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What Muslims Need to Know About CVE

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), as defined by the Department of State in a recent CVE joint strategy document, “refers to proactive actions to counter efforts by violent extremists to radicalize, recruit, and mobilize followers to violence and to address specific factors that facilitate violent extremist recruitment and radicalization to violence.”

Though government efforts to engage local Muslim communities in multivalent forms of “partner” arrangements to mitigate and quell the allure of violent extremism have existed for the last few years, CVE as a particular initiative represents the most comprehensive attempt to proactively address violent extremism to date. In its current incarnation, CVE is demonstrably different from what has been tried previously in the following areas:

How is CVE Different?

1- It is a global initiative, and a recent CVE Summit hosted by the White House in February drew attendance from over 60 countries. Of the countries in attendance, the United Arab Emirates has been dubbed as playing a central role as a partner to the US in developing and enacting global CVE initiatives. Since the February meeting, the UAE has already inaugurated the Sawab Center “to counter the online messaging, propaganda and recruitment by the terrorist organization known as Daesh (ISIL).”

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2- It is a funded initiative, with the current application period for grants having just closed on September 6th of this calendar year. Headed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), current CVE allocation stands at $10 million dollars that will be distributed to a projected 60 grantees. Of the available $10 million, $3 million has been allocated for programs that help “develop resilience,” with the remaining $7 million divided between programs designed to “challenge the narrative,” “train and engage,” “manage intervention activities,” and “build capacity.” It should be noted that DHS represents but one sector of CVE funding, as both the Justice Department and State Department have separate mechanisms for CVE funding.

3- Locally, CVE enlists the “help of counselors, social workers, religious figures, and other community members to intervene with people the FBI thinks are in danger of radicalizing” as part of “Shared Responsibility Committees.” In a leaked letter from the FBI directed toward potential SRC members, the details of participating in an SRC include “not consulting outside experts” without written permission from the FBI along with potentially having to sign nondisclosure agreements.

4- Participating entities include not only local SRCs, but a myriad of private sector organizations. During the 2015 White House CVE Summit (referenced above), Jared Cohen, the then Director of Google Ideas (now Jigsaw), spoke of Google’s desire to be “proactive” in addressing those topics that fell in the “intersection of technology and global security challenges.” Cohen later referred to an internal CVE Summit organized by Google that brought together an array of ex-terrorists to discuss the challenge of violent extremism. Prior to the February Summit, the White House released a fact sheet on CVE stating that one of the objectives of the Summit was to widen the “global base of CVE stakeholders” to include “social media solutions.” CVE pilot programs in Boston, Los Angeles, and Minnesota have made a point of incorporating private sector participation into their initiatives, with Minnesota’s CVE program drawing funding from private sector entities. The Los Angeles CVE pilot has detailed as part of its framework the inclusion of “private partners, such as social media companies, film production and public media outlets” to “help amplify positive narratives to combat extremism via social media.” At a recent Global Entrepreneurship Summit in June, Secretary of State John Kerry called on the tech industry to create new products “to tackle the enormous global challenges we face,” and has elsewhere elicited the support of Hollywood executives as part of broader CVE related efforts. Twitter has claimed to have suspended 235,000 accounts since February 2016 on terrorism-related grounds, and a recent statement by the non-profit Counter-Terrorism Project encouraged other “social media companies” to “follow this example and increase their efforts to enforce their terms of service by removing extremist content.” Like Twitter, Facebook has taken to censoring offending content in a reported partnership with the Israeli government, while the Google Transparency Project has reported Google’s tight ties with the White House, including 427 visits to the White House between the start of Obama’s presidency and October 2015 as well as a “revolving door” between Google and the Obama administration. In addition to these documented formal relationships, a number of private sector non-profits have formed to discuss and develop potential policy for the next Administration. This includes the non-profit Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) Commission on Countering Violent Extremism, which is in the process of producing a “final report, aimed at breaking new ground in the way CVE is understood and practiced and influencing the next Administration’s CVE policies and approaches.” CSIS boasts as Co-Chairs of its CVE Commission Leon Panetta and Tony Blair, and includes as commissioners a General Counsel member from Google, the President of Microsoft, the Head of Global Impact Investing of Goldman Sachs, and the Co-Founder of the Tribeca Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Institute. Therefore, private sector participation a) includes a cross-section of industries including the financial sector, media, and tech, b) is already underway vis-à-vis either government solicited or independent efforts aimed at challenging what is perceived as an alluring terrorist narrative, and c) is actively being solicited by White House and State Department officials.

