Recent national elections in the U.S. and regional elections in India have presented an interesting conundrum. The numbers show that some Muslims, are voting in a counter-intuitive fashion. Given the rise of Islamophobia and right-wing religious nationalism, both in the U.S. and in India, one would surmise that Muslims would vote overwhelmingly to the left of center. But both, in India and in the U.S., many Muslims have however chosen to send a message to the center-left – your sympathetic rhetoric and your verbal condemnations of Islamophobia is not enough, we want to see concrete policies that improve our political and economic conditions. Neither the promises of Joe Biden, nor the fear of Hindu-nationalism is influencing their vote. These Muslims are, for sure, in a minority albeit a growing one. Politicians on the center-left may ignore them at their own peril.
In the U.S.
In the U.S., President-Elect Joe Biden’s campaign outreach to Muslims went far beyond that of any presidential candidate in the past. Biden’s campaign had a manifesto for American Muslims and a designated outreach person. Biden spoke at Muslim conventions and even quoted from Islamic scripture. He dropped an “inshallah” in the debates. Biden promised to end the so called ‘Muslim-Ban’ on day one and has repeatedly condemned Islamophobia. Biden spoke up for Uyghur Muslims in China and Kashmiris in India and has opposed the annexation of West Bank. He has promised to resume relations with the Palestinians and restore aid to them. Even Imran Khan, the PM of Pakistan, a self-proclaimed champion of Muslims, does not have such an impressive pro-Muslim curriculum vitae, he has repeatedly refused to speak up for the Uyghurs.
While a majority of American Muslims campaigned very aggressively for the Biden-Harris ticket and raised millions of dollars for the Democrats, the exit polls indicate that only 69% of American Muslims voted for them. On the face value that is a huge win, but if you look at in comparison to the past it is troubling. Despite the fact that Biden went far beyond any other candidate in his outreach to Muslims, and the Islamophobia of President Trump is well documented, Biden has garnered the least percentage of votes by a Democratic presidential candidate in the last four elections according to exit polls conducted by the Council on American Islamic Relations.
A possible explanation for this relatively weak performance is that, for some Muslims his “iron-clad” support for Israel and his willingness to work with pro-Hindutva operatives in the U.S., make his opposition to Islamophobia sound less credible. Words are not enough. If his electoral promises do not actually translate into actual policies, one can expect further decline in Muslim support for Democrats. American Muslims are a rapidly growing and politically engaged community that is over represented in swing states.
A closer reading of the exit polls suggest that things are worse than they seem. The exit polls show that while 17% American Muslims voted for Trump (up from 13% in 2016), 11% declined to reveal who they voted for. It is possible that they lean heavily towards Trump, hence the secrecy. That would mean that in spite of all his Islamophobic rhetoric, Trump may have doubled his support among American Muslims. One Trump supporter told me he voted for Trump because Trump did not invade a single Muslim country in four years unlike Biden who supported the invasion of Iraq.
The recent elections in Bihar has an interesting story to tell. The state is clearly polarizing as most gains have been made by parties on the extremities. Prime minister Modi’s right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) went from winning 53 wins in the 2015 elections to winning 74 of the 243 seats in 2020. A significant swing in favor of Hindutva ideology. The Communist Party (CPI-ML) gained 9 seats, it had 3 seats in 2015 to 12 seats in 2020. The communist parties combined had a 400% increase, they went from 4 to 16 seats. The parties in decline are the so-called secular centrist parties. The Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD) which is the biggest single party in the state lost five seats (80-75) and the Indian National Congress (INC), the grand old party of India, also lost ground (27-19).
Clearly the secular center is shrinking. The biggest surprise of the elections was the performance of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All Indian MajlisIttehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a Muslim party, which in the past five years has gone from 0-5 seats. The Majlis won in predominantly Muslim area of Seemanchal and is being accused by commentators of stealing the secular vote away from secular parties. Some are describing Majlis as BJP’s B-Team.
