Thursday, 21 November 2019

China's Muslim Concentration Camps Paint a Bleak Picture of the Future Awaiting the Hong Kong Protestors

What started in June as a series of peaceful demonstrations against Beijing’s growing exertion of its rule over Hong Kong has devolved into escalated violence between protestors and the territory’s police force.

The chants in favour of democracy and opposition to the Chinese Communist Party have now been replaced by violent confrontations, culminating with the police shooting and killing an unarmed protestor at point blank range on Monday.

The protestors’ core five demands, known as “Five Demands and Not One Less”, have remained the same since the protests began. But, until now, only one of them has been met – the withdrawal of an extradition bill which would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to China for trial. The other four include the establishment of an independent commission to investigate allegations of police brutality and misconduct; the retraction of riot charges against arrested and detained protestors; and the implementation of full democratic rights for all citizens.

In other words, the citizens of Hong Kong are demanding less of Beijing’s rule and influence and more democracy. While there’s little doubt a great many of the territory’s citizens and residents have grown tired of disruptions caused by the protests – with some questioning the means and methods deployed by some of the protestors – it is also true that an overwhelming majority of the island is grateful that these protests resulted in the withdrawal of the extradition bill.

There’s also no denying that these pro-democracy and anti-Beijing protestors rightfully and understandably believe that they are fighting for their lives and the future of their families. In almost every conversation I’ve had with those attaching themselves to the Anti Extradition Bill movement, the words “Xinjiang” and “Tibet” have come up.

In particular, Xinjiang’s Muslim concentration camps loom large in the minds of those who live within touching distance of China.

In a revelatory article for The Atlantic, Zeynep Tufekci shared a summary of conversations he held with protestors on the streets of Hong Kong this week. “They talked about Xinjiang and what China had done to the Uighur minority,” he wrote. “I’ve heard about the fate of the Uighurs from so many protestors over the months. China many have wanted to make an example out of the region, but the lesson Hong Kongers took was in the other direction – resist with all your might, because if you lose once, there will be a catastrophe for your people, and the world will ignore it.”

Protestors in Hong Kong have also familiarised themselves with recent revelations regarding the depraved level of mass rape, torture, executions and other forms of physical and psychological abuse meted out by Chinese authorities to the Uighur minority in an systematic effort to eliminate their culture and indoctrinate them into vigorously adhering to the Communist Party’s ideology.

When the Washington Post published a Uighur woman’s harrowing ordeal in a Chinese concentration camp last month, it went viral in Hong Kong, particularly among the protestors. It told of how 2,500 prisoners, ranging in age from 13 to 84, were subjected to the brutality of the Chinese state. “They would punish inmates for everything,” Sayragul Sauytbay told an interpreter. “Anyone who didn’t follow the rules was punished. Those who didn’t learn Chinese properly or who didn’t sing the songs was also punished.”

Her accounts regarding the pack rape of both men and women not only drew attention in Hong Kong, but also globally. She told Haaretz: “While they were raping her they checked to see how we were reacting. People who turned their head or closed their eyes, and those who looked angry or shocked, were taken away and we never saw them again.”

Uighur activists have now documented nearly 500 Muslim concentration camps in Xinjiang, with Randall Schriver, the top Pentagon official for Asia, estimating that the total number of detainees is “likely closer to three million citizens” or roughly 25% of the total Uighur population.

“If we lose, Hong Kong will become Xinjiang,” Jackool, a 30 year-old theatre technician and protestor, told AFP in September.

There’s little doubt that if, or when, Beijing sinks the full weight of its gigantic force into Hong Kong, the present reality of Muslims in Xinjiang is the future that awaits pro-democracy activists on the island territory.

The Chinese Communist Party views Islam as a cancer that has the potential to threaten or disrupt its economic imperatives in the north-west of the country, which is also how Beijing views democracy in Hong Kong – an ideological threat that has to be eliminated at some point or another.

