The Liberty of Balochistan.

October 13, 2013

In his infamous reply to Edmund Burke’s essay on the how he believed the English had no right to overthrow a Monarchy – based on Parliament passing an Act in 1688 that insisted the English submit themselves to the Monarch ‘forever’ – Thomas Paine argued that no one generation has the right to tie any other generation to its laws and declarations, and that:

“Every age and every generation must be free to act for itself in all cases, as the ages and generations that preceded it.”

– It is important when considering the dream of freedom of a community in south west Pakistan, who never wished and never submitted to Pakistan rule, nor to a religious order that wishes to control it, to remember the words of Thomas Paine.

On August 14th Pakistan comes alive with celebrations of their national Independence Day. Parties are held, streets are filled with revellers, pride in the National flag and the struggle for independence is something to behold and echoes in Pakistani communities across the World. But on the same day, on August 14th every year, the Baloch people of south western Pakistan mourn “Black Day”; a day they consider the be the moment their region was occupied by an unwelcome colonial Pakistan.

On August 4th, 1947, ten days before the creation of Pakistan, an agreement was signed between Britain, Balochistan leaders, and Pakistan, that declared Balochistan a sovereign state. On the 12th, Balochistan was declared independent, two days before Pakistan. It was recognised that its people were culturally very different from their Pakistani neighbours to the east and Iranian neighbours to the west, and so a natural right to independence and self determination was carved out

After the creation of Pakistan on August 14th, 1947, the independent Baloch people – who speak their own language, have their own customs, are incredibly pluralist and secular, and are the oldest settlers in that particular region – were suddenly given a choice progressed by Lord Mountbatten and influenced by Jawaharlal Nehru the first Prime Minister of India; either join Pakistan, or India. No independence. This, despite the fact that the Parliament of Balochistan of the time voted against a merger and for their own declaration of independence. That vote was disregarded, and Balochistan soon – on the insistence of the Khan – became a province of Pakistan. And just like that, every future Baloch generation had their right to independence and self determination signed away to a colonial Pakistan. Predictably, the region has been unstable ever since, and recently has become the centre of a violent Pakistan backlash against independence movements, and Islamists seeking to gain an advantage.

In 2006, The New York Times noted:

“One visit makes it clear that, despite official denials, the government is waging a full-scale military campaign here.”

– And they’re not wrong. Independence movements have been violently crushed by Pakistan over the decades following the occupation. In 1973, President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan ordered the dismissal of the entire provincial governments of Balochistan and soon after, martial law was imposed. What followed was a Baloch uprising against the Pakistani regime resulting in the deaths 5000 Baloch fighters and countless civilians. Very little has changed since the 1970s. But the rise of Islamist groups in the area makes the situation more dangerous than ever.

But it is the Pakistan security forces that are the most violent in the region. The Daily Tawar – a newspaper in Balochistan – has reported receiving threats from the security forces for the paper’s pro-independence stance, and several of its reporters have been murdered.

Haji Mohammad Anwar Baloch, a senior member of the Baloch Republican Party, fled Pakistan for Switzerland after his office was raided, and his son – who worked as a volunteer teacher – kidnapped by security forces. His son’s body was later found in Karachi, having shown wounds consistent with being tortured with an electric drill. Countless bodies with similar wounds, have been discovered at the same location in Karachi.

In the last decade, anyone suspected of being a part of Baloch independence movements have been rounded up, thrown into white vans, only to be discovered viciously tortured, murdered, and dumped by the side of roads. Pakistani security forces are relentless and often conduct raids out in the open; they kidnap students, lawyers, doctors, or anyone suspected of ties to Baloch Nationalist movements, and those people seldom turn up alive. One 22 year old student told the Guardian:

“We provide moral and political support to the fighters. We are making people aware. When they are aware, they act.”

– Students make up about one-third of all kidnap, torture, murder, dump victims of the Pakistani armed forces. The unbearable torture is designed to break any resistance to Pakistan’s control over the region. In the past ten years, thousands have disappeared this way.

Similarly, rebel groups are accused of campaigns of murder, with civilian settlers from Punjab murdered in an attempt to deter them from settling in the region. In 2011, the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (one of whom’s main leader is an ethnic Balochi named Dawood Badini – the nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad) claimed responsibility for the Mastung bus shooting in which 26 innocent people were gunned down. Their desire is a 7th Century-style Caliphate enforced on a secular, and pluralist people. This is imperialism, and cannot be described as anything else.

Balochistan is an economic and strategic goldmine for Pakistan. And so freedom for Balochistan isn’t likely to come about without active resistance to the regime in Pakistan. The people matter little. The copper, oil and natural gas is their main concern, this is evident because despite the region being rich in natural resources, it remains deep in poverty. In 2005, a report into areas of Pakistan with populations living in a high degree of deprivation shows Punjab region 28% living in a high degree of deprivation, Sindh on 35% and Balochistan on 91%. It is held in poverty whilst its natural wealth is exploited, and its people lacking basic welfare, as well as basic rights. The Pakistan security forces do this, whilst – according to the London School of Economics among others – providing funds and training to a Balochistan-based military group; Quetta Shura… the Taliban.

