April 24, 2015

The U.S. Muslim Honor Brigade Strikes Again | Asra Q. Nomani


The Daily Beast - 21 April 2015

The U.S. Muslim Honor Brigade Strikes Again

In Wilmington, Delaware, students at the treasured Cab Calloway School of the Arts can join a club, “Free to Be You,” and they can call a hotline to report bullying. In my anti-bullying stand for free speech, I will host an after-school teach-in tomorrow, not far from the school at a coffee shop called (aptly) Brew HaHa! The dean of the school has cancelled a talk I was scheduled to deliver to students on peace between Pakistan and my native India after a local Pakistani man, Naveed Baqir—the founder of an ultraconservative mosque—smeared me, an Islamic feminist, as “Islamophobic.”

My new lesson to the kids: we must speak up with moral courage for the change we want to see in the world, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, India’s nonviolence leader.

Sadly, an “honor brigade,” or loose network of academics, activists, bloggers and others, defend the perceived “honor” of “true” Islam by silencing speech and calling reformers, like me, “anti-Muslim,” “House Muslims,” “native informants” and “Uncle Toms.” Last week on Twitter, I was called “Auntie Tom.”

My experience with the Delaware honor brigade emulates the politics, personalities and smears that make it so difficult to have honest conversation in too many Muslim communities around the world. Simple dynamics, like exhaustion and fear of controversy, put open debate at risk.

There are brave ones, whom I will meet tomorrow in Delaware, who stand up to bullying with courage. But, to our peril, with even well-meaning Americans, the casualty is a serious one: censorship.

Last week on Twitter,I was called“Auntie Tom.”

“While Naveed, and maybe some members of his community, might be opposed to what they perceive you to have written and said, they are alone. They are not the Delaware, Lahore, Delhi Peace Partnership,” says Beverley Baxter, 71, a board member of the group that invited me to speak, and a fellow feminist. “They are not Wilmington. They are not Delaware. We’re ready to welcome you to Wilmington and anxious to hear what you have to share with us.”

Tunde Durosomo, another board member, wrote to his colleagues in the group, “The real victims are the 600+ students that are denied the opportunity to experience something different, to hear a different perspective, a different voice of Islam. How can we expect our youths, leaders of tomorrow, to have a balanced education and become free, critical thinkers when they are shielded from opposite ideas and thoughts that some may perceive as controversial or politically incorrect?

He added: “I am even more troubled by the fact that their schools, the citadels of learning, abdicated their responsibility in this regard by giving in to fear and intimidation.”

The targets of the ‘honor brigade’, on campuses from University of South Dakota to University of Michigan, have included films like Honor Diaries and American Sniper.

Earlier this month, Duke University cancelled a talk of mine after the Duke Muslim Students Association cited a Religion News Service blog, written two years ago by a Duke Islam professor, Omid Safi. The Muslim student group said Safi had “condemned” me for an alleged “alliance with Islamophobic speakers.” Anonymous websites like LoonWatch.com reposted the smear after Religion News Service pulled it. (I don’t have any “alliance.” As a journalist, I talk with everyone.) Duke re-invited me after I asked for evidence, expressing regret at the cancellation. Safi didn’t respond to a request for comment.

My run-in with the ‘honor brigade’ in Delaware began innocently enough three months ago when I accepted an invitation in early February from Kathleen M. Meyer, 72, co-founder and board president of the nonprofit group, the Delaware, Lahore, Delhi Partnership for Peace. A DuPont retiree who had worked in Vietnam for the U.S. government during the war, she gave her heart and soul to the nonprofit, holding board meetings at her home. In 2011, she started the organization with colleagues in Lahore, Pakistan, and Delhi, India. With a goal of promoting people-to-people relations between the three countries, the organization has grown rapidly with programs, projects and overseas delegations that educate Americans about India and Pakistan with programs, such as an annual educational series on the two countries, attended by about 2,300 Delaware high-school students. In this spirit of goodwill, Meyer asked me to talk to about 600 students about India and Pakistan.

Born in India, I have family in Pakistan, and I rode the “peace bus” in 2000 from Delhi to Lahore, with my dadi, or paternal grandmother. I accepted the invite and sent a clunky title, “Riding the Peace Bus: How to Find Healing—Personal and Political—for the People of India and Pakistan and their Diaspora,” but it was meaningful to me. Thirteen years earlier, in early 2002, my Wall Street Journal colleague and friend, Danny Pearl, had been kidnapped after he left a house I had rented in Karachi. He was later brutally murdered, and I had learned I had to find personal healing from the grief of Danny’s murder before I could imagine peace.

In mid-March, I saw a draft invitation. When I sent in my bio, I had mentioned my essay about the “honor brigade,” and I got a query back from the board president: “…explain the HONOR BRIGADE. It is not clear what it is. What your connection to it is, etc.”

