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Dedicated to “Bharat” and “Dharma”

The Yazidis, the rage, the silence of the Ummah..

Less than a week back, the world witnessed a remarkable series of coordinated demonstrations. In Washington, in London, in Paris, in Sydney and tens of cities around the world, protestors marched to express solidarity with the people of Gaza in what was widely labelled as a “Day of Rage”.

Yet, even as these protests were happening, another tragedy was unfolding less than a thousand miles north-east of Gaza. Hundreds of women and children were being summarily executed, some buried alive.  Hundreds others were being captured, branded as slaves & sexually assaulted. Such was the severity of this crisis that  the UN warned of an imminent genocide. The horror shows no signs of abating.

Almost “200,000 people, mostly Yazidi, have been forced to leave their homes around the town of Sinjar since an ISIS attack on 3 August”. Earlier this week, a heart-rending account of the plight of these innocent people caught in the cross-fire of Jihad moved me to ask a simple question, where is the condemnation by Islamic scholars and leaders of this barbarity?

Multiple accounts mention how the Yazidis have been particularly singled out for massacre and how the Jihadis “have been more ruthless in their pursuit of them than they have against other minorities”.  As Saneev Sanyal noted in his poignant piece aptly titled, “The massacre of the Yazidis”, “The Christians of Mosul were given the choice to convert, pay the jiziya tax or leave. The Yazidis were given no such choice and are often killed on sight as “devil-worshippers”.

And yet, I could not find statements of condemnation by leaders of the Islamic world against this atrocity being committed in the name of Islam. Even as we were witnessing one of the most appalling and barbaric episodes in modern history – unrivaled in scale and utterly terrifying in its nature – voices of condemnation from the Islamic world were either non-existent  or too weak to matter.

Perplexed, I asked commentators on twitter to help me point to instances of clear and categorical condemnation of monstrosities being unleashed in the name of Islam. Numerous tweets and re-tweets later, all I had were barely 2 links, one of which predated the hell of Mt. Sinjar.

Why does it matter? It matters because ISIS claims to be inspired by Islam. Therefore the challenge to them cannot be limited merely to the political – or the military. It needs to be at the level of ideology too.

I therefore felt that it was incumbent on Islamic scholars and leaders world-wide to unequivocally condemn this barbarism.  I was not alone.  Three days back, in an unexpected deviation from “from its customary language in the highly sensitive area of inter-faith relationsthe Vatican asked…religious leaders, and above all Muslim religious leaders” to “take a clear and courageous stance…(and be) unanimous in their unambiguous condemnation of these crimes (by ISIS) and denounce the invoking of religion to justify them”.

There were some positive stirrings last week (e.g. the condemnation by British Imams and by Cairo’s Grand Mufti) but I am yet to see a direct statement (leave alone statements) specifically condemning the cruelty towards Yazidis (save a statement by the Arab League, another by a chaplain at a US University and a third that predates the ISIS assault on Sinjar).

Why am I so interested in the Yazidis? The Yazidis matters because they have been bearing the brunt of this madness. In the deadly drama unfolding in Iraq & Syria, they are the ones paying the heaviest price.

And yet, the Islamic world prefers silence in the face of this matter of rage.  In the meantime, the usual arguments get parroted. “This is not Islam”; “ISIS is not following true Islam”; “They (the killers) are not Muslims” and the more outlandish ones, including the familiar “This is a Zionist conspiracy to malign Islam and Muslims

What is it that is stopping community leaders and Islamic scholars from condemning this murder and mayhem? What is stopping them from issuing a fatwa against ISIS? What is stopping them from publicly excommunicating Al-Baghdadi?

What is stopping protests and speeches against the ISIS – for their killings of not just the Yazidis but also Christians and Shias and Sunnis who are deemed to be un-cooperative? Or is the Day of Rage reserved only for Israel?