Xiao Qiang, director of the Counter-Power Lab at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Information, has said that the party views Xinjiang as its “frontline” testing ground for data-driven surveillance measures, which allow authorities to track the every movement of every Uighur every second of the day via GPS tracking devices, facial recognition cameras and DNA databases.

“China’s goal is to use these technologies to suppress dissent and to predict and snuff out any challenge to the ruling Communist Party’s grip on power,” observes The Washington Post.

While it’s patently obvious that protestors in Hong Kong are immediately focused on pressuring the Government into implementing democratic reforms, there is also little doubt of the mobilising affect China’s Muslim concentration camps are having on the territory’s eight million citizens.


Monday, 18 November 2019

India’s massive, scary new detention camps, explained

What would you do if the country you were born in, or the country you’ve lived in for decades, suddenly announced you had to prove your citizenship or else face detention and deportation?

This is the situation nearly 2 million people — most of them Muslims, some of them Hindus of Bengali origin — now find themselves in, because their names do not appear on India’s National Register of Citizens (NRC).

That citizenship list, published last month, is part of the government’s effort to identify and weed out what it claims are illegal immigrants in the northeastern state of Assam. India says many Muslims whose families originally came from neighboring Bangladesh are not rightful citizens, even though they’ve lived in Assam for decades.

If you live in Assam and your name does not appear on the NRC, the burden of proof is on you to prove that you’re a citizen. The obvious move would be to dig out your birth certificate or land deed, but many rural residents don’t have paperwork. Even among those who do, many can’t read it; a quarter of the population in Assam state is illiterate.

You do get the chance to appeal to a Foreigners’ Tribunal. If they don’t buy your claim to citizenship, you can appeal to the High Court of Assam or even the Supreme Court. But if all that fails, you can be sent to one of the 10 mass detention camps the government plans to build, complete with boundary walls and watchtowers.

The first camp, currently under construction, is the size of seven football fields. Even nursing mothers and children will be held there. “Children lodged in detention centers are to be provided educational facilities in nearby local schools,” an Indian official said.

The government has indicated that it plans to extend the NRC process to the whole country. With so many people facing the threat of detention and, ultimately, deportation from the world’s largest democracy, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom are all warning that this could soon turn into a humanitarian crisis of horrifying proportions.

If the detainees in the camps end up being expelled from India — and that is the government’s plan — this could constitute a wave of forced migration even greater than that triggered by Myanmar in 2017, when hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were displaced. And in terms of the population detained, it may outstrip the number of people in China’s mass internment system, where an estimated 1 million Uighur Muslims are held.

So far, this looming crisis hasn’t gotten much mainstream attention. Before it escalates into a humanitarian catastrophe affecting millions, it’s important to understand exactly why this is happening.

To understand the roots of India’s plan for a massive detention system, we need to go back to the 19th century, when the British set up big tea plantations in Assam. Labor was in high demand and many people from Bengal, Nepal, and elsewhere were brought in to provide it. The local Assamese began to grow anxious about the loss of their culture in the face of shifting demographics.

Then, in 1947, the subcontinent was partitioned. As India and Pakistan were born amid bloodshed, many families rushed into what was newly becoming India — including many Muslims. The native Assamese increasingly resented the newcomers, who were, in their view, taking too many professional jobs and economic opportunities. And another wave of migration was soon to come.

In 1971, the territory that was then East Pakistan gained independence and became Bangladesh. Prompted by the bloody independence war, millions of Muslims fled Bangladesh for India, and many of them remained in Assam.

Simmering tensions boiled over into a massacre of Bengali Muslims in 1983; more than 1,800 were slaughtered. Although a peace accord was signed in 1985, it came at a cost: It included a commitment to create a method to identify people who came in after 1971. They and their descendants would all be considered citizens of Bangladesh, not India.

Plans were devised for a citizenship list, but it turns out sorting through millions of people’s paperwork is complicated, and no government was able to see the process through. But the rise of Hindu nationalism over the past several years — and a concomitant rise in anti-Muslim sentiment — added the pressure needed to make it happen. In 2013, India’s Supreme Court ordered that Assam publish an up-to-date NRC.