Given the foregoing scope of CVE, this article will endeavor to examine the contours of the current CVE discourse as it pertains to Muslims. Within this context, this article will begin by unpackaging terms native to CVE including the presuppositions necessary to situate CVE as an issue of urgency, and then proceed to attend to common arguments in favor of Muslim community participation.

Violent Extremism – Not Simply a “Muslim Thing”

A necessary prerequisite for any initiative of this scale is a robust epistemological underpinning. Unfortunately, the core terms deployed in service of CVE remain fickle, disjointed, and incoherent. Take for example the term “radicalization.” Given the frequency of the use of this term, one would assume there to be an existing definition of radicalization that makes it qualitatively distinguishable from violent activity that is not an output of perceived radicalization.

Alex Wilner and Claire-Jehanne Dubouloz refer to radicalization as “a personal process in which the individual adopts extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations, and where the attainment of particular goals justifies the use of indiscriminate violence.” Brian Jenkins, a Senior Advisor to the President of the RAND Corporation, described radicalization before a subcommittee hearing on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, as “internalizing a set of beliefs, a militant mindset that embraces violent jihad as the paramount test of one’s conviction.”

In order to qualify both definitions, we need to ask a few important questions. What, for example, constitutes “extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations”? Or a “militant mindset”? Countries throughout the world have leveraged these and other rather amorphous terrorist-related taxonomies as dialectical tools to quell opposition and suppress political dissent. Russia’s recently ratified Yarova Amendment provides what has been described as “sweeping new powers to security forces, beefs up controls of social media and telephone calls, and broadens the definition of extremism crimes.” Paul Gregory, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, has lamented these broad powers, stating that although the amendment was “paraded before the public as an anti-terrorism measure, its real purpose is to shield the Putin regime from internal dissent and unrest.” Last year China passed a new national security law which has been described as reading “more like a Communist Party ideology paper and a call to arms aimed at defending the party’s grip on power.” Governments throughout the world have stifled legitimate dissent and repressively castigated political opposition under the rubric of national security (see: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Brazil, Turkey, the EU, et al). Given the ever-elusive definition of extremism and its cognate radicalization alongside rampant global abuse, on what grounds can one lay claim to holding a genuine/legitimate grievance against “extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations”?

The fact of the matter is that the often unspoken definition of radicalization and extremism is that it applies exclusively to acts of violence enacted by self-identified Muslim actors (or, actors which can be depicted as being Muslim by the government). Muslim actors in heterogeneous contexts, possessing an assortment of motives, and pursuing varied means to violently oppose their conflict partner are collectively conflated under the umbrella of the reductive neologism “terrorist.” Following the Charleston shooting last year that left nine dead, Glenn Greenwald noted the inconsistent application of the term terrorism, characterizing it as a “completely malleable, manipulated, vapid term of propaganda that has no consistent application whatsoever.”

It is difficult to argue against Greenwald’s assessment. That millions of Americans grow up in a socio-cultural context that routinely and unremittingly depicts Muslims as a conflict partner, “radical Islamism” as an ideological opponent, and killing of the Muslim “other” as the exclusive path for remediation, is beyond debate. Moreover, this culture of Western radicalization designed to depict Muslims as the cultural “other” has been fomented in various military circles. Islamophobia Today has reported a “crusader sub-culture” in the military today, with an increase in “Anti-Muslim/Islam and pro-Crusader themes tied to military-use paraphernalia, including: T-Shirts, insignias, bullet coating, rifle scope cases as well as tattoos inscribed ‘Kafir,’ and ‘Infidel.’” Up thru 2012, military training included an encouragement to use “Hiroshima” tactics as part of a “total war on Islam.” Also in 2012, a South Carolina-based Marine Corps squadron reinstituted the controversial name “Crusader” with a cross as its insignia, reportedly telling its members that, “The enemy gets to have Allah in their fight. We need to get our Lord and Savior back into our fight.” Even paramilitary contracting units have adopted this discourse, with the former CEO of Blackwater, Erik Prince, viewing himself as being tasked with the elimination of “Islam and the Muslim faith from the globe.” Prince openly and frequently employed terms such as “ragheads” and “hajis” when referring to Iraqis and other Arabs whose killings he rewarded. Does none of this constitute a “militant mindset”?