The connection soon became evident. I was a target. On March 19, the board president sent out a message: “Due to unforeseen circumstances, we have cancelled our educational series program and luncheon….”

The “unforeseen circumstances” were the protests of a board member: Baqir, an IT specialist who had, ironically, voted for my original invitation and designed the invite. He had resigned the day before, battling the weary board president over me. She told members at the time that he threatened to picket the talk. He denies it. But it’s clear that board members who loved the Cab Calloway dean and wished her no harm were afraid she’d be dragged into a mess.

Baqir’s complaint was that he had read the Daily Beast columns I’d written on the difficult topic of “profiling,” my participation in Rep. Peter King’s hearings on Islamic radicalization, and my support of NYPD monitoring programs. He concluded that I was “Islamophobic.”

In an email, he tells me that my writing “puts myself, my family, my children and millions of other American minorities at risk of the after effects of profiling due to their racial, ethnic and religious background. Thats [sic] why I changed my mind, resigned from DLD board leadership in protest and am planed [sic] on issuing a statement.”

I am not “Islamophobic,” nor am I “anti-Muslim.” My father is Muslim. My mother is Muslim, and I am Muslim. But I also don’t live with my head buried in the sand. I am for honest threat assessments, public conversations and law enforcement strategies. And I am for critical conversations, not saving face, on the issue of Islamic extremism.

In my 2010 Daily Beast column, I chronicled how I had participated in an Intelligence Squared debate on “profiling” with a former CIA agent, Bob Baer, and an African-American columnist, Deroy Murdoch, on my team. We argued that race and religion are legitimate elements of threat assessments, like if police rule out African-Americans as suspects in a cross burning at an African-American family’s house and focus on potential white suspects.

I was emphatically clear: “profiling” shouldn’t be discriminatory, harassing or illegal.

We won the debate.

I wondered: What led this former board member to turn on me?

Born in Pakistan, Baqir earned a graduate degree in computer science from the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan, started by the government of Saudi Arabia in 1980, as it brought its Wahhabi Islam to the subcontinent during the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the Islamization of Pakistan. He came to the United States, earning a PhD from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2009, according to his resume published online (PDF). The next year his wife, Amna Latif, and he started a school in Newark, Delaware, advertised on the web as Tarbiyah Islamic School of Delaware, where first-grade girls cover their hair with hijabs. Baqir says the school is “nondenominational,” and he asked that it not be named, for fears it would be targeted in some way. “I am requesting that you do not refer to Tarbiyah School in anyway,” he wrote to me. “Please do not make these children the target of your frustration.”

On the homepage of its website, a photo of teachers and staff shows five of 21 scarved women peering out from behind full-face black veils, only their eyes visible, over the shroud of a dark gown. Latif covers her face with a veil. The most puritanical interpretations of Islam require veils. The Deobandi school of thought, the driving ideology of the Taliban, militant groups and strict orthodoxy in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, requires full-face veils for women, as does the Wahhabi and Salafi schools of thought exported to the world from Saudi Arabia. My mother’s family required she wear the face veil as a woman.

After the Charlie Hebdo shootings on January 11, Baqir co-founded the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs. Five days later, the group uploaded its first post to its Facebook page. That night, by chance, the Washington Post section published online my “honor brigade” essay, ahead of its Sunday edition.

In late February, three Muslim students were killed in Chapel Hill, N.C., and though the FBI and police have acknowledged the alleged murderer was a hateful neighbor who was a sort of parking lot vigilante, they haven’t identified the murder as a hate crime. But, with the jury still out, many Muslim groups, from the Muslim Students Association to the new Delaware group, have reached a verdict.

On March 1, 2015, reporter Margie Fishman published an article in the News Journal, with a video in which Baqir says, “We are safe only until something happens. North Carolina three weeks ago was just as safe as Wilmington…as Newark or Delaware is today, and then all of a sudden, that tragedy that killing of three innocent people, that shook the whole Muslim community across the U.S., not just in North Carolina, that they’re not safe anymore.”

The journalist chronicled Baqir leading prayer at University of Delaware’s Perkins Students Center. She wrote: “Leading the service, Baqir urged attendees to redouble their efforts to communicate the true image of Islam. Instead of spouting anger, he said, shower naysayers with kindness.”

About two weeks later, Baqir protested my speech, which of course IS his right. Board members heard that Baqir had threatened to picket the Cab Calloway school. He denies he made that threat, but the possibility of controversy made the situation very awkward for the nonprofit group, which runs on a shoestring budget, sweat equity and goodwill with community leaders like the school’s dean, who had been part of a 2014 delegation to Pakistan with the group, including Baqir.

On March 21, the group’s board president accepted Baqir’s resignation, reinstating the talk. But board members were worried about the veiled threat they had heard that Baqir would picket the Cab Calloway school.

