For children’s sake, let there be peace in Yemen!

By Ameen Izzadeen
Neither Saudi Arabia nor the United States will start a war on Iran following last Saturday’s attack on two Saudi oil installations in Abqaiq and Khurais. The strikes, seen as the most devastating of a series of recent attacks, sent shockwaves across the world oil markets, as they knocked out more than fifty percent of the world’s top exporter’s crude output or five percent of the global oil supply.
If the US and the Saudis could afford to start a war with Iran, they could have done it long ago. If past tense situations were any indication of a behavioural pattern, there is enough reason to believe that this time, too, the developments, however grave they are, will not lead to a war against Iran.
Take for instance the tense situation in June this year. Despite strong predictions that the US would not allow Iran to go unpunished for downing a US spy drone, President Donald Trump chickened out at the last minute and abruptly called off preparations for an attack. Then there were incidents involving oil tankers in recent months. Two tankers came under attack in the Gulf while one was seized by the Iranians weeks after a British warship seized an Iranian tanker. Yet these highly inflammable incidents did not lead to a war with Iran.
The fear of the consequences or worries about their impact on the US interests in the region and the likelihood of world oil prices skyrocketing, bringing in its wake a global economic downturn at a time when US President Donald Trump is facing reelection, probably de-escalated the US war drive.
It should also be recalled that during the US’ standoff with Iran over the Islamic republic’s nuclear power programme, Saudi Arabia and Israel kept prodding the US to launch an attack on Iran. But the US did not attack Iran. President George W Bush and even President Barack Obama would only say that all options were on the table.
In 2001, Iran, together with Iraq and North Korea, was one of the three countries of President Bush’s Axis of Evil. Iraq was attacked and invaded, but not Iran.
This is because, in US assessments, Iran is not like Iraq. Iran has the ability to hit the US and its regional allies where it hurts, although it is only an average military power when compared to the US or even Saudi Arabia which spends US$ 65 billion a year on defence and has signed up to buy US$ 150 billion worth of arms from the US. Iran has, throughout the decades of US and international sanctions, developed strategic weapons capable of dealing a devastating blow to the enemy. Besides, it has built up a powerful network of regional allies. In Iraq, Iran acts as a patron to Shiite paramilitary groups that joined the government’s war against the Islamic State terror group in 2018. Numbering around 150,000 militias, these groups are a virtual arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In Syria, Iran has established a considerable military presence. In Lebanon, it has its proxy army – the Shiite militant group Hizbollah. In Yemen, it is the Houthis who are seen as Iran’s ally. Besides, in several Gulf states, Iran commands the support of the Shiite populations. In Saudi Arabia itself, the Shiites make up 10-15 percent of the population and they see the Sunni monarch as a persecutor and Iran as their likely liberator.
If war breaks out, Iran can mobilise these support bases to its advantage. Through diplomatic channels, Iran, while denying it carried out the attacks on the Saudi oil sites, has conveyed to the US that any military action against it will be met with an immediate response.
The US knows well the capabilities of Iran. Some 30,000 US troops are stationed in the Gulf region, 5,000 in Iraq and another 14,000 in Afghanistan. They all sit within the striking distance of Iran’s military.
This is why, even after Saudi Arabia displayed remnants of drones and missiles to back its claim that the attack was “unquestionably sponsored” by Iran, Trump said he was looking for options short of war.
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted he had ordered the US Treasury to “substantially increase sanctions” on Iran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, rushed to Saudi Arabia where he described the attacks as “an act of war” on the kingdom.
Meanwhile, some analysts believe that Iran is being blamed because the US defence shield the Saudis have bought and installed had failed to detect and destroy the Houthi drones and missiles. So the arms suppliers to save their skin now say the missile came from the eastern direction indicating Iran or Iranian backed groups in Iraq — and not from Yemen in the south.
However, Yemen’s Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack, which if taken positively sends a powerful peace message that it is time to start talks on ending the war.
The international community needs to step in to make peace, instead of being a spectator in a bloody war that kills daily scores of children in Yemen, if not by Saudi bombs, but by starvation or diseases such as cholera. According to a 2018 Save the Children report, an estimated 85,000 children under the age of five had starved to death in the first three years of Yemen’s civil war.
But the world community’s indifference is appalling, even after the United Nations has described the situation in Yemen as the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.
Instead of compelling the parties to the conflict to come to the negotiating table and defuse the worsening crisis, the US, Britain and France sold Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates weapons which were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Yemeni children. A recent UN report warned that these western powers might be complicit in war crimes.
On Tuesday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told the media in Ankara where he met Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin: “The people of Yemen are forced to respond to all the violations and the flood of weapons from the US and Europe toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”
The Houthis are willing to talk peace. They did not start the war. The war, which is into its fourth year, was made in Saudi Arabia, the Saudis did not want to see on their southern border an Iran-friendly Houthi-dominated state. The war is another human rights violation baggage Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, carries in his person, in addition to the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia, it is learnt, has requested the Trump administration to facilitate talks with the Houthis. The Yemen war does not have a popular backing in Saudi Arabia or in the Arab world. Peace offers an opportunity for the Saudi crown prince to re-enter the world stage. For the starving and ailing children’s sake, let there be peace in Yemen.

