Posts Tagged ‘ Sikh ’

A Statue To Honor Hate and Terror

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

In Selma, Alabama, a new monument to the first leader of the Ku Klux Klan is under construction on public land. Selma, Alabama is the site of many struggles during the Civil Rights movement made famous by Rosa Parks and Martin Luthur King Jr III.

Thus far, the Selma city council is going ahead with allowing for renovations of the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a vigilante, a Confederate lieutenant general in the US Civil war, a war criminal, and widely acknowledged as the founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

The bust of his statue was stolen last year and now there are plans by a group known as the Friends of Forrest are replacing it, and according to local media, the United Daughters of the Confederacy are adding a pedestal and fencing to make it harder to steal the updated statue.
Not only has the Selma City Council, made up of five Black and four white city council members not done anything to prevent the building of this monument of hate and intimidation, they are also of the opinion that although the plot of land where the statue is to be built is in a public owned cemetery, the city council president, Dr. Cecil Williamson believes that the particular plot of land is owned by the Daughter of the Confederacy who are advocating for the renovation.

It is really disturbing that a monument to a man responsible for the terror that the Klan inflicted as well as caused the lynching of so many innocent blacks would be getting a monument built to him. It’s as if some Nazis in Germany decided to make a huge statue of Hitler on a public park across the street from a Synagogue. It would not stand and there would be immediate outcry against it. However no one has said anything and so far the plan is in place for this statue to be built.

I vividly recall when Muslims tried to build a mosque not so long ago in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, there was a huge outcry and in fact, members of the city filed a lawsuit that made it all the way to the state supreme court arguing, believe it or not, that Islam was not a religion and Muslims did not or should not have a right to build a house of worship on private property.
Forget that they weren’t building a statue to Osama Bin Laden, but rather a house of worship to worship the same God of Abraham, Noah and Moses as their Christian and Jewish brethern. Oh the hypocrisy! Yet there was a huge fight against that, and not a word against allowing for something to honor a vile a man as Bedford.

Here is an account from Harper’s Weekly of April 30, 1864, of what took place:
“On the 12th April, the rebel General Forrest appeared before Fort Pillow, near Columbus, Kentucky, attacking it with considerable vehemence. This was followed up by frequent demands for its surrender, which were refused by Major Booth, who commanded the fort. The fight was then continued up until 3 p.m., when Major Booth was killed, and the rebels, in large numbers, swarmed over the intrenchments. Up to that time comparatively few of our men had been killed; but immediately upon occupying the place the rebels commenced an indiscriminate butchery of the whites and blacks, including the wounded. Both white and black were bayoneted, shot, or sabred; even dead bodies were horribly mutilated, and children of seven and eight years, and several negro women killed in cold blood. Soldiers unable to speak from wounds were shot dead, and their bodies rolled down the banks into the river. The dead and wounded negroes were piled in heaps and burned, and several citizens, who had joined our forces for protection, were killed or wounded. Out of the garrison of six hundred only two hundred remained alive. Three hundred of those massacred were negroes; five were buried alive. Six guns were captured by the rebels, and carried off, including two 10-pound Parrotts, and two 12-pound howitzers. A large amount of stores was destroyed or carried away.”

Today on this anniversary of September 11, as we remember the largest terrorist attack on the US in history, we realize that we are only several weeks removed from the massacre at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin at the hands of the neo-nazi racist, Wade Michael Page. This should remind us that having crazy psychopaths is not the sole privilege of Muslims only and we should remember that terror and hate comes in all shades. Wade Michael Page was a terrorist as was Osama Bin Laden as is Nathan Bedord Forrest. Honoring any of these despicable individuals goes against what our nation stands for and against our constitution of all men created equal and liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.

To honor him and allow for this monument to be built in Selma would send the message to America’s minorities that white supremacy is not only on the rise but also is making dangerous headway again in the south and the Midwest. It’s as if in 100 years a group of skinheads get together in 2112, asking to build a monument and large statue of Wade Michael Page, across the street from the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. I would hope that there would be enough people left with some sense to stop that from happening also just as Bedford’s statue needs to be in Selma, Alabama. I hope that a hundred years from now, just as now, there would be people who would stand up for justice, truth and the American way, and Nathan Bedord Forrest was no American hero.

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Aasia Bibi and Impurities in the Land of the Pure

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

The case of Aasia Noreen aka Aasia Bibi illustrates how far Pakistan has to go to secure freedoms for its religious minorities. Christians and Hindus are not the only minorities who are persecuted for their beliefs but it is also Muslim minorities such as the Ismailis, Ahmadis, and Shiites who are routinely harassed, discriminated and also killed. Sadly, it is the case of Aasia Bibi that has brought some much needed attention to Pakistan’s sad state of affairs towards the treatment of its religious minorities.