And indeed, therein lies the rub: in the paradigmatic framing that predominates contemporary CVE discussions, it is only Muslims and perhaps, in a more charitable trying-not-to-be-exclusively-Muslim-framing, fringe white supremacist groups, that are capable of carrying out violent extremism. Meanwhile, drone attacks, shock-and-awe tactics, paramilitary contracting units, indefinite detention, extraordinary renditioning, and the many other tools of the powerful vs. the powerless get a pass. Millions dead in Muslim-majority nations are flippantly regarded as unavoidable civilian casualties or “collateral damage.” All the while, any trenchant critique aimed at drawing attention to these basic facts results in the hackneyed charge of anti-Americanism or radical sympathizing. The outcome of such a discourse necessarily limits the scope of “violent extremism” to Muslims alone. Given this presumptive basis, Muslims are depicted as uniquely possessing the ability to carry out egregious violence, and it is on this account that we are held responsible to self-police our communities.

Muslims should – and indeed, must – reject this terror framing of their faith. The fact is that if we use “violent extremism” as a conceptual category encompassing all acts of violence, then violent acts carried out by self-identified Muslims would be put into proper perspective relative to the many more common ways in which everyday Americans are victims of daily violence. This, in turn, could perhaps reduce the anti-Muslim hysteria that continues to dominate certain segments of society. Moreover, we would begin to address more critically the wanton violence carried out by both state and non-state actors, and perhaps ask why so many purportedly “advanced” and “civilized” nations in the West have taken to the military option and global violence.

CVE and Stigmatization, even within an Establishment Framing

For arguments sake, let us accept the establishment framing of “terrorism” and “radicalization” as an act only carried out by actors inspired by jihadist groups (i.e. Daesh/ISIL, AlQaeda, the Taliban, etc.) or fringe fanatics in the US (radical leftists, right-wing extremists, etc.). Would, within this revised framing, CVE be a laudable program worth pursuing? The answer remains a resounding “no.” Even in this already narrow and politically-motivated definition of “terrorism,” CVE deputizes and stigmatizes Muslims alone with only lip-service directed toward non-Muslim terror threats.

In a recent subcommittee hearing held by the House Homeland Security Committee (HSC) entitled “Identifying the Enemy: Radical Islamist Terror,” George Selim, the Director of the Office for Community Partnerships for the DHS and head of the DHS CVE Task Force, testified concerning the current state of CVE. At multiple points in the hearing, congressional inquiry revolved around CVE scope. Following his initial testimony, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman asked Selim about non-Muslim NGOs that have been involved with CVE. Despite his insistence that him and his staff work with a “range” of NGOs in countering domestic terrorism that are not Muslim, Selim failed to name a single non-Muslim NGO. Rep. Bennie Thompson later asked Selim about right-wing terror groups and other ideologies that motivate domestic violence, ones that statistically represent a much greater threat to the homeland than Daesh/ISIL. In response, Selim cited Secretary of the DHS Jeh Johnson as having stated that the “preeminent threat to our homeland security today is ISIL’s ability to recruit and radicalize,” a claim that Rep. Thompson went on to flatly reject, referring to reports highlighting non-Muslim sources of violent extremism as “irrefutably” worse and more threatening than Daesh/ISIL.

If there remained any doubt about the exclusively-Muslim framing of CVE, Selim quickly extinguished it in the coming set of questions when asked by Rep. Scott Perry whether or not white supremacist groups in general, and the KKK in particular, would represent an ideologically extreme group whose thought CVE would seek to preempt or counteract. Though he initially responded generically, over time Selim all but conceded that such groups would not be in scope (Perry characterized his response as saying “essentially no”), repeating his prior statement that the “preeminent threat to the homeland today is ISIL’s ability to recruit and radicalize.”

In short, CVE efforts are solely concerned with Muslim “radicalization” and if the recent HSC hearing is any indication, government officials are making little effort to conceal that fact.