It is interesting that now in Indian politics, the code for Muslim vote is ‘the secular vote’. Indian Muslims are now the last line of defense for the rather rapidly shriveling secular space. The criticism of Owaisi and the Majlis for denting the prospects of secular parties in Bihar is both misplaced and inaccurate. The question that is important is not why Owaisi’s Majlis, a party historically based in Hyderabad (South India) is contesting elections so far in the North of India. The key question is why are Muslims in Bihar voting for Majlis? A party that has no record of governance in their region.
In a speech months before the elections, Owaisi predicted a tectonic shift in Seemanchal’s politics and he said that it was coming because of the profound injustices and inequities that plague Muslims of that region. If secular parties that have governed the state for decades had delivered good governance to Muslims, Owaisi would have stayed at home.
Muslims are increasingly disillusioned by secular and left politicians. Islamophobia was on the rise even before Trump became President and 37% of American Muslims, pre-covid pandemic, were found hovering near the poverty line. There is much discontent. I think just as 17-25% American Muslims voted for Trump rejecting the centrist politics of Democrats – many Muslims in Bihar too are frustrated by the failure of secular parties to improve their material condition. The region of Bihar where Owaisi’s party won five seats is the poorest and infrastructurally the least developed area of the state. Voting for secular parties for decades did not help them much. They have been voting without hope. They too are tired of the lip service.
Muslims of Bihar are fortunate that they have an alternative in Majlis and they are able to reject both Indian secularists and Hindu nationalists unlike some American Muslims who feel that they are stuck between Republicans who are Islamophobic and Democrats who promise much but deliver little. The minority of Muslims who appear to be voting counter intuitively, seemingly against their own interests, either for Donald Trump in the U.S. or the Majlis in Bihar, are clearly sending a signal to secular politicians – do not take our vote for granted, you need to earn our vote.
The center-left may be a natural ally of Muslims, but if it does not deliver for Muslims, they may lose their vote in ever increasing numbers.
Why won’t Bowdich evoke 9/11 now?
“Day of fire”. That’s how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to the Capitol insurrection, which happens to be the exact same phrase President George W. Bush used on the occasion of 9/11. That is not coincidental. But why won’t the FBI draw 9/11 parallels now?
In spring last year, when I was running for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech, in a leaked memo to the New York Times, FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich was quoted in a reaction to the Black Lives Matters protests. Bowdich maintained that the protesters should be arrested under an outdated racketeering law from the 1940s. The leaked memo showed that Mr Bowdich considered the social justice movement “a national crisis” comparable to 9/11. The hundreds of thousands of people mourning and marching across the country, unified by the simple thought that no life should be taken lightly, for nothing, were actually similar to terrorists in the eyes of the FBI who wanted to charge them as racketeers. Why won’t Bowdich evoke 9/11 now, when it comes to far-right actual terrorism? We are talking about plans to blow up buildings and assassinate law-makers.
There is evidence appearing now through the courts that the Trump mob indeed intended to capture and assassinate congressmen. A new court filing by federal prosecutors says that Trump supporters intended to “capture and assassinate” elected officials during the Capitol riot.
The FBI has a misplaced terrorism obsession with the progressive left, while lightly ignoring the far-right, which is by far the more violent and much more organized group. The Capitol events security mishandling demonstrated a different attitude when it comes to the latter group.
There is a difference between street clashes with police in social justice protests that have gone overboard and have turned violent, on one hand, and placing bombs at political buildings, plans to kidnap and assassinate politicians, and violent usurping of the certification of a democratically elected president. The difference should be obvious, and yet the FBI is pursuing its obsession with the left voices, largely ignoring the violent extremists and the real violent terrorism threat on the far right, as recently revealed by an Intercept investigation.
In a public statement, the FBI made sure that the public understood its own misguided standard used in the threat assessment in the Capitol attacks by the Trump mob, namely the aspirations vs intentions test. The FBI official explained that the FBI needs to consider that some online activity and planning by the far right could simply be “keyboard bravado”. So, “keyboard bravado” is now the new “locker room talk”.