That next Tuesday, Baxter, the feminist board member and president of the state chapter of the International Women’s Forum, says she met Baqir at a hip local coffee shop, Brew HaHa! Over a hot berry tea, she had one objective: to save their friend, the dean of Cab Calloway, from controversy.

Earlier, Baqir had sent Baxter a link to an article by an anonymous writer, “Danios,” on LoonWatch.com to argue that I was “controversial.” She had dismissed it as “hate-filled, over the top, emotional screed.” Now, he repeated allegations that mimicked the Duke professor’s attack on me. Baxter wanted to just protect her the school dean.

Three hours later, she says she had no reassurance. “He just kept that threat out there,” she says. “It made us all anxious.”

I definitely have a difference of beliefs from Baqir, but would defend his right to express them. He had started a mosque, Masjid Isa ibn-e-Maryam (“Jesus, son of Mary”), known in the community as ascribing to the strict Salafi and Deobandi schools of thought. Baqir says it doesn’t. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he says.

On the first Friday of April, a University of Delaware professor of Islam, Muqtedar Khan, led the prayer and delivered the khutbah, or sermon. He had cofounded the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs with Baqir. “There are only two kinds of people in the world, Muslims and potential Muslims,” he said. “Think of others as potential Muslims. Everybody is a potential Muslim.”

In an email, Khan wrote that he was trying to encourage interfaith dialogue with a concept of non-Muslims as “dar ul-dawah,” or “house of education,” rather than dar ul-harb, or “house of war.” (I believe there are Muslims, and lots of other “kinds” of beautiful people in a dar ul-wadud, or “house of love.”)

Last week, the group’s beleaguered board president asked Baqir for a reassurance that he wasn’t going to picket.

This past Friday, before the holy Muslim prayers, she got her response. At 11:26 a.m., Baqir sent an email to the nonprofit president, copying the dean at the Cab Calloway school, claiming “many” parents would have their children boycott the talk because, he alleged, I am anti-Muslim. He said he expressed his “concerns” to “the chief of FBI for Delaware, U.S. Attorney [Charles Oberty], representatives from state and local departments of home land [sic], and members of state police and Wilmington police” at a “cultural awareness training” the day before. “They have assured me that I am within my rights to express dissent and displeasure on this issue,” he wrote.

That was a no-brainer. I’d assure him he had a right in the U.S. to free speech, and our battle is one of ideas.

And interestingly, at the U.S. Attorney’s office, Kimberlynn Reeves, a spokeswoman, said, “Mr. Baqir did visit the U.S. Attorney’s Office for a cultural awareness training on Thursday, April 16. However, the statement by Mr. Baqir concerning his conversation with the U.S. Attorney referenced in the email thread below was overstated. Although neutrality and impartiality are the cornerstone of the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is willing to work with any party who is trying to improve community relations within the District of Delaware.”

In his email, Baqir said on the day of the event “we will be issuing a press release on behalf of the 14 mosques in Delaware, and possibly through Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs,” the group he started in January, and “the Council on American Islamic [sic] Relations (CAIR).” The Council on American-Islamic Relations didn’t return messages seeking comment.

To silence us, many Muslim reformers are framed as traitors to Islam. In my case, my detractor alleged I am someone who “demands” that law enforcement “profile minority Americans on the basis of their race, ethnicity and religion.” I don’t demand any such thing, nor do I support any policies that are discriminatory, harassing or illegal.

Less than half an hour after receiving the email, Julie Runschlag, the Cab Calloway dean, responded: “I am sorry to inform you that Cab Calloway can no longer host this event.” She ended: “We are not in a position to be in the midst of this controversy.” A Red Clay Consolidated School District spokeswoman declined further comment.

The decision had been made. Board members of the nonprofit felt they had to respect the beloved school dean. She was a progressive feminist, but they concluded she was protecting her students from controversy. The besieged president of the nonprofit and the board decided to continue to host a lunch at a local private club.

A Pakistan-American board member, Nasim Hassan, who actually abstained from voting for inviting me to speak, says his former colleague had “crossed the limits of decency.”

In an interview this week with me, filled with many interruptions, Baqir said, “I was not bullying.” He said he didn’t ask for my talk to be canceled, and he charged me with “bullying” him by calling for comment.

He later wrote to me: “In the end I would like to say that it is unfortunate that you plan on portraying me in an unkind manner because of the potential of a single piece of paper as a press release. Look who is bullying DLD [Delaware, Lahore, Delhi Partnership for Peace] and Cab Calloway that they must host you or else they are denying your right to free speech.” He added: “It is ironic that you would consider writing a whole article criticizing my right to write a single piece of paper that I haven’t even written yet.”

But this isn’t about the speech, Delaware or me. The lifeblood of our country is free speech, and we have to talk freely about our failures, too, to be able to exercise free speech.

