Monday, 22 April 2019

Nusrat Jahan Rafi: Burned to death for reporting sexual harassment




Nusrat Jahan Rafi was doused with kerosene and set on fire at her school in Bangladesh. Less than two weeks earlier, she had filed a sexual harassment complaint against her headmaster.

Her courage in speaking out against sexual assault, her death five days after being set alight and everything that happened in-between has gripped Bangladesh and brought attention to the vulnerability of sexual harassment victims in this conservative South Asian country.

Nusrat, who was 19, was from Feni, a small town 100 miles (160km) south of Dhaka. She was studying at a madrassa, or Islamic school. On 27 March, she said the headmaster called her into his office and repeatedly touched her in an inappropriate manner. Before things could go any further she ran out.

Many girls and young women in Bangladesh choose to keep their experiences of sexual harassment or abuse secret for fear of being shamed by society or their families. What made Nusrat Jahan different is that she didn't just speak out - she went to the police with the help of her family on the day the alleged abuse happened.

At the local police station she gave a statement. She should have been provided with a safe environment to recall her traumatic experiences. Instead she was filmed by the officer in charge on his phone as she described the ordeal.

In the video Nusrat is visibly distressed and tries to hide her face with her hands. The policeman is heard calling the complaint "no big deal" and telling her to move her hands from her face. The video was later leaked to local media.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi was from a small town, came from a conservative family, and went to a religious school. For a girl in her position, reporting sexual harassment can come with consequences. Victims often face judgement from their communities, harassment, in person and online, and in some cases violent attacks. Nusrat went on to experience all of these.

On 27 March, after she went to the police, they arrested the headmaster. Things then got worse for Nusrat. A group of people gathered in the streets demanding his release. The protest had been arranged by two male students and local politicians were allegedly in attendance. People began to blame Nusrat. Her family say they started to worry about her safety.

Nevertheless, on 6 April, 11 days after the alleged sexual assault, Nusrat went to her school to sit her final exams.

"I tried to take my sister to school and tried to enter the premises, but I was stopped and wasn't allowed to enter," said Nusrat's brother, Mahmudul Hasan Noman.

"If I hadn't been stopped, something like this wouldn't have happened to my sister," he said.

According to a statement given by Nusrat, a fellow female student took her to the roof of the school, saying one of her friends was being beaten up. When Nusrat reached the rooftop four or five people, wearing burqas, surrounded her and allegedly pressured her to withdraw the case against the headmaster. When she refused, they set her on fire.

Police Bureau of Investigation chief Banaj Kumar Majumder said the killers wanted "to make it look like a suicide". Their plan failed when Nusrat was rescued after they fled the scene. She was able to give a statement before she died.

"One of the killers was holding her head down with his hands, so kerosene wasn't poured there and that's why her head wasn't burned," Mr Majumder told BBC Bengali.

But when Nusrat was taken to a local hospital, doctors found burns covering 80% of her body. Unable to treat the burns, they sent her to Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

In the ambulance, fearing she might not survive, she recorded a statement on her brother's mobile phone.

"The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath," you can hear her say.

She also identified some of her attackers as students at the madrassa.

News of Nusrat's health dominated Bangladeshi media. On 10 April, she died. Thousands of people turned out for her funeral in Feni.

Police have since arrested 15 people, seven of them allegedly involved in the murder. Among those arrested are the two male students who organised the protest in support of the headmaster. The headmaster himself remains in custody. The policeman who filmed Nusrat's sexual harassment complaint has been removed from his post and transferred to another department.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met Nusrat's family in Dhaka and promised that every person involved in the killing would be brought to justice. "None of the culprits will be spared from legal action," she said.

Nusrat's death has sparked protests and thousands have used social media to express their anger about both her case and the treatment of sexual assault victims in Bangladesh.

"Many girls don't protest out of fear after such incidents. Burqas, even dresses made of iron cannot stop rapists," said Anowar Sheikh on BBC Bengali's Facebook page.

"I wanted a daughter my whole life, but now I am afraid. Giving birth to a daughter in this country means a life of fear and worry," wrote Lopa Hossain in her Facebook post.

According to women's rights group Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, there were 940 incidents of rape in Bangladesh in 2018. But researchers say the real number is likely to be much higher.

