Palestinians need a hero, not a gutless Guterres

By Ameen Izzadeen
The stench that wafted across world politics last Friday was unbearable. It originated from a place where there was once an old slaughterhouse. The place now houses the 39-storey United Nations building, one of the most photographed world monuments. The building overlooking the East River has an architectural aura, but, by no means, is its glassy exterior symbolic of the sordid state of affairs inside, with matters peace and justice often undermined by powerful nations.
Last Friday was one such day. Underscoring the impotency of the United Nations, its new Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, shattered the hope for peace in West Asia when he ordered the removal of a report critical of Israel from a UN website, just two days after the document was released. By timidly displaying his inability to stand up for justice and stand by Rima Khalef, who, as the head of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), commissioned the report, Guterres seems to have compromised his socialism with which he wooed the people of Portugal to become prime minister in 1995. While Khalef resigned in disgust, the wounded Palestinians, the victims of Israel’s apartheid system, cried: ‘Et tu Guterres’.
The secretary general’s surrender is so disheartening that it pushes peace activists to long for the old abattoir at Turtle Bay, for the blood of the slaughtered cattle would have smelt like jasmine, in comparison with the smell of the putrid power politics of the UN system. It is now becoming clear that the new UN Secretary General succumbed to pressure from the United States and withdrew the report, although the report’s authors, Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, widely respected for their global justice activism, insisted that this was only a research paper that did not reflect the views of ESCWA or the UN.
Palestine’s UN envoy Riyad Mansour told reporters on Wednesday that “bullying tactics and intimidation” led to the UN’s withdrawal of the report that accused Israel of practising apartheid.
A UN spokesman, however, said the organisation did not have a problem with the content of the report but rather with Khalef’s failure to follow procedure prior to publication.
“The secretary-general cannot accept that an under secretary-general or any other senior UN official that reports to him would authorise the publication under the UN name, under the UN logo, without consulting the competent departments and even himself,” he said.
Whatever the explanation for the removal of the report, Guterres appears as gutless as his predecessor. The present controversy reminds us of the Richard Goldstein report on Israel’s 2008 Gaza war. It was commissioned by the then Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The report accused both Israel and the Palestinian resistance group Hamas of war crimes. In indiscriminate Israeli attacks, some 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, perished — half of the victims being children.
Later Goldstein withdrew his report solely on the basis of Israel’s claim that it had no policy of targeting civilians. Independent analysts ascribe the death of the report to US and Israeli pressure on Goldstein.
In another UN retreat under pressure, Ban last year withdrew Saudi Arabia from a list of nations that had committed war crimes against children, after the oil-rich kingdom warned it would stop its funds for UN programmes.
Such pressure and bullying tactics were also evident in recent US statements defending Israel.
America’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley dismissed the ESCWA report as “anti-Israel propaganda” and said, “The United States stands with our ally Israel and will continue to oppose biased and anti-Israel actions across the UN system and around the world.”
On Monday, a week after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that the US might withdraw from the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, Haley slammed the council for its “anti-Israel agenda”. She told the Council: “The so-called ‘Agenda Item 7’ discredits the standing of the only UN body specifically designed to address the state of global human rights by allowing nations to distract from their own abuses back home by churning out anti-Israel propaganda. As a result, the United States will not participate in discussions under Agenda Item 7 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, other than to vote against the outrageous, one-sided, anti-Israel resolutions that so diminish what the Human Rights Council should be, and we encourage other Council members who purport to be defenders of human rights to do the same.”
If Haley, in her zealous frenzy, is determined to protect and reward Israel’s atrocities and cannot accept the ESCWA report, then she should at least read Jimmy Carter’s 2006 best seller ‘Palestine: Peace not Apartheid’. Carter, like all US presidents since 1948, was no enemy of Israel. Defending his book, Carter said Israel’s policy in the West Bank represented instances of apartheid worse than South Africa’s.
“When Israel does occupy this territory deep within the West Bank, and connects the 200-or-so settlements with each other, with a road, and then prohibits the Palestinians from using that road, or in many cases even crossing the road, this perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa,” Carter said.
Falk and Tilley in their ESCWA report describes more than what Carter saw. They recommended the international community to intensify the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign against Israel until it abandons its apartheid policy that dehumanises the Palestinians.
It is to the UN system that the Palestinian people turn to realise their dream of freedom. But the world body has been, in effect, an accomplice in the crime against the Palestinians. It started with Resolution 181 which partitioned Palestine in 1947 in what was seen as a travesty of justice, giving the 30 percent Jewish population, comprising mostly European immigrants, 55 percent of the land and the Palestinians who formed the 70 percent of the population 45 percent. Since then, the UN has been virtually offering its facilities for the United States and Israel to continue their might-is-right policies.
