Blaming Others (Farooq Sulehria)

The Amnesty International report on human rights for the year 2007 is out. The Muslim world constitutes, as usual, bleakest chapter. Every single country across the Muslim world has been pointed out by the Amnesty International either for executions and torture or discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities. Punishments never handed down even during the Stone Age, have been awarded in 21st century Muslim world. In one case, two Saudi nationals were awarded 7,000 lashes. Yes, 7,000. And executions? Well, 335 in Iran, 158 in Saudi Arabia and 135 in Pakistan. Violation of human rights, it seems, is the only thing that unites the otherwise divided Muslim world.

The report is no exception. The Muslim world cuts a sorry figure every time a global watchdog releases its findings. Freedom of expression here remains curtailed, Reporters Sans Frontieres annually reports. Regarding freedom of expression, there is a joke often told in Arab world. At a meeting, a US journalist says: “We have complete freedom of expression in the US. We can criticise the US president as much as we like.” The Arab journalist replies. “We also have complete freedom of expression in Arab world. We can also criticise the US president as much as we like.”

Similarly, it is either Bangladesh or Pakistan or Nigeria which is on top of Transparency International’s corruption indexes. However, when Nobel laureates gather in Stockholm every December, Muslim scientists and writers are conspicuous by their absence. In case, as Naguib Mahfouz is crowned, he is stabbed and rendered paralysed. The irony, or tragedy, is that his attacker had not even read his excellent books. Or we disown Dr Abdul Salam just because he belonged to the Ahmadiya community. Salam’s case deserves special mention since it underlines the absurdity that characterises this part of the world.

When all else fails, “Jews” and “Christian” West are there to lay the blame for all our ills. Conspiracy theories instead of scientific, rational thought holds sway across much of the Muslim world. And every time a rights abuse is highlighted in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, a typical Muslim answer is: Look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Chechnya. True, imperialism and Zionism have a hand in our predicament. However, there are many wounds one can only describe as self-inflicted.

Take, for instance, the Iran-Iraq war, one of the last century’s bloodiest conflicts. There is no denying the fact that the United States backed the Saddam regime. But it was the Arab sheikhdoms, panicked at the Iranian revolution, that stoked the flames of war. And, ironically, now in the post-Saddam era when the “Christian” West has written off Iraq’s Saddam-era debt worth $66 billion, Iraq’s Arab brothers refuse to write off that country’s $67 billion loans.

Similarly, last century’s bloodiest Muslim genocide was not carried out by Serbs, Israelis, Americans, Europeans or Hindus. It was Pakistan’s military that refused to respect a democratic verdict and plunged East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, into an ocean of blood. Millions were killed, maimed, raped and rendered homeless. Luckily, Pakistan has a “Hindu” neighbour. “Hindus are born enemies of Islam’. Hence, Pakistani children are now taught that a Bengali traitor (revered by Bengalis as founder of Bangladesh), in connivance with our “Hindu” neighbour, dismembered Pakistan. Ironically, of all her South Asian neighbours, Pakistan enjoys most cordial relations with the world’s only Hindu state, Nepal. The other big genocide was perpetrated by Indonesia. The target was: its own citizens who were members of the Communist Party.

Figures are not available but Israel perhaps cannot match Iran in executing Arabs. Iran’s confessional regime is a champion of the Arab cause in Occupied Territories but Arabs of its Khuzestan province are regularly sent to the gallows. Seizing the opportunity, one may also point out how only recently Afghan refugees were driven out of Iran as if Afghan refugees were not as Muslim as Palestinians. And, by the way in the fallen “Emirate of Afghanistan” itself, Hazaras were slaughtered by the Taliban in their thousands almost a decade ago – mainly because Hazaras are Shia. In Iraq, more people have been killed in Shia-Sunni clashes than in resisting the US occupation. Shia-Sunni clashes in Pakistan have claimed more lives than those lost in its wars against India. Ironically, this only “nuclear power” of the Muslim world is not being occupied on its eastern front by its “Hindu” neighbour but is losing territory on its western front to its own citizens.

