Persecution of Muslims in China and India Reveals Important Facts About Religion and Geopolitics

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India, China and Myanmar are three Asian countries currently engrossed in carrying out physical and cultural genocides on their Muslim populations. While the plight of Rohingya Muslims and Uighur Muslims is well known, the recent introduction of a new law expressly aimed at dispossessing Muslims of Indian citizenship has alerted many to the reality that India’s ruling BJP government sees itself as Hindu first and foremost.

Questions such as “Why aren’t the rich Arab countries saying anything?” have come up, with the implicit inference that Muslim-dominated countries are supposed to stick up for Muslims everywhere in the world. Others have pointed out that despite suffering oppression in some parts of the world, Muslims are also responsible for brutal acts of oppression against other minority groups elsewhere, which allegedly negates the sufferings of the prior group.

In this article, I will pick through these questions and viewpoints with a goal of isolating some useful truths about how religion, geopolitics and human nature constantly interplay and produce much of the world around us.

Oppression is a Matter of Perspective

Which religion is the most oppressed? I like to troll my Christian friends with the image below whenever the topic comes up about some religion or the other allegedly imposing its will at their expense.

The truth is however, that this image could apply to just about every religion on earth. As a general rule of thumb, the only limiting factor on whether or not a religion functions as an oppressive tyranny in a particular jurisdiction is the proportion of the population that practises it there. Similarly, the only thing stopping any religion from being an oppressed and downtrodden identity is whether it is a small enough minority for that to be possible.

While Muslims in India, Myanmar and China are going through untold degrees of horror because of their religious identities, Muslims in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Northern Nigeria are simultaneously visiting very similar horrors on Bah’ai, Shia Muslims, Christians, Budhists and other minorities in those areas. It turns out that the mere fact of belonging to a religious identity does not in fact, confer unrestricted global victimhood.

This point is important because it disproves the notion held by every major religion that its adherents follow a single set of standards and do things in the manner of a global “brotherhood.” In reality, Islam according to a Rohingya Muslim hiding from the Burmese military, and the same religion according to an itinerant herder in Kogi State bear almost no similarity to each other save for the most basic tenets. Environmental factors in fact have a bigger influence on how religions are practised than their own holy books. 

The current antics of India’s ruling BJP and its Hindu fundamentalist support base provide an important case in point as to how this works. Looking at the evolution of Hinduism from a passive philosophy into an openly militant ideology gives an important insight into how religion is in fact, a thoroughly contrived and amorphous set of ideas that can be changed, adjusted, aligned and revised at a moment’s notice in justification of anything at all. 

Hinduism traditionally sees itself as a religion of thoughtful, considered spirituality as against the angry dogmas of its Abrahamic neighbours, but something interesting is happening. Some argue that it started in the days of Gandhi, and some ascribe it to current Prime Minister Nanendra Modi, but whoever started it is a side note. The key point to note is that based on political factors, i.e anticolonial senitment against the British and anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by India’s national rivalry with Pakistan, Hinduism has somehow been coopted into the narrative of a jingoistic, monotheistic, mono-ethnic state which is  historical nonsense.

India has always been a pointedly pluralistic society, and in fact the geographical area now known as “India” does not even cover the geographical area of the India of antiquity. That India was a place of Hindus, Budhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians and everything in between. Hinduism never saw a problem with pluralism because Hinduism itself is a very plural religion – it has at least 13 major deities. The conversion of the Hindu identity into a political identity movement is a recent and contrived phenomenon first exploited by Gandhi as a means of opposing British colonialism, and now by Modi to oppose the Pakistanis/Muslims – it is a historical falsity.

The creation of Hindu fundamentalist movements like the RSS (which PM Modi belongs to) is something done in response to environmental factors. Spectacles like the RSS march below are evidence of yet another religion undergoing constant and ongoing evolution into whatever suits its purposes.

