Thursday 30 January 2020

“I collapsed outside the jail…I could not believe that my son was taken thousands of miles away”

Srinagar, Indian-occupied Kashmir: Ateeqa Begum’s 22-year-old son, Faisal, is among the thousands who were arrested as part of a massive crackdown by the Indian government to prevent dissent after it revoked Article 370. Faisal was sent to a jail in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh without even informing the family.

This is Ateeqa’s story, in her own words:
“On the afternoon of August 6th, when a complete curfew and communication blockade was in place in Kashmir, my son Faisal Aslam Mir, 22, went out to buy medicines for me. I had insisted that the situation is not good and he should not go, but he told me that he will be back in 30 minutes. That was his last time at home.
Friends informed me they saw him being arrested by police and bundled into a police jeep. I was shaken and collapsed upon hearing this.

But I somehow knew that that he has not done anything so he will be released. I went to the police station and they told me he will be released. I went to the police station for three days continuously and they assured me that he will be released.
When they shifted him from the police station to Srinagar’s Central Jail, I went to meet him there. He cried when he saw me wearing old clothes and told me, “do not be like that.” The next time I met him I wore new clothes. I was very happy to go and meet him. I also cooked his favorite mutton and onion gravy. I went very early in the morning to the Central Jail with food and his clothes.
When I was waiting for my turn with a slip in my hand I saw a woman crying and enquired about what had happened. I learned that 20 people who were lodged in the jail have been shifted to Uttar Pradesh during dawn. I collapsed outside the jail and a friend had to pick me up. I could not believe that my son was taken thousands of miles away and booked under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA). It meant two years for him in jail.
I live alone at home now. I visit the court everyday where I have filed a petition against my son’s detention.

My son was my only support. My daughter is married and has two children. It is very difficult to fight all the battles and the worst of all is the battle against loneliness. Sometimes I lose my sanity, I go to shrines every Thursday and pray for my son’s release. That’s my only hope.
Every time I look at his photo in my kitchen I start talking to it and then I think, am I losing my mind? I know it is not only my son who is in jail, there are so many families suffering.
I am alone and it is very hard for me to manage everything. I am broken. I have cried only in these months.
This was not the first time that my son has been arrested. He was arrested before for taking active part in protests. He was booked under the PSA and tortured in jail. When he was released his health deteriorated and he suffered from psychiatric issues. Since then he had stopped taking part in protests.
He was now working as a salesman at a shop and was trying to start his own business of readymade clothes.

I would always tell him to call me several times a day as I don’t know how to operate a mobile phone. He would inform me even if he would go for a shave or haircut. I was happy that he will not be arrested again because he was not doing anything. He was not pelting stones or taking part in any demonstrations.

My son was not doing anything wrong and he was not given this chance. Isn’t this government forcing children to extremes by arresting them even when they did nothing? They did not give my son a chance to live. Isn’t it the right of our children to give them a chance to live?
They told me every day that they will release him in the evening till he was shifted to a jail in Uttar Pradesh. That is what they do to everyone. They are pushing people to the edge.
Only me and my God knows what is happening within me. I have left everything to God and pray to him only day and night.
My husband died fifteen years ago. He was a driver. He died suddenly. After my husband’s death, life has been really hard.

I forgot my husband’s tragedy now and I am only thinking about my son.
I have no purpose in life but to wait for my son’s return from jail. I will fight for him everywhere to bring him back till I am alive.”


Tuesday 28 January 2020

India: The Child Sex Highway | 101 East

A notorious highway in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is the site of a shocking trade.

Girls as young as 10 are being forced to work as prostitutes - and it is their own families selling them to passing truckers.

The girls are from the Bachara tribe, an unprivileged-caste community known as Dalits.

Most of the Bachara men say discrimination stops them from getting jobs, so generations of girls have supported their families through prostitution.

Meneka's mother forced her into prostitution at the age of 15. She now has a two-year-old daughter of her own and says she feels trapped.

"I feel like I am born in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing. But what can I do? I can't say much because this is our tradition."

Filming undercover, 101 East discovers that girls as young as 10 are being offered to men.

While India introduced tougher child rape laws in 2018, advocates say the laws are not properly enforced.

"The people who are exploiting the child - they are not customers, they are rapists," says Asheif Shaikh, the founder of a local NGO that frees local girls from what he describes as sexual slavery.

"This practice is like the serial rape of the children ... They are raped about 10 to 12 times in a day."

Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of reported child rape cases of any state in the nation.

In this exclusive investigation, 101 East exposes the Indian villages where parents sell their daughters for sex.

Monday 27 January 2020

A Tale of Two Countries: While Germany still criminalizes the hijab, Sweden embraces it

Before telling the story of how differently Germany, my home country, and Sweden, a country I adore, treat Muslim women wearing the hijab, especially in the workplace, it is pertinent to provide the reader with some general background information regarding the demographic make up of these two EU members, along with some broad understanding of their very different takes on identity politics and lived multiculturalism.

1 in 4 people living in Germany today have what the country calls a “migrant background”, which in the UK is often known as BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic), or in Canada as belonging to a “visible minority.”