Why this thundering silence from the Ummah? I wonder. I sigh. And I remember a question I asked almost two years ago, “Is the problem at the heart of Islam, the silence of sensible Muslims?”.  Have a peaceful weekend. Jai Hind, Jai Bharat!

Related Posts: Condemnation of ISIS Cruelty towards the Yazidis and Is the problem at the heart of Islam the silence of sensible Muslims?

Cross-posted at ToI blogs

August 15th, 2014 Posted by | Current Affairs, Global Terrorism, ToI Columns | 7 comments

Condemnation of ISIS cruelty towards the Yazidis by Islamic Scholars & Leaders

Dear All: This is a hurried post – mainly to create a place-holder to list condemnation of ISIS’ brutality and cruelty towards Yazidis by Islamic scholars and leaders worldwide..I was moved to pen this post after reading this heart-rending account of the plight of these innocent people caught in the cross-fire of “Jihad”:

For the past week, Khandhar Kaliph’s hands have trembled whenever his phone has rung. He nervously greeted his daughter, who had been kidnapped when the Islamic State (Isis) overran the Yazidi city of Sinjar. There was a minute of silence, before he broke down sobbing.

“She said she is going to be sold as a slave this afternoon, for $10,” Kaliph said, his tears dropping into the brown dust. “What can a father say to that. How can I help? We all feel so useless.”

Kaliph’s daughter, who he did not want to name, had access to a group phone passed around between other girls imprisoned by the Islamic State in Bardoush prison in central Mosul. All face the imminent prospect of being married off. Or worse, being used by the jihadis as a sex slave.

“The world needs to know that is where our women are, where they are being enslaved, young and old alike,” he said, sitting in the dirt outside a building site near the Iraqi Kurdish city of Dohuk that he and some 70 other Yazidis are now using as shelter.

…..

Of all the minorities ousted by the Isis advance, the Yazidis continue to pay the biggest price. Their self-contained existence on the Ninevah plains, where they had long been in the cross-hairs of jihadis, has been shattered in a bloodlust that has also sent the area’s Christians, Shabbak Shias and Turkmen fleeing to Irbil. A large number of those who fled Sinjar climbed the nearby mountain range, where many remain trapped.

The jihadis regard the Yazidis, who practice a Zoroastrarian religion, as devil worshippers and have been more ruthless in their pursuit of them than they have against other minorities.

Those who have reached the Kurdish north to tell their stories say they are never going back. “It is finished,” said Kaliph. “There is no Iraq. There is no past either. It is a scorched earth. “But don’t forget about those who have been left behind.”

What the Yazidis are going through will probably be remembered as one of the most barbaric episodes in recent history. Nothing in the recent past (20-odd years) rivals it (I think) in terms of scale, the terrifying nature of the ordeal and the seeming helplessness of the international community.

ISIS claims to be inspired by Islam. And therefore the challenge to them cannot be limited merely to the political – or the military. It also needs to be at the level of ideology. Specifically, I feel it is incumbent on Islamic scholars and leaders world-wide to unequivocally condemn this barbarism. This is already happening (e.g. the condemnation by British Imams and by Cairo’s Grand Mufti) but I do not have enough direct references/statements (yet) condemning the cruelty towards Yazidis.

Why am I more interested in Yazidis? The clue is in The Guardian’s report above (see the bit in bold).   I fervently hope these atrocities are being (and will be) condemned by Islamic scholars & leaders world-wide. This post is a place-holder to list all such condemnation and statements.