Amidst the chaotic nature of the conflict, is an independence movement that desires not only independence for Balochistan, but secular, democratic citizenship rights for all who live there. It is a beacon of hope in a region torn apart by dreams of violent imperialism. It is a movement engaged in conflict not just against the Pakistani government, but against a rising violent Islamist movement within the region. The Baloch people are not religious conservatives by nature, and have long been secular and very pluralistic in their cultural structure. It is a distinctive culture – though split into many tribes – that has survived for centuries, with even the dress sense traced back hundreds of years. The fight for independence and the preserving of their ancient cultural heritage and way of life is fought by both Baloch men and women. The Pakistan Development Fund interviewed the ‘Women of Balochistan’ group fighting for their independence. The group said:

“Women are part of Baloch society, so their demands are no different than demands of the rest of the Baloch people. Baloch women in the past have also taken part in the liberation struggle in one way or other. This time as the struggle is more organised and expanded in all four corners of Balochistan…the involvement of women is also more obvious. Baloch women demands have always been education for women, equal rights and status in society.”

“Baloch are quite tolerant and secular. We believe that religion should be separated and kept personal. It should not be mixed with politics.”

– A feminist movement, dedicated to secularism, and equal rights, is a movement that should have the full support of nations across the World that enjoy similar protections and standards. Especially given that women in Balochistan are increasingly falling victim to acid attacks by Islamic extremists who seek to impose a tough Theocratic, Patriarchal system upon the female population they consider to be inferior. At the moment it seems the plight of those pursuing liberty in Balochistan goes largely unnoticed throughout the rest of the World.

The Chief Minister of Balochistan, Abdul Malik Baloch – of the National Party – is spearheading the fight for a secular, democrat, liberal Balochistan. He echoes the thoughts and sentiments of the majority of Baloch people whose wish is for a secular Balochistan, and who fear the rise of Islamism in the region, as much as they disapprove of Pakistan. Christian Congress leader in Pakistan, Dr. Nazir Bhatti said of the radical Islamist group:

“Baloch political giants like the late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the late Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo, Sardar Ataullah Mengal and Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, through their secular politics had kept the religious extremists out of the Baloch political landscape. The Jama’at-ud-Da’wah will destroy the politics and history of Balochistan.”

– There is a real fear that Islamism could pose the biggest threat to the Baloch way of life and culture that has endured happily for centuries.

The promise – and the fundamental issue – is that of a historically secular and democratic population that has managed to remain so, despite attempts by Pakistan to destroy their heritage and all resistance, and attacks by Islamists to impose a radical religious agenda. For a secular democratic state to ever emerge as an independent Balochistan, would of course prove to be a counter in a region that is increasingly, and dangerously Theocratic & oppressive. There is no justifiable reason for Balochistan to be any part of a Pakistan that the people do not feel their culture and heritage belong to, nor overpowered and subdued by an Islamist onslaught that bears little resemblance to the lives of the Baloch people.

Liberty for Balochistan can only be secured by insisting upon a secular, and democratic framework. The ethnically Baloch people are not the only people in Balochistan, and those from other ethnic groups should be afforded equal political and social rights under the law. Liberty for Balochistan also requires control of its own resources. And so to my mind, I see no reason why the Baloch people in 2013 are under any obligation to respect the annexation of their homes 65 years ago to a state power that none of them wanted to submit to. The Baloch people have a far stronger claim to the right of independence, self determination and fundamental political and social rights than Pakistan has to controlling the region for itself.

On the 4th July 2006, a blogger for freedom in Balochistan wrote:

When Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death”, he wanted independence and liberty of a country that did not yet exist. Your Founding Fathers tried to do something that no colonial people had ever achieved before – to break away from the mother country and create their own country. They were willing to risk everything to achieve it. They were not concerned with what was going to happen in the long haul.

But, in our case, Balochistan was a sovereign country until Iran and Pakistan took away our freedom. Through brute force, the Iranian and Pakistani governments suppressed the aspirations of the Baloch people to liberate Balochistan. Our sense of nationhood was systematically crushed. But, the seed of freedom remained in our hearts. Today, that seed has sprouted and we have risen again to challenge the occupation of Balochistan by Iran and Pakistan. We want liberty or give us death, and we are willing to risk everything to achieve the independence of Balochistan.

– I find it increasingly difficult to argue with his point. We in the UK, Europe, and the US enjoy the protections of laws and constitutional frameworks that our ancestors fought centuries ago for the same liberty and rights that the people of Balochistan now wish for themselves. Principle, and consistency dictate that they must have our support in that fight for the victory and implementation of shared values and goals that we know to be the height of human brilliance.

The Blue Eyes of Saudi Arabia

September 14, 2013

Try to imagine for a second how you would react, how you would feel, and how every day would be for you and your family, if you were born with blue eyes, in a Country that not only viciously stigmatised those with blue eyes as an unforgivable perversion against nature, but that nation also tortured, and sometimes executed those caught with blue eyes.