It is not surprising that the FBI uses different standards to assess the threat on the far-left and on the far-right. Former FBI director Hoover called Martin Luther King “one of the most dangerous negroes in America”. MLK was far from a hero for the FBI. It is not uncommon for the FBI even today to mischaracterize center-left voices of reasonable progressives who are anti-violence, pro-rights and pro-equality as far-left anarchists and communists, magnifying the threat on the left while ignoring the bigger threat on the right. Calling reasonable center-left Democrats anarchists and communists is a classical President Putin move. Let’s recall that ahead of the presidential elections in November, Russian President Putin endorsed Biden and the Democrats as communists whom we would get along with, in order to discredit them.
Let’s look at the actions and the security measures present around the two types of crowds. In a recent interview I wondered why FBI deputy director Bowdich won’t evoke 9/11 now in relation to far-right terrorism, in the context of the methods that the FBI sometimes uses to suppress and deal with progressive voices.
The FBI have opened mow many cases for “domestic terrorism” into the Capitol attack and it is true that they are saying that they are treating these cases as “international terrorism” but where is the FBI public condemnation of terrorism? We have not seen public statements by the FBI director Christopher Wray and FBI deputy director David Bowdich. Why won’t Bowdich come out and evoke 9/11 now, just like he did with the Black Lives Matter movement?
America has a long way to go to recover from the damage that Trump and his cronies spread across the various US agencies have done to democratic principles and human rights. The Trump institutional capture of key agencies such as the FBI and the CIA, let alone DOJ, has led the country into a downward spiral. I myself just launched a $1 UN lawsuit against the Trump circle at the UN, in attempt to clear the Trump circle also from the UN.
The capitol events were an embarrassment for the FBI who failed the due diligence standard of the reasonably expected measures that should have been taken in a similar situation because they were dealing with the President’s supporters. Then, the FBI decided to justify their inaction with the false “keyboard bravado” explanation, which does not explain anything.
The FBI are now running social media campaigns for the collection of evidence on suspects in the Capitol attacks but the truth is that the FBI does not need random people to phone them and point them to the bad guys. The FBI follow these groups and people, they know everything. It’s just a question of choice as to when to bring out the collected over time evidence. The FBI is in a hurry now only because there is public and social pressure to do something. All of America is watching what will happen to the bad guys.
A couple of days ahead of the Capitol events, I noted on Twitter that Homeland Security acting Secretary, Chad Wolf, was on a trip to Cyprus, while America was “burning”. The Cyprus frictions in the European Mediterranean seem like a holiday now, in comparison to the Capitol events. Several days later, Wolf resigned.
With the news that President Trump intends to issue over 100 new pardons during his last two days in office, the question of justice for the Capitol events is as relevant as ever, as it is reasonably expected that some of the pardons could relate to the Capitol attacks.
It is safe to say that former Attorney General Bill Barr is not missed by many people. The Trump supporters’ cases would not have received fair treatment at the Department of Justice under his watch. The new Attorney General in the Biden Administration, judge Merrick Garland, in fact, might discover that many cases from the Bill Barr time will have to be reopened.
The top security priority now is President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, 20 January, while Trump holds a separate rally. The Capitol events served as a warning.
Looking forward, it is time for American democracy to demonstrate its elasticity. And legal justice necessarily has to be a part of that, ignoring phony calls for “unity” and “healing” made by the criminals themselves who are trying to escape justice now. There can’t be unity without ensuring justice first.
Latin America and China: The difficulties in relations and Covid-19
The relations between China and Latin America have developed positively, but some problems and challenges are also being faced. Firstly, the intensified strategic and economic competition between China and the United States has increased the negative impact on the relations between China and Latin America. Trump’s Administration already used zero-sum competition and Cold War mentality to mark Sino-U.S. relations, believing that China’s rise in Latin America could upset the U.S. order in the Western Hemisphere.
Back in February 2018, during a visit to Latin America the then Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said that China was using its economic influence to bring Latin America into its sphere of influence, and criticised it as seeking a new imperial power for its geopolitical expansion.
In 2018, Rand Corporation published the 400-page report At the Dawn of Belt and Road. China in the Developing World. The report pointed out that China’s contacts in Latin America and its geopolitical advantages held back the U.S. presence in the region.