In 2018, the state government finally published a draft of the NRC. Four million people discovered they were not on it — including some high-profile Hindus of Bengali origin. Two lawmakers from Assam’s leading minority party, Maulana Badruddin Ajmal and Radheshyam Biswas, were left off the list.

After lots of public outcry and months of appeals, some people managed to get their names onto the NRC. Last month, the final draft was published, this time excluding 1.9 million names — mostly Bengali Muslims.

It’s impossible to know how many of them have been left off the list erroneously. But experts say plenty of them are probably rightful citizens who simply don’t have the documents to prove their status, not least because birth dates are a matter of guesswork in much of rural India and decades-old paperwork can be misspelled and hard to come by.

What’s more, some Muslims are noting how arbitrary the NRC’s determinations seem, and several are reportedly committing suicide because of the anxiety they feel over the citizenship list. As the New York Times reported:

Noor Begum, who lived in a small hamlet in a flood-soaked district, spiraled into depression after finding out that she and her mother had been excluded from the citizenship lists. Her father and seven siblings had made it.

It didn’t make any sense to the family: Why, if they all lived together and were born in the same place, would some be considered Indian while others illegal foreigners?

“Of course she was Indian,” said her father, Abdul Kalam, a retired laborer. “She used to sing Indian national songs at school. She felt very Indian.”

On a bright morning in June, Noor hanged herself from a rafter. She was 14.

“As human rights experts, we are right now saying this process has been arbitrary and discriminatory,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told me. She noted there are concerns that the Foreigners’ Tribunals may well go easier on Hindus than on Muslims who appeal their citizenship determination. Some lawmakers are pushing a Citizenship Amendment Bill, which would carve out exceptions for immigrant Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians — but not Muslims — left off the NRC.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi champions a hardline brand of Hindu nationalism known as Hindutva, which aims to define Indian culture in terms of Hindu history and values and which promotes an exclusionary attitude toward Muslims. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet recently expressed concerns over “increasing harassment and targeting of minorities — in particular, Muslims.”

Under Modi, vigilante Hindus have increasingly perpetrated hate crimes against Muslims, sometimes in an effort to scare their communities into moving away, other times in an effort to punish them for selling beef (cows are considered sacred in Hinduism). And last month, Modi erased the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, which had previously enjoyed considerable autonomy over its own affairs.

Muslims form approximately 14 percent of the national population and more than twice that in Assam state. In the 2019 Indian election, one of Modi’s central campaign promises was that he’d get the NRC in shape and deal with the Muslim migrants in Assam once and for all. Other members of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have used dehumanizing language to describe the Muslims there.

“These infiltrators are eating away at our country like termites,” BJP president and home minister Amit Shah said at an April rally. “The NRC is our means of removing them.” Shah has openly said the goal is to deport those deemed illegal immigrants.

“This is a populist way of doing things,” Ganguly told me. “It’s very similar to what you’re hearing in the US: ‘These people come and take away our jobs, our country doesn’t look like it’s ours anymore.’ It’s a narrative that often appeals to people facing challenges in securing jobs and supporting their families.”

Bangladesh for its part says it won’t accept the newly stateless people. As the foreign minister put it, “We are already in much difficulty with the [Rohingya refugees], so we can’t take anymore.”

So where will all these human beings go if they’re deported? Nobody knows.

To make matters worse, the BJP has said it plans to extend the NRC process across all of India. If that happens, we could be looking at the biggest refugee crisis on the planet. Already, the past few years have seen a movement of refugees around the world on a scale not seen since World War II.


Thursday, 14 November 2019

‘It shut all my doors’: how a Quebec law banning religious symbols derails women’s careers

Nour Farhat always dreamed of becoming a Crown prosecutor.

At 28, she is a newly minted lawyer with a master’s specialization in criminal law.

As a young woman of colour, her presence in Quebec courtrooms caught the attention of judges, other attorneys, even defendants – all of whom, she said, were happy to catch a glimpse of a rare non-white lawyer.