Try to imagine, if the basis for the hate directed at you for having blue eyes, was a 7th Century book of myths. That, because that 7th century book of myths told a story of a city that God burnt to the ground for being full of people with blue eyes, even though that story has no basis in historical fact, you would forever be linked with the inhabitants of that city, and considered the enemy of God, regardless of the content of your character.

The Saudi Arabia UN Delegation made this plea to the UN earlier this year:

“Moreover, the Human Rights Council in last June condemned the Syrian regime on the violations of the Syrian people human rights. Any delay from the international community to take action means more suffering for the helpless Syrian people helpless.”

– It would seem from the rhetoric that Saudi Arabia cares deeply for applying international pressure for the sake of human rights. But it is quite simple to turn this Saudi call for action in Syria for human rights abuses, right back around to face Saudi Arabia itself. And the Delegation would be correct; any delay from the international community to take action in Saudi Arabia over its horrific record on human rights, means more suffering for the victims of the crime family that currently rules that country.

One simple paragraph from the Saudi Ministry of Education Textbooks for Islamic Studies: 2007-2008 offers a prime example of just why politically religious folk should never be allowed power over the apparatus of a State, nor over the lives of its inhabitants especially its children, in an enlightened World. The barbaric nature of their law:

“Homosexuality is one of the most disgusting sins and greatest crimes…. It is a vile perversion that goes against sound nature, and is one of the most corrupting and hideous sins…. The punishment for homosexuality is death. Both the active and passive participants are to be killed whether or not they have previously had sexual intercourse in the context of a legal marriage…. Some of the companions of the Prophet stated that [the perpetrator] is to be burned with fire. It has also been said that he should be stoned, or thrown from a high place.”

– It seems almost as if this is an attempt at an ironic art work. Because for a faith that believes their Prophet flew on a very fast magic flying horse to heaven and met Jesus, to claim to be able to speak confidently on anything pertaining to ‘sound nature’ is either an ironic art work, or the start of the most hypocritical speech in religious history. When it comes to the “unnatural”… religions have that one covered almost exclusively.

Either way, that one nasty paragraph – that completely misunderstands ‘sound nature’ – should be enough for those who profess to believe in the cause of social justice and human rights, to focus the majority of their time and efforts on freedom for Saudi Arabia. Currently, students are banned from school and university, if they are suspected of being gay. It isn’t just intense and violent homophobia today in Saudi Arabia that is the problem, it is the systematic attempts to instill into the vulnerable minds of children, that hate is acceptable. It is an attempt to poison those vulnerable minds with violent witchcraft and the acceptability of oppression rather than universal rights and biological fact.

For some odd reason, we do not treat this blatant abuse of the most fundamental rights, in the same way we would if we were to exchange the word “homosexuality” in the above, to “having blue eyes“. Both are part of a natural spectrum that we have no control over, and yet they are treated completely differently, despite being very similar. I would suggest that if the above paragraph from the Saudi Ministry of Education Textbooks were to specify punishment for those with blue eyes, instead of homosexuality, there would be far more outrage both for the country in question, and the faith that spawned it. Here:

“Having blue eyes is one of the most disgusting sins and greatest crimes…. It is a vile perversion that goes against sound nature, and is one of the most corrupting and hideous sins…. The punishment for persons with blue eyes, is death. Some of the companions of the Prophet stated that those with blue eyes are to be burned with fire. It has also been said that he should be stoned, or thrown from a high place.”

– This paragraph, if enshrined into a Nation’s law, should not shock us anymore than when it said Homosexuality, and yet I am certain that it would. The ‘companions of the Prophet’ would be ignored as a product of their time not to be taken seriously today. I am certain that the World would act to ensure that a scientifically as well as historically untrue basis for such a law, were thoroughly discredited and pressure exerted to ensure the law never made it to any statute book, as a grave abuse of basic human rights.

But, when it is applied to homosexuality, it is often dismissed as a “cultural” difference by cultural relativists whose respect for the dignity of life and individual rights, are not universally applied and must come second when considered alongside violent Theocratic considerations. Tradition seems more important than rights. As if tradition and ‘cultural differences’ are an acceptable excuse for the fact that in the year 2000, Saudi Arabia executed three Yemen men for what it deemed the:

“…obscenity of homosexuality and imitating women.”

– By ‘imitating women’, I’m guessing they don’t mean having to cover everything with the exception of hands and eyes, and another male having ‘guardianship’ rights over her, like a piece of property, nor married off to dirty old men at the age of 9.
In 2005 over 100 men were arrested and sentenced to flogging for:

“behaving like women.”

In 2002, three men were beheaded for being gay.
In 2007, two gay men were sentenced to 7000 lashes, for being gay.
– However we dress it up; this is torture and murder and it is a flagrant disregard for even the most basic of rights; to life itself. We cannot imagine the fear that gay men and women must face every day in Saudi Arabia. Religion does not prevent homosexuality, just like religion would not prevent blue eyes. Because religion has no explanation for nature. It has unsubstantiated, tribal myths, and nothing more. And when nature outgrows religious explanation, religion resorts to violently repressing nature, instead of looking inward and accepting it might be the faith that is flawed.