“Freedom to think and to express oneself is a God given right. When Muslims censor fellow Muslims while the rest watch, it says two things: one, those Muslim bystanders need to live up to the ideals of Islam and defend dissenting voices; and two, don’t blame non-Muslims for discriminating against our community when we do it internally,” says Ani Zonneveld, president of Muslims for Progressive Values and an American-Malaysian songwriter and singer.

I accepted an invitation to a smaller lunch than had been planned with the community, and I booked the new venue for my talk, now a teach-in. After lunch, I’ll head to Delaware Avenue with my parents and son, Shibli, 12, to park myself in the conference room of Brew Ha-Ha! on Delaware Avenue from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., for anyone who wants to, well, exercise our First Amendment rights.

I’m homeschooling my son this year, and my lesson was going to be on peace, healing, India and Pakistan. Now, not far from the flapping American flag of the school where I wasn’t allowed to speak, the lesson will be a different one: free speech.

Update from Wilmington:

My parents, son and I ventured to Wilmington, De., in the early morn this week, and I successfully spoke to about 19 leaders in the Delaware, Lahore, Delhi Partnership for Peace and their guests, after a talk to about 600 students at Cab Calloway School of the Arts was cancelled after a local Pakistani man launched a smear campaign against me.

I had told the group, “I will still be coming to Delaware and presenting my talk, even if it’s from the sidewalk, with just my parents and son to hear my voice.” We had a welcoming lunch instead, boycotted by a number of people in the Pakistani-American community because of the smears that had been spread about me.

We talked about women’s rights, peace, poverty and terrorism. I told the group: “We have to decide, in each one of our lives, if we are going to feed our wounds and act out with anger, bullying and violence, or we are going to rise to our higher selves and transform grief into positive action and peace.”

Afterwards, in a glass-enclosed conference room at BrewHaHa! on Delaware Avenue, I spoke to a small group of locals about my topic, “Riding the Peace Bus.” One woman noted: “Someone tried to hijack the peace bus,” she said, but indeed we had kept it on the road.

My mother, Sajida Nomani, said: “Numbers don’t matter. We met the best people.”

Not to take any risks, after first sitting with my back to the street, I changed seats so I could see onto the street, at any passerbys. Later, a metaphor for our experience, I accidentally burnt my arm from the steam on a tea kettle in a Wilmington, café, the sting of the burn soothed only by the memories of deep conversations with new friends in one town in America, importantly standing up for free speech.

Asra Q. Nomani is the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam. She can be reached at asra@asranomani.com or @AsraNomani.

India: Modi Media Mystery (Mihir Sharma)



Business Standard | Mihir Sharma

Among the many advantages that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has enjoyed during his term in office so far is a press that has fawned over him and his government. With the notable exception of Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani, the mysterious target of numerous hit-pieces -– some of them in very poor taste -– most of his ministers, too, have been showered with the accolades, and praised for their honesty, transparency, vision and efficiency, even when they have not exactly demonstrated one or all of those virtues. Modi himself has enjoyed wall-to-wall coverage, almost all of it adoring. Aside from that one occasion with that suit – which, I think we can all agree, he brought on himself – there has not been barely a challenge in the mainstream print or electronic media, forget about disrespect or mockery. When compared how the Delhi press has behaved in the five years previous to his arrival, Modi has little to complain about.

And yet the PM chose to complain, by delivering a speech – inside the precincts of Parliament, no less – suggesting the media was the major villain of his first year in office. The supposed casus belli was a disgraceful and lowering spat between his junior foreign minister, one V K Singh, a former chief of army staff, and various TV channels. (A digression to explain what happened: The TV channels did not cover the rescue mission to Yemen in a manner that satisfied Singh’s vast ego.) Singh wished to be seen as the personal saviour of the embattled Indian citizens there, and not as part of a larger group effort by the services and the bureaucracy — thus demonstrating that he has become, or always was, the most typical kind of politician. Anyway, the dispute escalated, with TV channels choosing in their inimitable lowest-possible-IQ style to take as serious some sarcastic comment Singh delivered; and it climaxed with Mr Singh, a man who should carry the dignity of not one but two high offices, calling the media “presstitutes”, like some choleric old uncle everyone wants to avoid at a wedding. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which showed its contempt for institutions through the two unprecedented acts of making Mr Singh a minister, and a chief justice a governor barely after he had taken off its robes, may have done India an unintended favour. No army chief has ever become a politician in India, a great and honourable tradition Mr Singh has broken. Thanks to Mr Singh’s demeanour, I fancy he will be the last chief-turned-politician, as well.)

This is the kind of thing that should lead to being publicly hauled up by your boss. But Mr Modi instead used the V K Singh incident to tell the entire BJP Parliamentary party that the media was not covering his government sufficiently and well. “Some people,” he suggested, “have decided not to hear anything good, not to say anything good and not to see anything good. We should not waste our time on them, but focus on those who want to listen.”