This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka

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Good governance: We need sincere servants of the people

By Ameen Izzadeen

With national security being touted as the most pressing issue in the upcoming presidential election campaign, good governance, an equally important issue, has virtually become a non-issue.
The lack of concern for good governance is unfortunate and raises a question as to whether Sri Lankans are really interested in good governance and if so what percentage of the population is concerned about it.
At the last presidential election five years ago, in areas outside the north and east, a majority of the people voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa, despite his regime’s poor good governance record. So, good governance was not the concern of some 47.58 percent of voters. In contrast, in the north and east where the minority combination of Tamil and Muslim communities makes a majority, most people voted against Rajapaksa because they perceived his regime as anti-minorities. Good governance was not their main concern. Their votes – more than 25 percent of the total vote — gave the joint opposition candidate, Maithripala Sirisena, a head start over Rajapaksa. With Muslim and Tamil votes in his bag, Sirisena wanted only about 25 percent of the Sinhala vote. This he managed to get from the hardcore UNP Sinhalese and also from the educated Sinhala swing voters who wanted to see good governance in politics.
This basic psephological analysis indicates that only a small percentage of the total voters voted for good governance or yahapalanaya at the 2015 election, but their votes enabled Sirisena to fill the shortfall and win the poll. However, the good governance slogan stuck with the Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe administration in the early days of their coalition government. Later, the slogan became the butt of political jokes. Mekada Yahapalanaya? Iduwa Nallatchi? Is this good governance? People began to question as the government failed to fulfil most of its promises and itself faced corruption allegations, the main among them being the central bank bond scam.
Corruption allegations apart, to be fair by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s administration, one must admit that it has, to a great degree, strengthened democratic institutions by adopting the 19th Amendment and ensured, to a great extent, the independence of the judiciary. The Right to Information Act is one of its few good governance feats. On media freedom, it gave an overdose of it; so much so certain media groups and journalists began publishing fake news with impunity and twisting and turning news to suit their political agendas. Also, even the present government’s harshest critics admit that no person has been abducted or has gone missing for speaking out against the government.
To assess a government’s good governance record, we need to understand what good governance actually is. Good governance has become a catchy phrase in political discourses and development literature around the world. The United Nations has become its chief proponent, while the European Union, the Commonwealth and other multilateral world bodies have made it a priority issue and a vital condition in dispensing development aid.
According to a UN document, good governance has eight major characteristics. It is participatory, consensus-oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimised, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making.
In other words, good governance is about democracy, human rights, accountability, transparency, law and order and the independence of the judiciary.
Although the Wickremesinghe administration may have fallen short in many of these good governance aspects, the little it has brought about can become a foundation for us to reach the peak of good governance. This can be achieved only if the next president is committed to good governance. Even national security, which we have made a priority presidential campaign issue, can be assured better in a good governance setup than in a strongman setup.
On good governance, certainly the present government’s score is much higher than that of the previous government.
However, it is a matter of great concern that of late, especially since the April 21 terror attacks, whatever little good governance we had has taken a beating with regard to the implementation of the rule of law. Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced impartially. When laws are selectively applied and the police act with partiality, there is no good governance. A case in point is the misuse of or the selective use of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) Act by the law enforcement authorities.
Good governance, a check against corruption and abuse of power, is not only the responsibility of government and state institutions. People also should become stakeholders of good governance. The media, trade unions and other pressure groups which are part of civil society should also become advocates of good governance, instead of becoming lackeys of a politician or a political party.
Obviously, the opposite of good governance is bad governance symbolised by corruption, money laundering, thuggery, violence, civil strife, injustice, nepotism, absence of democracy, lack of human rights and suppression of minorities. Therefore, as political parties gear up for the presidential election, we the people as responsible members of civil society must extract a pledge from all candidates that they will adhere to good governance principles if they are elected to office as the servants of the people.
Good governance (Yahapalanaya in Sinhala or Nallatchi in Tamil) is not a topic for politicians to laugh about or make a joke of it. Good governance is not a political charade to win votes. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe alliance is accused of doing this in 2015. The Ven. Sobhitha Thera, who was championing good governance, died a disappointed monk after he felt his vision was being scaled down by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government. Similarly, during the 1977 general election campaign, the then opposition the United National Party pledged to set up a Dharmishta or just government. But once in office, its governance became anything but Dharmishta. The March 12, 2015 declaration that Sri Lanka’s political leaders signed, giving an undertaking that they would adhere to clean politics, was about good governance and ending corruption. Sadly, only a few remember that they have signed such a document.
Good governance is a serious topic; the candidates should spell out in their manifestos the measures they will take to establish good governance in Sri Lanka’s political culture.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Presidential poll: A holistic view of security