CVE, Research and The Numbers

CVE programs also presuppose another critical yet entirely unsubstantiated claim: that violent extremism is indeed a significant problem. In his work The Missing Martyrs, Charles Kurzman examines the global death toll that has resulted from Muslim terror plots and in contrast to popular discussions on the topic, inquires as to what accounts for the decidedly low rate of Muslims carrying out terror attacks. Published in 2011, Kurzman states that at the time of his writing, “Global Islamist terrorists have managed to recruit fewer than one in 15,000 Muslims over the past quarter-century and fewer than one in 100,000 Muslims since 9/11.” In a 2011 interview, Kurzman says about terror acts conducted in the US, “Muslim American terrorist plots have killed since 9/11 — since the 3,000 killed on 9/11 — have killed 33 individuals in the United States since that time. Over that same period of time, there have been more than 150,000 murders in the United States, or 14 or 15,000 murders every year. Muslim American terrorism, then, has been a very small, very low percentage of the overall violence in the United States.” Other studies have since corroborated this count. Even if we incorporate into Kurzman’s initial assessment the emerging population of Daesh/ISIL, we are still left with a diminutive fragment of the global Muslim population. Estimates have differed dramatically over Daesh/ISIL’s real membership, with the highest estimates reporting up to 100,000 members. Though such a number may seem high at first glance (a number which was, incidentally, established by way of “foreign observers” and is more than triple CIA estimates), it can be contextualized more easily when juxtaposed against Chicago’s 150,000 gang member population, and a total of 1.4 million gang members across the United States. In addition to the aforementioned numbers of Daesh/ISIL members, ISIS prosecutions in the US have relied extensively on cases encouraged by informants or undercover agents. In a study produced by Fordham Law’s Center on National Security analyzing ISIS prosecutions in the United States, 59% of all ISIS prosecutions in the US were determined to have involved informants or undercover agents (this, out of a paltry 101 cases in total).

Given these relatively sparse numbers – particularly within the United States – one must wonder the likelihood of thwarting violent extremism by deputizing imams and community leaders, a likelihood that becomes even less probable when one considers further factors that I will discuss in the ensuing sections.

Identifying Causes

In 2004, the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board published a 102-page report concerning America’s standing in the global war of ideas. Tasked with investigating global opinion about America, the report stated that “American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies,” concluding that “Muslims do not hate our freedoms, but rather, they hate our policies.” Since this early Bush-era study, a number of subsequent studies have arrived at much the same conclusion. Dr. Robert Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and founder of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, has been lauded for completing the most comprehensive examination of suicide attacks to date, investigating over 4,600 global suicide attacks since 1980. Pape concludes that, “What 95 percent of all suicide attacks have in common, since 1980, is not religion, but a specific strategic motivation to respond to a military intervention, often specifically a military occupation, of territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly.” Kruger and Maleckova’s “Education, Poverty and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?” disproves popularly held beliefs about terrorism being motivated by economic disenfranchisement and a lack of education, stating that “any connection between poverty, education and terrorism is indirect, complicated and probably quite weak. Instead of viewing terrorism as a direct response to low market opportunities or ignorance, we suggest it is more accurately viewed as a response to political conditions and long-standing feelings of indignity and frustration that have little to do with economics.”

In a 2013 Senate hearing on targeted killings and the use of drones, 23-year old Farea al-Muslimi spoke about his village named Wessab in Yemen that had been subject to drone attacks just six days prior to the hearing. In a moving testimony, al-Muslimi said with respect to the recent drone strikes: “What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant.” That violent extremism is inspired by an opposition to Western interventionism (as a primary reason, though there may be secondary contributing factors, of course) is attested to in just about every serious scholarly study of terrorism and predominates as the reason for said violence by terrorists themselves. This does not foreclose on the possibility that some join for other reasons, such as ex-Daesh/ISIL members who confessed to not knowing exactly why they joined, though of course these individuals represent more of an exception than the norm. In response to the “conveyor belt” theory of radicalization that views violent extremism as the logical outcome of an anti-Western religiously-motivated ideology, a 2010 study states, “The proportion moving from radical ideas to radical action is small, and the proportion moving from legal activism to radical action and terrorism may be even smaller. Certainly the proportions are too small to support the metaphor of a ‘conveyor belt’ (Baran, 2004) with its implication of an inevitable end for anyone who steps onto the belt.” In examining religious motivations, the same study states, “Hussain Osman, arrested in connection with the 7/21 attempted bombing in London, reportedly told his Italian interrogator that, “Religion had nothing to do with this. We watched films. We were shown videos with images of the war in Iraq. We were told we must do something big. That’s why we met” (Leppard & Follain, 2005). Osama bin Laden’s speeches offer another clue. He emphasizes Muslim grievances against the U.S. – support for authoritarian Muslim leaders, support for Israel, U.S. troops in Muslim countries – but spends little time selling the global caliphate that he asserts is the answer to these grievances.” Patrick Eddington of the Cato Institute echoes many of these points in his assessment of a recent House Homeland Security Committee (HSC) memo, stating that “Neither President Obama nor the authors of the HSC report can bring themselves to admit that our own actions in the Middle East and Southwest Asia have helped to fuel the very terrorist violence and domestic recruiting efforts both decried this week.”