This relatively high number would technically classify Germany, a country of 82 million people, as a multicultural one. But unlike the UK or Canada, these immigrant Germans, whichever generation they belong to and no matter how long they have been in the country, have little political or social representation in the country of their residence which – despite its diverse demographic reality – is still exclusively run by whites, thus rendering the former virtually voiceless. All of this is in spite of the fact that Germany’s largest minority population, the Turks, having been in the country since the 1960s.

Even at the lowest levels of positions of power, be they in politics or education, the emergency services or local councils, law firms or insurance companies, the media or real estate firms, the lack of ethnic diversity and representation in Germany is shockingly outrageous. In 2018, Andrea Dernbach, one of the few progressive voices at Der Tagesspiegel, one of Germany’s leading centrist daily newspapers, wrote a piece titled “Diversity and Inclusion: Where Germany Is Still Too White”, revealing just how monochromatic German workplaces from classrooms to newsrooms really are. The skin color of choice? White, of course.

Germans are known and ridiculed for clapping applause when their passenger plane makes its landing on an airport tarmac, but I myself feel the need to clap whenever I see a black bus driver, a Turkish customs official, an Asian police officer or an Arab fireman in Germany because these sightings are so rare in my country it’s embarrassing. Can you believe that something so ludicrously boring as a black bus driver remains an exciting oddity in Germany, even in the supposedly oh so multicultural capital of Berlin?

Sverige: From emigrant nation to a nation of immigrants

Now take a look at Scandinavian Sweden on the other hand: today, the once overwhelmingly white country of currently 10 million people boasts large numbers of first, second and even third generation immigrant populations, such as Turks and Kurds, Somalis and – in recent years due to ongoing conflict – Syrians.

According to the government agency Statistics Sweden (SCB), at the turn of the 20th century Sweden’s foreign born population comprised a measly 0.7%. In 2010, this number was at 14.3%.

And a mere seven years later in 2017, the percentage of of inhabitants with a foreign background had risen to 24.1%, almost as high as in Germany. So what after the First World War had been a nation of net emigration is today a nation of net immigration, something that is clearly visible upon visiting any urban center in Sweden.

And while the number of Muslims in Sweden was estimated at 200,000 – 250,000 in 2000, according to Pew Research Center, that number had risen to over 810,000 in 2016. That is 8.1% of the population, an already higher percentage than in Germany which – as mentioned – has a much longer tradition of Muslim immigration, the majority from Turkey.

Unlike Germany, Sweden is known for it’s inclusive and holistic policies in everything from education to the environment, gender to health care; its globalist world view part and parcel of Sverige’s positive image within the international community of nations as a peace-loving and progressive country, thanks to avowed internationalists like former Prime Minister Olof Palme or former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld (who both coincidentally met a violent death: the former murdered, allegedly by right-wing elements in the Swedish intelligence services as one theory goes, the latter having died in a mysterious plane crash, both cases remaining unsolved to this day).

Despite not being immune to the firebrand of right-wing populism and Islamophobia currently sweeping through the European “Union”, Sweden as part of the Nordic model of progressive economic and social policies remains a society still sufficiently steeped in social democratic values, whereas the former bastions of social democracy like France and Germany have ultimately fallen like dominoes to the relentless onslaught of the corporatocratic armies of neo-liberalism.

“Macronomics” are currently continuing to do in an already socially unequal France what Merkelism has already accomplished in Germany: exacerbate already dire social inequities even further, and thereby lay the groundwork for right-wing extremism to foot-soldier through to elected office, ultimately making immigrants – especially the most otherized of them all: Muslims – the scapegoat of choice.

I believe it is this combination of traditions (progressive domestic policies embedded in a postwar cosmopolitan mindset) that is responsible for Swedish children being fluent in English and the rapid and – unlike in Germany – utterly unagitated transition from an ethnically homogenous society to a nation of immigrants that consistently ranks in the top ten of the United Nations’ World Happiness Report.

Even their Muslims look way happier than our ones back home in Germany. Like veteran German politician Wolfgang Schäuble once said: “A society’s level of progress is measured by how at home its immigrants feel.”

And if there’s one issue where the fundamental divergence between progress-oriented, diversity- embracing, happy Sweden and reactionary, historically and cerebrally xenophobic Germans with their perpetual nagging and petty resentment towards life is at it’s most visible: it is that piece of cloth Muslim women from West to East wear, better known as the hijab, as the following anecdote will show.

As-salamu ‘aleikum in Arlanda
One winter evening about a year ago I arrived in the Swedish capital Stockholm on a flight from Doha, Qatar and was walking towards a deserted immigration hall at Arlanda airport when I looked at the cubicles for EU-citizens and couldn’t believe my eyes: one of the two the Swedish border police agents was black, a woman, and wearing a hijab — the female Muslim headwear — in the same dark blue as her uniform.

Being a born and bred German, thus hailing from a nation-state that until this day and despite the enshrined freedom of conscience in Article 4 of our Constitution bans people who wear religious headwear from becoming police officers or teachers, be they Sikh men or Muslim women, I was naturally caught by positive surprise. Had this been liberal, multicultural Canada, big whoop. But small and sheltered lily-white Sweden?