By Ameen Izzadeen

Sri Lanka’s upcoming presidential election is likely to be decided on one key issue – security. The candidate who the voters will perceive to be the most suitable to ensure their security and that of the country will win the election and become the president, the head of state, the head of government and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Security is a condition that assures an individual, a community, a state, a region and the humanity at large freedom from fear and need. No security discourse can ignore the primordial form of security – the security of human beings. It is as important as the security of the state.
The key word security needs to be understood in the right perspective both by the candidates and the voters. Security should not be understood as a one-dimensional concept. Security is multi-dimensional and its components are inter-connected. For instance, an international treaty banning nuclear weapons goes all the way to ensure the security of every human being on this planet.
In Sri Lanka, since the April 21 Easter Sunday terror attacks, the focus has been on the physical safety of the citizen. Since the calamity, a blame game has been going on, with the then Police Chief and the then Defence Secretary being accused of failing to act on the intelligence reports they had, while others insist that the President as Defence and Law and Order Minister should take the responsibility. Yet others unfairly blame the prime minister, who does not even have a thin majority in parliament to call the government his.
If national security is understood only in terms of providing protection to the citizens from physical attacks, it is like providing helmets to motorcycle riders, while ignoring the poor road conditions and the poor implementation of traffic laws.
National security is multi-dimensional and holistic. Apart from physical safety of the citizens, national security has its social, economic and political dimensions. Security cannot be confined to a single time-bound definition. It keeps changing. For instance, today there is an ecological aspect to security. Soon, we will be defining security also in terms of dangers from outer space. Who thought of cyber security, say, some 50 years ago?
Our understanding of security is incomplete if we ignore security threats from environmental issues, natural disasters, the population explosion, food crises, outbreaks of diseases, economic recessions, poverty, crime and, of course, democracy deficiency.
In the upcoming presidential election, the voters need to elect the candidate who can give a comprehensive security solution to all these security problems.
In the name of security, can we let our country be turned into a police state? No. Some may say, if the choice is between security and freedom, the people go for security. But, the ultimate objective of security is freedom. To the extent that we the citizens are shorn of our freedoms, to that extent we are insecure.
In the name of security, can we let democracy erode, dump the hallowed concept of the separation of powers in the dustbin and judicial independence vanish? Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, once said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” We may need to take this warning to heart.
We are still in a state of shock after the April 21 terror attacks. Psychologists warn that we should not take decisions when we are angry, sad or in a state of shock. According to the psychology website, exploringyourmind.com, negative emotions decrease our ability to reason. This happens because the brain is more focused on the emotional state of sadness or anger that is being felt instead of concentrating on making decisions or finding creative solutions.
We need to be calm and view security in a holistic manner. The need is not only to protect ourselves from terrorist attacks, but also from government crimes, including state terror, and dictatorship.
Taking the right government policy with regard to development and good governance is also an essential segment of security.
Whatever security measures the next president takes should not mean a lopsided implementation of laws, favouring one community against another. The rule of law is part and parcel of security, as we are not only talking about protecting the country’s territorial integrity from an external threat or internal rebellion, but also about people’s security and freedom to live as equal citizens of this nation. Whither security, if the next president also lets incidents like Aluthgama, Digana, Kurunegala and Minuwangoda to happen again?
We need a president who believes that eliminating corruption is also part of security because it is in a corruption-free environment that citizens’ socio-economic security is enhanced.
Security also means upholding democratic values. We will not be secure in the absence of law and order. We will not be secure if the government we elect amends the laws – the 19th Amendment, for instance — to concentrate power in the executive presidency. We will not be secure, if the judiciary becomes servile to the executive.
It is an erosion of security if the government undermines the checks-and-balances mechanisms against abuse of power. Freedom of speech — especially the freedom to criticize the government when it is seen to be autocratic or dictatorial – is also certainly a part of our security.
Security does not mean investing heavily in the military establishment. In the allocation of the country’s meagre revenue, there should be a balanced approach. Overspending on defence in the name of security, may affect vital sectors such as health, education and job creation.
Security does not also mean arming oneself to the teeth to face an external military threat. In Sri Lanka, although there is an urgent need to eliminate all forms of terrorism, it has to be done with close international cooperation. The security threat to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty can also come in non-conventional ways such as debt traps and bilateral and multilateral security pacts.
Therefore, we need to elect the right candidate who is capable of understanding the importance of adopting a balanced and prudent foreign policy that will not drag the country into a situation where, unable to pay our foreign debts, the government will hand over strategic ports and military bases to world powers.
We the voters have a duty by this country to elect a leader who will not only eradicate terrorism but also uphold the rule of law, eliminate communal riots, bring about national unity, ensure our freedoms, strengthen democracy, respect the independence of the judiciary and have and a vision for development without getting caught in debt traps and dubious security pacts.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Kashmir:Modi drags India into Hindutva fascism