The existence of agencies such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to help the displaced Palestinians will not absolve the UN of its complicity. Guterres should have resisted the US pressure, for it is better to serve the world body as a true soldier of peace for one term rather than serving two terms as an agent of injustice.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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US threatens to withdraw from UNHRC

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Donald Trump administration has read the Riot Act to the United Nations Human Rights Council. It has threatened to withdraw from the UNHRC, unless the council agrees to toe Washington’s line.
The warning came through a letter Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent to a group of nine non-profit organisations this week, according to an exclusive report posted on the prestigious Foreign Policy website.
The letter said, “While it may be the only such organisation devoted to human rights, the Human Rights Council requires considerable reform in order for us to continue to participate.”
A senior Tillerson aid said, “If they don’t make these reforms, we’re going to question the value of our membership…. We’re not taking withdrawal off the table.”
Certainly, the reforms the Trump administration is calling for are not aimed at making the UNHRC stronger. Washington apparently wants to make the council a rubber stamp, just as it has made the UN. Or, possibly the Trump administration is planning something more horrendous, with a US$ 54 billion surge in military expenditure.
Successive US governments have been critical of the UNHRC. They have described it as an Israeli-bashing organisation. But at the same time, Washington has made use of the mechanism to put pressure on hostile nations.
The US warning comes as no surprise because, since Trump came to power, human rights have been pushed to the backburner. Perhaps he is forthright and does not want to be hypocritical like his predecessors who talked big about human rights and did the opposite. Why blame only Trump’s United States? Every big power is a human rights crook.
In international relations, human rights remain politicised. Human rights are often seen as a hindrance to a state’s national security. Violations are justified on the basis that the survival of the state is more important than a citizen’s human rights. Human rights have become state-centric, instead of people-centric.
This is why whistleblower Edward Snowden is refusing to leave Russia and surrender to US authorities. He fears that the US courts will uphold the power of the state at the expense of the citizens’ right to privacy and their freedom of expression. WikiLeaks’ chief editor Julian Assange is refusing to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London to face trial in Sweden, because he fears that Stockholm, giving more importance to its relations with Washington than to its supposed commitment to uphold the people’s right to know, would extradite him to the US.
When state-centric human rights are observed, citizens are told they should live and die for the state – a subtle form of Nazism. When the rights of the state are given precedence over a citizen’s freedom, it is also militarism, a system where rulers, democratically elected or otherwise, invoke patriotism, glorify the military and enhance its capability to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests. So much so that militarism supersedes liberal values.
In the United States, both the Republicans and the Democrats subscribe to this unwritten doctrine. Militarism was evident during President Trump’s address to Congress last month. The Democrats, who by opposing Trump’s outrageous policies were posing off as champions of moral politics, shook their heads in disapproval when the billionaire-turned-President waxed eloquent on his controversial policies. But when he hailed the death of US SEAL William Owens during a raid on an al-Qaeda camp in Yemen and drew the lawmakers’ attention to his widow, members from both sides of the divide gave a record standing ovation.
That the botched raid killed civilians was not a matter for them to worry about. That the US troops killed eight year-old- Nawar al-Awlaki, a US citizen and daughter of radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, whom the Americans extra-judicially killed in a drone attack in 2011, did not bother their conscience. That the raid was a violation of the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation was far from their thoughts. That it did not have UN approval was the least of their concerns. So much for the US politicians’ commitment to uphold human rights and international law!
The US commitment to human rights is buried in the graveyard of political expediency, with the epitaph, among other horrors, mentioning the use of Agent Orange chemical weapon in Vietnam, depleted uranium on Iraqi civilians, the indiscriminate drone attacks on civilian targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, and Washington’s blind support of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.
What moral right does the US State Department have to publish its annual country report assessing other countries’ human rights records? Probably, Trump understands this. That may be the reason that the State Department did not have the usual hype when it released the human rights country report on March 3. Downplaying the event, instead of Secretary Tillerson, an assistant secretary of state presided over the low-key ceremony.
It is interesting to note that, in an irony of ironies, China, which is usually named and shamed as one of the big-time human rights violators by the US State Department, has been hitting back at the US by publishing a human rights country report on the US since 1998.
The latest report was released by the Information Office of the State Council, China’s cabinet, on March 9. It scoffs at the US for once again posing as the global “judge of human rights”.
“Wielding ‘the baton of human rights,’ the US report cast blame on the human rights situation in many countries while paying no attention to its own terrible human rights problems.
“With the gunshots lingering in people’s ears behind the Statue of Liberty, worsening racial discrimination and the election farce dominated by money politics, the self-proclaimed human rights defender has exposed its human rights ‘myth’ with its own deeds,” the report says, highlighting concerns over gun violence, women’s rights and minority rights, among other issues.
All major religions, for thousands of years, have been exhorting their adherents to be just, fair and regard equality as a virtue. But it was only in the 19th century that slavery was abolished and only in the 20th century that civil rights of the Afro Americans in the United States were granted and apartheid was abolished in South Africa. Women were considered in most western countries as worthy of being given the right to vote only about some five decades ago.