Gay Palestinian men often risk their lives fleeing into Israel, where they feel far safer and respected, than in the deeply illiberal, Theocratic Palestinian territories. According to a BBC World Service Outlook report, one man fled Gaza to Israel after his family found out that he was gay. The man said that police in Palestine had beat and tortured him.

In 2011, police in Afghanistan publicly humiliated a man dressed in women’s clothes. The victim is seen on film with eyes tearing up as the officers humiliate him. The man says:

“Please have mercy, don’t make fun of me.”

In 1998 in the southern town of Kandahar, the Taliban ordered three gay men buried, with their heads sticking out of the ground, and a wall pushed on top of them by a tank… for the crime of being gay.

The Iranian Constitution states:

“Sodomy is a crime, for which both partners are punished. The punishment is death if the participants are adults, of sound mind and consenting; the method of execution is for the Shari’a judge to decide.”

– Imagine the international backlash, if that Constitution noted that “having blue eyes is a crime“. This constitutional addition has lead to 4000 gay men and women stoned, hanged, beheaded, thrown alive from tall buildings, and set on fire, as legally sanctioned punishments for being gay in Iran. But, because the precedent is set in certain Hadith, for some odd reason it takes on a form of respectability and credibility that those who aren’t Muslim, seem to feel must be respected to a degree. Why? It isn’t acceptable, and the words and deeds of religious figures that give these punishments the life they have, are also completely unacceptable.
One Hadith in question is particularly grotesque and must be condemned as such:

“Narated By Abdullah ibn Abbas : The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.”

– If God creates people who happen to be gay, or who have blue eyes, and then demands stigmatising and punishment for those people, it is extremely problematic to label this God anything but a being that enjoys playing violent games with human lives, like rearing ants so that eventually you can point a ray of burning light through magnifying glass at them, and still demand that those tortured ants worship you for such ‘mercy’. This is a cruel Being with no redeeming features.

Secondly, there is no Qur’anic law or rule demanding the murder or torture of gay people (A similar thing cannot be said for the Bible). We could of course point to Sodom – in both the Bible & Qur’an – but, given that no evidence has ever surfaced to suggest this story is based in fact; it’d be like using Narnia for evidence that kids and lions make excellent rulers. And so if any law comes from the (completely unsubstantiated; as all Hadith are) words or deeds of the Prophet, I’m afraid those Muslims who endorse such man made laws, that in no way relate to the Qur’an, are guilty of a sort of idol worship, which of course is a grave sin for that particular faith. It is only through completely unreliable Hadith – reflecting the prejudices and scientific, and social ignorance of the time and place, along with the imperial structure of that particular time and place in history – that gay men and women in Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations are persecuted so horrifically.

Whilst every move Israel makes is remarked upon, condemned, and watched with an unmovable eye from both Western Muslims, and a vast portion of those on the Galloway-Left whose ‘cultural relativist’ position is strangely less active when it involves Israel; the most vile regime in Saudi Arabia quietly carries out public lashings, torture and executions of anyone who doesn’t fit its very narrow vision of what it’s 7th Century book demands, with very little real anger from the rest of the World.

My position is quite simple. If your religious text claims universal and timeless truth, upon which it advocates death for any natural trait, be it homosexuality, or blue eyes… your religious text should not be taught to children, should not be allowed to influence policy, should be criticised, shamed, and satirised at every possible opportunity, and deserves not a single shred of respect. Any Nation that puts that text into political practice, must be the focus of united international condemnation from those who claim to have even an ounce of respect for the dignity of human rights and social justice. There is no acceptable excuse for the torture, and murder of anyone with blue eyes.

The Republican-made Benghazi Scandal.

September 11, 2013

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, at ceremony for the victims of the Benghazi attack. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: By U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain].

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, at ceremony for the victims of the Benghazi attack.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: By U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain].

It is a year today, since the tragic events in Benghazi unfolded, and four people lost their lives in a senseless terrorist attack. Since that day, Republicans seeking to undermine and attack the Obama Administration by any means, and using the memories of anyone they can find, have used the Benghazi attack for what is quite obviously political point scoring and nothing more. A year of hearings on the subject, and with no scandal to be found anywhere, this hasn’t deterred the Benghazi obsessives. Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz on Hannity accused the President, over Benghazi, of trying to:

“…trying to personally disparage the people that are trying to get at the truth”

– This is the same Republican Congressman who – whilst doing the rounds on TV in 2012 to register his disgust at the Administration for not providing necessary security for the embassy in Benghazi – admitted that he had voted to cut funds for embassy security. In October 2012, Chaffetz said:

“Look, we have to make priorities and choices in this country. We have — think about this — 15,000 contractors in Iraq. We have more than 6,000 contractors, private army there for President Obama in Baghdad.
And we’re talking about can we get two dozen or so people into Libya to help protect our forces? When you’re in tough economic times, you have to make difficult choices how to prioritize this.”