Specifically, the report explored China’s economic, political and security roles in Southeast Asia, Oceania, Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.
The report also analysed China’s bilateral relations with key States in each region. Finally, it dealt with the negative consequences of the Chinese strategy towards developing countries for the United States. Therefore, it maintained that strategists and decision-makers in the Armed Forces, and all U.S. military staff, needed to focus on China and anyone interested in developing international relations with that country. An attitude of threat not only towards China.
Another factor preventing – at least apparently – the development of China-Latin America relations is the retreat of Progressives and the advance of Conservatives in the landscape of political change in the Subcontinent: this poses a challenge to the development of mutual relations.
2017 and 2018 were general election years in thirteen Latin American countries. In Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and other countries, the old traditional and left-wing parties lost elections. Therefore, Latin America is divided into two camps: one is the left-wing one represented by Cuba and Venezuela, and the other is the right-wing camp composed of Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru.
Conversely, the fast development of China-Latin America relations from 2003 to 2013 was favoured by the political atmosphere of the left-wing camp. Currently, however, the transition from the Left to the Right tells us that some countries rely on the United States in terms of development projects and ideologies. Therefore, the political transition has become an additional challenge for the development of relations between China and Latin America.
Another crisis point is the impact of the pandemic. Here are some data regarding the Covid-19 cases until January 17, 2021:
Latin America: 16,753,447
North America: 23,091,187 (USA: 22,423,006; Canada: 668,181)
Latin American countries record relatively high urbanisation rates, with peaks of 70-80%. Large cities are very densely populated, with a high percentage of informal employment and weak national control abilities, which create the conditions for the spread of Covid-19.
On the other hand, the United States-which is the worst affected country in the American Continent – has increased the repatriation of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central American countries for reasons of epidemic prevention and control, thus further aggravating the situation in these already disadvantaged countries.
Why is the pandemic in Brazil so severe? The indifference of President Bolsonaro’s government towards the epidemic, as well as ineffective measures and omissions in control are the main reasons for the spread of the epidemic in Brazil. The first case was discovered in Brazil on March 12, 2020 and the epidemic soon began to spread throughout the country, which currently records 8,131,612 cases and 203,580 deaths.
Brazil’s former Health Minister, Nelson Teich, advocated isolation, but Bolsonaro’s philosophy is different. He believes that imposing quarantine curbs economic development. Health Minister Teichresigned. The new Minister is Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, who has no medical training and no experience in managing public health disasters.
An official of the Brazilian Ministry of Health said that the number of people infected by the pandemic is officially eight million, but it has actually exceeded ten million. This unprecedented public health crisis has triggered economic recession and could lead to new social unrest. These are all new challenges.
The impact of Covid-19 on the entire Latin American region is very severe. According to the World Bank statistics, it has been the most severe crisis ever since the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s. The blow to the region is reflected mainly in four aspects:
1) exports have declined.
2) The prices of raw materials have fallen. Due to reduced demand, prices have inevitably fallen. Recently, everyone has seen a drop in copper prices, especially as Peru and Chile, the copper mining centres of the world, have been forced to close their mines due to the impact of the pandemic.
3) Tourism has collapsed. Latin America is a kind of cultural-exotic attraction for North Americans and Europeans. With Covid-19, there is no way for tourism and passenger transport to go back to the traditional levels of normalcy.
4) The inflow of remittances has decreased significantly. They are one of the main driving forces for economic development in the area, especially in regions like Central America and countries like Mexico.
The Latin American immigrants working in the United States put aside the money they earn and send it to their families – a key source of income for Latin America. As the U.S. economy has been severely hit, also remittances have been significantly reduced, to the detriment of the entire subcontinent.
With specific reference to Covid-19, it should also be mentioned that on June 24, 2020, the U.S. Congress held a full-scale hearing and invited a number of U.S. experts to express their views.