However, the golden era of human rights dawned after the Cold War between the US-led Western bloc and the Soviet Union-led Eastern bloc ended in 1991. The United Nations Human Rights Commission was seen as inadequate to deal with human rights violations, and moves were initiated to form a powerful and effective mechanism under a new UN Human Rights Council. During this period, numerous were the European Human Rights Court’s decisions that gave more importance to a citizen’s rights than a member state’s action taken in the name of national security.
However, the movement towards Utopia suffered a severe blow when US President George W. Bush launched the war on terror in 2001. Torture was justified, privacy was undermined, and the Geneva Conventions on warfare and prisoners of war were dumped in the dustbin. The observation of human rights became state-centric. Last year, the Brexit vote enabled Britain to dissociate itself from the European Union standards on human rights. The rot continues.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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North Korea: Smart bombs could stop nuclear warfare

By Ameen Izzadeen

A world without nuclear weapons is a possibility and that day is not far from us. Thanks to North Korea and its provocative behaviour, such optimism is not the wild imagination of a fiction writer. The United States is developing a smart bomb to deactivate all electronic devices, including missile and nuclear systems in the enemy territory.
It is only a matter of time before other technologically advanced nations will also produce such smart weapons, because in digital technology, the gap between the inventor and the imitator is fast closed up due to the competence of Information Technology experts in every big power.
If rival nuclear powers possess such smart weapons, their nuclear arsenals will become a liability. An enemy state can hack into a weapons system and change the direction of a missile that is being prepared to hit a target elsewhere. Of course, we have seen missile system manipulations in movies such as The Spy Who Loved Me. There will be utter chaos. Nay, just as the saying goes that those who live by the sword will die by the sword, those who live by wielding nuclear weapons will be perished by the same weapons.
The US says its smart weapons are part of a plan to deal with North Korea. Perceiving North Korea as the most dangerous state on the Earth, the then US President Barack Obama in 2014, instructed the Pentagon to develop a cyber-weapons programme to sabotage Pyongyang’s missiles before launch or just as they lift off. Obama even warned Donald Trump that North Korea would likely be the most urgent problem he would have to deal with. In response to North Korea’s announcement in January that it would test fire an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the US west coast, Trump famously tweeted, “It won’t happen.”
Last Saturday, the AFP quoted the New York Times as reporting that the US cyber war programme, had only limited success so far.
Advocates of the programme said they believed they had delayed for years North Korea’s ability to mount a nuclear weapon on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and threaten a US city.
Sceptics, however, said the programme suffers from shoddy manufacturing, disgruntled insiders and simple incompetence.
Whatever it is, the fact remains that cyber warfare is a reality and a race to develop cutting-edge cyber weapons is already on.
On Tuesday, the whistleblowing website Wikileaks published thousands of secret files about CIA hacking tools that were used to break into computers, mobile phones and even smart TVs from companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung.
China and Russia know that US cyber warfare is not exclusively for the sabotage of North Korea’s missile and nuclear systems. They feel they too are being targeted.
It is no secret that Russia and China have their own cyber weapon programmes. Russia’s cyber warriors are the prime suspects in the email hacking drama that jolted the United States and changed its destiny at the November 8 presidential election. US analysts believe that Tuesday’s Wikileaks exposure of CIA hacking tools is also the work of Russian hackers.
In 2015, the US accused China of hacking into the massive data base of the Office of Personnel Management, thought to be cyber impregnable.
China’s dependence on cyber weapons has only increased this week, with the United States moving in THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) missiles to South Korea to protect it from any North Korean attack. The deployment took place hours after North Korea’s missile launches that put not only South Korea, but also Japan and the US military base in Guam on notice. It happened despite China’s strong opposition. Beijing believes that the real aim of the THAAD missile deployment is not to counter North Korea’s missile threat but to deal with China’s missiles. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressing a rare media conference on Wednesday warned the US that the missile deployment could trigger a dangerous nuclear race in the region.
The installation of THAAD missiles in South Korea has dealt a blow to China’s military superiority in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The X-ban radar system installed in the THAAD anti-missile system can detect any missile launch from any part of China and quickly fire a missile to intercept the oncoming missile.
Warning that the US and North Korea were on a collision course, Wang said China would never allow hard-won stability in the South China Sea to be disturbed or undermined again.
Apart from the THAAD missiles in South Korea, China sees the recent navigation of a US aircraft carrier in what China regards as its territorial waters as a major security threat.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang warned on Tuesday that Beijing would “take necessary measures to defend our security interests and the consequences will be shouldered by the United States and South Korea.”
Chinese analysts feel that the THAAD deployment means that Seoul has become Washington’s strategic tool to monitor and contain Beijing and Moscow.