– On a side note, Chaffetz told Fox News that the Administration was intimidating witnesses to keep them silent. When pressed for evidence and examples, he couldn’t offer any. When asked what the cover-up was covering up, he had no answer.

The Republican controlled House cut funding for embassy security by $128 million in 2011, and $331 million in 2012. For 2013, the Obama administration asked for $2.15 billion for embassy security, House Republicans agreed to $300,000,000 less than that. At the time, Hillary Clinton insisted that cuts to embassy security would be:

“…detrimental to America’s national security”

– House Republicans rejected this, despite the fact that between the Islamabad US Embassy burning in 1979, to the Benghazi attack in 2012, over 20+ US Diplomatic personnel in the US Foreign Service had died. Nine embassy staff were killed in the 1998 bombing of the embassy in Nairobi. 13 on the Hezbollah attack on the Beirut US Embassy in 1983. Laurence Foley was an American diplomat assassinated in 2002. Add those to the list of attacks on embassies between the inauguration of George Bush Jr and Barack Obama; Indian US Consulate in 2002, US Consulate in Bali in 2002, two attacks on US Embassy in Karachi in the space of just one year in 2002-2003, 9 Americans killed in attack on U.S. Compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, attack U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 2004, a third attack on Karachi U.S. Consulate in which US Diplomat David Foy was killed. All under Bush, and none receiving the intense right-winged media & Congress storm whipped up after Benghazi. Despite past attacks, and despite Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and despite uprisings across the Middle East making the lives of diplomatics far more at risk, in some of the most dangerous parts of the World; the House Republicans still voted in favour of cutting funding for embassy security.

According to the Citizens for Tax Justice:

“In fact, under Ryan’s plan taxpayers with income exceeding $1 million in 2014 would receive an average net tax decrease of over $200,000 that year even if they had to give up all of their tax expenditures.”

– A tax cut for the wealthiest, partly paid for by defunding embassies in the most dangerous parts of the World, for which they then attempt to spark up a non-scandal aimed at the Obama Administration when the inevitable occurs.

But it isn’t just House Republicans digging in a haystack for a needle that doesn’t exist. Special Operation Speaks – a group dedicated to uncovering what they call:

“… the deadliest scandal in American history.”

– Apparently choosing to ignore the reasons given for an invasion of Iraq. And, well, the entire Reagan administration and the countless convicts over Iran-Contra. It is of course no surprise that the chief funder of Special Operation Speaks, is a man dedicated to bringing down the President by any-means-necessary, he’s known for this, and not just for Benghazi. The names and the families of those killed in Benghazi are simply a means to an end for Larry Bailey. He really has a hatred for President Obama, and will happily invent scandal everywhere. Bailey once said:

“If there were a jury of 12 good men and women and the evidence were placed before them, there would be absolutely no question Barack Obama was not born where he said he was and is not who he says he is.”

– He of course, has never provided evidence for this assertion, or any evidence for who he believes Barack Obama really is.

The call for the establishment of a House Select Committee to investigate Benghazi, has been put into Bill form, by Representative from Virgina, Frank Wolf. And a credible man he is too, what with having voted for military action in Iraq based on the intelligence for which he’s never asked for a committee be set up to investigate, and for restricted Congressional oversight of CIA interrogations. So far, Boehner has not allowed the bill to enter the House floor. Which, naturally, prompts the conspiracy obsessed Republicans to insist that Boehner must be part of the evil cover up, rather than coming to the realisation that the empty result of hearing after hearing, is proof enough that there is no big scandal. It must be incredibly embarrassing to be a Republican these days.

In fact, a House Republican Report contradicts many of the claims made by those purportedly searching for the “truth”. For example, on the often repeated claim that the President refused to offer forces to help those being attacked in Benghazi, the House Republican Report says:

“The progress report finds that officials at the Defense Department were monitoring the situation throughout and kept the forces that were initially deployed flowing into the region. No evidence has been provided to suggest these officials refused to deploy resources because they thought the situation had been sufficiently resolved.”

– Republicans discrediting Republican complaints.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas weighed in shamelessly with:

“One of the problems with all of this focus on Syria is it’s missing the ball from what we should be focused on, which is the grave threat from radical Islamic terrorism. Just this week is the one year anniversary of the attack on Benghazi. In Benghazi, four Americans were killed, including the first ambassador since 1979. When it happened, the President promised to hunt down the wrongdoers, and yet a few months later, the issue has disappeared. You don’t hear the President mention it. Now it’s a phony scandal, we ought to be defending U.S. national security and going after radical Islamic terrorists.”