By Ameen Izzadeen

Narendra Modi could have been right, only if he had acted democratically with the consent of the Kashmiri people. His supporters may point out that in repealing Kashmir’s special autonomous status, Modi acted democratically as he was only fulfilling an election promise. Adolf Hitler also gave election promises, the fulfillment of which is a bloody chapter in world history today.

Democracy could be dangerous and this is aptly being proved in India, where the Hindu nationalist Modi government with its near steamroller majority is turning Asia’s temple of democracy into a fort of fascism.

In Modi’s India, an entire region’s people have been denied their right over a matter that directly involves their lives, freedom, dignity and future. Modi’s move regarding Kashmir, if seen together with his failure to bring to justice his party supporters unleashing violence against minority Muslims and Christians, gives credence to the claim that democracy under Modi is nothing but a democracy of bigots. It lynches India’s soul built on Mahatma Gandhi’s vision.

With Gandhi being ridiculed by hardline Hindutva supporters, Modi’s democracy of the bigots for the bigots and by the bigots is taking India towards fascism, as manifested in Monday’s decision to strip Kashmir of its special status in terms of a constitutional article. Article 370 granted considerable freedom for the people in the Indian-administered Kashmir to decide their own fate, except in defence, monetary, foreign policy and communications matters. The Muslim-majority region was once a princely state, but its Hindu ruler joined the state with India in 1947, months after the sub-continent was divided up at the end of British rule. The Modi government has now declared the whole of Kashmir, including the areas under Pakistan’s and China’s control, as India’s sovereign territory.

India apparently believes that it can face whatever adverse consequences of its decision through its diplomatic clout and military might.

Pakistan, which controls one third of Kashmir along the ceasefire line following the first major war between India and Pakistan in 1947/48, on Wednesday decided to downgrade diplomatic relations with India, suspend bilateral trade, review bilateral arrangements and haul India before international forums.

If Pakistan believes that India can be browbeaten by these measures, then it is living in a fool’s paradise. None of its measures could force India to reverse its decision.

Pakistan is left with few options. Given the woeful state of its economy, even a limited war with India will lead to devastating economic consequences. Islamabad may turn to Beijing, which also has border disputes with India. One such dispute is over Ladakh, the Buddhist-dominated area that became a separate union territory on Monday after India’s new law separated it from the Jammu and Kashmir region.  However, it is unlikely China will join Pakistan’s war. In the circumstances, Pakistan can only hope the Kashmiri people’s rebellion will turn more intense to force the India military out of the region. 

It was only recently that United States President Donald Trump told visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan that the US could broker peace between India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmiri dispute. India’s move has now disrupted Trump-Khan peace initiative. Hope the increase in hostilities does not lead to a nuclear confrontation.

What will India do? As the rebellion increases, India will send more military personnel to Kashmir. Already the Indian part of Kashmir is regarded as the world’s most militarised region, with some 700,000 troops being deployed.

The Kashmiris believe that with the repeal of Article 370, India is now free to undertake demographic engineering. They say that soon the Muslim-majority region will see hardcore Hindutva members from other states being settled in the region.

India probably feels that if China can do demographic engineering in Muslim-majority Xinjiang and Israel in Palestine, why can’t India? After all, India has been emboldened by the relative silence of the world to its move to deny the Kashmiri people their right to decide on their fate. As expected, there is no protest from Arab and Muslim countries either.

India’s action is not unprecedented. In 1975, it annexed Sikkim, an independent kingdom. At least in this case, there was a referendum, however much of a sham it was. India has also turned Bhutan into a vassal state, denying that country freedom to decide on defence and foreign policy matters. Also annexed was the Hyderabad State ruled by Nizams.  At one point, there were fears in Sri Lanka, too, that India, in keeping with K.M. Panikkar’s advice, would make Sri Lanka also part of its territory. This fear prompted Sri Lanka to sign a defence treaty with Britain at Independence. The possibility of India annexing Sri Lanka or part of it cannot be ruled out even now, given India’s worries over China’s strategic interests in Sri Lanka.