Critics of this narrative tend to cast those maintaining the aforementioned causes for terrorism as blaming the West, or being reductive in consigning terrorist motivations to a monocausal explanation. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The question is not one of blame, but one of acknowledging reality: so long as the structural realities that inform terrorism are not addressed, it is unlikely that any global CVE program can socially engineer people prone to radicalization (assuming we are even capable of distinguishing such a predisposition from normal teenage angst) into thinking themselves out of it. As University of Massachusetts professor John Horgan put it in a recent article, “we delude ourselves into thinking that we can somehow cure the problem through deradicalization programs that in many cases have a track record of failure around the world.”

In spite of the abundance of available research arguing the contrary, popular notions of an ideological struggle remain the paradigm of choice from which the vast majority of CVE discussions emerge. Accordingly, Muslims and others are told that if they merely challenge existing narratives, or produce an intellectually compelling counter-narrative, the lure of violent extremism can indeed be abated. In this vein, Muslims are encouraged to champion liberal values and foster hollow notions of patriotism as an inoculation against this purported ideological incubator. The fact that government-clerical alliances, silence over Western interventionism, and efforts to recast religion in terms palatable to Western liberalism have only served as recruiting instruments by terrorist actors defies simplistic “counter narrative” efforts and renders them, at best, ineffectual, and at worst, counterproductive.

CVE and State-Sponsored Religion

Inherent in the “counter narrative” discourse is a second, perhaps more problematic aspect, particularly for orthodox religious adherents: selectively endorsing particular ideological persuasions – often way outside the Islamic mainstream – over others. Advocates of CVE frequently make explicit use of this method, arguing that the West in general, and America in particular, has a responsibility to endorse – both overtly and covertly – interpretations of Islam that coincide with contemporary liberal and Western socio-cultural norms. As law professor Samuel Roscoff notes in his “Establishing Official Islam? The Law and Strategy of Counter-Radicalization”:

“For the government to formulate (or to pick out from among rival options) and endorse a preferred conception of Islam—in effect to play the role of theologian and missionary—raises potentially serious concerns rooted in the Establishment Clause and the values it enshrines. That the government has proved capable of shaping religious beliefs and practices in the past, sometimes with a distinctly heavy hand, hardly supplies a compelling legal foundation for the present preoccupation with Official Islam.”

Effective “counter narratives,” therefore, do not simply require a reconfigured conception of jihād, but also of Muslim gender norms, sexual ethics, a commitment to Western “freedoms,” and related views to which Muslims must either subordinate themselves or risk being labeled “extreme.” As Mohamed Ghilan stated in a recent article, “CVE is not just about deputizing Muslims for law enforcement…It is about a greater effort to reshape Islam as a religion so it is rendered deaf, mute, and blind after it had previously been packaged for Afghanistan in a way that focused on its armed resistance aspect. It is about how we as Muslims think of our own agency, our religion, and our role in the world.” A number of Muslims have buckled, wittingly or unwittingly, to such political pressure and are now eagerly recasting Islam in accordance with the good Muslim/bad Muslim binary in which the “good Muslim” practices an inoffensive brand of Islam that aligns with the sensibilities of upper class white America. The “bad Muslim” other in this scenario includes all following mainstream Islamic interpretations, as well as those more specifically aligned with Salafism, the Muslim Brotherhood, Jama’ati Islami, Deoband, and even certain Sufi trends (this is of course not an exhaustive list), at least insofar as such individuals and groups attempt to assert their religious understandings – particularly those that conflict with contemporary liberal discourse – beyond the confines of their communal enclaves. Commenting on this good Muslim/bad Muslim binary in his book Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the Politics of Enemy and Friend, Andrew Shryock remarks:

“The “good Muslim,” as a stereotype, has common features: he tends to be a Sufi (ideally, one who reads Rumi); he is peaceful (and assures us that jihad is an inner, spiritual contest, not a struggle to “enjoin the good and forbid the wrong” through force of arms); he treats women as equals, and is committed to choice in matters of hijab wearing (and never advocates the covering of a woman’s face); if he is a she, then she is highly educated, works outside the home, is her husband’s only wife, chose her husband freely, and wears hijab (if at all) only because she wants to. The good Muslim is also a pluralist (recalls fondly the ecumenical virtues of medieval Andalusia and is a champion of interfaith activism); he is politically moderate (an advocate of democracy, human rights, and religious freedom, an opponent of armed conflict against the U.S. and Israel); finally, he is likely to be an African, a South Asian, or, more likely still, an Indonesian or Malaysian; he is less likely to be an Arab, but, as friends of the “good Muslim” will point out, only a small proportion of Muslims are Arab anyway…..Of course, these traits are lacking in millions of real Muslims as well, but it is not their empirical presence or absence that matters as much as the moral connotations these traits carry when they are used to define the modern, safe, and acceptable Muslim.”