Several sections of Pakistan’s Criminal Code consist of its blasphemy laws and of all the Muslim countries of the world that have anti-blasphemy laws, Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are by far the strictest. There is section 295 that forbids damaging or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object. Then there is section 295-A that “forbids outraging religious feelings.” There is also 295-B which prohibits defiling the Qu’ran and was originally punishable by life imprisonment but has since been amended to up to three years imprisonment.

No section of the blasphemy law is more controversial or harder to prove than Article 295-C, the law that Aasia Bibi is allegedly charged with having broken. In respect to prophet Muhammad, this statute states that ” Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to a fine.”

Aasia’s case and charges against her started almost a year and a half ago when there was a quarrel over a bowl of water in a dusty village in the heart of Pakistan’s Punjab province. A group of women were working the fields in the heat of the Pakistani sun when one of them, Aasia Bibi, dipped her glass in the communal bucket of drinking water to fetch herself and others a glass of water to drink and immediately was rebuffed by the other women who claimed that the water was now unclean as it had been touched by a non-Muslim. According to witnesses, instead of quietly bowing her head and taking the indignities, Aasia’s crime was that she mounted a strong defense of her faith and remained steadfast in her demeanor that she did nothing wrong. Too often in Pakistan, the blasphemy laws are used against religious minorities to settle personal vendettas and old scores according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group monitoring the case.

The news traveled fast in Aasia’s village of Ittan Wali, in Punjab’s Sheikhupura district that a Christian woman had insulted the prophet. The local mullah got on the mosque loudspeakers, urging the “faithful” to take action against Aasia Bibi. In sad but familiar pattern, her defense of her faith was somehow twisted into an accusation of blasphemy, according to her family and others familiar with the case. Soon as a mob gathered outside her home ready to take the law into their own hands and handing out vigilante justice, the police moved in and took her into custody. But instead of protecting her, they charged her with insulting Islam and its prophet under the blasphemy laws.

And then on Nov. 8, after suffering 18 months in prison, Aasia Bibi was sentenced to death by a district court, making her the first person to be handed the death penalty in Pakistan under the blasphemy laws. Many before her over the years have been charged, but punishment had been commuted to lesser penalties than the death sentence imposed on Aasia Bibi. No concrete evidence was ever presented against Aasia, according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch. Instead, the district judge relied on the testimonies of three other women, all of whom were hostile towards her.

Unfortunately this is a common insult hurled at many of Pakistan’s 2 million Christians who make up just 1.59% of the total population. Often, Christians in Pakistan are discriminated and persecuted and many times only get the lowest of the low jobs such as street sweepers, janitorial and sanitation workers. In fact, in Pakistan, the term ‘Chura‘ has become synonym with the Christian community as it relates to an unclean person akin to how the untouchables or Dalit community is seen in India. In India however, the Dalits are not subjected to arcane state blasphemy laws geared towards religious minorities as in Pakistan or are threatened with their lives at the hands of the Hindu majority.

As discussed in a couple of my previous articles, Taliban 1o1, History and Origins and Taliban 201, The Rise of the Pakistani Taliban, the Islamization of Pakistan started under the late General Zia ul Haq of Pakistan who took over the leadership of the country through a military coup in 1977 when he hung the deposed and democratically elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Earlier in 1973, the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan had declared that “Islam shall be the religion of the Pakistan” and had systematically begun the process of restricting the participation of religious minorities in government and politics.

Before General Zia, there were only two reported cases of blasphemy. Since the death sentence was inserted in 1986 into the Penal Code for the blasphemy laws, this number has now reached 962 — including 340 members of the Ahmadi Muslim community, 119 Christians, and 14 Hindus. A close examination of the cases reveals the blasphemy laws are often invoked to settle personal scores, or they are used by Islamist extremists as cover to persecute religious minorities, sadly with the help of the state under these laws.

General Zia began this policy of Islamization of Pakistan in conjunction with his support for the war against the Russians and assistance to the Afghan Mujahedeen as well as the building of thousands of madrassahs or religious schools across Afghanistan and Pakistan which nurtured the young men into what later became the Taliban. Many of these blasphemy laws fully came into being under his reign, although some were around since as early as more than 100 years prior when the British drew up the Indian Penal Code of 1860 which was initially an ill foreseen aim at keeping the peace among the many fractured faiths of the subcontinent. For instance, section 295-A, which “forbids outraging religious feelings”, could have been applied against a Muslim who insulted a Hindu or a Hindu who taunted a Sikh or Christian or vice versa. However under Zia, the blasphemy laws were expanded and almost exclusively applied against Muslim minorities such as the Ahmadis, Islamilis and Shiites as well as against the Christian and Hindu populations.