  1. The first on this list is this article by Sohaib Sultan, Chaplain at Princeton (8th Aug, courtesy @HindMakki) in which he writes: Throughout recent history the Yazidis have been oppressed and their religion largely misunderstood as Satan worship (which it is not)….There is, arguably, one reference to the ancient religion of the Yazidis (referred to as Magians) in the Quran in which it simply says, “Verily, as for those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], and those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Sabians, and the Christians, and the Magians [on the one hand,] and those who are bent on ascribing divinity to aught but God, [on the other,] verily, God will decide between them on Resurrection Day….ISIS would do well to, truly, let God decide rather than act as tyrannical judges and lords over the Yazidis and others.” 
  2. The second (somewhat dated) is by the “most prominent Sunni Muslim cleric of Baghdad and head of the Iraqi Scholars Association in the South” in which  he “condemned the killing of 28 Yazidi citizens and the displacement of 3,000 Christian families from Mosul” (21st July, courtesy @kaaashif ).

Pl add to this list via the comments section below. Please do mention an email address. If you do not wish to reveal your email address, please use this email address: satyacomment AT gmail.comIf you love the “fine print”, pl read my comments policy). जय हिंद, जय भारत! – शान्तनु

August 12th, 2014 Posted by | Current Affairs, Global Terrorism | 18 comments

Some Wonderful Pics of the Jammu-Katra Railway Line – NOT

Alert Reader Chinmay has pointed out that almost all these pics (save one?) are of other railway lines…
This serves as a good reminder to me to be careful of what I read online..and to be sure about authenticity of pics/facts before posting them online…

I am going to let this post remain though – as a warning (to myself) of the perils of online information..

Thanks

July 27th, 2014 Posted by | Current Affairs, Miscellaneous | no comments

The fall and fall of Arvind Kejriwal..

So Arvind Kejriwal finally decided to furnish a bond and get bail. Good for him. Frankly, the drama had dragged on a bit too long. And the “Sorry Sabhas” did not seem to be having any impact either (excuse the pun). I guess people are tired of apologies – and excuses.

They wish to see something positive. Something constructive. Something exciting. Something that grabs the imagination.

Like a pledge to make New Delhi the safest Indian city for women, with the lowest crime rate to boot.  Or a pledge to ensure that everyone in Delhi has access to clean drinking water – from the taps.  Or a pledge to ensure Delhi’s streets are clear of garbage.  Or a master plan to convert Delhi’s storm drains and nullahs into eco-corridors. That would be exciting!

Although I am no longer with AAP, I retain a strong sympathy for them. We badly need more people with integrity and commitment in politics. In that sense, India needs AAP. The question is can AAP regain the trust of the public that voted for it so overwhelmingly in December?

I think they can. But for that, AAP must leave the bitterness behind. They must look – and plan – ahead. AAP may yet come back to power in the elections in Delhi. It behoves them to prepare for this responsibility.

Prepare for it by widespread consultation on what a mega-city needs. Prepare for it by drafting experts in urban planning, experts in infrastructure development, experts who know how government finances work.

So that if power does come to the party once again, its tenure becomes a hallmark of ambition and achievement. If that becomes a reality, the party will be well on its way to become a national force in time to come. More importantly, it would be seen as having delivered. Which in itself would be a cause for celebration. Who knows, it may even emerge as a powerful force in 2019 – a literal example of re-birth from the ashes.

But even if it does not come to power, it would at least get the credit for putting forth some bold, innovative ideas in the public domain on how Delhi can be governed. Let this become its primary focus in the days to come. Let AAP reach out to the citizens of Delhi with ideas.

Ideas to improve their lives, rather than ideas to agitate & to protest. Ideas that go beyond “Mera Neta Chor Hai”. Ideas that inspire. Ideas that can capture the imagination.

Let AAP truly become synonymous with alternative (not disruptive) politics. Let it be at the forefront of redefining the political narrative.

This is not the impossible. It can be done. All it needs is strong will, determination and some clear-headed thinking – in the right direction.  I hope we see some of that. Soon.  जय हिंद, जय भारत!