By comparison, the “bad Muslim” is merely tolerated, provided that he harbors his beliefs internally. The “bad Muslim” is not celebrated as part of the internal diversity of Islam and is generally excluded from having his voice represented in policy discussions interested in furthering this moderate Muslim “counter narrative.”

Muslims Need to “Assume Responsibility”

A common retort to the foregoing list of concerns by well-intentioned Muslim Americans is that Muslims in fact need to assume a type of responsibility for responding to the narrative of Daesh/ISIL. This call is echoed by conservative media pundits, and President Obama has repeatedly enlisted the assistance of Muslim allies to reject Daesh/ISIL’s “twisted interpretation” of Islam. That said, it is unclear what more Muslims can do. Lists abound with everyone from local Muslim leaders, masajid, and MSA’s to grand muftis and heads of state unequivocally condemning Daesh/ISIL. Indeed, even leading Salafist Jihadist voices like Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi have denounced Daesh/ISIL as “deviant” and against the principles of both Islam and the Sharia. As Muslim scholar Jonathan Brown has noted, this persistent demand for Muslims to “assume responsibility” or “do more to condemn terrorism” defies not only the overwhelming, pervasive, and ceaseless stream of condemnations emanating from Muslims globally, but is in fact designed to distract from the parlous effects of more than a decade of failed policies.

The assumption of local responsibility also assumes that local leaders possess a unique insight into the psychology of congregants. Family members of the Orlando and San Bernardino shooters have reacted as “shocked” by said shootings, and if even those closest to violent extremists – their parents, siblings, and best friends – testify as being stunned by the actions of their relative and/or friend, then what chance do local communities have of “de-radicalizing” individuals who display no discernable outward indicators, are often completely disengaged from Muslim communities, and demonstrate little to no literacy of Islam itself?

A Seat at the Table

More honest proponents of CVE within the Muslim community concede its problematic framing and remain skeptical of its ability to achieve its intended aims. Nonetheless, Muslim community participation is said to be essential not to somehow guide an initiative that will dispel violent extremism, but to feel included and participate as part of a process from the inside. This has been characterized as “having a seat at the table,” arguing that so long as Muslims want to be taken seriously and have their concerns heard, they need to be at the table to inform critical policy discussions.

Of course, this “seat at the table” narrative is not universally endorsed in other contexts. Despite 29% of Americans self-identifying as Republican, no mainstream Muslim leader has encouraged working alongside the Trump campaign. Instead, many Muslim leaders and communities have gone out of their way to reject the Trump campaign rather than assume a “seat at the table.” This has been premised upon a recognition that Donald Trump’s public statements about Islam and Muslims have been so caustic, and his policy proposals, even as a matter of theoretical debate, so damaging, that any perceived alliance, no matter how shallow or symbolic, cannot be seriously entertained. In short, the harms far outweigh the benefits.

Unfortunately, such calculus hardly factors into determining whether the CVE table is worth sitting at. With few discernable benefits and plenty of evident harms, CVE engagement deputizes Muslims to serve at the behest of the national security state, securitizes Muslim communities, further entrenches into the Muslim psyche a self-conception that associates Islam with terrorism, and risks alienating disenfranchised and politically frustrated Muslims.

Being Proactive, Not Reactive

The rhetoric of “getting proactive” to advance law and order has been mobilized against minority communities for decades. Designed to disguise otherwise prejudicial policies, both domestic and international “proactive” efforts have largely resulted in the sustained marginalization and disenfranchisement of minorities. Perhaps the best example of this has been the proactive policing of black communities for decades, a policy which has been dubbed by race advocates like Michelle Alexander as representing a “New Jim Crow” within which black males in particular find themselves on the receiving end of racial stigmatization and victims of a judicial system with draconian mandatory sentencing requirements for, in many instances, little more than petty drug possession. These programs, enacted under a “broken windows” philosophy of policing, sought to remove “visible signs of social disorder…by using police resources both for vigorous enforcement of laws on minor ‘quality of life’ offenses, while aggressively interdicting citizens in an intensive and widespread search for weapons.” In a report examining this “broken windows” policing method, professors at Columbia University concluded that such an approach did little to “reduce crime or disorder” while simultaneously threatening to “undermine police legitimacy and diminish the social good of policing.” That African Americans now comprise roughly half of the US prison population, are incarcerated at roughly six times the rate of whites, and disproportionately find their youth subject to arrests, judicially waved to criminal court, and admitted to state prisons is the rotten fruit that this “proactive” policy has sown.