Russia also condemned the THAAD installation. Victor Ozerov, head of Russia’s Federal Defence and Security Committee, described the development as another provocation against Russia to “besiege it from the west and the east.”
Chinese analysts fear that after the THAAD missiles, the United States could even deploy tactical nuclear missiles in South Korea. This again will be an existential threat to China.
Given this situation, it won’t be a surprise if China works out a regime change in North Korea, its only strategic ally in the region, and oust Kim Jong-un who, Beijing finds, is increasingly becoming uncontrollable. Two weeks ago, China stopped buying North Korean coal, but the maverick North Korean leader continued to play his dangerous missile games regardless.
Or in the alternative, Beijing is likely to push for the resurrection of the six-party talks that collapsed in 2009. The talks began at a time when the then US President George W. Bush was preparing for a war against Iraq. He spoke about an axis of evil comprising Iraq, Iran and North Korea, because they possessed or were pursuing weapons of mass destruction. Bush invaded Iraq and spared North Korea. Probably the US feared that Pyongyang had nuclear weapons, but others say the war against North Korea did not happen because it had no oil.
To deal with North Korea’s nuclear programme, the Bush administration instead pursued half-hearted diplomacy which led to the so-called six-party talks involving, apart from the United States, China, North and South Korea, Japan and Russia. But the talks collapsed because both the United States and North Korea did not stick to their part of the bargain but adopted more hostile attitudes towards each other.
North Korea is fast emerging as a flashpoint that could trigger a catastrophic conflict in East Asia, which has in recent months seen unprecedented level of defence buildups and military activities by China, the US, Japan and the two Koreas amid tension over territorial disputes that defy diplomacy.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror of March 10, 2017)

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If Trump cuts funds, where will UN go?

By Ameen Izzadeen
The United Nations wouldn’t be the same after January 20, roared president-elect Donald Trump in a tweet after the outgoing Barack Obama administration in a startling diplomatic manoeuvre got the UN Security Council to pass a unanimous resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in occupied Palestinian lands.
Days later he tweeted again: “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!” He also suggested the United States could cut its funding to the organisation.
According to a draft executive order, seen by the New York Times, the Trump administration wants a 40 percent cut in its contribution to the UN. The US is the largest contributor to the UN budget – 22 percent. A huge cut or the threat of a cut will certainly make any UN secretary general to compromise his or her hallowed policies in the larger interest of the UN projects ranging from poverty alleviation and promoting education to peacekeeping and climate change. Last year, the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon meekly removed Saudi Arabia from a list of war crimes against children, hours after the oil kingdom warned it would slash its funds to the world body.
Trump supporter John Bolton, who was President George Bush’s envoy to the UN, once infamously said that if the 38-storey UN building “lost 10 storeys today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” Bolton was considered for the post of Secretary of State by the Trump team and later for the post of National Security advisor in the wake of Gen. Michael Flynn’s resignation over his alleged promise to the Russian envoy that the US would lift some of the sanctions linked to Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
After Trump assumed office on January 20, he appointed Nikki Haley, a hardliner, as the United States’ Permanent Representative to the UN. Unlike her predecessor, Samantha Power, who was known for her human rights activism, Haley is known for her politics and entrepreneurship. Though a daughter of immigrant parents hailing from India’s Punjab state, she supports tough laws to crack down on illegal immigrants. Prior to entering politics as a member of South Carolina’s House of Representative, she was running a multimillion-dollar upscale clothing firm, her family business, and was at one time president of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
When Trump invited her to take up the post of UN envoy, she was the Governor of South Carolina, carrying the honour of being chosen to deliver the Republican Party’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address last year.
Her predecessor Power, known for her activism against genocide, had put aside her lofty campaigns and fell in line with the Obama administration’s policy of politicising human rights to further the United States’ national interest. Shame on you, she shouted at Russia, Syria and Iran for what was happening in Ukraine and Syria. But she spoke very little against Israel’s atrocities in the Gaza Strip and Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, where a large number of civilians including children have died in indiscriminate air attacks. Her silence during the vote on the December 23 anti-Israeli resolution at the UNSC was the loudest she spoke for the Palestinian cause. The United States’ decision not to oppose the resolution during the lame duck days of the Obama presidency was too little too late. Moreover it was seen as a move aimed at soothing the troubled conscience of President Obama rather than any love for world peace or the Palestinian cause.
Whatever it is, it became an occasion for the Trump team to say the UN would not be the same after January 20. But one can say with much certainty that democratising the UN system or broadbasing its decision making process is far from Trump’s intention. What he probably meant was that the US would do what it wants irrespective of the UN process and would go even beyond what the George W. Bush administration did in disregarding UN mechanisms to prevent conflict. The rot started during the Ronald Reagan presidency, during which the US openly declared that it would not accept the rulings of the International Court of Justice. Since then, the US had been, with arbitrary actions, undermining the UN system. Perhaps, the Obama presidency was an exception.