“In Montreal, they say that a third of people come from somewhere else, and you really see it in court. There’s a lot of black people, Arab people, Hispanics, and they were so happy to see me,” she said. After a year articling with the Quebec vehicle licensing bureau Farhat was hopeful for the future.

But the Quebec government dashed those dreams in June when it passed Bill 21, a controversial secularism law prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols by certain public-sector employees. Farhat wears a hijab, a non-negotiable item of clothing and expression of her Muslim faith.

“It really shut all my doors,” Farhat said of the law. “Five months ago I would have told you ‘I’m a future Crown attorney.’ I was so sure of my path. And now I’m like, OK maybe I’ll become an expert in insurance law?”

Farhat is just one of thousands of people whose careers have been derailed by Bill 21, which was rammed into law at 4am on a Sunday in June, after 16 hours of debate. She is watching closely as mounting legal challenges take on the discriminatory and possibly unconstitutional law.

The latest was filed last month by one of the province’s biggest school boards. Another challenge, also launched on a teacher’s behalf, is due back in court at the end of November. The law disproportionately affects the province’s education sector, where 74.5% of teachers are women.

 The law doesn’t touch [most Quebecers] one bit, but for me, it has disastrous consequences on my whole life

Bill 21 came after a protracted debate in Quebec over minorities’ rights to religious accommodations. The law prohibits people in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work, including police officers, lawyers, judges and teachers. Other public workers such as bus drivers, doctors and social workers must only keep their faces uncovered.

To further complicate matters, some established workers have been grandfathered into an exception clause that allows them to keep their religious garments and their jobs – as long as they don’t get promoted, switch to a different employer or move to another city.

The legislation doesn’t name specific religious symbols, and theoretically all symbols – kippahs, turbans, crosses – are equally prohibited. However, because the law specifically mentions face coverings, and because of longstanding and effervescent anti-Islam sentiment in the province, many Québécois agree the main targets are Muslim women.

The bill was passed against a backdrop of growing anti-Muslim violence in the province. In 2017, six Muslims were killed and 19 were injured in a Quebec City mosque shooting. In Montreal, police figures show 58% of hate crimes in 2018 involved Muslim victims. Muslims represent about 3% of the province’s population.

Since publishing an open letter against Bill 21 last April, Farhat routinely receives Islamophobic screeds by defenders of the legislation. But she is determined not to be silenced. “I have a voice. I will use it, especially when my own government doesn’t want me to,” she said.

Amrit Kaur, the vice-president of the World Sikh Organization, receives her share of hate mail, too. The 28-year-old recent graduate is a vocal opponent of Bill 21: she would have been a Quebec schoolteacher this year had she been allowed to continue wearing her turban.

Instead, Kaur reluctantly packed up her things and moved across the country to Vancouver BC, to accept a teaching position. “I had no choice. I think at this point in my life, I need job security,” she said.

Kaur argued that the law reflects a profound lack of understanding about religions like Islam and Sikhism.

“Keeping your faith hidden is very much a Protestant way of doing things,” Kaur said. “You need to understand that my faith, and the way I practice, doesn’t work like that. And you don’t have to be OK with it. You just have to accept that I have that right to live my life the way I want to live my life.”

Although not all Sikh women – or men – wear turbans, Kaur says that it was her personal choice to do so. “I had pressure from people saying, ‘Don’t try it, people are going to racist towards you.’ But I’m going to live my truth.”

Among the province’s chief justifications for the law is that it improves gender equality by freeing women from the constraints of oppressive religions. Critics say it targets women from religious and ethnic minorities who are already well-integrated into society, and damages their ability to earn a living and gain economic independence.

“Muslim women with government jobs – you don’t get more integrated than that. They speak French unless they’re teaching at an English school, they’re part of a union. They’re complying with all the rules and regulations,” said Robert Leckey, the dean of McGill University’s law faculty, who also suggested that those affected could demand compensation in court.

For someone like Farhat, who is just starting her career, the damages are near incalculable. She regularly questions whether she can stay and raise a future family at home in Montreal. “The law doesn’t touch [most Québécois] one bit, but for me, it has disastrous consequences on my whole life,” she said.