Those experts included Robert Evan Ellis of the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. One of the main points he made was that the U.S. government should strengthen its support for Latin American allies to prevent China from using ‘medical diplomacy’ to expand its sphere of influence in Latin America, along with advances in supply chains, strategic acquisitions and loans to troubled governments, while the West remains economically weakened and politically distracted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hence, in his view, the United States should resolutely stop China’s technological expansion in Latin America. This means that the United States should not acquire and share Chinese medical know-how.
Ultimately, the pandemic has not changed China’s goals or overall strategy. It provides an unprecedented opportunity for China to move forward with its implementation. With the help of the Chinese government’s controls on its population to impose and enforce quarantine, and thanks to its huge financial reserves and leverage on the economy, China is emerging from the crisis (albeit certainly weakened) ahead of most Western and non-Western countries.
The pandemic and its health, economic and other effects are likely to persist and continue to weaken the United States and Europe for some time. The interplay between partial economic reopening and the time needed to develop, test and massively produce a vaccine will extend this process.
In Latin America and in other less developed parts of the world, the situation is likely to be far worse. Less capable public health systems, large informal sectors, vulnerable small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as limits to governments’ ability to borrow money to protect vulnerable populations, and the related economic sectors will put pressure on economies as they suffer from Western countries’ declining investment and demand for their exports. In China, on the other hand, things are being solved.
Democracy Or What? – And Then Climate
Most of us were appalled to see what happened in Washington a ten days ago when a ‘mob’, incited by Donald Trump’s address, stormed the Capitol building to prevent the presentation of Joe Biden as the next President. He gave voice to a possible fraudulent (in his mind) election, by putting suspicion on the postal ballot long before the election took place, and tried to ‘engineer’ the ballot by putting his ‘own’ man in control of it. He tried to manipulate the Supreme Court by replacing vacancies with people he expected to follow his lead and must have been disappointed, if not shocked, to find that the court unanimously rejected his claim that the votes had been rigged and should be thrown out. His unruly term of office saw the greatest turnover of people of any previous presidential term as staff could only hack the unusual behaviour of a disordered mind for so long. And so on and on. Much will be written about the 4-year aberration that was Donald Trump. On a lighter note, his escapades in golf have given rise to a book, ‘Commander in Cheat’!
Concerned people have written and spoken about the state of democracy today. Those of us who have spent some time stateside appreciate the immensity of the country, how one is made welcome, but also the prejudices that one finds and the general unknowing of the world we live in by large swathes of the population. Some are still steeped in attitudes that pre-date the civil war. Donald Trump played to all of those and gave them voice. That is a big challenge facing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to get America back on track and if not ‘great again’ to stand up and join the rest of us and share and appreciate that there are billions of other people that are working away with hopes and dreams and looked to the US as a beacon.
That should be the meaning of ‘great again’, and if they can look up and truly be the land of the free and welcome the weak and downtrodden who are fleeing war and violence, as was once the way, then we can say that once more ‘you have earned the right to be the leader of democracy’, and democracy, for all its imperfections, is still the least bad form of government. It is well that the US re-joins the world as totalitarianism, in all its forms and at all levels, is on the rise again. Countries that espouse democracy and heed its precepts need to speak up loudly and be heard once again.
In November of this year is the World Climate Meeting, COP21, in Glasgow, Scotland at which the latest news on climate will be debated. Hopefully, the coronavirus will be on the decline and the US election will no longer be an issue. We can then get together on the one matter that should concentrate all our minds and separate the wheat from the chaff because there is some said that is wrong that muddies the waters, and leads the politicians to make incorrect decisions. But change is around us.
Climate is a highly complex issue, arguably the most complicated, that not all the modelling can get right, but study must go on. It is strange that it has only come to our notice since the population of the world over the past 60 years, has increased dramatically from approaching 3 billion to 8 billion. Mankind has thus significantly increased breeding himself, and thus his use of natural resources, for example cutting down trees, which need carbon dioxide to live, and vastly increased the pollution of the seas and the seas cover 70% of the planet. It has only been in comparatively recent times that we have started to pay attention to the seas and are alarmed at what we see.
However, we have the tools to put things right. We just need the will and ability to spend money wisely.
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