Haley came to the UN on January 27, weeks after the new UN Secretary General, António Guterres, a socialist politician from Portugal, outlined his vision to revive the global body by urging member-states to uphold their international obligations, including their commitment to world peace and measures to save the environment.
The very first day in office as UN envoy, Haley put the world body on notice.
Addressing a media conference at the UN headquarters, she issued a stark warning to foes and friends alike that the Trump administration would hold to account those who did not back the United States. “You’re going to see a change in the way we do business,” she said. “Our goal with the administration is to show value at the U.N., and the way we’ll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies and make sure our allies have our back as well…. For those who don’t have our back, we’re taking names; we will make points to respond to that accordingly.”
Her warning — amid threats to slash funds for UN peacekeeping operations — reminds us of President George W. Bush’s “Either you are with us or with the terrorists” statement made at the launch of his war on terror in October 2001. Interestingly, Bush is now trying to distance himself from Trump policies though there is hardly any difference.
Notwithstanding the Trump administration’s threats to the world body, Russia and China called the US bluff on Tuesday and vetoed a resolution against Syria. The tough-talking Haley only denounced Russia and China for voting against the resolution cosponsored by the US, France and Britain. Perhaps the lame response was expected, given Russia’s alleged liaison with Trump.
The US dominated UN system is fast changing, with Russia and China asserting themselves at international bodies. The US, from January 1990 to December 2003, used its veto on 11 occasions, while China and Russia used their vetoes twice each during the same period. But since 2004, the US has used its veto only on five occasions, while China had used its veto seven times and Russia 13 times, largely against resolutions supported by the US. (
China, aspiring to be the world number one power, has also stepped up its role at the United Nations, increasing its support for peacekeeping and development aid.
If Trump walks the talk and slashes the UN funds, the world body needs to map out a strategy to work without the US or even take the UN headquarters to Geneva – as it once did to enable Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to address the world body after the US denied him a visa — or even to Beijing.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror of Sri Lanka on March 3, 2017)

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Saints, Sindh and ‘sins’

By Ameen Izzadeen
This trembling light, this night-bitten dawn
This is not the Dawn we waited for so long
This is not the Dawn whose birth was sired
By so many lives, so much blood

Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Poetry mixes not with bigotry. Philosophy is no honey for the fanatic. Shorn of spirituality, terrorism is the antithesis of what humaneness is. The Quran records that the angels were worried that man would make mischief and shed blood when God told them he was going to create man on earth. Such divine concerns about chaos, disorder and bloodshed shake not the terrorists. Neither does the scriptural warning that killing one innocent person amounts to the killing of all humanity instill in them the fear of God’s punishment. Being ignorant of the spirit of Islam, the so called Jihadi terrorist is easily brainwashed. Depressed, he clings to any doctrine that promises eternal happiness. Hopeless and loveless, he believes killing the infidels is the way to Paradise. After leading a sinful life, he longs to be killed in the path of God, for he is told the martyr’s sins are forgiven even before the first drop of blood from his body falls on to the ground.
Last Thursday, in Pakistan which has been in recent weeks shattered by a series of deadly terrorist attacks, with the latest being yesterday in Lahore, a suicide bomber saw a Sufi shrine at Sehwan in the Sindh Province as his gateway to paradise. In distant Iraq, the ancestral country of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, the Sufi after whom the famous shrine is named, the terror outfit ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
Debates over whether Sufism is Islam have divided the Muslim world. The Wahhabi and Salafi interpretations of Islam have outright condemned Sufism as heretic. The ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and similar groups from the Wahhabi and Salafi orders see the Sufi shrine visitor as an idol worshipper or a Mushrik. They encourage the destruction of shrines and the killing of shrine visitors. Some 1,400 years ago, Prophet Muhammad visited Thaif, a city of idol worshippers near Makkah. His preaching on the oneness of God was greeted by stones. Bleeding, he ran to safety. Archangel Gabriel asked him whether to destroy the city that harmed him and did not accept his teaching. Muhammad’s reply was that he was sent as a mercy to the whole world, not as a destroyer.
Perhaps, the terrorist did not know this. Or his mentors did not tell him about the tolerance and perseverance with which his Prophet preached the message of Islam.
However deviant the latter day Sufism is, one cannot deny that Islam spread in South Asia largely because of the work of early Sufis. They were the pioneers in taking Islam’s message in Arabic to the people in their own languages. Sufism is an esoteric expression of Islam. It is said Khwajah Muinuddeen Chisty, the great 12th century Sufi of the subcontinent, attracted thousands of converts every day as he moved from village to village. Lal Shabaz Qalandar, the Sufi of Sehwan, the city where more than 90 died in last Thursday’s terror attack, was also known for his love for the poor, apart from his poetry and philosophy.