What will the Kashmir people, the real owners of the region, do? The Kashmiri people are angry.  They are waiting till the curfew is lifted to express their fury at the decision, on which they were not consulted. Instead of obtaining the Kashmir assembly’s consent in terms of Article 370, India obtained the consent of the region’s governor, as the legislature remained dissolved from November last year.

Since Monday, Kashmir has been in a state of lockdown, with communications cut off and the region’s moderate leaders put under house arrest.  

For how long can India keep people under the jackboot? Sooner than later, the region will be plunged into more bloodshed and mayhem.

It was only in February this year that 40 Indian troopers were killed in the region’s worst suicide attack. The incident led to a mini war between India and Pakistan. Modi used the situation as part of his strategy to win the general elections.

Modi is a sheer populist and demagogue. With stunts such as yoga, poetry and appearing in a Discovery channel’s wild life programme, he tries to build up his image that was tarnished by Gujarat’s anti-Muslim riots.  With the main opposition Congress Party in limbo, Modi’s Bharatiya Janatha Party is on a major drive to bring every Indian state under its control and convert India into one-party fascist government by whipping up Hindutva nationalism.

The Modi government’s preposterous move has also dragged South Asia towards a gloomy prospect of a nuclear war, or a long-drawn out diplomatic hostility between India and Pakistan. Forget any hopes of reviving the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which has not met since 2014 at summit level.

This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka

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Lessons for Lankan Muslims in India’s criminalisation of triple talaq