Complaining about the media is puzzling on two levels. First, because didn’t this government claim that it didn’t need the media? No briefings, no chats, just plain press releases and social media outreach to the people at large? Was that strategy wrong, then?

And it is puzzling on another level: because it is quite unjustified.

Let us be clear: the media has given the PM and his government a far easier time than it probably deserves. The PM’s desire for spectacle, his knack for showmanship, fits right in with a media that has been desperate for a little glamour after the grey depression of the later Manmohan Singh years.

Consider how breathlessly we have covered his many foreign trips, taking all his assertions about their success at face value. He came back from France and took credit for a nuclear deal, and that was mostly reported without it being pointed out how completely inaccurate it was, and that Singh had signed the agreement with Sarkozy in 2010. He came back from Germany and declared that the Hannover trade fair had been a rousing success for ‘Make in India’. As far as I can tell, only one journalist, Suhasini Haidar of The Hindu, pointed out that in 2006, the last time India partnered the Hannover Fair, $1.3 billion was generated through dozens of agreements; this year, amid all the glitz, just nine agreements were signed, and each for a paltry few million. That should have been the worried headline in the press: instead we got “Modi unleashes ‘Make in India’ at Hannover” and the like.

Other examples abound. The coal auctions finished weeks ago, and the government and its partisans continue to brandish a “Rs 2 lakh crore” figure about with Vinod Rai-like brazenness. But as an investigation by Nitin Sethi and Ishan Bakshi by this newspaper has shown, there are real questions about this figure. Yet most of the media has chosen to faithfully report the government’s talking points, and little else.

If, in spite of this, the PM feels the government still doesn’t get as much rah-rah coverage as he has come to expect, he should realise this may be because there is simply not enough substance to talk about. If he does more, instead of talking more, the press may have more to report and analyse. Speeches and slogans get boring for those not delivering them.

Modi needs to get out of his bunker. Times have changed. He spent much of his energy as chief minister fighting off those, including many in the media, who believed that liberal principles of accountability meant that he should have no place in our politics after the 2002 riots. That argument has been rendered moot by the 2014 elections. (Not lost, for sheer numbers can never win such arguments.) In the face of such power, the press will forget anything.

And so the media covers Modi like a much-loved celebrity now. It gives his government the benefit of the doubt — although it gets nothing in return. There is no official media advisor; most ministers and secretaries are unwilling to talk; the PM himself rarely gives interviews and when he does they have the stilted quality of written-down answers; and the government consistently and carefully releases important news too late in the day for proper analysis before the next day’s edition or prime time. And yet the media treats this government, its endlessly-speechifying head and its hit-and-miss ministers, with kid gloves and the exaggerated deference born of fear and of greed. Fear of what the powerful or their rabid fans could do or say — and avarice because who knows whom the king will turn to as his town crier?

If the prime minister wants this servile attitude to last, he must learn to throw us a bone now and then. He may think – and worse, say – we are “news traders”, and his legions of online advocates may be empowered by such statements to attack individual journalists, but at some point even something as spineless as the Indian media will grow tired of receiving nothing but insults.

I fear that moment, truly. Because if the Indian media rediscovers its spine before the prime minister discovers collegiality, then this may not play out well. Already, criticism of the government is being called unpatriotic, and the media is being accused of not reporting sufficiently positively. Like the NGOs that the government is currently attacking and trying to choke off, the media could soon be accused of holding up development — especially if it begins to report on troubles in India’s rural heartland as prices stagnate and the rain turns unpredictable.

If things turn bad -– and say, the government does not deliver as much as it has promised -– it will be said that the media is to blame. Surely, then, in the interests of new India, should we not control those in the media blocking or distracting from development at the behest of anti-India interests? This is what the government is already doing with NGOs, after all (and let’s not forget that Mint wrote an editorial backing such government action, in the national interest).

Such confrontations have not played out well for either side historically. The press and individual journalists suffer; proprietors are hassled and subject to false cases and raids. Oddly, the last PMs to have this jaundiced view of the press were also PMs with brute majorities — Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. But in the end, their political careers, too, suffered as a consequence of the confrontation.

India: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh mulls building 120 cow homes connected to residential colonies and to hold cow knowledge tests


Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh mulls building 120 Kamadhenu Nagars in the next few monthsVasudha Venugopal,ET Bureau | Apr 24, 2015, 12.28 PM IST

NEW DELHI: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh wants to build 120 Kamadhenu Nagars in India in the next few months as part of overall efforts to venerate the sacred animals and make their life more comfortable, besides bringing them closer to the people.

This strategy, it's hoped, will also help reduce crime and reform convicts. The Kamadhenu Nagars are gaushalas, or homes for cows, attached to residential colonies.