Describing her visit to the shrine, Christina Lamb in her book ‘Waiting for Allah: Pakistan’s struggle for Democracy’, says: “The very air seemed to pickle with expectancy and emotion as we walked down the narrow unpaved streets towards the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, ‘the beggars’ saint’. The excitement was like that of children at a fun fair. On either side were stalls piled high with glass bangles and hung with garlands of green, red and white. Breathing rose and jasmine, I wondered if my eyes too shared the strange unfocused look of those passing us by. The shrine came into view – a white fairyland strung with coloured lights. The drum beat was incessant, inexorably drawing people in.
“There was crush at the entrance as pilgrims touched the door post in wonder, praying for children, for food, for strength, begging the Sufi saint to intercede with God and grant them their prayer. Finally we were inside and it was dazzling. We were buffeted by dream-like people whirling, chanting, reaching ecstasy. It took a moment to adjust to the kaleidoscope of colour. On one side were a small group – the drum beaters, a leading chanter and all around them a swirling morass of men dressed in colours and with kohl-rimmed eyes. Some seemed to be wearing dresses and all were spinning and chanting, chanting, chanting, chanting, whizzing into a trance that would, they hoped, bring them union with God. ‘Dama dam mast Qalandar,’ they sang as fireflies gathered round the lights….”
No doubt, practices such as this are not found in the Quran or in the teachings of the prophet. But Saints and ‘sins’ – petitioning to anyone other than God is a cardinal sin in Islam — are part of what is called popular Islam as opposed to the theoretical and intellectual Islam. Saints did not urge their followers to worship them. But after their deaths, zealous followers glorified them and regarded them as sinless interceders with God to obtain favours.
However irrational or flawed the Sufi belief is, the ardent believer won’t abandon it and adopt the Wahhabi or Salafi version even if he is threatened with suicide blasts. On the other hand, resorting to violence or immoral methods to change a person’s belief is a clear sign of intellectual bankruptcy. Only through intellectual jihad, based on reason and exemplary conduct, can religion, ideology or philosophy reach the masses.
The people of Pakistan’s Sindh province will scoff at anyone who dares to tell them that what they are doing is wrong. Proud of their saints and heritage, the people of Sindh, the land of the 5,000-year-old Mohenjo-Daro civilization, would say that Islam came to South Asia through their land after Mohammad bin Qasim, an Umayyad general invaded it in the late seventh century after an Arab merchant ship returning from Sri Lanka came under attack by Hindus.
Modern day terrorism is a child of many fathers. Besides the misguided mullah, the confused youth are easy prey to intelligence agencies which seek to further their countries’ geopolitical agendas. Ask an Afghan about the Taliban. Which Taliban, he would ask. Pakistan, India, the United States, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia – all have a Taliban group. Whether the Sehwan bomb and the sudden hike in terrorist activities in Pakistan were the work of the terrorists driven by a warped ideology or some foreign hands with the aim of destabilising Pakistan will remain contentious. These attacks come at a time when Pakistan is gearing for a US$ 48 billion economic takeoff through China’s One-Belt-One-Road Project.
Sadly, the Sehwan attack drew little attention in the western media which are over-engrossed in covering Donald Trump.
A tweet posted by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan said it all. “Apparently Trump mistook Sehwan for Sweden,” his tweet said referring to Trump’s claim on Saturday of a terror attack that never took place in Sweden.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Kim and China playing Trump cards

By Ameen Izzadeen
Kim Jong-un has some guts. The North Korean leader’s foolhardiness apparently knows no bounds. Though baby faced, he is dangerous. He has only contempt for the United States. The maverick regime’s eccentric leader dismisses with a characteristic smirk US warnings of a tough response in the wake of every nuclear or missile test his country carries out. He conducted 24 such tests, including a suspected hydrogen bomb test, last year.
Last Sunday, in what is seen as a challenge to the new US President Donald trump, who is not even one month into his office, the impoverished but nuclear powered North Korea carried out an intermediate range missile test. It was the political equivalent of World Wrestling Entertainment’s all-time bad guy Roddy Piper’s pre-match taunt thrown at his opponent.
Trump the opponent was, surprisingly, not provoked. There was no lunging forward to land a punch on the face. No head butt or camel-clutch stranglehold. Perhaps Trump is learning how to be president-like. Well, Trump is unpredictable, too. He has his own plans to deal with world issues. On Wednesday, in a move that is likely to propel the Middle East into further violence, he backed off the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Since surprises abound in the Trump presidency, his North Korea solution may have some out-of-the-box approach.
Last month the then President-elect Trump sounded tough when he reacted with exaggerated swagger to a threat by North Korea to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. “It won’t happen,” he roared in a tweet.
The same Trump, however, put Iran on notice when that country carried out a missile test on January 29.
