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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 28, June 27, 2009

Yes, You Can: Signs of Hope in Obama’s Message - An Indian Muslim’s Response

Thursday 2 July 2009, by Iqbal A Ansari

Dear President Obama,

Greetings from an Indian Muslim, a member of one of the non-majority communities of the ‘Muslim world’, who did not find any direct mention in your powerful, moving speech, delivered in Cairo on June 4, 2009 though Af-Pak region did figure as an area of your major concern. Listening to your speech live on television, I was touched by your sincere search for a new beginning in America’s relations with Muslims and Islam.

Since in your speeches you often refer to your cultural-intellectual background, I may let you know that I am among the very few teachers in the University at Aligarh, where I served, who actively opposed the ‘authoritarian Emergency regime’ imposed by the Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, in June 1975, suspending all fundamental rights, and joined the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) founded during this dark period. I consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948 as one of the finest achievements of Western liberal humanism, and the Amnesty International as the best institution, impartially pursuing the cause of freedom and justice worldwide.

My humble research-publication and activism have been directed towards promotion of rights, especially of vulnerable minorities in India, along with seeking inter-community/state conciliation for durable peace in the Indo-Pak region.

In view of this, I specially welcome your commitment to the rule of law and human rights, though wisely leaving the choice of the system of government to the people themselves. Similarly I welcome your commitment to freedom of religion and equal rights of minorities, including in Muslim majority countries. Again your readiness to accommodate cultural norms of communities, like dress code for women, is in full accord with the celebration of cultural diversity along with pursuit of equality, the two major human rights concerns of our time.

I compliment you for your courage to reject the hegemonic Western mission of secular cultural homogenisation, which considers a woman covering her hair as less equal, and the prescription of norm that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal.

My sincere thanks for your avowal of the cause of “fighting against negative stereotypes of Islam, wherever they appear†. Your resolve requires enacting a law under Article 20 (2) of the ICCPR prohibiting religious hatred, reinforced by Human Rights Council’s Resolution 7/19 on ‘Combating Defamation of Religions’, which has noted with deep concern “attempts to identify Islam with terrorism …….†And “ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities†.

I appreciate your non-use of the word terrorism preferring the descriptive term “violent extremism in all of its forms†. You rightly referred to the persecution of the Jewish people by the Christian countries of the West in the form of anti-Semitism, which found its worst expression in the Holocaust. But how does it justify similar violent extremism of the Zionist Jews against innocent Palestinians, abetted and aided by, among others, the successive US governments?.

I welcome your very sincere sympathy for the pain of dislocation of the Palestinans and their daily humiliations under occupation, which has made you pledge to secure for them a state of their own. I wish you had expressed your future plan in the region in terms of the ideals of the Pilgrim Fathers and the American vision of common and equal citizenship for all persons inhabiting the land, of whatever racial-social origin or ethnic-religious affiliation, fulfilling the dreams of Two Peoples under One State, which will make the issue of recognition of secure, defined borders disappear. A common Israel-Palestinian State will be the only ideal as well as viable and stable solution, which can secure durable peace for all citizens and communities enjoying equality as well as their distinct identities under some consociational-democratic formulation about equitable sharing of power and resources.

Such an arrangement requires a paradigm shift from hegemonic control of the oil-rich region by the West led by the United States for their political-economic gains, an example of which was so honestly cited by you in the toppling of the Iranian Government of Mossaddeq in 1959

While admiring your frankness in unambigu-ously stating America’s unbreakable strong bonds with the Jewish state of Israel based upon cultural and historical ties, I must remind you that your preferred scheme wants Palestinians to submit to a segregated inferior status giving up their dream of returning and reclaiming their ancestral home.

On this issue I can do no better than ask you to pay attention to the humanist framework of “This land is your land, this land is their land†contributed by the Libyan leader, Muammar Qaddafi, to the New York Times, January 2009.

However, given the realities of the situation, such a transformation may take a long time. Hence the need for acceptance of the compromise of a two-state solution, whose success will depend on renunciation of Israel’s hegemonic agenda and destruction of its nuclear weapons, an issue that you meticulously avoided to deal with. Does your two-state solution for two peoples living in peace and security envisage perpetuation of the asymmetric pattern of a nuclearised Israel and an unarmed Palestine? It amounts to acceptance of master-slave relations between the two, supported by “freedom loving†Americans led by you. It is the potential threat to this pattern of Israeli dominance in the region which made America wage an unjust war against Iraq for its imagined possession of WMDs and which is causing it to bully Iran. Let the American people know that it is their avowed unbreakable bond with Israel, irrespective of however grossly unjust policies it pursues, and the palpable double standards practised by their governments, which is the ultimate source of the adversary’s tribal rage, which led to an irrational, insane, unethical, and anti-Islamic revenge of 9/11.