One can mention from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait to the recent Hamas-Fatah infighting (a shameful tribute to Israel on its 60th anniversary). The list is long. Indeed, unending. However, the solution to all our problems is always simple: return to an imagined past which, mercifully for the people of the seventh century, never existed. Every time, a scientist in the West is ready with an invention, our readymade answer is: we knew about it 1,400 years ago what the West has found only now. We kill Theo van Gogh when confronted with a film. We burn down our own cities in response to a blasphemous and racist caricature. Still, we refuse to understand that our answer to every “provocation” is either a fatwa or mindless violence – perhaps because creativity is anathema to us. Not because we lack fertile minds, but because we lack liberation and freedom — liberation from self-imposed mental, moral, and cultural censors. And freedom to think and express. Time to heed the great Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, who said:

Five thousand years

Growing beards

In our caves.

Our currency is unknown,

Our eyes are a haven for flies.

Friends,

Smash the doors,

Wash your brains,

Wash your clothes.

Friends,

Read a book,

Write a book,

Grow words, pomegranates and grapes,

Sail to the country of fog and snow.

Nobody knows you exist in caves.

People take you for a breed of mongrels.

This great article appeared in the The News International:
http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=118852

Afghan journalism student facing death over alleged Islam insult says he was tortured

KABUL, Afghanistan: An Afghan journalism student sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam told an appeals court Sunday he confessed to writing materials that questioned the religion’s treatment of women because he was tortured. He denied all charges against him.

During a packed hour-long hearing, a judge read a transcript of the proceedings against 24-year-old Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh on Jan. 22 at a lower court in northern Balkh province.

It was the first time that full details have been revealed of the closed-door trial, which reflected the influence of conservative religious attitudes in post-Taliban Afghanistan’s nascent justice system. The verdict sparked an international outcry.

Kambakhsh was studying journalism at Balkh University in Mazar-i-Sharif and writing for local newspapers when he was arrested Oct. 27.

The transcript said he disrupted his university classes by asking questions about women’s rights under Islam. It also said he distributed an article on the subject and wrote an additional three paragraphs for the piece.

The only people with him in the courtroom during the January hearing in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif were three judges, a court scribe and the prosecutor. Kambakhsh said he had no defense lawyer, and only three minutes to defend himself.

He was transferred to Pul-e Charkhi prison on March 27, and his case was moved to Kabul, where rights groups believed he would have a fair trial.

On Sunday, Kambakhsh spoke in the appeals court in Kabul, again without a defense lawyer.

“I’m Muslim, and I would never let myself write such an article. All these accusations are nonsense,” he said, standing before the judge and addressing the court through a microphone in an emotional 15-minute statement.

“These accusations come from two professors and other students because of private hostilities against me. I was tortured by the intelligence service in Balkh province, and they made me confess that I wrote three paragraphs in this article.”

He did not give any further details about the alleged torture.

Saied Ansari, spokesman for the intelligence service, said it had not received any official information on Kambakhsh’s allegations and declined comment.

According to the Balkh court proceedings, the prosecutor said Kambakhsh admitted writing three paragraphs of the article and had initialed them.

He also was accused of writing, “This is the real face of Islam. … The Prophet Muhammad wrote verses of the holy Quran just for his own benefit.”

Prosecutor Ahmad Khan Ayar told the appeals court that the primary court sentence was “the right decision” according to Islamic law and the Afghan Constitution.

“Kambakhsh has insulted Islam by writing these paragraphs, and he has insulted the Prophet Muhammad,” Ayar said. “I ask the appeals court today to uphold the decision of the primary court of Balkh and sentence him to death.”

A number of rights groups have demanded that the case be annulled and Kambakhsh set free. A U.S. State Department spokesman expressed concern that Kambakhsh was sentenced to death for “basically practicing his profession.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it was concerned that Kambakhsh may have been targeted because his brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi, had written about human rights violations and local politics.

Ibrahimi said the family approached more than 10 lawyers who were initially willing to take on the case but later changed their minds.

A week after Kambakhsh was sentenced, lawmakers in the upper house of Parliament lauded the verdict. Conservative clerics and tribal elders have demanded that the government support the court’s decision.

More than 150 people — including several Western observers and more than 20 journalists — filled the courtroom Sunday to view the proceedings.