Something similar happened when medieval Europe turned into colonial Europe and European Christianity transitioned into a peaceful and pacifist ideology after centuries of being a bloodthirsty doctrine. The environmental factors that created the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, book burnings and witch hunts went away with the introduction of an industrial society, and thus the religion too transitioned.

In plain English, what all this means is that nobody actually practises a religion in the pure sense they imagine they do. Everyone who subscribes to a religion merely practises a version of it that is subject to the culture and circumstances of their environment and era. This is directly connected to the next major insight raised by these events.

Geopolitics is all About Self-Interest…Everyone Gets it Except Africa

While anti-Muslim violence has continued apace for years in China, Mynammar and India, the question has often been asked: “Why are the wealthy Arab nations not saying anything?” There is a perception that since the Arabian peninsula is the birthplace of Islam and Arabs – particularly Saudis – are viewed as the global gatekeepers of the faith, they must be at the forefront of promoting the interests of Muslims worldwide.

To many, the fabulous wealth and international influence that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE enjoy, in addition to the presence of two of Islam’s holiest cities – Mecca and Meddinah – in Saudi Arabia, means that they have a responsibility to speak for the global Muslim Ummah and stand up for them when they are unfairly targeted and mistreated. Unfortunately for such people, the wealthy nations of the Arab Gulf region tend to respond to such questions with little more than an irritated silence – and with good reason.

To begin with, these countries are not democracies led by the wishes of their almost uniformly Muslim populations. They are autocracies led by royal families who came to power in the colonially-influenced 20th century scramble for power and influence. Saudi Arabia, which houses Islam’s holiest sites, is named after the House of Saud, its royal family which came into power in its current form at the turn of the 19th century. The priority of the regimes in these countries first and foremost is self-preservation.

Self-preservation means that before throwing their significant diplomatic and economic weight behind any attempt to help out fellow Muslims, the first consideration is how doing so will benefit them. India for example, is a country that has close diplomatic ties with the UAE, and supplies most of their cheap labour for construction and low-skilled functions. India has even coordinated with UAE special forces to repatriate the dissident Princess Latika when she made an audacious escape attempt in 2018.

What does the UAE stand to gain if it napalms its diplomatic relationship with India by criticising Modi’s blatantly anti-Muslim policy direction? It might win a few brownie points with Islamic hardliners and possibly buy some goodwill among poor Muslims in South Asia, but how much is that worth? The regime and nation’s self-interest is best served by looking the other way, so that is exactly what they will do.

The Saudis make a similar calculation. At a time when they are investing heavily in military hardware to keep up with their eternal rivals Turkey and Iran, and simultaneously preparing for the end of oil by liberalising their society and economy, does it pay them to jump into an issue in India that does not particularly affect them? As the status of their diplomatic relationship with the U.S. remains unclear following the Jamal Khasshoggi incident, are they going to risk pissing off the Chinese because of Uighur Muslims?

In fact self-interest like that mentioned here is the basis of the considerations that underpin all international relations. Well I say “all,” but what I really meant to say was “all except African countries.” It is only African countries that take diplomatic decisions based on little more than flimsy emotions and feelings of religious affinity. Gambia for example, has dragged Myanmar before the UN and filed a genocide case against it on behalf of the Rohingya Muslims.

This would be commendable and great were it not that Gambia itself is hardly a human rights luminary, and generally has little business fighting an Asian battle when its own worse African battles lie unfought. The only thing Gambia stands to gain from fighting a diplomatic war that the rest of the world seems unwilling to touch is the temporary goodwill of a few Muslims in Asia and around the world – goodwill that cannot translate into something tangible for it.

To coin an aphorism from social media lingo, you could call it ”diplomatic clout chasing.’

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The General’s Death Upsets Iran’s Plan

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Qassem Soleimani, who was Iran’s most hyped general, loved publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East. He was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit. (Photo by Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)

While analysts and policymakers are busy speculating on ways that Tehran’s ruling mullahs might avenge the killing of their most hyped general, the real question that needs considering may be elsewhere.

The question is: what effect Soleimani’s death might have on the power struggle that, though currently put on hold, is certain to resume with greater vigor in Tehran.