By Ameen Izzadeen

India’s Hindu nationalist government on Tuesday criminalised the Muslim ‘triple-talaq’ divorce, by adopting a landmark law. The practice is now punishable by a jail term upto three years.
Most Muslim women across India celebrated the bills’ passage in Parliament. They saw it as a significant victory that ended the long suffering they were condemned to undergo as a result of Muslim religious scholars reading only the literal meaning of the scripture while ignoring its spiritual meaning.
With regard to divorce, the Quran insists that every effort must be made to bring reconciliation between husband and wife. The process involves three declarations of divorce, with the first two declarations being followed by waiting periods allowing the couple enough time to save the marriage. However, India’s mullahs, instead of respecting the Quranic will, had endorsed the male chauvinistic explanations of certain imams of the past and resisted moves to eliminate the abominable practice that allowed a man to divorce his wife by repeating the word “talaq” (divorce) three times.
In most Muslim countries, the triple-talaq has been declared un-Islamic. According to al-Nasai’s hadith book, Prophet Muhammad has condemned it. The Prophet has said that of all things permitted, divorce is the most detestable in the sight of God. The Quran has several verses which warn against women being harassed in the marital union and during the divorce process.
For instance, the Quranic chapter Mujadilah speaks about a woman who pleaded her case with God after her husband divorced her through Zihar, a pre-Islamic method of divorce. The Zihar divorce involved a husband declaring that his wife was like his mother. A woman divorced under this method was denied maintenance and the freedom to remarry. She would be a lifetime slave. God strongly repudiated the Zihar Talaq.
By extension, any type of divorce should be denounced if it brings injustice to women. The Quran itself urges the Muslims to follow the best meaning of the text. “Those who listen to the Word, and follow the best (meaning) in it: those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endowed with understanding.” (39:18). We need to reflect on this verse and understand that the best meaning is one of justice.
In the Indian example, there is a lesson for Sri Lankan Muslims, who are embroiled in a debate over Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) reforms. The reforms are called for because the law and the lacuna in it bring misery to Muslim women, instead of offering them the law’s protection. If the Muslim leaders do not support the reforms, they are only paving the way for the government — the custodian of the people’s freedom — to intervene and ensure that women’s and children’s rights are not violated. Britain, for instance, has enacted a Forced Marriage Protection Law. Early this week, the Dubai ruler’s wife, a princess no less, invoked this law to protect herself. One can imagine the worse situations the ordinary Muslim women have been in.
We need to ask ourselves as to on whose side God is: Is He on the side of a government that frees Muslim women from oppressive laws or on the side of the mullahs preventing justice to women, who cry out to their Lord seeking a speedy end to their suffering.
The time has come to sidestep the irrational religious scholars, the types of whom come up with ludicrous fatwas. One such scholar created controversy in 2007 in Egypt when he urged women to breastfeed their male colleagues and make them their foster sons to circumvent the rule on the segregation of sexes.
It is unfortunate that dimwitted mullahs are able to mislead the religiously illiterate people with their asinine fatwas. Agree; Sri Lanka’s moulavis are not as illogical as the one who gave the outrageous breastfeeding fatwa. Most Sri Lankan moulavis are civic-minded and realise that the MMDA needs reforms. Yet, some are adamant. We have learned from the prophet’s discourse with Muad ibn Jabl, who he chose to appoint as governor of Yemen, that Islam permits ijtihad or decisions based on independent reasoning within the confines of the Islamic principles.
Sri Lanka’s Muslim women activists campaigning for MMDA reforms say the MMDA is in consonance with neither the Islamic principles of justice and compassion nor Sri Lanka’s laws, including the Constitution. These women activists appeared more enlightened than the ulamas who tried to delay the reforms.
Islam should be seen as a feminist movement. The prophet’s mission was to reform a society which buried its girl children alive, for they were regarded as a symbol of shame. Prostitution was widespread. Women did not have inheritance rights.
Islam gave the girl child her honour. Women were given the property rights and equal status in judicial matters.
Sadly, though, simple-minded mullahs, resorting to a selective reading of the Quran, claim that the strength of a woman’s testimony is half that of a man, whereas the Quran makes it clear in 24:4-9 that a woman’s testimony is equal to that of a man.
Women, thus freed and dignified by Islam, once again find themselves in yokes. The feminist movement Islam started must continue until women are freed from oppressive customs, laws and male chauvinistic interpretations popularized by latter day imams. We need to rediscover Islam. Even Imam Shafi, whose jurisprudence is widely followed in Sri Lanka, had changed many of his rulings as he honed his religious knowledge. Blindly following an imam (taqlid) and holding his interpretation over and above the Quranic command for compassion and justice is blasphemy.
The Muslim scholars who entertain fears about MMDA reforms must realise there is nothing un-Islamic about setting 18 as the minimum age for bride and groom. Overhauling the corrupt Quazi court system is also an Islamic duty. They need to realize their opposition to reforms is in conflict with the country’s constitution and several progressive laws. In support of child marriages, some Muslim scholars cite the prophet’s marriage to Aisha while she was still a child. But modern day Hadith scholars insist that Aisha was an adult, when the marriage took place.
The MMDA reforms are an urgent need. Thousands of modern-day Mujadilahs cry for justice. Almost on regular basis, Muslim women victimized by corrupt Quazis or Muslim personal court judges come on television channels to share their tragic experiences, although they know the intent of these tv channels is to bring Islam into disrepute. This shows their desperation.
The government must listen to the affected Muslim women and pay heed to the call of the Muslim women activists, whose reform package is perfectly in order with Islam and the country’s laws.
Muslims must not be seen as a community that gives girl children into marriage before they become physically, mentally and intellectually strong enough to understand the responsibility of family life. Every girl should be given education at least up to Advanced level. That is government policy.
The Muslim religious scholars who oppose reforms would do well to keep in mind what happened in India.

This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka

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Bigots-in-Chief ruins US: Is Lanka going Trump way?

