As events unfold in France centring around Islamophobia, there is a feeling of déjà vu. We have witnessed this a few times before this sequence of events. There is some provocation or other targeting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) initiated by a non-Muslim group or institution.
Predictably, Muslims react. In the midst of demonstrations and rallies, an act of violence occurs perpetrated by an offended Muslim and/or his co-religionists, leading to further demonisation of Muslims in the media, which by this time is in a frenzy.
Feeling targeted, some Muslim groups escalate their response, sometimes causing more deaths to Muslims and non-Muslims even in countries far away. One also hears of calls to boycott goods produced in the country where it all started.
On this occasion, too, it was French President Emmanuel Macron's vigorous assertion that cartoons of the Prophet, produced by the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 and republished since, represented freedom of speech that angered a lot of Muslims in France and elsewhere, though some other remarks he made recently about "Islam being in crisis" and "Islamic separatism" also annoyed some people.
However, it was the beheading of a French teacher who had shown the cartoons in a class discussion on freedom of speech by a Muslim youth of Chechen origin that provoked not only Macron but also other leaders and a huge segment of French society to react with hostility towards Muslims and Islam.
It should be emphasised that almost all major Muslim leaders and organisations in France condemned the beheading. So did many Muslims in other parts of the world.
Not many Muslim theologians have argued publicly that resorting to mindless violence to express one's anger over a caricature of the Prophet is an affront to the blessed memory of God's Messenger. For even when he was physically abused in both Mecca and Medina, Prophet Muhammad did not retaliate with violence against his adversaries.
He continued with his mission of preaching justice and mercy with kindness and dignity, an attitude that should be nurtured and nourished in the Muslim world today, especially by those who command religious authority and political influence among the masses.
If a change in approach is necessary among some Muslims, French society as a whole should also reappraise its understanding of freedom of speech. It should never glorify the freedom to insult, mock, humiliate another person or community or civilisation.
Respect for the feelings of the religious other should be integral to one's belief system, secular or not. Just because the French state and much of French society have marginalised religion, it does not follow that it should also show utter contempt for a Muslim's love and reverence for his/her Prophet, especially when six million French citizens profess the Islamic faith.
Indeed, respecting and understanding the sentiments and values that constitute faith and belief has become crucial in a globalised world, where at least 80 per cent of its inhabitants are linked to some religion or another. We cannot claim to be champions of democracy and yet ignore, or worse, denigrate what is precious to the majority of the human family.
This does not mean we should slavishly accept mass attitudes towards a particular faith. Reforms should continue to be pursued, but it should not undermine respect for the foundations of that faith.
French leaders and elites who regard freedom of speech or expression as the defining attribute of their national identity should concede that there have been a lot of inconsistencies in their stances. A French comedian, Dieudenne, has been convicted in court eight times for allegedly upsetting "Jewish sentiment" and is prohibited from performing in many venues.
A cartoonist with Charlie Hebdo was fired for alleged "anti-Semitism". A writer, Robert Faurisson, was fined in court in the 60s and lost his job for questioning the conventional holocaust narrative. Many years later, French intellectual Roger Garaudy was convicted for attempting to reinterpret certain aspects of the holocaust.
The hypocrisy of the French state goes beyond convictions in court. While officials are rightfully aghast at the violence committed by individuals, France has a long history of perpetrating brutal massacres against Muslims and others. The millions of Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans who died in the course of the French colonisation of these countries bear tragic testimony to this truth.
Vietnam and the rest of Indo-China reinforce this cruel and callous record. Even in contemporary times, the French state has had no qualms about embarking upon military operations, from Afghanistan and Cote d'Ivoire to Libya and North Mali, that serve its own interests of dominance and control rather than the needs of the local people.
Honest reflections on its own misdeeds past and present are what we expect of the French in 2020. No need to pontificate to others. This is what we would like to see all colonial powers of do — partly because neo-colonialism is very much alive today.
The writer is the president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)
Published in: New Straits Times, 04 November 2020
Ethnic stereotypes are a bane upon any society.
Most of the time they are based upon simplistic generalisations that do not reflect actual realities. They exacerbate ethnic relations in multi-ethnic societies. Worse, they impede the growth of understanding and empathy among individuals from different communities that have had minimum social interaction over a long period of time.