Monday, 11 November 2019

Why white supremacists and Hindu nationalists are so alike

Over the last few years, especially after Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 US presidential election, we have been witnessing the normalisation, and rise, of a white-supremacist, ultranationalist brand of right-wing politics across Europe and the United States. While the shift towards extreme right alarmed many across the world, far-right ideologues of the Trumpian era swiftly found support in a seemingly unlikely place: India.

Many members of the so-called "alt-right" - a loosely knit coalition of populists, white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis - turned to India to find historic and current justifications for their racist, xenophobic and divisive views. Using a specific, "white nationalist" brand of Orientalism, they projected their fantasies about a racially pure society onto the Indian culture and in response received a warm welcome from Hindu fundamentalists in India.

While an alliance between the Hindu far right and the Western alt-right may appear confounding on the surface, it actually has a long history, going all the way back to the construction of the Aryan race identity, one of the ideological roots of Nazism, in the early 20th century.

In the 1930s, German nationalists embraced the 19th-century theory that Europeans and the original Sanskrit speakers of India who had built the highly developed Sanskrit civilisation - which white supremacists wanted to claim as their own - come from a common Indo-European, or Aryan, ancestor. They subsequently built their racist ideology on the assumed superiority of this "pure" race.

Savitri Devi (born Maximiani Portas), a French-Greek thinker and mysticist who later became a spiritual icon of Nazism, helped popularise the idea that all civilisation had its roots in this Aryan "master race" in India. She travelled to India in the early 1930s to "discover the source of the Aryan culture" and converted to Hinduism while there.

She quickly integrated herself into India's burgeoning Hindu nationalist movement by promoting theories that support privileged caste Hindus' superiority over Christians, Muslims and unprivileged caste Hindus in the country. In 1940, she married Asit Krishna Mukherji, a Hindu nationalist and Indian supporter of Nazism who had praised the Third Reich's commitment to ethnonationalism, seeing commonalities between the goals of the Hitler Youth and the youth movement of Hindu nationalism, Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS).

Devi worked as a spy for the Axis forces in India throughout World War II and left the country after the defeat of Nazi Germany using a British-Indian passport. In the post-war period, she became an ardent Holocaust denier and was one of the founding members of the World Union of National Socialists, a conglomeration of neo-Nazi and far-right organisations from around the world.

Devi still has a strong influence over the Hindu nationalist movement in India. Her 1939 booklet titled A Warning to the Hindus, in which she cautions Indian nationalists to embrace their Hindu identity and guard the country against "non-Aryan" influences, such as Islam and Christianity, is still widely read and highly regarded among Hindu nationalists. Perhaps not surprisingly, recently Devi and her theories have also been rediscovered by right-wing ideologues in the West and she is now considered an alt-right icon.

However, the current connection between far-right groups in the West and Hindu nationalists is limited neither to Devi's teachings nor the old myth of the Aryan race.

Today, the two groups share a common goal in eroding the secular character of their respective states and a common "enemy" in Muslim minorities. This is why they often act in coordination and openly support each other.

In the US, the Republican Hindu Coalition, a group with strong links to the Hindu nationalist movement in India, has been rallying behind President Donald Trump's controversial immigration policies, like the Muslim ban and the border wall. Trump's campaign strategist and prominent alt-right figurehead Steve Bannon once called India's Hindu-nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi "the Reagan of India".

Meanwhile, in India, a far-right Hindu nationalist group named Hindu Sena (Army of Hindus), which has been linked to a series of inter-communal incidents in India, has been throwing parties to mark Trump's birthday. The group's founder even claimed that "Trump is the only person who can save mankind."

In Canada, far-right Islamophobic organisations such as Rise Canada, which claims to "defend Canadian values" and combat "radical Islam", are popular among Hindu-nationalists. The group's logo even features a red maple leaf rising out of a lotus flower, which is often associated with Hinduism.