Recently, a religious ‘leader’ came out and has offered over $6000 to anyone who can kill Aasia Bibi while she awaits her punishment in police custody. Outrage and denunciations on this case are coming from across the world as many people are appalled at the sad state of rights for religious minorities in Pakistan. The Pope has intervened also asking for clemency for Aasia Bibi from Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. Against all manner of reason and justice, Lahore’s High Court recently issued an order on November 29, 2o1o, preventing Zardari from exercising his constitutional authority to pardon Aasia Bibi.

In a country rife with violence and chaos and one that has become synonymous with terror the world over, the case of Aasia Bibi is yet another dark stain on the country’s image around the world. The Taliban and the extremist groups ravaging Pakistan can be explained as being a violent minority and do not and should not reflect on the nation as a whole as the majority of people in Pakistan are opposed to them and their views of Islam. But the blasphemy laws, for as long as they have stayed on the books in Pakistan and in the constitution, cannot and should not be excused in any shape or form. These laws need to be repealed and the constitution needs to be amended in an emergency manner so that Aasia Bibi and other religious minority citizens of Pakistan are not subjected to cruel and subjective laws that are almost exclusively used against minorities to settle scores, personal vendettas, and instill terror in less than 3 percent of the country that is not part of the religious majority of Sunni Muslims.

There needs to be international pressure placed on Pakistan from the United Nations, the United States, Europe and others to modify the constitution immediately and to pardon this 45 year old mother of five children. It is ironic that in a country where many people sympathize with Osama’s Al Qaeda and profess to hate the west with one hand, they decry with the other why not enough western aid has came to their country when it recently saw the worst flooding in its history. Can you blame the American citizens, the Europeans or citizens of any other Christian nation from hesitating to give aid to a country that not only plays a duplicitous game when it comes to terrorists and terror havens but also treats Christians and other religious minorities in the manner as in the case of Aasia Bibi?

The name Pakistan literally translates into “The Land of the Pure”. And as a child growing up I was told that the meaning of Pakistan’s flag is this: “The green is a traditional Islamic color and the crescent moon and star are also Islamic symbols. The white stripe represents the non-Muslim minority and religious groups of Pakistan and there place in the country.” In my view, as long as the nation sanctions and tolerates these utterly unjust and biased blasphemy laws, the religious minorities of Pakistan clearly have no place in this land of the ‘pure’.

-Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

Breaking Pakistan’s Sufi Heart

By Mira Sethi for The Wall Street Journal

The two suicide bombers chose midnight on July 1, when the throng of worshipers in the ancient Data Darbar shrine in Lahore, Pakistan, was at its peak, to blow themselves up. Forty-five people were killed and 175 were injured. The attack on the 1,000-year-old center of Sufi Islam—the religion’s mystical, unorthodox face—was the first Taliban attack of its kind in Punjab province, the heartland of the country’s moderate, majority Barelvi sect.

The day after the attack on the shrine, Lahore’s students, politicians, traders and housewives took to the streets in loud, visceral protest. Major commercial centers were shut down, and in a rare show of sympathy, students from religious seminaries blocked roads and burned a few tires.

Pakistanis are now asking themselves: Is this America’s war or is it ours too? How can we fight it? Why did our military nurture these warriors for three decades and why has it turned against them now? How and when are we going to be at peace with our neighbors, especially India with which the military is obsessed and for whom these non-state actors were originally spawned?

To understand why this attack is so shocking, one must first look at Pakistan’s religious history. The majority of Pakistanis are Barelvis, who respect the inclusive traditions of the Sufis who brought Islam to the Indian Subcontinent. This is completely unlike the harsh version of Islam imported from Wahabi Saudi Arabia after the petro-dollar boom in the Middle East in the 1970s.

So the bombing of the Sufi shrine has symbolic resonance: Sufism has always thrived as a reaction to the politics of the state. In modern Turkey Sufism grew as a response to Ataturk’s secularism; in the Soviet Union, it grew as resistance to the state’s official policy of promoting atheism; in Algeria, it was a reaction to French colonialism. In Pakistan, Sufism has thrived as an alternative to the state-sponsored Wahabi Islam of the Deobandi jihadi sect.

If there’s one thing that Pakistanis are proud of, it’s their Sufi heritage. The shrine attacked in Lahore housed the tomb of one of the most famous Sufis to have ever lived, Ali Hajwiri, affectionately known by Lahoris as Data—one who facilitates the fulfillment of aspirations. Hajwiri wrote a seminal text in Sufi thought, the Kashf-al-Mahjub or “Unveiling of the Hidden.” An early example of Sufi doctrine, the book’s importance has grown over the centuries.