Recent remarks by former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that “ the Chinese are a wealthy lot” and that they “control all the towns in the country” would be examples of such stereotyping. According to the Department of Statistics, 70% of Chinese Malaysians in 2016 belonged to the working –class. In fact, even at the time of Merdeka, the majority of Chinese, as the well-known economist, the late James Puthucheary pointed out were employees not employers of capital. If some Chinese from working-class backgrounds have become rich over the years it is because of opportunities and mobility afforded by the prevailing socio-economic system, apart from their own hard work, perseverance and frugality.
As for towns, while it is true that many present-day towns were pioneered by Chinese, their current management and control are in the hands of largely Malay bureaucrats. Local government bureaucracy in turn is linked to a mainly Malay political order.
This leads us to yet another stereotype which needs to be scrutinised. There are many non-Malays who argue that Malays exercise total monopoly over political power. This is not true if one appreciates the nature and evolution of political power in Malaysia. Monarchical power which has been exclusively Malay for centuries was preserved by British colonial rule and shared with the people through democratic procedures and practices embodied in the Merdeka Constitution of 1957. It was the Malay Rulers and the UMNO elite who decided to confer political rights upon the domiciled non-Malay populace through extraordinarily accommodative citizenship provisions in the Constitution which had no precedent or parallel anywhere in the world. Of course, a number of factors contributed to this momentous decision, including colonial interests. But what is critically important is that the decision transformed the entire political landscape forever: from a people associated with a land, the Malays became a community among communities. If this process of accommodation and acceptance is understood, no thinking Chinese or Indian Malaysian would talk of the monopolisation of political power by the Malays. There would be a more empathetic attitude towards the Malay position. It would improve inter-ethnic relations in the country and contribute towards national integration.
To explain the question of ‘political power’ in more concrete terms, it is often forgotten that the UMNO led Alliance coalition from the first Federal legislative election itself in 1955 set a trend that has remained through 14 general elections. In that election 17 Chinese and Indian candidates from the MCA and MIC were fielded though there was a Chinese majority in only two out of the 52 constituencies. All the MCA and MIC contestants won, most of them needless to say, with Malay votes. This phenomenon of cross ethnic voting is not confined to the Alliance or its successor, the Barisan Nasional. Other parties have also demonstrated their capacity to elicit support transcending ethnic boundaries. And yet the myth about Malay monopolisation of political power persists.
There are other ethnic stereotypes that are equally pernicious even if their political impact is not as serious as the two we have just examined. Segments of different Malaysian communities believe that greed is a Chinese trait; that Indians are untrustworthy; or that Malays are lazy. These are stereotypes that are easily demolished. That many Chinese have displayed tremendous generosity is an irrefutable fact; that there are trustworthy Indians is so many sectors of society is an unchallengeable truth ; that industrious and diligent Malays are found in all walks of life is obvious to any casual observer of Malaysian society.
The stereotype about Malay laziness is perhaps the only instance of a stereotype subscribed to by certain leaders of the targeted people themselves. It is a stereotype that two-time Prime Minister Dr Mahathir has clung on to stubbornly for decades ---- in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary and in spite of the wide range of persuasive arguments marshalled in Syed Hussein Alatas’ much lauded classic, The Myth of the Lazy Native published in 1977. It is a pity that Mahathir does not seem to understand that this myth is rooted in the ideology of colonial capitalism and has been exploited by both the colonialists and by purveyors of communal politics to denigrate native peoples.
The persistence of stereotypes of this sort underscores the importance of emphasising public education on the impediments that obstruct integration in societies like ours. It is revealing that there has not been a single discussion on The Myth over any Malaysian television channel. It is not just the media that should be harnessed for this purpose. The school and the university should also play their role. The family is even more crucial since so many of our values and attitudes are formed through intimate interaction within the confines of the home. Religious and cultural organisations are equally decisive in this mammoth task of raising social awareness on how destructive stereotypes are.
Dr Chandra Muzaffar has been writing on Ethnic Relations since the early seventies, he is President of International Movement for a Just World.
Paul Findley, one of the most remarkable Congressmen that the US House of Representatives had produced since World War 2, passed away on Aug 9, 2019.
He was 98 years old. He was first elected to Congress in 1960 from a district in Illinois once represented by Abraham Lincoln, his immortal hero. Findley was elected 11 times from that constituency until his defeat in 1982.