"When a woman tries to get justice for sexual harassment, she has to face a lot of harassment again. The case lingers for years, there is shaming in society, a lack of willingness from police to properly investigate the allegations," said Salma Ali, a human rights lawyer and former director of the Women Lawyers' Association.

"It leads the victim to give up on seeking justice. Ultimately the criminals don't get punished and they do the same crime again. Others don't fear to do the same because of such examples."

Now people are asking: Why did Nusrat's case only get attention after she was attacked? And will her case change the way people view sexual harassment in Bangladesh?

In 2009, the country's Supreme Court passed an order to establish sexual harassment cells in all educational institutions where students can take their complaints, but very few schools have taken up the initiative. Activists are now demanding the order be implemented and enshrined in law to protect students.

"This incident has shaken us, but as we have seen in the past, such incidents get forgotten in time. I don't think there will be a big change after this. We have to see if justice gets done," said Professor Kaberi Gayen of the University of Dhaka.

"Change has to come in, both psychologically and in implementing the rule of law. Awareness about sexual harassment should be raised from childhood in schools," she said.

"They have to learn what is right and wrong when it comes to sexual harassment."


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Monday, 15 April 2019

Muslim Man Whose Children Were Murdered Forced To Defend His Faith During Hearing





“I must be one of a few physicians, if not the only one, who read his own children’s murder autopsy reports and details,” Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha said at a congressional hearing on “Hate Crimes and the Rise of White Nationalism” Tuesday. In 2015, Abu-Salha’s two daughters and his son-in-law were shot to death “execution style,” their father said.

Yet throughout Tuesday’s hearing, Abu-Salha was repeatedly asked to explain and defend his Muslim faith. At one point, a fellow witness directly challenged Abu-Salha on his claim that Islam does not instruct its adherents to hate Jews.

“I’m really confused when the good doctor says that Islam does not teach hatred of Jews,” said Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, nearly three hours into the hearing, before claiming that several imams in the United States had “publicly made sermons calling to murder Jews.”

“There has to be a reformation and a rethinking of the aspects of the Quran that promote hatred against Jews,” Klein said.

But Klein, who at one point in the hearing defended President Donald Trump’s claim that there were “good people” at the 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, was far from the only one Tuesday to press Abu-Sallah on his faith.

The first to do so was Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), who offered her sympathies to the doctor and then asked: “Did you teach your children, your daughters, hatred?

“Absolutely not, congresswoman,” Abu-Salha said, before talking about his children’s volunteer work and his own role on his mosque’s board. “We definitely make sure that anybody who is racist or hateful is out.”

Jackson Lee followed up: “So by the very fact of being Muslim, you are not filling children, or those in the mosque, with hatefulness?”

“We fight this, actually,” Abu-Salha responded.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) was next. He too offered Abu-Salha his condolences, but again, did not ask him about the murder of the three Muslim young people on whose behalf Abu-Salha was appearing.

“Does Islam teach Muslims to hate Jewish people?” he asked.

Again, Abu-Salha defended his faith. “Actually, in the Quran, it says that killing any human being is akin to killing humanity, and reviving a soul is akin to reviving humanity,” he said.

It took three hours for Abu-Salha to be asked for his opinion on a matter relevant to the hearing topic.

“You and I are survivors,” Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA) told the doctor, referring to his children and her son, Jordan Davis, whose murderer was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus in 2014.

“Each of us has lost loved ones because of the deadly combination of prejudice and a firearm,” she said, before asking Abu-Salha: “What resources are needed for the rising numbers of survivors of hate crimes, both immediately after an incident and in the months and years afterward?”

Abu-Salha pointed out that “many American states don’t have hate crime laws,” and advocated for them. He said the definition of a “hate crime” ought to be broadened to include violations that don’t include a verbal expression of hatred.

Then, the doctor referred to Mort Klein, who a few minutes earlier had asserted that half of Muslims worldwide were anti-Semitic.

“I was trained in medical school by Jewish professors,” Abu-Salha said. “I have Jewish friends. My son has best friends who are Jewish. The Jewish community came to our rescue and we had an interfaith night after the New Zealand massacre. But I find it troubling that Mr. Klein turned this conversation into almost an Islamophobic conversation, when I’m talking about my tragedy and my loss as a Muslim.”