Still awestruck at this unparalleled level of inter-sectionality and representation, I stepped up to the agent (who looked Somali), handed her my passport, while she greeted me with a Swedish “Hej”, that traditional one-syllable greeting that in my unaccustomed ears always sounds so refreshingly upbeat and intimate whilst still maintaining professional cordiality, so unlike the merely colloquial and colorless English “Hey.” I replied with a friendly “Hi” and “As-salamu ‘aleikum” whereupon she in turn answered “Wa-’aleikumu s-salam.”

Unlike in Germany, where this scene might have raised eyebrows at the least and enmity at worst, her colleague in the adjacent booth, a blonde and blue-eyed cliché Swede who had definitely heard our exchange of salutations – as the arrival hall was totally deserted except for us approaching Business Class passengers, thus allowing sound to travel – couldn’t have cared less.

She just went about her job and smiled (something white German border patrol agents who make up the numeric majority of this federal police force rarely do, especially to non-whites, their subconscious Übermensch-mentality emanating from their stone-cold eyes and their menacing frown always reminding me of what Hannah Arendt meant by the “banality of evil”) amiably at the first approaching passenger.

After swiping my passport through the computer and it deciding that I was neither a threat to national security nor wanted by Interpol, I was handed back my travel document with a pleasant “thank you”, again something I have never had the honor to hear escape from a German federal agent’s mouth (they might say “Ok” or “Alles klar”, but never “Danke schön”), as if the passenger is the one providing the service and the officer the customer who is always right and therefore also has the legal right to be rude.

While walking to the exit I was so positively impressed by this short peek through the window of lived societal progressiveness, and at the same time so incensed at my own home country which is obstinately obstructive in all forward-looking matters, be it digitalization, e-mobility solutions, or religious inclusion, that I instantly logged into the airport-WiFi and took to social media and vented:

“Just landed in Stockholm from Doha. The Swedish border patrol agent was Somali, wore a hijab, and we greeted each other with a salam as if it were the most normal thing on earth. In the racist developing nation of Germany something like this would not be possible!”

That I was taken by surprise in the first place is a shocking testament to the current state of diversity politics in a culturally backward-looking Germany which still loves to debate circles around questions already made redundant by reality. White Germans love to ask things like “Is Germany an immigrant nation?” while 1/4 of the population – as I have mentioned above – has a migrant family history. Or “Does Islam belong to Germany” while out of a population of 82 million, Islam is practiced by roughly 5 million people in some form or another.

Other Western nation-states like the UK, Canada, and even idyllic Sweden, a country famous for many things, from Ikea to Ingmar Bergmann, Spotify to Zlatan Ibrahimović, but not exactly for it’s multiculturalism, ask similar questions. But the difference to Germany is that – despite rising Islamophobia and anti-immigrant bigotry in all these countries – they have answered them more or less in the affirmative (Britain admittedly rather begrudgingly as due to its colonial past, legal immigration from the outreaches of the former Empire has always had the feel of de-facto reparations for all the nefarious crimes committed).

And the driving force behind such affirmations has simply been a political will to acknowledge shifting demographic realities on the one hand and the corresponding realization on the other that cultural diversity in a nation-state context is a sustainable strength, not a weakness.

Germany’s cloth fetish
The relationship of white-majority Germany towards the hijab is best described as obsessive- compulsive disorder (OCD): No single issue will get my neo-atheist white compatriots – be they liberal or conservative, left-wing or far right – so riled up and their blood boiling with the same religious zeal that they fanatically oppose in Islamic-framed radicalism like that piece of the female Muslim headwear.

Not only does the hijab help white men (and self-loathing white women) to outsource their own misogynism when finger-pointing to it as demeaning to all women, thereby taking all agency away from the overwhelming majority who wear it out of their own free will, it also blatantly exposes the selectively Islamophobic nature of their anti-religious agitation: a male Jew wearing a kippah will not only not generate the same amount of outrage dispensed towards the hijab, but is furthermore perceived as someone that deserves special protection, unflinchingly granting him puppy license due to Germany’s genocide against the Jews.

This gives rise to an uncomfortable but legitimate question: will Muslims in Germany have to get holocausted first before getting to enjoy the minority protection they deserve? Like popular German recording artist Xavier Naidoo put it in a song of his: “Muslims are the new Jews.”

“Berlin trägt Kippa” (Berlin wears kippah) was the slogan of an organized protest last year against rising “anti-Semitism” in Germany’s capital city (in Germany, like in the U.S., anti-Semitism is routinely conflated with legitimate criticism of Israel, the former systematically employed to discredit the latter), but no one would dream of showing solidarity with Muslim women who face racist microaggressions on a daily basis by organizing a public demonstration under the banner “Berlin trägt Hijab.”

Interestingly enough, this asymmetry in solidarity comes despite the fact that the number of women in Germany who wear the hijab exceeds the tiny demographic of Jewish men sporting a kippah by far.

Furthermore, Germany’s hegemonic hijab discourse is so hypocritical that the anti-hijabistas are not even sure if they oppose the cloth for its alleged misogynism or because it violates the core tenet of a secular society, the division of state and church. Depending on what is convenient, they jump back and forth between both arguments like kids playing hopscotch.

Returning to Sweden: as already mentioned, even this Nordic nation (nordic still commonly being associated with whiteness) has seen a steadfast and utterly nonchalant progression from an overwhelmingly white to an ethnically diverse society, especially in the urban conglomerations of Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö.