"Cows can be protected only when they become an integral part of everyday lives," said Shankar Lal, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Gau Sewa, an RSS affiliate. "We are in talks with gated communities and residential areas that are ready to allot a part of their land to cow sheds. These gaushalas will provide milk, medicines, milk products and gobar gas to these colonies and in turn the colonies will help in the upkeep of the cow sheds."

The Sangh has identified more than 100 potential sites in West Bengal, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

"The cows kept in the shed will be of the pure Indian variety, which will ensure people, especially children of the locality, get the required nutrition," Lal said. "For a crime-free Bharat, it is necessary that our children drink only Indian cow's milk because it makes them saatvik (virtuous). By drinking the milk of Jersey cows and buffaloes, their minds get harmful ideas, which make them criminals."

The Sangh also plans to start 80 Gokul Gurukuls (schools with cow sheds) in major residential schools this year.

There is nothing better than growing up with cattle. It is part of our tradition. We already have such schools in Bankedi and Gwalior," Lal said. All this is part of the Sangh's 18-point agenda to protect cows. The strategy includes increasing cow-based farming, building cow sheds in jails, a scholarship exam on cows for school students, a university to study cow science, a cow sanctuary in every state and weekly gau kathas in temples.

"The number of cows in the past 60 years has come down to 15 crore from 70 crore. This is dismal. Many businessmen are willing to help us in the protection of cows. We need a systematic plan across states, hence the 18-point agenda, which is being taken forward to all NGOs affiliated to the Sangh," Lal said. The Sangh is also in talks with state governments to hold a 'gaugyaan pariksha' every year to test students on their knowledge about the religious and social significance of cows.

"Such an exam was held in Rajasthan recently. Over 3 lakh students took the test. We want it to be held in other states too so that children take an interest in the significance of cows," said Abhinav Sharma, an RSS pracharak associated with cow protection. The Sangh has also planned an annual Gau Sangam to bring together all the NGOs working for cow protection.


Cow sheds in prisons will help reform convicts. "Serving the cows will truly bring a change in the attitude of prisoners. It has been successful in states such as Madhya Pradesh," Lal said.

The Sangh has prepared a consolidated list of 104 products that include phenyl, beauty items, mosquito repellents and medicines that various NGOs affiliated to it have made from cows. To take forward the plan, saints and religious heads have been asked to hold weekly gau kathas in temples and ashrams to spread the word on the religious, cultural and economic importance of the cow to common people. "We are asking our NGOs to give every household with at least five acres of land, two cows. We will also train the family to make and sell cow products so that they would never think cow is a burden on them," Lal said. The RSS plan also involves innovations such as a tractor hauled by bullocks that will help farmers go back to cattle-based agriculture.

Siddharth Singh reviews Michael Walzer's The Paradox of Liberation

Book Review | The Paradox of Liberation
Michael Walzer tries to answer how secular rationalism found itself besieged in many countries after initial years of optimism