– Three issues here. Firstly, Yes. You should be defending U.S National Security. How about you start by adequately funding security for embassies, with money you’d otherwise give away in tax breaks for your donors?
Secondly, Cruz seems to flippantly brush off the urgent need for a response to the crisis in Syria. It is as if he’s choosing to ignore the 600,000 dead, the 3,000,000 displaced, the hundreds of thousands of children facing forced prostitution and poverty, instead choosing to focus on a non-scandal, discredited even by House Republican Reports.
And thirdly, the issue hasn’t “disappeared” with regards hunting down those responsible. In August of this year, the US filed charges against Militia chief Ahmed Abu Khattala, among others, for the attack in Benghazi.

Where was the outrage for the lives of those killed in attacks during Bush’s years? Where was the outrage for the three attacks on the US Embassy in Karachi, resulting in the death of US Diplomat David Foy? Where was the demand for select committee investigations? There wasn’t any, because it wasn’t perceived as politically valuable for House Republicans to shine a light on those attacks.

The real scandal of Benghazi is two fold. Firstly, could the deaths have been prevented if the funding hadn’t been so drastically reduced by House Republicans over the past three years, and secondly, the shameful use of the victims of the attack on the embassy, for political purposes. The longer Republicans insist on focusing on trying to expose a scandal that doesn’t exist, the more the attention is turned on their own lack of principles with regard funding for embassy security and the lengths they’re willing to go to, the names and the families of the victimes they’re willing to insult and degrade, just for political point scoring. This is a Republican-made scandal and nothing less.

Syria: Secular democracy must be the goal.

September 2, 2013

“Without Western heavy political lifting, led primarily by the US, the most likely scenario is for the death toll in Syria to continue to rise, the humanitarian crisis to further deepen, and for Syria to become the new Yemen, offering refuge and acting as a launching hub for terrorist groups.”
– Jamil Sawda, Syria Specialist.

In the event of Congressional approval for a limited strike on Syria; in the event of the weakening of the power of the Assad regime; and in the event of the eventual overthrow of that abhorrent regime…. what comes next? My reservations about any strike on Syria stem from the apparent lack of coherent plan to ensure a peaceful transition to secular, democratic governance in Syria once the conflict has ended.

It is without doubt that a chemical attack in which 400+ children died, along with 80,000+ deaths in the conflict so far and over 1,000,000 exiled into horrendous conditions, cannot be ignored. It has been ignored for too long. And as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah intervene in order to press for a strengthened Assad regime, or a more oppressive Theocratic entity post-Assad, so must the forces for a democratic and secular solution ensure their allies in Syria are well equipped and supported.

As it stands, the secular and democratic left rebels in Syria are outnumbered. Their voice is too weak in the country, and its natural allies in the West – the left – are again spending their time endlessly ensuring we all know how much they dislike the US; the Stop the War Coalition predictably makes no mention of the struggle of the secular and democratic left in Syria; shows no support for the secular and democratic left in Syria, but bizarrely in an article on Syrian intervention, manages to attack Tony Blair. The democratic, secular voices in Syria – the voices we must support – suffer heavily as a result of internal conflict, and external ignorance.

Ahrar ash-Sham are the most powerful rebel force in the region, boasting around 20,000 members over 50 units around Aleppo and Hama. Ahrar ash-Sham call for an Islamic state. They are allied with Jabhat al-Nusra Front. Al-Nusra Front is an al-Qaeda associate Jihadist group who also wish to see the Assad regime replaced by an Islamic caliphate, under harsh Sharia conditions. Al-Nusra insist that upon their victory, entertainment that al-Nusra consider “immoral”, would be banned. They are the Taliban of the Syrian conflict.
In January 2012, al-Nusra claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Al-Midan, in which 26 people died – most of whom, were innocent civilians.
In October 2012, al-Nusra claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Saadallah Al-Jabiri Square that left 48 people dead and 122+ badly wounded.
In June 2012, they attacked al-Ikhbariya TV, killing seven people including three journalists in a violent crackdown of anyone daring to criticise them.
In mid-2012, al-Nusra released a statement stating that they had kidnapped and executed TV news presented, Mohammed al-Saeed, simply because he supported the Assad regime. In a statement, Al-Nusra said:

“The heroes of western Ghouta imprisoned the shabih (pro-regime militia) presenter on July 19. He was then killed after he had been interrogated.”

– This is a group that consider the kidnap and murder of a TV presenter, to be heroic. The targeting of journalists speaks volumes of the message al-Nusra wish to send out. Under their rule, Syrians would not benefit from the fundamental right of free expression. The fact that the most powerful rebel groups in the conflict are allied with a group like Jabhat al-Nusra – a group that has absolutely no problem with the murder of innocent civilians and journalists – is intensely unnerving. They could become the region’s biggest problem in the coming years. This is a group that wilfully match the vicious nature of dictatorial regimes to ensure the black banner is raised above Damascus.