Although not a native of Lahore, Hajwiri decided to settle in the city for the last 34 years of his life at the end of the 11th century. Even then, Lahore’s fame as a center of culture was widespread. It was known for its old fortified city, a nourishing river, and a collection of free-spirited artists, artisans, and musicians. During his 34 years of residence, Hajwiri became a revered dervish, offering an inclusive mystical path to Lahore’s non-Muslim population, many of whom were subject to a punishing caste hierarchy.

Hajwiri’s shrine remained protected through centuries of rising and falling empires in the Punjab. Even the Sikh marauder Maharaja Ranjit Singh left the shrine untouched as he plundered many of Lahore’s riches.

In attacking Hajwiri’s shrine, the Taliban have grossly miscalculated. They had hoped to provoke anger at the Pakistani government for fighting America’s war. Instead they have managed to convince more and more Pakistanis that this is now their war, not just America’s.

India, Pakistan and the Musical Gurus of Peace

By Varun Soni for The Huffington Post

In July, India and Pakistan will begin a new round of talks in hopes of reviving their diplomatic efforts and renewing their peace process. While there are many pressing political issues to discuss, these talks could also be a remarkable opportunity for an innovative public diplomacy initiative between the nuclear neighbors. Although public diplomacy is often thought of as a form of state-to-state engagement, it also has the power to engage populations on a person-to-person level as well, especially in the age of social media and networking. Given the fact that many Indians and Pakistanis sing the same songs and listen to the same music, there is a unique opportunity now to promote popular music as a form of public diplomacy.

Although India and Pakistan are politically divided, their cultural roots still bind them together. Nowhere is this more apparent than Punjab — a region that was partitioned to create the modern nation-states of India and Pakistan in 1947, and further divided into the Indian states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh in the 1960s. Despite these geopolitical divisions, Punjabis in both India and Pakistan remain united by “Punjabiyat,” a shared cultural heritage that has developed over millennia.

The historical Punjab is the only region in South Asia where Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs are all represented in large numbers. Even as Punjab’s history is one of conflict and communalism, it is also one of overlapping musical and religious traditions. For example, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh canonical text, contains within it not only the devotional compositions of Guru Nanak and his Sikh successors, but also verses from poets now considered Hindu and Muslim, such as Namdev and Baba Farid. Likewise, the Sikh devotional music of kirtan draws from similar lyrical sources and employs a similar instrumentation as Hindu bhajan music and Sufi qawwali music. For contemporary musicians, the devotional syncretism of Punjab remains a powerful model for how music can provide an encompassing framework for both unity and diversity.

Earlier this year, I interviewed the Sufi rock star Salman Ahmad as part of a USC book launch series focused on religion, popular culture, and diplomacy. As the founder of Junoon, Pakistan’s most popular rock band, Ahmad discussed his experiences performing in both India and Pakistan and explained how rock and roll empowers and connects the youth in both countries. In the name of rock-and-roll diplomacy, Ahmad organized last year’s Concert for Pakistan at the UN General Assembly Hall as a way of raising money and awareness for the three million internally displaced people of the Swat Valley in Pakistan. Inspired by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar’s famous Concert for Bangladesh, the Concert for Pakistan brought together prominent Indian and Pakistani musicians, diplomats, and entrepreneurs in solidarity and support for Swat.

Another powerful moment in India-Pakistan musical diplomacy occurred in August of 1997, when India and Pakistan celebrated their fiftieth anniversaries of independence as nation-states. In order to commemorate this occasion, the virtuoso Indian music composer A.R. Rahman recorded with the late great Pakistani qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Together, the most famous musician from India and the most famous musician from Pakistan composed “Gurus of Peace,” an impassioned plea for peace between India and Pakistan. “Gurus of Peace” proved prescient, as the following year both India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons, prompting President Clinton to call the India-Pakistan border the world’s most dangerous region. But A.R. Rahman and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had reminded the region the year earlier that India and Pakistan could unite through musical fusion instead of divide over nuclear fusion.

In the 1950s, the US State Department began sponsoring jazz luminaries, such as Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, to perform concerts overseas and serve as American cultural ambassadors. This public diplomacy initiative was aimed at winning the hearts and minds of potential allies in the Cold War, but the concerts also connected communities and ideas at a person-to-person level, and inspired artistic movements throughout the world. Likewise, India and Pakistan should sponsor and promote a series of musical concerts, workshops, and exchanges as a way of creating connections and engaging communities on a non-state level. Musical diplomacy certainly has its limits and should only be one part of a broader public diplomacy strategy, but after more than 60 years of missed public diplomacy opportunities, it’s time for India and Pakistan to follow the lead of A.R. Rahman and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and give music a chance.

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