Tehran’s propaganda tries to sell Soleimani as a kind of superman who, almost single-handedly, brought Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and parts of Afghanistan and Yemen under Iranian control while driving Americans out of the Middle East and crushing ISIS’s so-called Caliphate which tried to rival the Islamic Republic in Tehran. Soleimani himself did a lot to promote that image and, doing that, received much help from Western, especially American, and Israeli media that bought the bundle of goods from Tehran.

Facts, however, offer a different portrait of the late general. Soleimani joined the Islamic revolution in 1980, aged 27, at a time that the mullahs were busy putting together a praetorian guard to protect their new regime. A few months later, the ragtag army that Soleimani had joined was sent to help the remnants of a heavily purged national army fight an invading Iraqi force. With over 8,000 officers and NCOs of the national army purged by Khomeini, the new regime offered a fast track to people like Soleimani who had joined the military with no proper training and often little or no formal education. Thus, just three years after he had joined the military, young Soleimani found himself in command of a division of raw recruits. Under his command, Iranian forces suffered three of their biggest defeats in operations Al-Fajr 8, and Karbala I and Karbala II. Mohsen Reza’i, then chief of the Revolutionary Guard, describes the three battles as “a string of catastrophes” for Iranian forces.

However, Soleimani, who was to demonstrate his genius for networking and self-promotion, scored one lasting victory when he attached himself to Ali Khamenei, the mullah who was to become the Islamic Republic’s “Supreme Guide”.

Khamenei started as Deputy Defense Minister and rose to become President of the Islamic Republic. Soleimani, mocked as “the mullah’s bag-carrier”, was always at his side. In the 1990s, as Khamenei slowly built himself as the sole arbiter of Iran’s fate, Soleimani seized the opportunity to secure a fiefdom for himself.

That came in the shape of the project to “export” the Iranian Revolution to other Muslim countries. Initially, exporting the revolution, mentioned in the regime’s constitution as a sacred duty, had been regarded as a matter of propaganda and organizing sympathizers in Arab countries through outfits named Hezbollah. The task was handled by a special office in the Foreign Ministry headed by Ayatollah Hadi Khosroshahian. Partly thanks to lobbying by Soleimani, the task was taken away from the Foreign Ministry and handed over to the Revolutionary Guard. But even then Soleimani didn’t get the top job, which went to then Col. Ismail Qaani, the man who has now succeeded Soleimani as Commander of the Quds Force. Soleimani’s next move was to dislodge Qaani and get the top job himself. (Qaani was named as deputy). Even that configuration would not satisfy Soleimani, who had bigger ambitions. As long as he was part of the IRGC’s chain of command, he had to obey rules set by superiors whom he despised.

Thanks to Khamenei’s support, he succeeded in securing his independent fiefdom in the shape of the Quds Force which, though formally part of the IRGC, has its own separate budget and chain of command and is answerable to no one but Khamenei.

Next, Soleimani seized control of Tehran’s foreign policy in Arab countries, Afghanistan, North Korea, and South America and, in some sensitive areas, even Russia. The Islamic Republic’s presidents and foreign ministers have never had tête-à-tête talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Soleimani had.

It became a matter of routine for Soleimani to appoint Iran’s ambassadors to Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Doha and several other Arab capitals.

A dramatic illustration of Soleimani’s “independence” came when he shipped Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad to Tehran in a special airplane without even telling the Iranian president, let alone the foreign minister, who were also excluded from the Syrian’s audience with Khamenei.

A control freak, Soleimani insisted on deciding even the smallest details himself. In his one, and now final, interview, last November, the general talks of how Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had to clear every move with him.

Inside Iran, Soleimani built a state within the state. According to the Islamic Customs Office, the Quds Force operates 25 jetties in five of Iran’s biggest ports for its “imports and exports” with no intervention by the relevant authorities. A levy on imports of foreign cars is reserved for a special fund, controlled by the Quds Force, to cover expenditures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and help pro-Iran Palestinian groups.