As a Congressman, he played a significant role in the formulation of the War Powers Act which required the US president to notify Congress of foreign military engagements.
He was also critical of wasteful Pentagon spending. He was one of a handful of early legislators who opposed the Vietnam War.
But Findley’s “notoriety” is associated with something else. He was a consistent critic of the influence of the Israel lobby over Congress.
He could see how the lobby shaped US policies especially in West Asia. He was very much aware of the tactics the lobby employed to silence anyone who questioned even mildly the biasness of the US position in the Israel- Palestine/Arab conflict.
Findley himself was a victim of the lobby’s vicious targeting. Because of his concern over the conflict he had visited the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who was then regarded by the US government as a “terrorist”.
That visit became cannon fodder for the Israel lobby to mount a massive campaign against Findley which was one of the main reasons for his defeat in the 1982 Congressional election.
Following his defeat, he wrote a couple of books about the power of the lobby in US public life and how institutions and individuals were confronting the Lobby.
They Dare to Speak Out had a bigger impact outside the US than within. His next book, Deliberate Deceptions, revealed the nexus between US and Israel forged through money, corporate links and personal relationships. Findley was now perceived by the US establishment as a staunch opponent of Israeli power over the US.
His explorations into Israeli and Zionist power in the US invariably compelled him to look into how that power determined public perceptions of Islam and Muslims in general.
His tentative perspective on the issue received a boost when he was invited to participate in a workshop in Penang, Malaysia on perceptions of Islam and Muslims in the Western media organised by JUST in October 1995.
That workshop, as Findley had observed many times since, changed his outlook on not only Islam but also the West’s relationship with a civilisation which often invoked negative sentiments especially among the “educated”.
He began to realise that the roots of the antagonism towards the religion and its followers were deeply embedded in the West’s history and entangled with the crusades and colonialism and post-colonial structures of global power and dominance.
On his return he produced a Friendly Note on his Muslim Neighbour which was widely circulated and later authored a book entitled Silent No More that sought to demolish America’s false impressions of Islam and Muslims.
The book sold 60,000 copies. As Findley’s mission to combat ignorance about, and prejudice against, another civilisation was beginning to make some progress, it suffered a severe setback through two major events at the start of the new century.
Both the destruction of the twin towers in New York on the Sept 11, 2001 — the infamous 9-11 incident — which was the rationale for the US helmed “War on Terror” and the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in March 2003 made bridge-building between Christians and Muslims a monumental challenge.
Nonetheless, Findley persevered. He continued to lend support to the work of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other such causes.
His last correspondence with me was in January 2016. He had written an article for the JUST Commentary issue of Jan 20, 2016 entitled, “Truth Seeking About Islam”. He lamented that his eyesight was failing though his spirit was still high.
Findley was a man of extraordinary courage. The positions he adopted on Israeli power or on Palestinian rights or on justice for Muslims in the US incurred the wrath of many.
He was often isolated and marginalised. But he never abandoned his principles.
The tenacity with which he adhered to them was what made him a man of integrity and dignity. He knew the price would be heavy. But, it was a price he was prepared to pay.
It is this — his moral conduct in the face of adversity — that will be his lasting legacy.
DR CHANDRA MUZAFFAR
President, International Movement for a Just World
Published in: The New Straits Times, Wednesday 21 August 2019
In a civilised society, no one will resort to violence, or the threat of violence, to stifle voices that one does not want to hear.
Unfortunately, this is what happened in Kuala Lumpur on July 13 when some people forced the cancellation of a public seminar on “The Amman Message”, organised by civil society groups.
A Facebook account holder had threatened to bomb the venue of the seminar, the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies.
Threatening to bomb a place constitutes an act of terror. While there have been instances when force has been employed by groups to disrupt public gatherings, this is perhaps one of those rare occasions where an individual links himself and the group he is representing — Gerakan Banteras Syiah, a movement to stop the spread of Shia — to a terrorist threat.
It suggests a degree of boldness that we have not witnessed before.
What is shocking about this brazen act is that it is driven by a stark lie. It projects the Amman Message as a devious instrument to propagate Shia teachings when anyone who has a basic understanding of the message knows that it merely recognises the validity of all eight Mathhabs (legal schools) of Islam and forbids takfir (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims.