By Ameen Izzadeen
We can draw ugly parallels between the United States President’s racist politics and what is happening in Sri Lanka. First let us examine Donald Trump’s racist rants which he liberally unleashes, without realising the damage he is causing to the nation’s social cohesion.
To say that Trump has no propriety in politics is an understatement. The truth appears to be that he has become so immune to criticism that he sees the inappropriate as appropriate. He does not seem to think that racism needs to be abhorred. He does not give a damn about history’s lessons on racist politics leading to holocausts and genocides, as has happened in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Myanmar.
Thus it comes as no surprise that he began his 2020 re-election campaign on a despicable note at the North Carolina political rally, where his silence was taken as a signal for encore by his supporters to chant racist slogans directed at Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Their shouts were in consonance with his ‘go back home’ tweets directed at Omar and three other non-white House Democrats.
In a three-tweet thread, Trump lashed out at the four first time Congresswomen, who have become his most vocal critics. Of them, only Omar was a naturalised American. She is from Somalia. The other three — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna S. Pressley— were born in the US, like Trump was. The Trump tweet thread said:
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
In the US, anyone with a primary school education will say theirs is a country of immigrants, a majority of whom are from Europe. Even the Native Americans, the original inhabitants of the continent, were once immigrants. Human history is one of migration from one place to another. To whichever country we belong, the people-of-the-soil claim holds no water. Trump himself is a grandson of an immigrant who came to America about 130 years ago. Even his wife is a naturalised American. She was born in Estonia. To grade patriotism on an early-bird-catches-the worm basis may appeal only to irrational bigots. No wonder, the Los Angeles Times in a recent editorial called Trump America’s Bigot-in-Chief.
Racism is not value-based. To keep it alive, its proponents have to resort to lies and deception, myths and fake history. What more proof do we need to indict Trump, when the white supremacist, who killed 50 people in a New Zealand mosque in March this year, cited Trump as his inspiration? This week, two US policemen, who were ardent supporters of Trump, were arrested for suggesting in their Facebook posts that Omar should be shot.
Dangerous indeed is the content of Trump tweets, for their contentious content underscores “us versus them” or a division along the line that full-fledged white Americans are better than half-fledged coloured Americans.
Mercifully, the US system does not discriminate against citizens on the basis of types of citizenship. For naturalised Americans, the only inhibition is that they cannot hold the office of the President.
We may disagree with the United States’ globe-gobbling foreign policy, yet we cannot but admire the egalitarian domestic system which has evolved through the American independence war of the 18th century, the American Civil War of the 1860s and the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s. If Trump-like politicians are allowed to flourish and their racist views accommodated in the name of free speech, the US will soon lose its position as the world’s most vibrant democracy.
But we take heart of the fact that a majority of the Americans are not racists. They elected Afro-
American Barack Obama, son of a Muslim Kenyan, as President — not once, but twice. This week, a poll found that 58 percent of US voters labelled as “racist” the anti-Omar chants at Trump’s North Carolina meeting. Of course, 87 percent of this 58 percent were Democrats.
“A majority of the Republicans remain steadfast in their support for President Trump and don’t necessarily view last week’s series of controversial remarks as racist,” said Tyler Sinclair, vice president of Morning Consult, which together with Politico conducted, the poll.
Today, most analysts lament that the Republican Party appears to have become a Trump party, as seen in their blind support for him at the widely watched Special Counsel Robert Muller testimony before the House Judicial and Intelligence Committees on Wednesday.
With such Republican endorsement, Trump believes that winning elections is all about turning voters into bigots. Politicians like Trump cast fear into the hearts of the voters about an enemy and try to convince the fear-struck voters that it is only they who can ensure public security.
Such political charlatans care little about national unity. They fan the flames of disunity and polarisation, while promoting themselves as patriots of the highest order. Before their rhetoric binds us in a spell, we need to remind ourselves that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
Describing Trump’s campaign as ‘thuggish patriotism’, the Los Angeles Times said, “He is playing to the lowest, most degraded emotions of his supporters while revelling in the fury of his opponents. This is the definition of demagoguery. Sadly, it has found a receptive audience.”
Now, if we do not admit that this is also happening in Sri Lanka, then we are not keeping abreast with the story behind the news — or we are not politically literate enough to identify the humbugs in politics.
While President Maithripala Sirisena’s preposterous act of granting a presidential pardon to a rabble-rousing monk was seen as propping up racism, some politicians are approving of racism by their failure to condemn it. United National Front frontliners have put the party’s interest before the country’s interest, in the belief that the upcoming polls are to be won on the basis of racist credentials. Except for Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, they have chosen not to speak up against those who sow discord among the people through fear-mongering and hate speech.
Their silence or inaction is no different to the appalling policy of the India’s ruling party. The Narendra Modi government adopts a see-no-evil attitude when hardline Bharatiya Janatha Party supporters lynch Muslims after forcing them to say Hindu slogans praising Lord Ram. In a recent hard-hitting parliament speech, Mahua Moitra, a first-time MP from the opposition Trinamool Congress, lashed out at the Modi government’s silence in the face of anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit violence as a sign of fascism.
Sri Lanka’s political leaders must realise that their silent or overt endorsement of racist politics only expedites the rise of fascism in this country. If they do not change course, they are no better than the unscrupulous media outlets which spew out racism with impunity, showing scant regard for media ethics and principles.
To save Sri Lanka, we need to first save its politics and media from demagogues and presstitutes.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/Bigot-in-Chief-ruins-US:-Is-Lanka-going-Trump-way-/172-171753

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Disaster militarism and proposed US deals with Lanka