Kambakhsh said he did not believe he needed a defense lawyer for his appeal because he had not done anything wrong, but when pressed by the judges on the matter he said he would like to have one.

The head of the three-judge panel, Abdul Salaam Qazizada, adjourned the trial until next Sunday to allow Kambakhsh to meet a lawyer and prepare a written defense.

Afghan media have flourished since the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime following a U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Newspapers and TV and radio stations have opened nationwide.

But journalists face violence for news stories that criticize government leaders, warlords and religious clerics or challenge their often authoritarian views.

‘Blasting Bush OK, but don’t criticize terrorists’ – College Bans Criticising Terrorism

A college in Michigan has decided to allow harsh criticisms of President Bush to be posted on university property, but has banned criticism of violent terrorists and abortion, according to an educational rights group that is challenging the school’s practice.

The issue involves Lake Superior State University in Sault St. Marie, which has ordered Professor Richard Crandall, a nearly 40-year veteran of teaching, to remove the expressions of opinion from his office door and practice his academic freedom with “responsibility.”

“LSSU is displaying serious disrespect for faculty rights by demanding that Professor Crandall remove materials about public concerns from his office door,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “The political double standard in this case is striking.”

Crandall has been teaching at LSSU since 1969, and has adorned his office door – as have other professors – with various political cartoons and postings. His, however, were all of a conservative leaning, FIRE noted.


A cartoon showing comparing the number of abortion deaths in the U.S. to the population of the blacked-out states

His postings have included a photograph of President Ronald Reagan, a cartoon mocking Vice President Cheney’s hunting accident in 2006, cartoons addressing Islamic terrorism and abortion, among others.

But the university said it had received a complaint about the postings, and while keeping details about the concern secret, on March 12, 2007, ordered Crandall to take down the display, threatening him with “insubordination” if he failed to comply with the censorship.

Crandall acquiesced to the restrictions imposed by Provost Bruce Harger, but then turned to FIRE for help in restoring his right of free expression.

FIRE wrote to Betty Youngblood, who was president of LSSU at the time, suggesting that such actions constituted viewpoint discrimination since other professors were allowed their cartoons.

“An outside law firm responded to FIRE on behalf of the university, insisting that LSSU has not infringed on Crandall’s First Amendment rights and absurdly declaring that Crandall’s displays would somehow threaten the civil rights of LSSU community members,” FIRE said.


A listing of the conservative’s point of view on the U.S. military

“LSSU’s embarrassingly poor grasp of the law and its obvious viewpoint discrimination against Professor Crandall are clear indicators that, like too many of America’s universities, LSSU is ready to abandon fundamental rights in the name of making some students or faculty feel ‘comfortable.’ Yet the right to free expression exists to allow people to challenge the beliefs of others – even if this leads to discomfort,” said Robert Shibley, vice president for FIRE.

“It’s time for LSSU to acknowledge the Professor Crandall has the same right to express himself as any other LSSU professor,” he said.

WND attempts to reach LSSU officials for a comment were unsuccessful.


A cartoon noting the violence of radical Islamists

The school had warned the professor: “The materials that you posted were inappropriate and you are not to post these materials or any similar materials on university property, including both the door and the wall surrounding the door… Removal of materials followed by replacement with new materials at a later date constitutes insubordination.”

But FIRE noted such actions are common, “including at LSSU.”

“Other professors on Crandall’s floor have posted materials such as a Far Side cartoon, a bumper sticker reading ‘Honor Veterans; No More War,’ and a twelve-point list outlining how President Bush’s election was a result of corruption, among many other expressions of personal beliefs. As those professors have been granted the right to post materials as they see fit – most of which are not germane to the subjects those professors teach – so should Crandall, a political conservative, be allowed to post items reflecting his ideological viewpoints,” FIRE said.


Another professor’s posting that criticizes President Bush and Vice President Cheney

“The speech in question here – a form of political commentary comprising the very heart of the expression the First Amendment exists to protect-simply does not meet the exacting demands of this precise and well-established legal standard,” FIRE said.

FIRE is an educational foundation that works on behalf of individual rights, due process rights, freedom of expression and rights of conscience on America’s campuses.