In Britain, the National Hindu Council of Temples (NHCTUK), a Hindu charity, recently caused controversy by inviting far-right Hindu nationalist Tapan Ghosh to speak at the parliament. Ghosh has previously suggested the UN should "control the birth rate of Muslims" and said all Muslims are "Jihadis". During his visit to the UK, Ghosh also attended celebrations of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, with cabinet ministers Amber Rudd and Priti Patel, and met the former neo-Nazi leader Tommy Robinson.

On top of their shared Islamophobia and disdain for secular state structures, the destructive actions, protests and aggravations of Hindu nationalists and the Western far right are also very much alike.

In November, the government of the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is led by the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), proposed to build a statue of the Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya, where the historic Babri Masjid was illegally demolished by Hindu nationalists in 1992. Only a month earlier, the same government pulled off a massive spectacle, having a helicopter drop off individuals dressed as Ram and Sita at the Babri Masjid site to mark the start of Diwali celebrations.

The sentiment behind these apparent attempts to intimidate Muslims and increase tensions between communities was in many ways similar to the far-right, white supremacist rally that shook Charlottesville in 2017. The neo-Nazis chanted "You will not replace us" as they marched through the streets of Charlottesville.

The far right in the US, Europe and Canada - emboldened by the electoral success of ultra-nationalist parties and individuals across the globe - aspire for a future in which secular protections are abandoned in favour of a system that favours the majority and protects the "white Christian identity" that they believe their nations were founded upon.

Likewise, Hindu nationalists in India, empowered by the BJP's landslide election victory in 2014, and inspired by European ethnonationalism and fascism, reject the constitutional secularism of the Indian state, propose that India is fundamentally a Hindu nation, and insist that minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, do not belong in a "Hindu country".

Ever since the start of the normalisation of far-right ideas in the West, a surge in racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks was witnessed across the US and Europe.

The same happened in India after Hindutva officially became the governing ideology in the country. Over the past few years, countless Muslims, Christians and low-caste Hindus have been persecuted, assaulted and even killed for allegedly killing cows and many Muslims were targeted for allegedly participating in so-called "love jihad".

But despite all these similarities, there is major a difference between Hindu fundamentalism in India and far-right movements in the West: the liberal reaction to it.

While liberals and leftists quickly united against the rise of the far-right, they chose to largely ignore the rise of Hindu nationalism in the world's largest secular democracy. Especially after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the necessity of expanding the anti-fascist praxis to include all forms of racism, from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, was emphasised by many. However, the opposition to Hindu nationalism has not yet been made part of the broader movement, despite the well-documented suffering of India's minorities under BJP's rule.

Instead, the idea that India is a "Hindu nation" is being accepted as a given by the majority of liberals. The fact that India's constitution defines the state as "secular" is being ignored, and Hindu nationalism is being presented as a benevolent movement despite ample evidence to the contrary.

White vegans in the West, for example, rejoiced over the decision by several Indian states to ban the consumption of beef, without bothering to understand what these laws would mean for Muslims and Dalits who had already been suffering at the hands of so-called "cow vigilantes". Animal rights and veganism advocate PETA has in fact gone further and berated vegetarians who consume milk in India for "supporting the beef industry", thus playing into the communal politics of food in India.

Hindu nationalism and white supremacy are the two sides of the same coin. For the global movement against racism, white-supremacy and fascism to succeed, anti-fascists across the world need to acknowledge and stand up to the Hind nationalism threat.

Hindus themselves, both in India and abroad, also need to take action and raise their voices against the abuses that are being committed in their names. One such organisation already exists for diaspora Hindus in North America: Sadhana. It is a coalition of progressive Hindus based in New York City, seeks to stop the use of Hindu thought for the purposes of misogyny, queerphobia, Islamophobia and white supremacy.

However, Hindu nationalism cannot be defeated by Hindus alone. People around the world who engage with and comment on the Indian culture on a regular basis, including sub-urban Yoga mums in the US and vegan activists in Europe, should educate themselves on the secular nature and diverse identities of India. They need to join the resistance against the oppression and abuse of the country's minorities and stop perpetuating the Hindu-nationalist myth that India is a "Hindu nation".