But it isn’t all gloom. Indeed, there exists secular & democratic rebel groups in Syria who desperately require Western support and cooperation for their cause and the for the future of a Syria not dogged by regressive, Theocratic tyranny. They understand the desperate need for fundamental human rights and democratic institutions. The Coalition of Secular & Democratic Syrians is the most important group in the Syrian civil war. The President of the Coalition, Randa Kassis told Spiegel Online of the problems facing her movement:

“The Islamist groups, which are superbly financed and equipped by the Gulf states, are ruthlessly seizing decision-making power for themselves. Syrians who are taking up arms against the dictator but not putting themselves under the jihadists’ command are being branded as unpatriotic and as heretics. This is also affecting the many soldiers and officers who have defected to the opposition but who aren’t willing to replace the corrupt terrorism of the Assad regime with a religious tyranny.”

Secular & democratic forces in Syria are divided. There is no clear strategy. This conflict is reflected in the make-up and operations of the Syrian National Coalition, which is so incredibly complex, faces resignations on a constant basis, that it is almost entirely impotent. The Coalition saw liberal members freeze their membership upon the election of Muslim Brotherhood-backed Ghassan Hitto to the newly formed Prime Ministerial role. One of the Coalition’s liberal democrats, Kamal al-Labwani said:

“The government is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatar government. We will be against this government and will not give it legality. Democracy is from the land and from the people not from a council that is composed by the government of Qatar.”

– Hitto resigned in June, citing an inability to unite members and topple the Assad regime. The Muslim Brotherhood’s power within the Syrian National Coalition is made all the more worrying given the fact that the Coalition has widespread international recognition as Syria’s representative body. And yet, it is a body that cannot decide if it is secular, or Theocratic, but is slowly leaning toward the side of Theocracy.

The Coalition’s first leader in 2012, Moaz al-Khatib insisted that a moderate form of Islamic law should be instituted in a post-Assad Syria, run by Islamic scholars. He is a supporter and friend of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a man who once said:

“Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the Jews people who would punish them for their corruption…The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them…Allah Willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.”

– Whilst al-Khatib may openly support horrid little fascists like al-Qaradawi, he appears to be opposed to strict interpretations of religious texts (he does not insist on the veiling of women), yet his “moderate” Theocratic principles still insist on entrenching one particular religion above all others, which is, by its very nature, oppressive. His speeches tend to confuse freedom, with Theocracy. The US Christian Right are very similar.
The Syrian National Coalition is so diverse, that the very fundamentals of forming a governmental system cannot be agreed upon. The question of Church & State separation, cannot be agreed upon. Without a working constitutional framework, there is no government. The very first, and most important question is whether or not a post-Assad Syria be secular, or Theocratic (moderate or not).

By contrast, independent Islamic extremist groups separate from the Coalition, seem to be far more cohesive and the likelihood of a powerful alliance between them increases. Islamist opposition groups, motivated by religion, and supported and armed by competing Gulf and Arab states, whilst Muslim Brotherhood power infects the Coalition, makes secular & democratic unity on the Syrian crisis all but impossible. And we know what happens when Islamic Theocrats have control of a country. Afghanistan is a prime example of the horrendous abuses and oppression of states controlled by religious fascists. Syria cannot afford that eventuality. The region cannot afford it.

Without a real diplomatic strategy to unite rebel groups, without Western support for the right groups to make sure the country isn’t overrun and overpowered by Islamic extremist groups, and to ensure strong democratic and secular infrastructure and framework – based on the fundamental right to expression, to association, to belief, to protest, to gender equality, to racial equality, to vote, to sexuality – upon which the rebuilding of Syria must be based, any intervention can only lead to more conflict and the inevitability of a ground invasion further down the line.

Solidarity with the Bangladesh Bloggers

April 6, 2013


It is rather simple for me to sit in the comfort of my middle-class home in a secular country, and feel I can express myself on my personal blog, about whatever issue is on my mind on that day, without fear of violent reprisal. Open to the possibility that I might be proven wrong. Learning as I go. However, for people to do the same, in a country consumed by extremists who will not think twice about taking your life for writing something they don’t like; it takes an extraordinary amount of courage to stand up and speak out against religious extremism and injustices.

Today, hundreds of thousands are marching in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to demand blasphemy laws, and the execution of secular and Atheist bloggers for even daring to criticise Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Hundreds of thousands, claiming to be “saving Islam” by calling for the violent deaths of anyone who says anything they do not like. Hundreds of thousands demanding death sentences for speaking out against their faith. The secular and liberal World should stand in unity with those condemned simply for speaking their minds, on a website. The blogging community especially.
There is currently a plan, hopefully underway, with British Humanists, to stage a demonstration outside of the Bangladesh High Commission in London.

The action follows the horrendous murder of Ahmed Rajib, an Atheist blogger and organiser, hacked to death, and his throat slit by Islamists, simply for promoting secularism. The same movement, rooted in 7th Century barbarism, that slits the throats of innocent people simply for writing something they don’t like, now demand to have a say in crafting ‘Blasphemy laws’.

One of the arrested bloggers is Asif Mohiuddin. Asif was stabbed in January by Islamic extremists. He is now waiting to see if the government succumbs to the demands of the thugs who stabbed in, and have the State finish the job for them. In the World of Islamic extremism, saying words they do not like is evil. Stabbing someone for it, is perfectly acceptable. Subrata Adhikary Shuvo, and Russell Parvez are also currently awaiting their fate. Shuvo is younger than me. This makes me rather unnerved and sickened. The distress these men must currently be feeling is horrendous.