Even the 2018 electoral win of the misleadingly and ineptly named “Sweden Democrats” and their populist anti-immigrant, right-wing agenda has not put a stop to Sweden’s living up to its reputation as one of the most tolerant societies in the world: in the same general election which saw the Sverigedemokraterna secure a whopping and historic third place, Somali-born Leila Ali Elmi of the Green Party became Sweden’s first member of parliament to wear a hijab.

In Germany, many prominent members of its Green Party still view the hijab as a symbol of blanket oppression of women and on occasion will engage in liberal racist statements against Muslims that are not very far from the smack-in-your-face racist ones of the right-wing AfD party.

Sverige today is home to the third largest Somali diaspora in the Western world (after the U.S. and the UK, even before Canada with its comparatively hyperliberal immigration policies). And despite rising Islamophobic antipathy in Swedish society and racial profiling of non-white and Muslim male youths by an overwhelmingly white police force, these new Swedes don’t have to hide their religiosity.

Since 2011, when 26-year-old Donna Eljammal became Sweden’s first hijab wearing police recruit, Swedish Muslim women wishing to wear this sartorial article of their faith don’t have to choose between their religion and their career anymore. They can go on to serve their country as police officers and border patrol agents, without any infringements on the expression of their religious beliefs, as I myself witnessed first-hand upon meeting the hijab-wearing uniformed black woman who checked my passport at Arlanda airport’s immigration.

To my knowledge, following the inclusive policies of the Swedish police force, female Muslim firefighters and military personnel will also be allowed to wear the hijab as part of their uniform in the near future.

Iman Aldebe, the Swedish designer responsible for the police hijab I saw at Arlanda, and whose modern interpretations of traditional religious headwear are already part of the workwear of Swedish- Muslim nurses and paramedics, commented on the motivation of Muslim women wanting to wear the hijab at the workplace by saying the following:

“For these women, it’s only a garment. You put it on for religious reasons, but it’s not like you’re walking around and preaching. You just want to be like any other woman.”

In 2015, Swedish retailer H&M featured Aldebe’s styles in its fall catalogue. It doesn’t get any more inclusive than this, does it?

…but is still not allowed to be quintessentially German
Amid all these progressive developments in Sweden, one question begs to be answered: what is wrong with Germany? Why is it proudly regressing when it comes to the politics of ethnic and religious inclusion rather than progressing like Sweden?

Germany, the largest economy in Europe, political heavyweight within the EU next to France (another country that likes to play down the xenophobic fabric of its white-majority society while passionately subscribing to the identity politics of ethnic exclusion where the value of black, Arab and Muslim life – as in Germany – is determined by your success at FIFA football World Cups), seems to enjoy going around in circles on the carousel of political and public discourse when it comes to the two Is of immigration and Islam.

Tautological nonsense like “Islam is not a part of Germany, but Muslims are”, coming from various senior conservative politicians over the last decade, or tilting at the windmills of Islam by criminalizing the hijab or repeatedly committing the folly of trying to integrate immigrants without including them, thus reinforcing the stereotype of the arrogant, narcissistic and megalomanic German with his historically destructive delusions of grandeur and “my way or the highway”- approach to everything of import, are all irrefutable evidence of Germany’s Peter Pan-like unwillingness to grow up and shed its infantile and pathological white supremacist ways.

With regards to the hijab: in 2015 the Bundesverfassungsgericht in Karlsruhe, Germany’s highest court tasked with protecting the German constitution, ruled the general hijab-ban in place for teachers in public schools to be unconstitutional. In 2018, Berlin’s highest labor court declared Berlin’s misleading “Neutrality Law”, which prohibits religious clothing in civil service jobs like teaching, police, etc. but is de-facto a hijab ban, to be diametrically opposed to the ruling of the federal judges, implying the need for it to be scrapped.

It is 2020 now, and the situation on the ground hasn’t changed: despite landmark legal rulings from the highest courts in the land who have ultimate appellate jurisdiction, Germany in general and it’s largest and most cosmopolitan city Berlin in particular keep failing to implement these rulings and continue to bar Muslim women who wear the hijab from becoming teachers and judges, police officers and paramedics, border patrol agents and firefighters.

It will be interesting to see how long and far Germany (and countries like France with its burkini ban at French beaches and French retailer Decathlon’s banning of its sports hijab due to public white outrage or Austria with it’s hijab-ban in elementary schools), will be able to tread this path of societal regression, futilely trying to hold on to a provincialist past that – thank God – is no more.

Luckily, the majority of Swedes have understood how human development ideally works: like a perpetuum mobile of constant re-examination and self-improvement, rather than an eternal state of civilizational catharsis in which one is not only immobilized by one’s own backwardness, but also astonishingly proud of it.


Wednesday 22 January 2020

'We are living by the sword': The regrets of an Israel founder's son

“My name is Yaakov Sharett. I am 92 years old. I happen to be my father’s son for which I am not responsible. So this is how it is.”

Yaakov chuckles and looks up from under a woolly hat towards a photograph of his father - proud in collar and tie - on his study wall in Tel Aviv. Moshe Sharett was a founding father of Israel, its first foreign minister and its second prime minister from 1954-55.

But I hadn’t come to talk about Yaakov’s father. I had come with photographs of a well which was once located in an Arab village called Abu Yahiya, situated in the Negev region in what is now southern Israel.