Soleimani had his own network of lobbyists in many Arab countries and some Western democracies. Hundreds of Iranian and Arab militants have enrolled in Western universities with scholarships from the Quds Force.

The Quds Force has registered vast tracts of public land in its name, claiming the need for future housing for its personnel. It also runs two dozen companies and banks, several shipping lines and an airline.

Soleimani, who loved making and publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East, was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit.

A master of self-promotion, Soleimani received the rank of major-general without having risen through the hierarchy of the top brass like the other 12 men on the list. (After death, he has been promoted to Lt. General).

Some analysts in Tehran believe that Khamenei was planning to promote Soleimani further by making him President of the Islamic Republic in 2021. An image-building campaign started last year, as Soleimani was marketed as “the Sufi commander”, a label given to Safavid kings in the 16th century.

A committee of exiled Iranians in Florida also started campaigning to draft Soleimani as president.

If that was Khamenei’s game plan, there is no doubt that Soleimani’s demise will lead to more uncertainty regarding the future course of Iranian politics.

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

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Polio makes a comeback in the Philippines 19 years after the country was declared free of the disease

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(CNN)The Philippines has reported its first case of polio since it was declared free of the childhood disease 19 years ago, dealing a blow to the campaign to eradicate it.

The World Health Organization said it was “very concerned” at the re-emergence of the disease in the country; UNICEF described it as “deeply disconcerting.”
A global campaign to eradicate polio was launched in 1998 and cases due to the wild poliovirus have decreased by more than 99% since then, from an estimated 350,000 cases to 33 reported cases in 2018, according to WHO.
    However, the disease is still present in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the emergence of new, vaccine-derived strains of polio have complicated efforts to rid the world of the disease.
    The last known case of wild poliovirus in the Philippines was in 1993. The country was declared wild polio-free in 2000 along with the rest of WHO’s Western Pacific Region.
    The Philippines case was unexpected and the country was not on a list of at-risk countries compiled by the Polio Global Eradication Initiative.

    Vaccination drive

    In addition to the confirmed and suspected cases, the polio virus was detected in samples taken from sewage in the capital, Manila, and in waterways in Davao, Mindanao, the country’s third-largest city, as part of the regular environmental surveillance, the department said. The samples were verified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Japan National Institute for Infectious Diseases.
    The government said it was preparing a rapid response to the outbreak in coordination with WHO and UNICEF, with a mass polio immunization campaign for all children under 5 starting in October.
    “We strongly urge parents, health workers and local governments to fully participate in the synchronized polio vaccination,” Philippines Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a statement.
    “It is the only way to stop the polio outbreak and to protect your child against this paralyzing disease.”
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    Polio is an infectious disease which spreads rapidly. It can cause paralysis and, on rare occasions, can be fatal. There is no cure for polio — it can only be prevented with multiple doses of polio vaccines, WHO said.
    “Aside from immunization, we remind the public to practice good personal hygiene, wash their hands regularly, use toilets, drink safe water, and cook food thoroughly,” Duque added.
    Trust in vaccines was undermined in the Philippines after the government was forced to suspend a dengue fever vaccination program in 2017. The drug was distributed to more than 800,000 students as part of a school-based government immunization program, but was halted after clinical trial data showed that it could have unintended consequences in non-infected patients.

    Wild vs vaccine-derived polio

    The 3-year-old girl was found to have a vaccine-derived strain of polio virus type 2, which WHO said was of particular concern because the wild strain of this virus was eradicated in 2015.
    Philippines polio: The disease reappears 19 years after it was eradicated there - CNN
    Vaccine-derived polio happens when live strains of poliovirus that are used in the oral poliovirus vaccine mutate, spread and, in rare cases, trigger an outbreak. Most of the time the virus dies off but it can sometimes spread in an area where there is low vaccination coverage.
    “If a population is not sufficiently immunized, the weakened virus can continue to circulate. The longer it is allowed to survive, the more changes it undergoes. In rare instances, the virus can change to a vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV), a form that has regained the ability to cause paralysis,” WHO said.
      “Poorly conducted immunization activities, when too few children have received the required three doses of polio vaccine, leave them susceptible to poliovirus, either from vaccine-derived or wild polioviruses. Full immunization protects them from both forms of the virus,” it added.