The same Koran, that you rightly cited, declares inviolable sanctity of all human life, permits people oppressed beyond endurance like the Palestinians who have been forced to flee their homes on the ground of their religion, to fight the oppressor to liberate themselves from tyranny, with the provision that during armed hostilities all non-combatants, especially women, children, old, disabled persons and worshippers, and all civilian activities will enjoy protection, like under the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. The Islamic creed rules out targeted killing of innocents or recourse to such weapons, and sites which are certain to cause harm to innocents.

But when you give a call to the oppressed Palestinians not to resort to violence whose victims are innocents, think of Hiroshima, think of Vietnam and recall the killing of innocents at dozens of other places by America. As your mind is capable of deeper reflection, think of all weapons of mass destruction as the diabolical invention of the secular Western (anti-Christian) industrial civilisation whose value orientation needs a second course correction under its valuable gift of universal human rights. You will do well to prepare your people, especially the WASP and Jews, to let your government fufil its international human rights obligations under universally applicable standards on WMD, on environment, on trade, and on observance of the four Geneva Conventions.

More importantly, let the government and civil society in Israel enter into a detailed Treaty on the Protection of Innocent Persons in All Situations of Use of Force by all Parties in the Israel-Palestine region, with the provision of international sanction against the erring party for violation of its terms and human rights standards.

Let your government pledge to make the unbreakable bond with the Jewish state of Israel conditional on its withdrawal to its original borders and to its adherence to the Geneva Conventions and to the terms of the envisaged Treaty on the protection of civilians. This should lead to de facto recognition of Israel by all Palestinian resistance groups. It may involve deferment of the exercise of right of return of the Palestinians to their homes in Israel.

Dear President Obama, you ended your remarkably impressive speech by recalling the homily of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. May I ask you to imagine yourself as a Palestinan child uprooted in 1948/1967 from the land with the yearning to return home. May God help you in doing to Palestinians what you would like others do unto you.

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While dealing with Af-Pak region, it is well that Hillary Clinton has frankly admitted the American guilt of sowing the seeds of violent extremism. It also needs to be admitted that among sections of bigoted Muslims there has been an yearning for reviving the agenda of ‘holy war’, though its modern form of terrorism is just a perversion.

What has, however, not been taken full cognisance of as one of the most potent sources of violent extremism in the region, worse than bomb blasts, hijackings, hostage taking, is militarised political Hindutva, avowedly inspired by Hitler as well as Italian fascism, born out of a manufactured Hindu sense of siege for perceived wrongs of history and Partition of India in 1947. It has been relentlessly pursuing the agenda of hate and revenge against Muslims and Islam. Its ultimate objective was to enact a Spain, that is, exterminate Muslims. Having realised its futility, it has been successful in getting about 140 million strong Muslim community of India marginalised. The community’s socio-economic ranking, according to official studies, is far below the Hindu backward classes. Moreover they are terrorised into submission by subjecting them periodically to riots, pogroms and massacres.

The Indian public discourse does not include the killing of three thousand Muslims on a single day in 1983 in Nellie (Assam) or the demolition of a four-hundred-year-old functioning Muslim mosque in December 1992 in the presence of state forces by a Hindu mob led by none other then L.K. Advani, the former Deputy Prime Minister of India, as acts of terrorism—aided by the State’s law-enforcement system.

It has been conclusively established by official inquiry reports that it is partisan policing during the anti-Muslim pogroms in Mumbai in 1992-93 and the loss of hope in the justice delivery system that made some angry frustrated Muslim youth play some supportive role in the incident of bomb blasts in March 1993. Such individuals, however, have never enjoyed any Muslim organisational support. On the contrary, there has been universal, Muslim ulema-led community condemnation of all acts of terrorism.

How to explain the post-9/11 tide of anti-American sentiment among Indian Muslims?

Since your speech is exclusively devoted to seeking a new beginning in America’s relations with the Muslim world, do kindly keep in mind that Indian Muslims have always expressed solidarity with the Muslims in the Middle East.

However, being more conservative they have tended to consider America as their natural ally in fighting atheistic totalitarian communism which was very manifest during the entire Cold War period. The recent anti-Americanism of Indian Muslims owes exclusively to its grossly unjust policies vis-à-vis Palestine, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. It got aggravated by the West/America lending prestige to Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin and the Danish Cartoons.

If your government chooses to continue luring India into the American strategic network aligned with Israel, with its potential of anti-Muslim world design, no one can stop Indian Muslims from intensifying their opposition to the US Government, though not its people.

Therefore, reorienting your government’s policies vis-à-vis not only Israel but also India will be advisable, as India’s alliance with Israel is bound to increasingly cause rise of Hindu militarisation against not only Muslims but no less ferociously against Christians who are already under attack. While supporting India’s search for a Global Great Power status, do say it in the open that it should remove the slur of being the largest democracy without rule of law and a secular state without secular justice.

May God help you, and bless you with true insight into the causes of the America-Muslim rupture.

Yours sincerely,

Iqbal A. Ansari

(Formerly Professor of English, AMU, Aligarh)

June 17, 2009

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