Siddharth Singh

Soon after it was formed, Lord Dufferin described the Congress as a “microscopic minority”. The infamous expression used by a viceroy was decisively disproved by 1947 when the minority became the master of India. But in one sense, the colonial official was right. In 1885, the Congress and its leaders were indeed like a small reef in a large ocean: as members of an educated and rationalizing elite, they numbered a handful among millions of their countrymen seeped in superstitious ideas and practices. They not only had to beat the British but also the long-seated religiosity that marked India for two millennia.
What happened to the story of India’s liberation from political domination and religious-and-cultural dogma? In 1985, the British were a memory but religious revivalism had become a potent political force. In 1989, four years after the Congress celebrated its centenary, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the bearer of Indian conservatism, won 85 seats in the Lok Sabha, a shock from which the secularizing elite—political parties, academicians and the press—are yet to come to terms with.
In The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions (Yale University Press 2015), Michael Walzer tries to answer how secular rationalism found itself besieged in many countries after initial years of optimism.
Professionally, Walzer is a political scientist. But to call him just that would be to understate his formidable achievements. From The Revolution of the Saints (1965) to The Paradox of Liberation (2015) represents a journey of a lifetime. In between have come notable milestones. Just and Unjust Wars (1977)—as the name suggests—is a 20th century version of Saint Augustine’s idea. Excursions in Biblical politics, the idea of toleration, justice and morality have marked a long intellectual career.
The Paradox casts a longing eye at two democracies that Walzer seems to admire: India and Israel. Algeria, a shaky democracy, is brought in as a third example. The discussion is rounded off by considering the US as a comparative control.
The paradox of liberation is simple. “The old ways must be repudiated and overcome—totally. But the old ways are cherished by many of the men and women whose ways they are. That is the paradox of liberation.” (page 19). In the Jewish case, centuries of oppression and landless wandering resulted in a diaspora characterized by meekness, submission and lack of political ambition. In India and Algeria, the pattern was slightly different: there was no diaspora and the dominated people had a continuous history of living on a land that came under foreign conquest. The long period of foreign domination resulted in an “inward turn” with spirituality and apolitical existence marking life. In Israel, Mapai, the workers’ party of Israel, led the challenge to traditional ideas. The Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru forged an ambitious social programme after independence. Untouchability was ended and progressive legislation for women enacted. Algeria had its own share of reform.
Yet, within 50 years, a party supposedly professing militant Hinduism was well on its way to power in India. In Israel, a militant version of Judaism is back. Algeria has experienced great violence and is at best a quiescent battle zone. How were the secularizing elite beaten back in these countries?
Walzer has an illuminating answer for India. “On the one hand, Nehru did not believe that the religious communities had a future. Religious belief, or at least its more fervent and ‘superstitious’ versions, would ‘vanish at the touch of reality’. ... At the same time Nehru knew very well the strength of Hinduism and Islam and he certainly understood the near identity of caste and economic hierarchies. So his refusal to recognize the religious communities wasn’t determined only by secular blindness but also by secular fear: he worried that recognizing them would strengthen them. I suppose the two views can be held simultaneously: religious identity is a clear and present danger while secularization, however inevitable, lies somewhere in the future.” (pages 110-111).
This is a partial answer and begs a further question: If a founder of the republic knew the one-sided nature of the fight, then the modernizing drive was at best a holding operation. Sooner or later, revivalism would prevail. So Nehru battled religiosity but not to the degree that would have ensured its elimination. This was with respect to Hinduism. He left Islam untouched. With every passing generation, the gap between profession and practice got wider. In this, India’s electoral democracy played no small part. Walzer notes the Shah Bano episode. These compromises continued to the point when traditional ideas, which had been denied a hearing by Nehru, simply appeared as an unspoilt option. A secularism that was so spavined from the start could not survive the demands of electoral politics. Hinduism, as with exilic Judaism, has continued as always. It is a matter of debate whether revivalism is a right word to describe this change of fortunes. The Paradox is a book worth reading to understand these issues.
Siddharth Singh is Editor(Views) at Mint.

source: http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/Vj7jh1HrmRohdoiMx5eoDN/Book-Review--The-Paradox-of-Liberation.html?ref=newsletter

Australia: Islamic school denies cross-country ban because girls 'could lose virginity'

Islamic school denies cross-country ban because girls 'could lose virginity'

Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority is investigating claims the Al-Taqwa college principal banned female students from running in the event

An Islamic college in Victoria has rejected claims that its principal banned female students from cross-country running because he believed it may cause them to “lose their virginity”.

On Thursday, the deputy premier and education minister, James Merlino, said the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority was investigating claims that the Al-Taqwa college principal, Omar Hallak, banned female students from running in the event.

A former teacher of the school wrote to Merlino to say Hallak believed that if females ran excessively, they could lose their virginity. [. . .]


India - Maharashtra: MIM's foray in Maharashtra hinterland

NCP tops Navi Mumbai, Muslim party gains big in Aurangabad
Ambarish Mishra,TNN | Apr 24, 2015, 03.10 AM IST

MUMBAI: BJP-Shiv Sena's poor tally in the Navi Mumbai municipal polls and MIM's impressive electoral gains in the Aurangabad civic body as a result of polarization of votes reflect the state's fast-mutating political scenario.

India: Modi’s deafening silence on activist assassinations (Prachi Patankar )

Al Jazeera America

Modi’s deafening silence on activist assassinations
If left unchallenged, a hateful far-right ideology will shatter the dream of a pluralistic and democratic India
April 22, 2015 2:00AM ET

by Prachi Patankar

In February two gunmen shot the veteran left-wing activist Govind Pansare, 81, and his wife, Uma Pansare, 78, during their daily morning walk, not far from their home in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Uma Pansare is slowly recovering from her injuries, but Govind Pansare died soon after the attack. In 2013 another well-known secular activist, Narendra Dabholkar, was assassinated in the same manner. Dabholkar and Govind Pansare had been speaking out against the rising tide of Hindu fundamentalist tendencies in India.

Maharashtra is no stranger to progressive activism. It has been home to some of the strongest anti-caste social movements in South Asia. The city of Kolhapur, where Govind Pansare was murdered, was a princely state a little over a century ago, led by social reformer Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, who enacted one of the world’s earliest affirmative-action policies to benefit those from lower castes. This is the Maharashtra I was proud to grow up in. But in recent years, outspoken activists such as Dabholkar and Pansare had received threats from religious-right groups that believe in Hindutva, the chauvinistic ideology that India is a solely Hindu homeland.

Last month it hit even closer to home. Threatening letters arrived at my family’s residence one month after Pansare’s shooting, warning my father “not to follow Pansare’s path” and to stop working for the rights of Muslims and caste-oppressed Dalits, who are traditionally regarded in Hinduism as “untouchables” (and many of whom have converted to Buddhism, Christianity and Islam to try to escape caste hierarchy). These are scary times for my family and friends — and for democratic space across India.