'I happen to be my father’s son for which I am not responsible. So this is how it is'

- Yaakov Sharett

Researching a book, I had recently found the well and learned something of the history of Abu Yahiya village. I had heard how the Palestinians who once lived there were expelled in the war of 1948, which led to the creation of Israel.

I had also heard that Zionist frontiersmen, who set up an outpost near the village before the 1948 war, used to draw water from the Arabs’ well. Among them was a young Jewish soldier called Yaakov Sharett. So I had come to see Yaakov in the hope he might share his memories of the well, the villagers and the events of 1948.   

In 1946, two years before the Arab-Israeli war, Yaakov and a group of comrades moved to the area of Abu Yahiya to help spearhead one of the Zionists most breathtaking land grabs. 

As a young soldier, Sharett was appointed mukhtar – or chief - of one of 11 Jewish outposts established by stealth in the Negev. The purpose was to secure a Jewish foothold to ensure Israel could seize the strategic area when war came.

Draft partition plans had designated the Negev, where Arabs vastly outnumbered Jews, as part of an Arab state, but Jewish strategists were determined to take it as theirs.

The so-called “11 points” operation was a huge success, and during the war the Arabs were virtually all driven out, and the Negev was declared part of Israel.

For the daring frontiersmen involved, it was a badge of honour to have taken part and Yaakov Sharett seemed excited by his memories at first.

“We set off, with wire and posts and tracked through Wadi Beersheva,” he says. I flick open a laptop showing photographs of the Arab well, now an Israeli tourist spot.

“Yes,” says Yaakov, amazed. “I know it. I knew Abu Yahiya. A nice man. A tall, lean Bedouin with a sympathetic face. He sold me water. It was delicious.”

What happened to the villagers, I wonder? He pauses. “When war came, the Arabs fled - expelled. I somehow don’t remember,” he says, pausing again.

“I returned afterwards and the area was quite empty. Empty! Except,” and he peers at the photo of the well again.

“You know, this nice man was somehow still there afterwards. He asked for my help. He was in a very bad way - very sick, and barely able to walk, all alone. Everyone else was gone.”

But Yaakov offered no help. “I said nothing. I feel very bad about it. Because he was my friend,” he says.

Yaakov looks up clearly pained. “I regret it all very much. What can I say?”

And as what was to be our short interview ran on, it became clear that Yaakov Sharett regretted not only the Negev venture, but the entire Zionist project as well.

From Ukraine to Palestine
Panning out across the history, Yaakov seemed at times more like a man confessing than giving an interview.

After the 1948 war and the establishment of Israel, Yaakov studied Russian in the US and was then posted as a diplomat to the Israeli embassy in Moscow, only to be expelled from Russia accused of being a “Zionist propagandist and a CIA spy”.

On return to Israel, he worked as a journalist and on retirement devoted his later years to establishing the Moshe Sharett Heritage Society, dedicated to publishing Sharett's papers and diaries – one section in English. The Sharett diaries have been highly acclaimed, described by one critic as “among the best political diaries ever published”.

Often referring in our interview to his father’s central role in establishing Israel, Yaakov’s thoughts had evidently been brought into focus by the years he’d spent editing Moshe Sharett’s writings. Haaretz, the centre-left Israeli newspaper, commenting on the eight-volume Hebrew edition of the diaries, said it was “difficult to overstate their importance to the study of Israeli history”.

This week, publication of the abridged English edition, also translated by Yaakov – My Struggle for Peace (1953-1956) - will be celebrated at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. “It is the apex of my life’s work,” says Yaakov.

This work had also made the pain of his conclusions all the deeper as he now disavowed the validity of much of his father’s “life’s work” – and, I learn, his grandfather’s too.

His grandfather, Jacob Shertok - the original family name - was one of the first Zionists to set foot in Palestine, leaving his home in Kherson, Ukraine, in 1882 after Russian pogroms.

“He had this dream of tilling the land. The big Zionist idea was going back to the land and leaving the superficial activities of Jews who had become remote from land,” he says.

“They thought that, little by little, more Jews would immigrate until they became a majority, and could demand a state, which they then called a ‘homeland’ to avoid controversy.”

I wonder what Yaakov’s grandfather thought would happen to the Arabs, who then comprised about 97 percent of the population, with Jews around 2 to 3 percent.

“I think he thought the more Jews that came, the more they’d bring prosperity and the Arabs would be happy. They didn’t realise people don’t live only on money. We would have to be the dominant power, but the Arabs would get used to it,” he says.

Adding with a wistful smile: “Well, either they believed it or they wanted to believe it. My grandfather’s generation were dreamers. If they had been realists, they would not have come to Palestine in the first place. It was never possible for a minority to replace a majority that had lived on this land for hundreds of years. It could never work,” he says.

Four years later, Jacob wished he hadn’t come, returning to Russia, not because of Palestinian hostility - Jewish numbers were still tiny - but because he couldn’t make a living here.

Many of the very early settlers in Palestine found working on the land far harder than they had ever imagined, often returning to Russia in despair. But in 1902, after more pogroms, Jacob Sharett returned, this time with a family including Moshe, aged eight.