      Sign up here to get The Results Are In with Dr. Sanjay Gupta every Tuesday from the CNN Health team.

      So far in 2019, there have been 80 cases of vaccine-derived polio, not including the Philippines case, and 78 cases of the wild virus around the world, according to the Polio Global Eradication Initiative.

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      Pakistan earthquake leaves 19 dead and 300 injured in Kashmir region

      A shallow earthquake near Mirpur has struck northeastern Pakistan, tearing huge cracks in roads

      Earthquakes

      At least 19 people have been killed and 300 injured after a shallow earthquake struck north-eastern Pakistan, tearing car-sized cracks into roads and heavily damaging infrastructure.

      The quake sent people in Lahore and Islamabad running into the streets. With rescue operations expected to continue overnight, residents in the worst-hit areas described their horror as walls collapsed and houses fell.

      The epicentre of the 5.2-magnitude quake was near the city of Mirpur, 22 kilometres (14 miles) north of the city of Jhelum along the boundary separating the agricultural heartland of Punjab province and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the US geological agency, USGS, said.

      The larger Kashmir region is a disputed and troubled territory with separate Indian and Pakistani regions. Mirpur is in the Pakistani-administered region, which is nominally self-governing.

      On one of the districts two main roads, AFP reporters could see cracks at least four feet (1.2 metres) deep, some filling with water from a nearby canal. Television images showed cars wedged in to some cracks, while a bus and a truck lay by the side of the road.

      In the village of Sahankikri, on the outskirts of Mirpur, residents said almost all the 400 houses were damaged.

      We are shelterless now, said resident Shamraiz Akhtar.

      A
      A Pakistani man stands beside a collapsed building following an earthquake on the outskirts of Mirpur. Photograph: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

      I will never forget the horrible sound, another resident, Muhammad Ramzan, told AFP. It looked like the entire village tossed and turned and spun around.

      We… were sitting having a gossip when suddenly the earthquake shook us all. Fortunately the wall collapsed the other way, burying one of our buffalo, 23-year-old student Nabeel Hussain said.

      Piles of rubble could be seen as darkness fell on the village, with the sound of women wailing in mourning. Others spoke only in whispers, fearful of aftershocks.

      At least 19 people have been killed and more than 300 wounded, said Sardar Gulfaraz, deputy inspector general of police in Mirpur, in a televised address.

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      A second Kashmiri official, minister for rehabilitation Ahmed Raza Qadri, put the death toll at 20.

      However, the chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) gave a lower toll at a press conference in Islamabad.

      I can confirm 10 deaths and the number of wounded is 100, said Lieutenant General Mohammad Afzal, chairman of the NDMA, adding that he had received reports of a higher toll.

      Things are under control, he said, adding that the nearby Mangla Dam, one of Pakistans two main water reservoirs, was unaffected by the quake.

      At
      At least 19 people have been killed and 300 wounded after a shallow earthquake rattled north-eastern Pakistan, a senior police officer said. Photograph: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

      The prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir, Raja Farooq Haider Khan, told reporters that infrastructure had been destroyed.

      Roads, mobile phone towers, and electricity poles in the area were badly damaged, Naeem Chughtai, a Mirpur resident living near the citys main hospital, told AFP.

      The military deployed aviation and medical support teams along with troops to affected areas in Kashmir, according to its spokesman.

      Mirpur, a city known for its palatial houses, has strong ties to Britain with the majority of its 450,000 residents carrying both British and Pakistani passports.

      Tremors were felt as far as New Delhi. The Press Trust of India reported that panicked people rushed out of their homes and offices in several places, including in Rajasthan, Punjab, and Haryana.

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