Aimed at creating unity and harmony within the Muslim Ummah, the message was initiated by a Sunni ruler, King Abdullah of Jordan, in 2004. The majority of those involved in drafting and endorsing the document were Sunnis. Besides, the Amman Message was unanimously adopted by the the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (now Cooperation) in Makkah in 2005.
The Amman Message is one of the most important documents produced by the Muslim world in the last 100 years.
Manufacturing a lie to tarnish a noble effort and then deploying that lie to whip up popular emotions is becoming pervasive in our society.
Of course, the manipulation of lies is so much a part of politics in Malaysia and other countries.
Nonetheless, in a situation in which fears are exaggerated and uncertainties are exploited even more than in the past, lies becomes more impactful, and therefore, more dangerous.
It is a pity that so few Malaysians, including human rights advocates, are prepared to expose lies.
Even the threat of violence to silence the truth has not elicited as much condemnation from sane and rational people as it should.
When the people are not doing enough, it becomes imperative for those in authority to act with courage and firmness.
As one of the three organisers of the seminar, the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) would like to know what action has been taken by the police against the individual and group that threatened to bomb the venue.
It is only when action is taken against those who threaten peace and peaceful dialogue that we will be convinced that the rule of law is supreme in our society and that we uphold civilised norms of human behaviour.
DR CHANDRA MUZAFFAR
President, International Movement for a Just World
Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 16 July 2019
Immediately after Dr Mohammed Morsi’s death on June 17, there were calls for a thorough, independent probe into the cause of death, while he was on trial in Cairo for espionage charges.
The United Nations was one of the organisations that demanded the investigation.
There is no indication, however, of any attempt to do so.
It is imperative that a credible inquiry is conducted at once under the aegis of the UN. It is alleged that when he collapsed in court, no medical attention was accorded to Morsi for about 20 minutes.
His family and supporters have accused Egypt authorities of conspiring to murder him.
In fact, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been emphatic in calling Morsi’s death a “murder”.
Under international humanitarian law, any sudden death in custody must be followed by an independent investigation.
Besides, Morsi, who was incarcerated for six years, often in solitary confinement, had various ailments, which could have impacted upon his death. He had diabetes, liver and kidney problems.
International human rights groups have maintained all along that Morsi was denied adequate medical attention, despite requests from Morsi and his family.
His prison conditions were harsh and inhumane. He had only three family visits for brief periods during his incarceration. Visits from his lawyers were severely restricted.
Morsi’s mistreatment in prison was all the more unacceptable because the charges levelled against him were politically motivated.
Surely, the death of the first democratically elected president of Egypt while in custody deserves to be investigated?
DR CHANDRA MUZAFFAR
President, International Movement for a Just World
IAIS Malaysia also endorses this appeal.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Saturday 29 June 2019
The unjust incarceration of Dr Tariq Ramadan, professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, demeans and disgraces the French legal system.
Ramadan has been detained in a solitary cell at Paris’s Fleury-Mérogis Prison since Feb 2.
It is alleged that he raped two women in Lyon and Paris in 2009 and 2012. A criminal investigation is being carried out to build a case against him.
He has no access to his family and is not allowed to communicate with them through the phone.
It should be emphasised that it was he who went to the police in Paris on Jan31 to answer the allegations against him. He has cooperated with the investigating authorities. And, yet, he has been treated harshly.
The way he has been treated should be weighed against the scurrilous allegations hurled at him.
In the Lyon incident, the accuser alleges that she was raped in a hotel in the afternoon of Oct 9, 2009.
Ramadan’s attorney has provided the prosecution with evidence that shows that his flight from London did not arrive in Lyon until 6.35pm and that he was in a hall by 8.30pm to deliver a lecture to hundreds of attendees.
The French police, which confirmed receiving this piece of evidence, later “claimed that it was “missing” from the case file because it had been “lost”. This in itself is a travesty of justice.
What makes it even more suspicious is a meeting between the accuser and high-ranking French magistrate Michel Debacq, in 2009 with the apparent intention of bringing a case against Ramadan, with the assistance of Islamophobes Caroline Fourest and Antoine Sfeir.
Debacq would thus appear to have unethically colluded with Fourest and “Christelle” (the accuser) against Ramadannine years ago.