The North Korean missile test was a double provocation. Not only was it a taunt thrown at Trump. It was also a shot across the bows to Japan; and it came at a time when Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in the United States as Trump’s guest. The duo had a joint news conference. Abe called the missile test “absolutely intolerable.” But Trump in an unusually guarded statement said the US was “behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.” He didn’t even mention North Korea by name. The response was seen in line with his campaign remarks.
During the campaign, Trump said he was willing to talk to the North Korean leader and accused US allies Japan and South Korea of not paying enough to share the cost the US had to incur in defence of them. North Korea, of course, couldn’t be happier with such Trump remarks.
Trump then delivered another trump card to North Korea. In one of his first presidential actions, he withdrew from the Transpacific Partnership Treaty (TPP) – a move that would allow China, North Korea’s one and only ally, to increase its influence in the Asian region through the rival Comprehensive Economic Pact.
But Trump soon realised his folly; he quietly fell in line with Barack Obama’s policy of checking China while maintaining the one-China policy and healthy trade relations.
Days after the latest North Korean provocation, Trump delivered a tough message to North Korea. Addressing a joint media conference with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump described North Korea as a “Big problem” and said he would deal “very strongly” with it. The US, together with Japan and South Korea, later called an emergency session of the UN Security Council to deliver a warning to North Korea.
In January last year, North Korea announced it had successfully carried out its first hydrogen bomb test, but it drew worldwide condemnations.
The sanctions-hit North Korea is one of the world’s poorest countries and its nuclear programme comes at a great cost to the social welfare of millions of people living in abject poverty.
Nuclear weapons research, production, maintenance and delivery systems cost billions of dollars. Although it is impossible to make an accurate estimate given the secrecy surrounding North Korea’s nuclear programme, South Korean analysts say Pyongyang spends nearly US$ 700 million or more a year on its nuclear programme. Although compared with the US$ 62 billion the US spends on nuclear weapons each year or even Pakistan’s US$ 2.2 billion annual nuclear budget, what North Korea spends is low. But still it is a huge sum, especially if we add the opportunity cost in terms of social welfare. The money should have been spent on poverty alleviation. Two years ago, Kim Jong-un, in a paper he authored, said he “cannot sleep” because of worry over his people’s poverty. The North Korean news agency KCNA quoted the young leader as saying that he lamented that his people have “never enjoyed an abundant life”.
The irony is that North Korea’s nuclear programme is a big source of income though it is costly. North Korea earns millions of dollars by secretly sharing its nuclear and missile technology with states secretly developing missiles and nuclear programmes. According to the Washington-based Arms Control Association, North Korea has been a key supplier of missiles and missile technology to countries in the developing world, particularly in politically unstable regions such as the Middle East and South Asia. Such transfers are believed to be one of Pyongyang’s primary sources of hard currency, ACA says.
Obama’s North Korea policy was one of “strategic patience” — squeeze Pyongyang and wait for it to buckle, just as it handled Iran with regard to its nuclear programme. The US allies feel this policy has not worked, and say a tougher approach is needed to deal with Kim Jong-un. They now look to Trump with hope, giving him legitimacy and recognition which he does not get at home – and Trumps like it.
That Trump was serious with Asia became evident when the new Defence Secretary James Mattis made the Far-East Asian region his first choice of destination after he took office. During his visit to the region, Mattis assured South Korea and Japan that the security alliance binding them with the US remained strong and delivered a strong warning to North Korea.
Disregarding Chinese protests, the US Defence Secretary assured the two allies that the US would go ahead with plans to instal an advanced anti-missile system in South Korea.
In the Asian power game, the North Korean missile test offers just another excuse for the United States to beef up its defences in Asia at a time when China has heightened its assertive diplomacy to establish its sovereignty over a series of disputed islands in the South China Sea.
China condemned the North Korean missile test, saying it ran contrary to United Nations resolutions, but such condemnations have become routine.
China believes the missile test will only accelerate the US programme to instal Thaad missiles in South Korea after the Obama administration deferred their deployment in the face of strong Chinese protests.
China has in recent months transformed several of South China Sea islets into potential military bases. In recent years, US warships have sailed close to these islets in a bid to negate China’s sovereignty claims over them and the surrounding waters. However, the two countries have exercised restraint and not allowed the friction to develop into all-out hostility. Well don’t they say that nuclear powers do not go to war?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Trump and Iran: Restraint not rhetoric

By Ameen Izzadeen
Donald Trump is a newsmaker extraordinary. It is no exaggeration to say that from the day he assumed office on January 20, not a single morning passes without a Trump-related breaking news item greeting us as we switch on to CNN. There is little rest for news hunters hounding him. ‘Controversial’ is perhaps the most used word in news items about him.
Besides his extraordinary newsworthiness, he has become the pivot of international politics, as though world politics revolves around him. Rarely do we read an international political or economic analysis where Trump or the unpredictability associated with his policies is not mentioned. Almost all analyses point to the uncertainty if not the chaos he has created in world and domestic politics. Guessing the trajectory of his policies is not a matter for political pundits alone. It is increasingly becoming a job for psychoanalysts.