By Ameen Izzadeen

We hear these days much about the competition for military dominance in the Indian Ocean region, where Sri Lanka has emerged strategically the most important location — with military analysts describing it as a potential permanent aircraft carrier.
Against the backdrop of big power manoeuvres in the Indian Ocean region, a controversy is raging in Sri Lanka over military tie-ups with the United States, the world’s number one power, which is seen to be increasingly insecure in view of China’s growing economic and military strength. Washington’s moves indicate it is falling into a Thucydides trap. Greek historian Thucydides postulated that war became inevitable when the then reining power Sparta, driven by the fear of being overtaken, reacted to the rise of Athens. Historians say the in the past 500 years, on 12 of the 16 occasions when a similar situation arose, war was the outcome.
While the US seems to recognise that a war with China is sheer madness, given the nuclear arsenal the two countries possess, it is taking every other means to check China’s rise. Washington will not abdicate the crown without giving a tough fight short of an all-out war. The ongoing trade war with China and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with China’s neighbours were part of this US strategy. It also includes Washington’s desperate attempt to convert North Korea from a China ally into a neutral country. Strengthening military ties with nations such as India and securing bases and strategic ports through agreements are a vital component of this strategy.
Nowhere does the strategy become more imperative than in the Indian Ocean region, which has been brought under the US Indo-Pacific Command, amid China’s growing visibility in the region.
In 2016, the United States and India signed a military logistics agreement, governing the use of each other’s land, air and naval bases for repair and resupply, in a move to counter the growing maritime assertiveness of China. In 2013, the Maldivian government came under pressure to sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US. In 2014, the then President Abdulla Yameen, seen to be pro-China, declared that his country would not sign any SOFA with the US.
As the US rushes for SOFA-like deals, China is increasing its military presence in the Indian Ocean region, not so much as a means to confront the US, but as a move to provide security for its workers and multibillion dollar investments spread all over the region under the highly ambitious Belt-and-Road project. In 2008, China had only a semi naval presence in the Indian Ocean, but today, it has established a major military base in Djibouti and secured strategic commercial sea ports – which, according to critics, are being built as military-cum-commercial ports — in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
In this scramble for bases, the US position appears to be in line with the Neoconservative agenda that advocates United States’ global domination through military means. President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton was among those who endorsed a white paper prepared by the now defunct neocon think tank PNAC — the Plan for New American Century (PNAC).
Going by Washington’s military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, it appears that Washington’s strategy for global military dominance is set in motion against the backdrop of what can be termed ‘disaster militarism’ which operates in tandem with what Canadian socialist Journalist Naomi Klien calls ‘disaster capitalism’. In her book ‘The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism’, she argues that today’s preferred method of reshaping the world in the interest of multinational corporations is to systematically exploit the state of fear and disorientation that accompanies moments of great shock and crisis such as the war in Iraq.
After George Bush’s Shock and Awe operations destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure and led to the US occupation of Iraq, American energy and construction companies trooped into the war-ravaged nation to gobble up contracts which were to be paid by the plunder of Iraq’s resources. Besides Disaster capitalism, Iraq was also a victim of disaster militarism, which simply means a powerful country securing a permanent or time-specific military presence in a target country, by taking advantage of a crisis situation.
Iraqi leaders were browbeaten by the US occupation force to obtain parliamentary approval for the controversial Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the Strategic Framework Agreement.
In Afghanistan, the then President Hamid Karzai resisted the signing of the SOFA, as he suspected the US motives, though a year later his successor Ashraf Ghani signed the SOFA and several other defence agreements with the US and Nato.
Another trouble spot where disaster militarism was seen at play was Western Africa. While Mali was plunged into a civil war in 2013, the US supported the French troops who moved in to protect its interests in its former colony. The same year, making use of the Mali crisis and the threat from Islamic militants, the US signed a SOFA with neighbouring Niger, allowing the US forces to legally operate on its soil. In Africa, where China’s influence is growing, the US, using wars and Islamic terrorism as an excuse, has also struck deals with Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Djibouti and a several other nations to gain a military foothold.
The question now arises as to whether the US move to force a SOFA on Sri Lanka is part of disaster militarism – or an attempt to take advantage of the security threats in the wake of the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks.
In Parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe denied the government had signed a SOFA with the US. He noted that a 1995 agreement governed the US military presence in Sri Lanka and in 2017 the government had signed an Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) when the previous ACSA signed in 2007 lapsed.
Though he said he also had objections to certain provisions in the proposed SOFA, he did not give an assurance that the government would not sign it. This assurance was given by President Maithripala Sirisena. But the President is not revealing to the country the contents of a similar controversial defence agreement he signed with China in May when he was invited to Beijing for a one-on-one with President Xi Jinping.
This country should find refuge in non-alignment and stay clear of big power politics. Striking a foreign policy balance does not mean giving Hambantota to China, Trincomalee to the US and some other port to India. Djibouti makes money this way. The US, China, France, Italy, Japan and Saudi Arabia have bases there.
But Sri Lanka need not go the Djibouti way to achieve growth. We are a capable nation. The reason why we are not progressing is corruption and political instability arising largely from our failure to do away with racial politics and rise as one nation.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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