Debacq, who serves in France’s Court of Cassation, did not disclose his involvement either with “Christelle” or the current case, which is illegal, according to French law.
The Paris incident, which allegedly took place in April 2012, further undermines the veracity of the claims made by Ramadan’s accusers. The accuser, one Hendra Ayari, “sent Ramadan no fewer than 280 messages via Facebook between June and August 2014”, more than two years after the alleged rape.
It has been disclosed that “Ayari recently admitted to French media that she did send these messages through a second Facebook account she had created after Ramadanblocked her first account because she was harassing him in the hope that she could seduce and entrap him”.
These revelations may be the reason why Ayari did not appear when French police summoned her last week.
Though allegations from both women appear baseless, the prosecution continues to detain Ramadan with the aim of dragging him to court.
The French media has been complicit in this. Not only does it present ludicrous allegations as facts, it has repeated lies about Ramadan to discredit him.
For instance, media outlets had reported that “Prof Ramadan has an Egyptian passport, which he might attempt to use to flee to Egypt”. Prof Ramadan does not have an Egyptian passport, and is a citizen of Switzerland only.
The French media’s smearing of Ramadan and the legal system’s skewed attitude reflect a larger problem.
Dominant French society does not take kindly to those who have the courage to criticise its bias against Islam and its followers.
This is what Ramadan has been doing for a long while. He has been forthright about how French state and society have discriminated against Muslims.
Islamophobia in Europe and the increasing marginalisation of the poor and powerless in the continent have also been abiding concerns of the man.
He has been vocal about the dogmatism of ultra-conservative Muslims and the authoritarianism of Muslim regimes.
In other words, there are different groups that would want to nail Ramadan to the wall.
This is why his persecution in France is not just about antagonism towards Islam and Muslims, and the drive to stifle rational voices that seek to expose French prejudice and bigotry.
It reveals the hypocrisy that surrounds the noble French and European ideal of the right to dissent, especially when it comes to certain fundamental issues.
Or, is Ramadan’s ordeal also related to Muslim authoritarianism and its ability to reach far beyond its own shores?
Given all these forces at work, how can we expect a fair and just trial for Ramadan? Hence the demand of the “Free Tariq Ramadan” campaign and civil society groups and people for his immediate and unconditional release.
Dr Chandra Muzaffar
Director and president, International Movement for a Just World Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 20 February 2018
IT is not surprising that Muslim governments, organisations and individuals right across the globe have condemned the heinous murder of 12 persons –10 journalists and two policemen – at the headquarters of the satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris in the late morning of Jan 7. This dastardly act of terror, allegedly carried out by three Muslims, violates every norm in the Islamic faith. If it is true that the killers were trying to avenge the sanctified memory of the Prophet Muhammad, who has been the subject of continuous ridicule and contempt in the weekly, murdering its cartoonists and editors is clearly an abomination..................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
The House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States of America should reject any form of US military intervention in Syria. Rejection would be a clear statement against war. It would be a lucid message on behalf of peace.
There are at least 12 reasons why the US Congress, and the people of the world, should adopt such a stand.
One, if the two houses represent the voice of the American people, it is significant that 50% of the people are against military intervention in Syria according to a NBC poll conducted on the 28-29 of August 2013. Only 42% support military action.............Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
In the midst of the on-going discussion on the question of the conversion of a child to Islam, it is important to pay serious attention to an objective and balanced Policy Paper on the issue produced by the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) based here in Kuala Lumpur in December 2012. The Paper entitled “Conversion in Malaysia: Issues and Reform Proposals” was researched and prepared by a group led by IAIS Chairman and CEO, Professor Mohammad Hashim Kamali, widely recognised as one of the world’s most outstanding Islamic jurists............ Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
On the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy, it would be instructive to reflect on the disastrous impact of that tragedy upon the entire human family.
One, hundreds of thousands, perhaps a couple of million, lives have been lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Afghan-Pakistan border and other places as a direct or indirect consequence of the so-called “war on terror” that followed 9-11. It is not just the violence generated by the US helmed occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan that is responsible for this. Terror groups that resist occupation or are seeking to avenge the death of innocent children and women at the hands of the occupiers, or those who are embroiled in the tussle for power or enmeshed in inter-sectarian and inter-factional feuds---like Al-Qaeda--- are also culpable.
.......Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)