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Thursday, 11 April 2019

Hadith: Gentleness




“You must be gentle. Truly, gentleness is not found in anything except that it beautifies it, and it is not removed from anything except that it disgraces it.”
Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ [Ibn Ḥanbal, Musnad #24417]

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Hating Muslims, loving Zionists: Israel as a far-right model




On March 17, the Israeli Supreme Court banned Michael Ben Ari, the leader of the extremist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party from participating in the April 9 general elections, arguing that allowing him to run for the Knesset would "legitimise racism".

The ruling came less than a month after Otzma Yehudit entered into an electoral alliance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, causing shock and anger in certain political circles within and outside Israel.

"The place of people who believe in the superiority of race is behind bars, not in parliament," said Tamar Zandberg, the leader of the opposition Meretz Party in a statement after the coalition was announced. Even the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the influential pro-Israel lobby group and close ally of Netanyahu, seemed upset by the move. "The views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel," AIPAC tweeted.

But for Palestinians, who are on the receiving end of Israel's institutionalised racism, military occupation and apartheid, there is no difference between Otzma Yehudit and Likud or any other mainstream Israeli party. They know Israel's long history of racism is in constant flux.

In fact, just last May, Israel passed a nation-state law, which ended once and for all, any supposed confusion about Israel's identity. The new law openly declared Israel as "the nation state of the Jewish people", completely disregarding the Palestinian people and marginalising their rights, culture, language and history.

The political platform of Otzma Yehudit and the many racist and violent pronouncements of Ben Ari are not fundamentally different from the text of the nation-state law, or the myriad offensive statements made routinely by top Israeli mainstream politicians like Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett and Ariel Uri.

Yet Israelis and Israel supporters continue to insist on the distinction between the Israeli far right and mainstream because they want to preserve the illusion that Israel upholds the values of democracy, transparency and human rights.

This is meant to cover up Israel's dark underbelly of racial supremacy, military occupation and apartheid and the role it is currently playing within the emerging global far-right menace.

It is not coincidental that far-right ideologues and extremist groups are celebrating its racism and violence against the perceived common enemy: the Muslims. They see its "war on terror" and victimisation of Muslims as a model.

This link between Israel and the far-right movements around the world, however, is not one based solely on their shared hatred for Islam and Muslims or common goals of Zionism and white supremacy.

There is increasing evidence that Israel and far-right groups around the world are converging in a global movement that aims to promote and grow far-right ideology and politics.

At the core of this emerging union is the conspiracy theory of the "great replacement" which was laid out by the infamous far-right ideologue Renaud Camus in his book "Le Grand Remplacement". Camus offers an extreme interpretation of Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilisations", arguing that Europe faces a Muslim invasion which will lead to "change of civilisation".

This idea has spread beyond Europe and reached as far as North and South America, India, Australia, etc. In it, Israel sees a reflection of its own demographic anxiety about the fact that the Palestinians have been and remain the majority on the ground in Palestine.

And while this theory in some places has also acquired anti-Semitic tinges - such as in the US, where in 2017 a far-right march chanted "Jews will not replace us!" - Israel has actively encouraged belief in it. 

European far-right ideologues and groups who espouse the "great replacement" conspiracy theory are also all eager supporters of Israel.

Camus, himself, has expressed his admiration for Israel on a number of occasions. In December 2017, after Donald Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, he tweeted: "Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Israel is a model of resistance. We must make Europe a greater Israel".

During a 2015 speech, Dutch MP Geert Wilders, who is well known for his Islamophobia, said: "There is nothing wrong with preserving our own Judeo-Christian civilization. That is our duty […] Look at Israel, learn from Israel; Israel is an island in a sea of Islamic barbarism. Israel is a beacon of freedom and prosperity in a region of Islamic darkness. Israel refuses to be overrun by jihadists. So should we." 

Former leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson has claimed that "Jewish people are persecuted [by Muslims] and no one speaks out for them."

Both Wilders and Robinson have received money from the pro-Israel think-tank, the Middle East Forum, to offset their legal costs after they were charged with incitement of hate against Muslims.