Being threatened for our commitment to social justice is not new to my family. My grandfather Babuji Patankar was assassinated in 1952. He and my grandmother Indumati Patankar were freedom fighters against British colonial rule and leaders in the parallel government, or prati sarkar, that emerged in the 1940s in the Satara district of Maharashtra. With its own decision-making centers and people’s courts, all elected by villagers, it was a unique project. Hundreds of underground activists in the region joined. They had a vision for an independent India that was democratic and secular, which meant empowering the caste-oppressed, religious minorities and the toiling poor. It was for this vision that my grandparents continued their efforts even after independence from the British Empire in 1947. And it was this vision that aroused the bitterness of elite and conservative quarters of society and led to the assassination of my grandfather.In turn, my father, Bharat Patankar, with compatriots of his generation, has dedicated the past 40 years to building a more just society — organizing textile workers, farmers and women to campaign for water and land rights and protesting caste oppression. My mother, Gail Omvedt, is a scholar and an activist who for decades has written about and fought alongside Dalit activists. These mass social movements seek a democratic, inclusive India. It’s a vision that couldn’t be more different from the exclusionary agenda promoted by the far-right extremists who have been emboldened by the ascendance last year of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Instead of reining in this fascistic fundamentalism, Modi has pursued policies that will only swell the ranks of the displaced and disenfranchised.

Modi has deep roots in the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose founders openly admired Mussolini and Hitler. Modi has remained silent about the recent spate of assassinations, attacks and threats from an umbrella of far-right forces, including Sanatana Prabhat, Bajrang Dal, Abhinav Bharat and other paramilitary groups implicated in organized massacres or terrorist bombings. Attacks against Christians and Muslims have increased. Violence against Dalits and women is also on the rise, stoked by a political culture of cruel disregard for the marginalized. This alarming current of far-right fundamentalism has crept into India’s cultural and political spheres more quickly and dangerously than even its critics had feared.

The threats have pervaded the world of letters too. Just months before Modi was elected, the publisher Penguin censored “The Hindus: An Alternative History,” a book by University of Chicago scholar Wendy Doniger, in India after protests and legal challenges from the religious right. Earlier this year, acclaimed novelist Perumal Murugan was forced to publicly renounce writing, after a concerted campaign against him in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Each in their own way, Doniger and Murugan were irreverent about caste hierarchy and sexual conservatism and were censored accordingly.

Also in recent months, RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, another Hindu nationalist organization, have waged a gharwapsi, or homecoming campaign, to “reconvert” all non-Hindus to Hinduism. Claiming that India is in essence a Hindu nation, they have employed intimidation tactics to coercively convert thousands of Christians and Muslims. Right-wing parliamentarians are (somewhat contradictorily) pushing an anti-conversion bill that would prevent Hindus from exercising their right to convert.

In March the BJP-led Maharashtra government banned the sale of beef, passing a so-called animal preservation bill championed by the same network of Hindutva organizations. The legislation targets Dalit, indigenous Adivasi, Christian and Muslim communities for whom beef is a dietary staple. Beef traders in Maharashtra, who largely come from these communities, are facing attacks by fundamentalist vigilantes for transporting cattle.

During his recent visit to India, President Barack Obama remarked, “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith.” He later highlighted that India is witnessing “acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji.” These religious-right forces have been glorifying Nathuram Godse, Mohandas Gandhi’s killer and an RSS member, and even plan to build a temple in Godse’s name. If allowed to go unchallenged, this hateful ideology — manifested in assassinations, the desecration of churches and the intimidation of secular activists and minorities — will shatter the dream of a free, pluralistic and democratic India. Modi’s BJP won the national government in 2014 with 31 percent of the vote. It is the task of the two-thirds of Indians who voted against the BJP, and the responsibility of the international community, to support the journalists, social movements and ordinary people who are being threatened for their beliefs and commitment to social justice.

Modi’s silence in the face of this religious-right onslaught is deafening. Instead of reining in this fascistic fundamentalism, he has gutted social welfare programs, expanding poisonous coal exploitation and greenlit corporate-crony land grabs of enormous proportions. These policies will only swell the ranks of the displaced and disenfranchised. Instead of encouraging Modi’s distracting agendas, such as International Yoga Day, the international community must speak resolutely against growing fundamentalism before India’s minorities — and the majority too — are made to pay a tragically steep price.

Prachi Patankar grew up in rural India. For more than a decade in New York City, she has been part of movements against war, police brutality and racism. She is a co-founder of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative, a New York–based collective that collaborates with social movements in South Asia, and works with the Brooklyn Community Foundation on grant-making and leadership initiatives.