Related Posts:  Arvind Kejriwal’s coming out party, Now worrying about Arvind Kejriwal, On Dharnas and Governance and finally my interview over at CRI on why I left the party

May 28th, 2014 Posted by | Current Affairs, Politics and Governance in India, ToI Columns | one comment

Rs 386 crores, 5 people and some “special” security

Back in 1985, on the recommendations of an obscure committee, the government set up a “special” group – whose sole task was to protect the Prime Minister. This was done in the aftermath of Smt. Indira Gandhi’s assassination which had revealed security lapses that authorities felt could only be fixed by a “special” security group. This was the beginning of SPG – the “Special Protection Group”.

Like all good “ideas” from the government, the SPG too started expanding. Initially limited to protecting the Prime Minister, its mandate was extended to former Prime Ministers (for a period of five years from the date on which the former Prime Minister ceased to hold office) after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Somewhere along the line, this five years period became ten years.

In 2002, an amendment in SPG act was introduced to reduce the duration of protection accorded to former PMs to one year, with the proviso that this period could be extended based on the level of the threat. “However, an exception was made in the case of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her family, who are being given SPG protection continuously of the scale of the Prime Minister”.  

This is the act that gives “special” security to five people at present – the current Prime Minister, former PM (Sh. Vajpayee), Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Sh. Rahul Gandhi and Smt. Priyanka Vadra. This “special” protection does not come cheap. It costs more than Rs 1 crore each day.

Not that it was always so. More than five years back, when UPA-I came to power, the total expense was almost a fourth of this amount (Rs 97 crores). It was even lower before that, back in 1999, when the NDA came to power. At the time, this elite unit was responsible for the security of nine people (the then PM, five former PMs and Smt. Sonia Gandhi & her family). Its annual expenditure then was around Rs 75crores (by the way, none of the children of any former PMs or current PM enjoy SPG cover save one exception).

What explains the steep rise from Rs 97 crores in 2004-2005 to Rs 386 cores in 2010-2011? It surely cannot be the addition of just one person (present PM). Nor do I think inflation can be an excuse. Can it be the cost of ultra-modern equipments – including “special” helicopters for SPG protectees? Helicopters which reportedly cost Rs 110 crores each? or could it be the special counter-assault vehicles that cost Rs 51cr each?

And is it alright to feel somewhat uneasy that we pay Rs 1 crore every day just to provide “security” to these five people? Which, by the way, the vast majority of those who are reading this piece do not have?

Does a government which has repeatedly failed in its fundamental duties – of protecting life & property and delivering justice – have the moral right to spend such extraordinary amounts on the security of one family and two others?

But do you know what bothers me even more, far more, than the expenditure? It is the unstated, implicit assumption that Prime Ministers (current and former and in one case, their family members) are some “special” class of people who are incapable or being protected by our “normal” security forces. Ergo, we need a “Special Protection Group” for them.

Just why? I wonder. Do you?

P.S. By the way, being married to an “SPG” protectee has a little known additional advantage (beyond the usual ones of being able to sleep without worrying about burglars & such and being surrounded by “Top Gun” style commandos wherever you go). It exempts you from the “Pre-embarkation” security checks at all civil airports in the country!

Don’t believe me? Ask Sh. Robert Vadra. Jai Hind, Jai Bharat!

Additional References:

In what might be a tragic irony, the suggestion to exclude former PMs from benefiting from SPG Protection was actually made by the Rajiv Gandhi Government

Rs 64 lakh spent by SPG on Sonia’s travels: RTI, Himanshi Dhawan, TNN Oct 8, 2012,  The high cost of security,  The Law that Protects Robert Vadra also: SPG expenses balloon in last decade, Rs 1,800 crores spent on 5 protectees since 2004

Did you know? The government in 2011 introduced a barely noticed amendment to the Whistleblower’s Protection Bill that excludes the SPG from the purview of the Whistleblower Law (even though the act includes armed forces under its purview)

Cross-posted over at my blog on Times of India

Related Post: On Robert Vadra, Security Checks and VIP Culture

November 10th, 2012 Posted by | Current Affairs, ToI Columns | 6 comments

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