Palestinians were still - for the most part - welcoming to Jews as the threat of Zionism remained unclear. A member of the prosperous Husseini family, who was headed abroad, even offered Yaakov’s grandfather his house to rent in the village of Ein Siniya, now in the occupied West Bank.

For two years, grandfather Shertok lived there like an Arab grandee while his children attended a Palestinian kindergarten. “My father herded sheep, learned Arabic and generally lived like an Arab,” says Yaakov.

But the Zionist plan was to live like Jews so before long, the family had moved to the fast-growing Jewish hub of Tel Aviv and Moshe was soon honing every skill - including studying Ottoman law in Istanbul - in order to further the Zionist project.

Thanks to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine and ushered in British colonial rule, plans for a full-blown Jewish state now seemed possible, and over the next two decades, Moshe Sharett helped design it, becoming a key figure in the Jewish Agency, the state’s government-in-waiting.

Central to the project was the creation of a Jewish majority and ownership of as much of the land as possible, to which end Sharett worked closely with his ally David Ben-Gurion. Immigration rose fast, and land was bought, usually from absentee Arab landlords.

'My father and the rest still thought that most Arabs would sell their national honour for the food we would give them'

- Yaakov Sharett

The pace of change provoked the Palestinian revolt of 1936, brutally crushed by the British. In the light of that revolt, did the future prime minister ever question whether the Jewish state could work?

“No,” says Yaakov. The leadership were “still full of justifying their ideas of Zionism. You must remember that they all thought in terms of being Jewish and how they had been subjugated by majorities in the countries in which they had lived.

“My father said this: ‘Wherever there is a minority, every member has a stick and rucksack in his cupboard'. Psychologically, he realises a bad day will come and he will have to leave. So the priority was always to create a majority and shake off the psychology of the minority for ever.

“My father and the rest still thought that most Arabs would sell their national honour for the food we would give them. It was a nice dream, but at the cost of others. And anyone who did not agree was a traitor.”

Full article

Monday 20 January 2020

Why I wasn’t happy to hear it’s a girl

It had been raining all day in Karachi, commencing the annual monsoon in July, as I set out to my prenatal appointment at South City Hospital. The ultrasound technician ran down a list of protocol answers, and then she asked if I wanted to know the sex of the child. I said yes, and she replied, “Congratulations, it’s a girl!” I didn’t say thank you, instead, I asked, are you sure it’s a girl? She confirmed and suddenly I was overwhelmed with a whole lot of disappointment. It wasn’t a boy. I came outside crying in a room full of pregnant women that probably thought I was shedding tears of joy. Why wasn’t I happy?

In hindsight, it pains me to think that once upon a time I upheld ideas that perpetuate gender discrimination in our society. For many people like me, this gendered prejudice can be traced back to our roots. I was born in a home that was already ridden with patriarchy, with the problems and conflicts that this would create already embedded inside of me.

My mother got married in a joint-family home that she shared with her in-laws. My grandmother had coerced my father into the marriage, believing my mother would make an ideal, submissive daughter-in-law for her family. My parents had three daughters in three consecutive years, and most of the child-raising responsibility fell on my mother.

I cannot recall a time in our childhood when my father took time out to have a one-on-one conversation with my sisters and me, or spend quality time playing with us. He would be out of the house most of the time and come back after we would be asleep. Unfortunately, when there is no communication, even the bridges built on blood relations fall apart. 

As we got older, instead of keeping a hand of grace, he kept eyes of suspicion on us. We were never encouraged to study; none of my paternal aunts had studied further than 10th grade. In 6th grade, my father removed my younger sister and me from our English-immersion school to a local neighbourhood Urdu-immersion school so we could give company to our cousin. In our home, sadqa would primarily be taken out for the men in the household because their lives were perceived to have more value than women.

There are many people in our community who still believe that education and opportunity should only be given to a son because daughters will be eventually married off. As soon as a baby girl starts taking her initial steps, she is critiqued for how she sits, how she talks, how she laughs, what she wears, and suddenly the entire burden of her family’s social standing rests on her. I was quite neglected growing up, and this is perhaps why I presumed that my daughter would share a similar experience.

Since we had no formal education, most of our proposals were based on our looks. My mother believed that to ensure our children grew up with better opportunities, we should marry educated men. I was the last one in my three sisters to get married after facing a broken engagement with a fraudulent person and numerous rejections because of my tan complexion. People would come to see me for their sons but would end up saying “humain aapki choti beti pasand agayi hai,” (we like your younger daughter instead) simply because she had a fairer complexion.

In 2013, I met my husband at a lunch at my sister’s in-laws. My husband’s family had an entirely different mindset – girls were treated with equality and equity, and their birth was celebrated with much delight. All three of my working sister-in-laws earned an education of a Master’s degree or above. My mother-in-law had especially prayed for a daughter for my husband, which to me was astounding. It started to make me reflect on how primitive are the ideals that I was raised with. When I had my first child, I believed in the myth that having a boy would safeguard my position as a wife, a daughter-in-law, and as a mother. I broke down in a phone call with my sister-in-law but she quickly reminded me that the sex of the child is dependent on the man, not the woman, then why do we question the woman?