Austrian Vice-Chancellor and leader of the far-right Freedom Party Heinz-Christian Strache, who has called for "zero immigration" and putting "an end to the policy of Islamisation" in Austria, has visited Israel a number of times in recent years and supported moving the Austrian embassy to Jerusalem.

Italy's interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who has been linked to the German Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA), chose to launch his electoral campaign for the Italian elections during a 2016 visit to Israel, where he declared: "Israel embodies the perfect balance of different realities, while ensuring law and order. It surely is a role model for security and anti-terrorism policies." Two years later, Salvini won enough votes to form a coalition government with the populist Five Star movement.

Salvini's electoral success, along with Strache's in Austria and Viktor Orban's in Hungary, have brought far-right ideas into European governance. In countries across Europe, South and South-east Asia and the Americas, where the far right has failed to make it to the government, it has still managed to push national politics to the right.

This global far-right movement has also emboldened the grassroots and encouraged more violence, where rabid Islamophobia has also been combined with admiration for Israel.

Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed six worshipers in a Quebec mosque in 2017, was a fan of the Israeli army and pro-Israel groups such as "United with Israel".

Brenton Tarrant, who killed 50 Muslims in Christchurch and who refers to Camus' conspiracy theory in his manifesto, visited Israel, along with other countries, where he was searching for the proverbial clash of civilisations and struggle against the "Muslim invaders". He was recently found to have donated money to the far-right anti-Muslim group Identitarian Movement Austria.

Considering the degree of violence now associated with these far-right groups and parties, it is essential that we move with our understanding from merely analysing possible links to strongly confronting all channels of political support and validation they receive, including from Israel.

Israel's success in making its war on Palestinians a global cause, shared among far-right ideologues worldwide is not just a danger to world peace, but a precursor for more deadly violence, from Gaza to Quebec to Christchurch.


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Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The Samjhauta acquittals: Hindu terror goes unpunished in India





Earlier this month, the acquittal of the four main suspects in the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast case has once again brought the Indian government's commitment to fighting Hindu terror groups into question.

The attack on the train also known as the "friendship express", which links India to Pakistan, left 68 persons dead. The majority of the victims were Pakistani citizens. The blast caused major embarrassment for India's intelligence and security services - it took place only 70km away from the capital New Delhi and in a train that was supposedly guarded by the Indian security services - and threatened to wreck ongoing efforts to build a sustainable peace between India and Pakistan.

While the then-opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as well as some Indian media organisations, tried to blame Pakistan-based terror groups for the attack, the Congress government classified the incident as an "an attempt to derail the improving relationship between India and Pakistan" and vowed that culprits - whoever they may be - would be caught.

An investigation by India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) eventually concluded that the attack was carried out by four men - Swami Aseemanand, Kamal Chauhan, Rajinder Chaudhary and Lokesh Sharma - linked to the Hindu far-right group Abhinav Bharat. All four suspects were charged by the NIA, making many believe justice would soon be delivered for the victims.

However, on March 20 this year, a special court in the northern state of Haryana acquitted all four suspects, citing lack of evidence. Following the shock decision, the NIA did not declare an intention to appeal to a higher court or initiate a new probe to find and punish the culprits behind the deadly attack. The Indian home minister, Rajnath Singh, also made it clear the government will not pursue an appeal; instead, he said that it is his "personal stand" that "Pakistan is always responsible for such terrorist attacks."

In other words, for all intents and purposes, the case is now closed.

The unsatisfactory ending to the Samjhauta Express investigation is only the latest in a line of judicial and political decisions which reflect a failure to pursue justice for Muslim victims of attacks.

In April last year, for example, a court acquitted all 11 men charged by the NIA in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case where six people, all Muslims, were killed in the southern city of Hyderabad. The NIA had in its probe found that members of the Abhinav Bharat, including Samjhauta Express blast suspect Swami Aseemanand, were responsible for the blast. But eventually, the court deemed the strong body of evidence previously presented by the investigating agency insufficient to declare the accused guilty. The NIA did not attempt to appeal the decision or continue the investigation.

In December 2010 - January 2011, Aseemanand made a series of confessions to the courts admitting his role in the blasts targetting Muslims. A few months later, he retracted these confessions, claiming that they had been extracted under torture.

