-poll survey by the Pradesh Congress Committee also underlined this fact and mentioned that this would make AAP a winner.
The Delhi BJP was on a high this year after they won a resounding third term in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. The MCD win balanced the scales in favour of the BJP after AAP’s 2015 sweep. But with the Bawana by-poll result, the AAP has stamped its authority on the National Capital. The BJP, which was buoyant after the MCD polls, had to settle with No 2 position.
For BJP’s Delhi unit, winning Bawana seat was important as well as challenging, because it had to keep pace with the spreading dominance of the party under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in other parts of the country.
Keeping an eye on the Purvanchali voters, who account for almost 35 percent of the total electorate in Bawana, Delhi BJP Manoj Tiwari was placed at the forefront of the battle to woo the segment. Here too, BJP failed to anticipate the growing acceptance of AAP in the unrecognized colonies and JJ clusters, where a large number of residents belong to Purvanchal. “Many Purvanchali voters no doubt voted in the favour of BJP, but not all. Considering the body of developmental work done by Kejriwal in this area, a large section voted in the favour of AAP. Instead of favoring regionalism, they chose to go for the development of the area,” a resident of one of the unorganized colonies said.
Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari’s ‘Poorvanchali’ identity, which had worked during the local polls, failed this time to win all the Poorvanchali voters, as AAP emphasized on ‘development for all the residents of Bawana’.
In an astute move, the Delhi BJP fielded ex-AAP MLA Ved Prakash, who had quit AAP just before the MCD elections. Following its impressive victory in the MCD elections, the BJP was confident that its strategy of welcoming Opposition rebels in its fold and rewarding them with election tickets would pay dividends. But, it didn’t.
In fact, the strategy badly backfired. Somehow, BJP managed to end up in the second spot — during the initial rounds of counting, Congress was in the second position — in Bawana, thereby saving itself some acute embarrassment.
AAP’s victory has proved that the voters of Bawana have rejected BJP’s strategy of giving tickets to deserters and win. The message is clear from the people of Bawana — ‘if you are a detractor, we won’t accept you’. The strategy applied by BJP has miserably failed,” said an AAP observer.
Observation: Back to people
AAP’s win in Delhi by-poll has put the BJP and Congress in tight stop and they will have to reschedule their anti-AAP program.
Huge defeat suffered by AAP and Kejriwal forced them to relink themselves with the people of Delhi as mere rhetoric of Kejriwal cannot match the high profile talks of PM Modi.
More importantly, the impact of GST has been felt by the people gradually as process of food and other essentials are sky rocketing with heavy taxes.
Bawana has recast the AAP and Kejriwal in limelight, their importance in Indian politics beyond Delhi, is stressed once again. A post-poll internal survey conducted by the Pradesh Congress Committee had predicted AAP’s victory in the Bawana by-election. The survey stated that AAP’s gaining margin over Congress and BJP would be due to the development work carried out by the Delhi government in the unrecognized colonies and villages in Bawana.
The Bawana by-election was seen as a crucial test of CM Kejriwal and his AAP’s popularity in the only state the party rules, after several setbacks since it swept the Delhi assembly elections in 2015.
The spectacular win by the ruling AAP in Delhi’s Bawana constituency by-election has saved the party from the embarrassment it faced after the defeat at local polls and also stop any future defections by selfish MLAs, if any left in the party. In fact, no MLA would dare quit party and join BJP or Congress because they lose their MLAs seat while the AAP candidate would win the by poll convincingly. So the CM Kejriwal and his team can concentrate on development projects and serve the Delhiites to their full satisfaction. Take the people into confidence in whatever the government does or does not. Whatever deficit in faith, trust and confidence people have not must be erased.
Delhi’s victory of AAP has to do with more than Kejriwal because Delhiites want a change in the politics of Delhi but he is centre of popular change in the capital. Delhiites supported the anti-corruption movement as people are fed with corruption groomed and pampered by both the top and richest national parties Congress and BJP and AAP for their own sake and better future of their children.
Winning back the Bawana means Kejriwal is a shrewd leader Delhiites have found from among whole lot of corrupt political rats. His decision to reconnect with the people won him the Bawana seat. However, whether or he would be able to overcome the Modi effect remains to be seen.
However honest Kejriwal maybe, his honesty cannot survive in politics without kindness. Arrogance with fellow leaders may not win votes for ever. Defeat of the popular AAP in the parliamentary poll and local polls while the AAP rules the capital state has a vital message for Kejriwal and AAP.
Apparently, Kejriwal is a powerful tool the Delhiites use to bring the necessary changes in their lives. They trust him more than anybody else. But Delhi CM should not take the Bawana victory for granted and accept it as a game of Delhiites and should try to accommodate the leaders with varying views on governance but opt for consensus policy to pursue the AAP objectives successfully.
Remember, both the Congress and BJP are after the blood of AAP!
Delhi’s victory of AAP has to do with more than Kejriwal because Delhiites want a change in the politics of Delhi but he is centre of popular change in the capital.
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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