When I told my in-laws and my husband that I was having a baby girl, they were overjoyed; my mother-in-law organized an extravagant baby shower followed by an aqeeqah. My husband and our daughter share a bond so beautiful, that I lovingly envy not having that relationship with my own father. Although she’s only two and a half, my husband spends his free time teaching her, reading to her, and taking her to the park every single day.

This year I conceived for the second time, and once again my old insecurities crept up – if I have a son, my husband will love me more…if I don’t have a son, my in-laws won’t be happy with me… Even though it made no difference to my husband or in-laws as long as the baby was healthy. Once again the ultrasound technician sounded the words “it’s a girl!” Once again I was teary-eyed and began to blame myself until my husband sat me down for a one-on-one to remind me that having a boy would have no bearing on our relationship or my relationships with my in-laws. Having a boy or a girl does not define me; it is how I raise them that does. 

As an adult, I an re-learning my worth and value as a woman after getting married – what my father should have done 27 years ago and what my husband is doing every single day now. He effectively broke the cycle of patriarchy that is often sustained by women themselves. If fathers take a genuine interest in their daughter’s well-being and education, there are fewer chances of girls being exploited or abused. In this man’s world, it’s only the women that get trapped in the rules. But at least I can contribute to change by making it better for the two young women that I am raising.


Tuesday 14 January 2020

Hindu nationalists are transforming India into an Israel-style ethnostate

In recent weeks, police in India have been cracking down on thousands of protesters across the country. In many instances, local police are responding with brutality and deadly violence, setting out to inflict “maximum damage” on demonstrators. A video uploaded on social media shows officers in Kanpur cursing at protesters and targeting them with live fire. Another video, from the Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi, again shows policemen using live ammunition on protesters. Footage from the protests at Jamia also shows female student protesters rescuing their male colleagues from police violence.

The protests are in response to the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December. First introduced to parliament by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the law allows members of the Hindu, Jain, Parsi, Sikh, Buddhist, and Christian communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan to claim citizenship in India, while excluding Muslims from that clause.

While BJP members have portrayed the law to international audiences as a means of aiding minority groups from neighboring Muslim countries escape persecution, it is in fact the latest in a series of repressive steps the Indian government has taken against the country’s Muslim minority. By making religion a condition of Indian citizenship, the act has a more troubling purpose: to transform India into a Hindutva version of Israel.

Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, is the political ideology followed by the BJP and its leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In pre-colonial times, followers of the Hindu religion never thought of themselves as a nation. As Professor Romila Thapar of Jawaharlal Nehru University argues, a national narrative of Hinduism only emerged after the writings of early 19th century British historians of India, such as James Mill, who wrote about a Muslim nation and a Hindu nation “perpetually antagonistic towards each other.”

The ideological father of today’s Hindu nationalism, however, is Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. An early 20th century politician, he drew inspiration both from Nazi Germany and from the Zionist movement in advocating for India to become a Hindu ethnocratic state that treated Muslims “like negroes” in the United States of his time.

In late November, the Indian consul-general to New York City, Sandeep Chakravorty, cited Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as an example of what India is hoping to achieve in Kashmir. It is clear from the works of academics such as Vivek Dehejia and Rupa Subramanya that this view of Israel as a model for India is not only applicable in Kashmir — a territory under Indian military occupation for seven decades — but also within the “mainland” and other states.

In line with their ideological affinity to Zionism, the BJP pledged during the 2014 Indian elections to institute a policy similar to Israel’s Law of Return, which would grant Indian citizenship to Hindus from neighboring countries. The Citizenship Amendment Bill was subsequently introduced to the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament, in the summer of 2016.

Protests in many cities, such as Delhi, Hyderabad, and Lucknow, were expressions of solidarity with Muslim Indians. The earliest opposition to the bill, however, emerged in the state of Assam in 2016, where the Assam Gana Parishad Party criticized the BJP for seeking to compromise the identity of the indigenous Assamese people.

Although Hindus form most of Assam’s population, the question of indigenous rights in the state is a highly sensitive legacy of British colonial rule. It is widely known that the British promoted the movement of Bengali settlers to Assam, and even instituted Bengali as the official language of the courts in 1836.

The large-scale arrival of refugees from Bangladesh during its war of independence in 1971 led to violent pogroms by indigenous tribes against the refugees in the later part of the decade. Indigenous residents of other states in northeast India protested for similar reasons, most notably in Tripura.

India has always had a problematic relationship with the religious and ethnic minorities it has ruled over, who make up about 15 percent of the population — and with its Muslim minority in particular.

But the BJP’s de jure creation of tiered citizenship between Muslims and non-Muslims represents an alarming embrace of ethnocracy and apartheid.

Just as the repeal of Article 370 in August allows India to shrink Kashmir’s Muslim majority, the CAA is designed to facilitate a similar demographic change and diminish India’s Muslim population. This law is particularly dangerous when used alongside India’s National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is the official record of India’s citizens as per the 1955 Citizenship Act. The register has not been updated in the vast majority of the country since the 1950s, yet Indian Home Minister Amit Shah declared in 2019 that it will be used to expel “each and every infiltrator in India.”

To make it onto the NRC, Indians will have to demonstrate possession of documents that prove their legal status prior to a cut-off date: March 24, 1971 in the case of Assam, for example. This poses an enormous problem to people who perhaps have not been able to hold onto such documents over the years.