In 2014, however, speaking to a journalist for the news magazine Caravan, he denied being tortured and once again admitted to various acts of violence targetting Muslims. In the same interview, he also claimed that the plot to bomb Muslim targets across the country was blessed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders Mohan Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar.

Despite contradictory testimonies by leading suspects like Aseemanand, as well as a large body of evidence presented to the courts by the NIA demonstrating the Hindu far-right's role in several terror attacks targeting Muslims, the people responsible have been let off the hook.

This travesty of justice is the result of not only years-long efforts by far-right groups to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, but also the current Indian government's inclination to shield groups sympathetic to its Hindu-nationalist agenda from scrutiny at all costs.


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Monday, 1 April 2019

Forgotten Women: How a child bride left her abusive husband in the nation with the highest rate of underage marriage





“My mum told me that my uncle had given me away in marriage without letting her know,” Hadiza says. “She then showed me tins of coke and sweets and said that it was for my wedding’s Fatiha. Then I started to cry too.”

At this time her father was away working in the Ouaga area as a truck driver. Hadiza’s uncle – her father’s younger brother – had arranged the marriage without telling anyone.

He owed money to the father of the man Hadiza was due to marry, but had no way of paying the debt. So he gave away Hadiza’s hand in marriage to settle the score.

As a young girl who loved school, Hadiza knew this marriage would be the end of her education. Looking back on this time, she says: “My childhood was like a broken dream because my dreams never came true.”

She desperately wanted to escape the marriage, so two days after being told the news, Hadiza ran away from her family and hid in the woods. After three days alone, “so exhausted that [she] couldn’t speak”, a local fisherman spotted her and took her back to the city.

Her brother had been searching for her, and on hearing that a girl had been found in the woods went to bring her home.

Hadiza was soon married to the older man who immediately told her she could no longer go to school. The teenager tried hiding again, but soon realised she couldn’t keep running.

“My uncle told my mum, he even called me, and he said that if I refused to accept the marriage, that meant that my mum had pushed me into refusing it so my mum would have to leave the house too.

“My dad wasn’t there and if they had gone after my mum, my sisters’ lives would have been ruined. So that’s why I accepted to stay. I sacrificed myself for the wellbeing of my brothers and sisters.”

Hadiza’s husband took her over a thousand kilometres away from Tillaberi to Agadez, where the relationship would become even more controlling.

“My mum cried for two weeks straight,” Hadiza says. “She even had problems with her eyes as a result.”

Living in this new home in Agadez, her husband began to hit her, and would go long periods of time without feeding her.

Every night after they arrived he would try and have sex with her, and when she refused she would be beaten.

“As soon as your wife is given over to you, the very night that she is given to you, you have to touch her,” Hadiza says. “The day that he took my virginity, a shameful thing to do, he was accompanied by his four friends. His four friends held me down as he took my virginity from me.”

With no friends or family near, Hadiza would regularly sleep in the local station to escape the abuse, and go to neighbour’s houses for food. During this time, she became pregnant – a child that would go on to be stillborn.

After three years of marriage, and having a second child who survived, Hadiza was able to escape her husband and move to Niamey. Rather than moving back in with her mother, she lived with her maternal uncle so her husband would not be able to find her.

“He’s the one that tells me to not go back to Tillaberi because even if I go back, the guy is going to come after me.”

While living with her uncle, Hadiza met a representative from the UNFPA, the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency. She became an ambassador, learnt to read and write, and met a woman through the organisation who helped her go back to school. She is also involved in the Sarraounia project implemented by Enabel which is part of the Belgian development agency. The project works to keep girls in school and offer them an alternative to early marriage.

“I went back to year 9 and was luckily top of the class. I carried on to year 10 and was top of the class too.” Hadiza went on to not only graduate from high school, but at 23 is now in the final year of a professional diploma in electronics, as well as continuing to work for non-profits helping young women in Niger.

“I will carry on studying in Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria or Morocco as there are no schools here in Niger where I can study electronics.”

Despite her determination to study, and her previous traumatic marriage, there is still pressure on Hadiza to get remarried.

“Last year, my dad told me that I had to get married. I told him no, that I didn’t need to get married now. I told him that I am going to carry on studying until I finish my studies.” 


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