One of the perilous uncertainties is Trump’s Iran policy. Will he start a war with Iran? Or is the hostile rhetoric just hype? Whatever it is, a dangerous situation is developing in the Persian Gulf amidst a war of words between the two countries, especially in the wake of two missile tests carried out by Iran in recent weeks.
That Trump will turn hostile toward Iran was evident even during his campaign, but many dismissed his anti-Iran rants as a political gimmick. They were wrong. Trump appears to be gearing for a clash with Iran. Since he took office, he has been accusing Iran of being the main state sponsor of terrorism. In the wake of the Iranian missile test, he tweeted this week “Iran is playing with fire – they don’t appreciate how “kind” President Obama was to them. Not me!” He has also blamed the Iranians for an attack carried out by Yemen’s Houthi forces on a Saudi military vessel.
In another tweet he said, “Iran, #1 in terror” and questioned how the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran was ever signed.
As has been the case with many of the Trump charges, the allegation that Iran sponsors terrorism does not stand a fact check. The mainstream US media, which are usually quick to point out the factual errors in Trump statements, for obvious reasons, would not say that Iran has not been associated with any of the terrorist activities since the 9/11 attacks and more so since the United States’ 2003 Iraq invasion that subsequently paved the way for terror groups such as ISIS to emerge.
Given the US media’s hostility towards Iran since the hostage crisis of 1979 and given their pro-Israeli prejudice, their silence or suppression of facts is not unexpected. So Trump and his team have a freehold on Iran-bashing. Under a normal or establishment US president, a real shooting war between Iran and the United States may appear far-fetched, given the disastrous consequences of such a war and Iran’s ability to strike back. But with Trump at the helm, predicting war or peace is like playing Russian roulette.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis is an avowed anti-Iranian. He believes that Iran is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East. Trump’s National Security adviser Mike Flynn has already put Iran on notice in response to the Islamic Republic’s January 29 missile test, which the Trump administration saw as a violation of the Obama era nuclear treaty. Ironically, Trump, during his campaign, vowed to dismantle the treaty which the United States and five other world powers signed with Iran.
So it came as no surprise when Trump seized on the Iranian missile test to issue a series of warnings to Iran and slap fresh sanctions. Just as Trump, Israel and Saudi Arabia also blamed Barack Obama for the Iran deal, in terms of which some sanctions on Iran were lifted in exchange for Iran shelving its nuclear material enrichment programme. Interestingly, despite Trump’s anti-Muslim credentials, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies view Trump as a friend because of his anti-Iran stance. Some of them even have welcomed the travel ban on the people of seven Muslim nations.
Iran, however, hit back by denying visas to US wrestlers who wanted to take part in a competition in Iran and launched another missile test last week, in addition to conducting a military exercise and further cutting down transactions in dollars.
In a further rub, Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei in a speech this week scorned Trump. He said: “We are thankful to (Trump) for making our life easy as he showed the real face of America. He (Trump) says ‘You should be afraid of me’. No! The Iranian people will respond to his words on February 10 (the day on which Iran celebrates the victory of the 1979 Islamic revolution) and will show their stance against such threats.”
Reacting more hawkishly to the second Iranian missile test, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer warned the Iranian leader, “There’s a new President in town” and the administration would not “sit by” to allow the Islamic republic to pursue its military ambitions.
“I think the Ayatollah [Iran’s Supreme Leader] is going to realise there’s a new President in office…. He {the new US president} will continue to take action as he sees fit.”
However, the White House acknowledged the missile test was not a direct breach of the 2015 nuclear pact though it “violates the spirit” of the deal. Then why this anti-Iran onslaught?
Iran should have exercised restraint in responding to Trump’s tangled tweets.
It should try to sustain the process which it, together with the United States, had set in motion during the Obama administration to improve relations. Instead, Iran resorted to diplomatic or political populism to respond to Trump’s warnings. Iran should have displayed diplomatic magnanimity and shunned action or rhetoric to provoke Trump. It should not play into Trump’s hands and give him an excuse to start a war with Iran or dismantle the nuclear deal or, on the pretext of fighting Iran, implement his outlandish plan for America – a plan that undermines human rights, democracy and liberal and moral principles.
Perhaps, Iran, by confronting Trump, wants to prompt him to take the United States on the path to ruin?
However egregious the double-standards-ridden US foreign policy has been, and however horrendous its military record, the United States’ contribution towards the progress of humanity by way of discoveries and inventions in the field of science, medicine and technology is so voluminous that the rest of the world is heavily indebted to it. Besides, the ongoing protests against Trump’s travel ban on Muslims from seven nations are a testament to the American people’s resolve to stand by moral principles. It is heartening to note that the good people no longer remain silent and let evil thrive.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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