In Assam, almost 2 million residents have not been able to make it onto the NRC, including about 700,000 Muslims. Although non-Muslims will be rendered stateless for a short period, the CAA will allow them to regain citizenship. Muslims, on the other hand, are excluded from this safeguard and may be forced to reside in detention centers.

The practical consequences of India’s NRC bear many similarities to Israel’s control of the population registry of the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Although the Palestinian Authority may update its own copy of the citizenship registry, it is Israel that determines the status of Palestinians, including whether to recognize their legal documents or to decide the extent that they can freely move in and out of the occupied territories.

According to Israeli human rights non-profit B’Tselem, Israel has not updated the Palestinian population registry since 2000. The group also states that the reasons for Palestinians losing or not gaining official status by Israel include prolonged time spent abroad and absence from population censuses, among others.

In this context, Israel uses the Palestinian population registry to manipulate and engineer demographics in a way that suits Israeli settler-colonial ambitions. This is further supplemented by the arbitrary incarceration and detention of Palestinians as a form of population control.

The Indian state has employed oppressive structures and processes, ranging from state-sponsored massacres to full-blown military occupation, for virtually its entire history. However, the repeal of Article 370 and the adoption of the CAA are an escalation toward settler-colonial ambitions. It attempts to erase the association between indigenous peoples and their lands, while creating an association between non-indigenous settlers and those same lands.

It is no coincidence that these changes are occurring under the rule of Hindu nationalists and the most Israel-friendly administration in India’s history. As with Savarkar almost a century ago, the fascist dreams of Modi and other Hindu nationalists today remain inspired by the actions of Zionists.


Monday 6 January 2020

The world’s indifference to Muslim woes

    Imagine if China had incarcerated upwards of a million Christians. Or India said it would take all refugees except Christian ones. The west would be in a state of frenzy. Since both China and India’s targets are Muslim, their cause is given short shrift. Both US president Donald Trump and UK prime minister Boris Johnson claim to champion oppressed Christians. By downplaying much larger-scale violations against Muslims, they jeopardise what remains of the west’s human rights credibility. Such passivity reinforces the global shift to religious nationalism that began in the Muslim world.

The coming year will test whether these double standards are here to stay. Because Muslims are resented more than other minorities, their plight tests whether liberal democracy means what it claims to mean. There are two reasons Muslims rank lower on the global totem pole than other groups. The first is politics. Opinion polls across the west — and beyond — show Muslims as the least trusted minority. They are thought to integrate less well and be more supportive of terrorism. People believe the Muslim reproductive rate is higher than other groups. Almost a quarter of the world’s population — roughly 1.8bn people — are Muslim.

The second is how badly most of the Muslim world treats its minorities. Whether it is Coptic Christians in Egypt, Shias in Saudi Arabia, or Sunnis in Iran, Muslim-majority countries are among the worst places in which to be a minority. Do not even think of being Jewish in an Arab country. Combine these two stereotypes and you have a world that is largely callous about the fate of Muslims where they are a minority. To put it crudely, popular opinion is telling them to taste their own medicine. The fact that Muslim countries, particularly in the Arab world, have barely raised a whisper against the plight of the Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang, or protested against India’s Hindu nationalist makeover, only underlines the loneliness of Muslim minorities. Even their own look the other way.

Both Mr Trump and Mr Johnson, among other western leaders, have done a great deal to stoke such caricatures. But there is another way of looking at it. The world’s three largest countries by population — China, India and the US — are to varying degrees now hostile to Muslims. In each case, Muslims are now at the forefront of civil rights struggles. Their chances look most hopeless in China, which is closing mosques, banning Muslim garb and enforcing a switch from Uighur to Chinese. Some call this “cultural genocide”. Most exiled Uighurs will not protest by name for fear of jeopardising relatives back home. Their fate is a barometer of how far Chinese president Xi Jinping is prepared to return China to totalitarianism.

As the world’s largest democracy, India offers greater scope for Muslims to resist. But it is a losing battle. India’s prime minister Narendra Modi wants to turn the country into a Hindu nation that elevates citizens whose faith is homegrown — Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists — as the only true Indians. Those who turn to Mecca or Rome for spiritual guidance are viewed as second class. Mr Modi did include Christians among the refugees India would accept in the recent Citizenship Amendment Act. Their exclusion would have sparked a western outcry. But he is uninterested in the fate of Myanmar’s Rohingyas, who are the world’s biggest victims of ethnic cleansing in recent years. It is worth stressing that it is Muslims who are leading the struggle to stop India’s slide into illiberal democracy.

Mr Trump is no bigger a fan of pluralism than Mr Modi — or Mr Xi for that matter. But America’s guardrails are far more robust. In Mr Trump’s first year, US courts blocked him from imposing a ban on visas from Muslim countries. He also scrapped plans to set up a database of US Muslims. But he launched his political career on the false claim that “Barack Hussein Obama” was a foreign-born Muslim. And he has reduced America’s intake of refugees to a historic low.

America no longer presents itself as a beacon. According to the Arab Barometer, there has been a rise in pro-secular sentiment — and a fall in support for Islamism — in the Muslim world over the past year. It would be a cruel irony if flickers of hope on the Arab street and beyond were to be extinguished by a world that appears to be heading in the opposite direction.