Like the proactive methods employed against black communities for decades, the aftermath of 9/11 resulted in a full-throated endorsement of global proactive policing of the new terror threat. In discussing this preventive shift, Jules Lobel remarks in his “Preventive Paradigm and the Perils of Ad Hoc Policing” that the Bush administration had “invoked this sweeping new preventive paradigm to justify the coercive use of state power to preventively detain suspected terrorists, to engage in extraordinary rendition of suspects to foreign states, to interrogate detainees, and to go to war against Iraq.” In laying out the troubles of pursuing an expanded proactive strategy, Lobel notes that preventive strategies involve a fair amount of speculation about future events and intentions. Permitting the government to undertake consequential action on the basis of speculation and probability analysis is simply a bad idea, and has yielded little success and lots of damage.

Muslim Americans now find themselves on the receiving end of a comprehensive and prejudicial policy that stigmatizes their youth and men, targeting them, monitoring their communities, and securitizing their sacred spaces in CVE (though of course much of this has been well underway before the advent of CVE). Far from actually reducing crime or the allure of violent extremism, CVE programs create a wedge between civilians and law enforcement, engender distrust between community members and CVE-affiliated leaders and organizations, and risk further stigmatizing an already beleaguered Muslim community. Muslim leaders should be wary of adopting such “proactive” rhetoric and think long and hard before signing up themselves and their communities for this paradigm of government-civil relations.

Ultimately Ineffectual

In a report entitled “Countering Violent Extremism: Myth and Fact,” the NYU Brennan Center for Justice recounts various CVE programs that have been tried in the United Kingdom, Europe, Kenya, Indonesia, and Australia, stating that the efforts have often been “harmful and counterproductive.” Another report published in September 2015 by Human Rights First details rampant CVE abuse and repression of political dissent by many key CVE allies including Bahrain, Egypt, Kenya, and others. Far from reducing the allure of terrorism, the report notes that “security efforts rife with human rights violations undermine security and encourage violent extremism.” Marshalling the conclusions of such studies, a joint statement released by 41 humanitarian and peacebuilding organizations states that CVE strategy “risks repeating the same mistakes as other post-9/11 stabilization initiatives: prioritizing securitized responses over investments to address the structural causes of instability, and coupling the two lines of effort creating confusion and working at cross purposes.”

In addition, invasive monitoring programs have been cited as obfuscated intelligence work rather than enlightening such efforts. Former FBI agent Michael German writes in a recent article:

“The fact is: opening the intelligence collection spigot has left the FBI and other intelligence agencies drowning in irrelevant information. One federal review of the FBI’s pre-attack investigation of Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, for example, argued this “data explosion” contributed to the investigators’ inability to identify all of Hasan’s relevant communications sitting in FBI databases.

But the increasing data collection is only half the problem. Since 9/11, the Justice Department has repeatedly expanded the FBI’s authorities, making it easier to initiate investigations with less evidence. These lowered standards, combined with ill-conceived “see something, say something” campaigns and “no leads go uncovered” policies, vastly increase the agent workload and divert investigative resources to cases with the least evidence indicating a criminal or terrorist threat.”

That counter radicalization programming has existed globally for over a decade and not a single model exists that can be pointed to as having yielded any serious success calls into question whether there can, even in principle, be a CVE program that effectively mitigates violent extremism. Given the relatively low numbers of violent extremists, contributing geopolitical factors which are deemed beyond the scope of CVE efforts, the glut of (irrelevant) monitoring and intelligence metadata already being collected, and the relative ease with which violent extremism can be carried out, it bears to be asked whether a “solution” for violent extremism exists. Rebranding or rhetorically altering CVE messaging to render it less offensive to Muslim sensibilities should not be seen as novel or likely to produce results that meaningfully depart from the many failed CVE efforts both here in the U.S. and around the globe.

A Path Forward

Now more than ever,  American Muslims need to collaboratively determine the fault lines that govern their relationship with the state. An uncompromisingly apolitical posture is highly unlikely for a community as diverse as Muslim America, and such a posture – one cordoned off from any meaningful engagement with the state absent ideal circumstances – cannot be the alternative offered by critics of CVE. Instead, Muslim Americans should work in local communities to build healthy relationships with local law enforcement within a defined scope, and in certain contexts engage government organizations concerned with national security.