In a previous article, I said this:

“It is my belief, that the freedom to satirise, mock, laugh at, criticise, as well as question all authoritative ideas, including all religions that themselves are openly critical of how those outside the faith live their lives, is the cornerstone of a progressive, and reasonable society. These ideas include the freedom to satirise and criticise and question deeply held political ideals, including my own. We must not allow religions to be free from satire, nor criticism, simply because it is cloaked in ‘faith’. To close them to criticism/satirism by using State controls and violence, means that the protected ‘idea’ becomes an ‘idea’ we are forced to respect; not an ‘idea’ that earns our respect, we are forced to bow to its apparent wonder, not of our own volition, and so humanity cannot progress the idea, dismantle the idea, or strengthen the idea, and move forward. It thus gives the ‘idea’ an authority above what it is reasonably justified in having, over the lives of not just its followers, but those who don’t wish to adhere to its principles. This is dangerous.”

– This seems more apt today than ever. I am an Atheist blogger. It sickens me to think that because of words, that I type on a screen, that no one is forced to read…. a group of fanatical Fascists thinks it has justification for killing me.

I wonder if these ‘blasphemy laws’ also cover not using the word ‘kuffar’ to describe non-believers? Or not saying anything negative about Judaism? Or demand punishment for homosexuality? Or not saying anything abusive about America, Britain and “The West”? I wonder if they’ll allow me to have a say over banning Holy Books for condemning me to hell, for insulting me on practically every page, for not believing. Or, as I suspect, is it simply a way to stop any sort of questioning, criticism, or mocking of one particular religion.

Do you see the pictures of the march? Of this “Save Islam” march? What seems to be missing?

– Where are the women? At home waiting for permission to leave? In another march, banned from the all men march? And these people have the nerve to claim to be fighting for “freedom”. It isn’t surprising that there are no women with the men, given what Hefazat-e-Islami is calling for.. It includes this:

4. End to all alien cultural practices like immodesty, lewdness, misconduct, culture of free mixing of the sexes.

– Freedom? Really? Freedom to do as they say, live your life as they tell you to, only say what they have allowed you to say, and be executed otherwise. Freedom.

The ‘long march to Dhaka’ protesters have shown the World what they really are. Poison. Totalitarian. Fascist. They are not a fringe. They have power, they imprison people for words, they set fires, they torture, they beat people, they wish to execute people, they are not a little extreme group that we can ignore. The decent and civilised World cannot afford to ignore such horrific people. They are not peaceful people. They never will be. Please let’s stop pretending that Islam is inherently peaceful.

Be suspicious also of those claiming to be moderate, or appearing to promote secular ideals to add credibility to their regressive cause. Their nastiness lurks just below the surface:
– “Freedom of speech for all! DISCLAIMER: As long as you say something nice about our religion. Otherwise, we hang you. You better say that our Prophet is great. Otherwise we hang you.
Freedom of Expression rightfully dictates, that you have the right to express yourself. You have the responsibility to decide whether what you say might offend, or might offend. Others have the right to respond to you, they have the right to tell you you’re offensive, wrong, idiotic, lying, misrepresenting, or just being a bit of a prick. They do not have the right to forcibly silence you, threaten you, or attack you if they do not like what you have to say. That is not free expression.

Manipulations and redefinitions of what the term “free expression” means, should not be used by the religious to silence dissent, whilst they themselves continue to be free to use their Holy Book to insult homosexuality, feminism, the West, non-believers, and anyone else who doesn’t fit into their narrow band of what is considered “decent and correct”. Free expression is so violently opposed by the religious, because it is dangerous to dogma. No other reason.

‘Blasphemy laws’ should not exist. No religion has any right to demand others speak, or act as they demand. They are not superior to anyone else. The bloggers in Bangladesh, currently suffering the crushing chains of Islamic extremism and oppression, are the victims of religious fascism. I keep hearing “Freedom of speech does not mean you can insult religion“. Since when? Who invented that little restriction? I am certain; if a religion wishes political power, wishes to tell others that they are destined for eternal torture, wishes to teach this to children, and to dictate how other people live, then it is right that its authority is questioned, mocked, and criticised at every possible opportunity.

When it comes to religion, and when it comes to the concept of Islam; You are entitled to offend, you are entitled to disagree, you are entitled to argue, you are entitled to debate, you are entitled to satirise, you are entitled to criticise, you are entitled to question, you are entitled to write a blog stating what you dislike about the religion. None of this should in any way be punishable, by law, or by a group of thugs attempting to impose their faith upon others. The very act of punishing ‘blasphemy’ (essentially, outlawing Atheism) makes it even more essential to criticise and satirise and mock that particular idea.

Show your support for Asif Mohiuddin, Subrata Adhikary Shuvo, and Russell Parvez. The Bangladesh Bloggers.