That said, CVE is a program that American Muslims, in light of the aforementioned considerations, should abstain from endorsing or affiliating with. Abstaining from CVE should not be characterized as “boycotting” the government. CVE is not “just another form of political engagement,” and many Muslims have erroneously conflated CVE within a prior engagement/disengagement paradigm which included things like the White House Iftar and Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI). CVE is different, and should be treated as such.

Modifying the vocabulary of prejudice does not render discriminatory policies objective. Adding in a few token white supremacist groups and peripheral fanatics to the scope of CVE also does not alter the fact of what CVE is and what it is designed to do. Muslim Americans stand to have their religious liberties curtailed, their civic freedoms diluted, and their religious identities forever associated with terror and violence by pursuing CVE grants and endorsing the CVE agenda.

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Mobeen Vaid is an activist in his local community, regularly delivering khutbahs and volunteering with Muslim non-profits. He is a student of traditional islamic sciences, and is a contributing writer for MuslimMatters.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Juned

    September 23, 2016 at 7:50 AM

    This is one of the most important articles I’ve read this year.

    Muslims have no issues with real counter-terrorism and preventing unjustified violence in the world, whether by groups, individuals, or states. We just want the same standard to be applied across the board. Although: Surah Al-Baqarah 2:120.

    The issue with government-sponsored counter-terrorism and counter-extremism program, especially, Prevent in the UK, CVE in the USA, ASIO in Austalia, and C-51 and Kanishka in Canada, is that these policies have more to do with political interests.

    These interests range from pressurizing the Muslim community, depoliticizing and secularizing Muslims (see video: Dr. Arun Kundnani “Preventing Extremism Conference), and reforming Islam.

    Someone might say, “But how can we conclude that they want to reform Islam? Maybe they really want to resolve the issue of violence in the world.”

    Reply:
    1. The issue is not about violence. If it was, they’d look at their own backyard and the violence they perpetrate around the world.

    2. Also, generally speaking, one doesn’t have to necessarily be financed in order to support something. They just have to be inclined toward an ideology or set of values. For example, when we see modernists, secular, and liberals being given a platform on mainstream TV, it’s not always because they’re being funded. It is like that it’s just because “birds of the same feather flock together.” News editors that give them platforms are not conservative Muslims, they have their own ideology, secular-capitalistic likely. A hindu will be more comfortable with someone who is inclined to hindiusism, an atheists will be more comfortable with someone who syncs with his atheistic values. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we see that CVE government programs choose people and individuals who are secular-liberal themseves.

    I hope this article is complemented by short videos. Because I have already sent this article to Imams and some of them are not able to digest the language.

    I ask Allah to reward the author of this article.

    Let us continue to speak the truth and be principled. It’s not our own doing that will result in our success. But rather by abding by our principles and being sincere to Allah. And we Ask Allah to keep us wise and courageous and steadfast. The truth should be sweeter to our ear rather than sugar-coating the Qur’an and the Seerah. ”

    And victory is not but from Allah .” (Quran 8:10 )

  2. Avatar

    Elizabeth

    September 25, 2016 at 7:21 PM

    Salaam

    Granted that all e data placed here are accurate can you put this in the form of a petition letter. I am from a Muslim minority nation and I feel as this counter terrorism strategists ramp up eir efforts its important that the muslim community present a very credible check and balance. To ensure this excuse for counter terrorism is not abused to become an anti muslim task force.

    I am very certain when written in the right way I can get the support of the Muslim associations and the respective MPs in my constituency.

  3. Avatar

    Amir

    September 26, 2019 at 4:18 PM

    They are talking about fake Sufis. Because no Sufi (Sunni) would ever believe in what was said about the “good Muslim”. The salafis were created and supported by the british!

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#Current Affairs

In The Name of God: A Communal Rupture Sowed By Communal Legacy

At one point of time, there used to be a mosque in Ayodhya. It stood tall and lofty for 470 long years, until a mob of extremist Hindu fanatics came at it with axes and pickets and razed it to the ground. Stemming from the popular belief that it was the birthplace of the mythological figure of the warrior Hindu god called Ram, the act was carried out for the future construction of a temple devoted to him, and one that had to be erected at the same spot where the 16th century mosque had existed for so long. 

“All we need for the betterment of life is Lord Ram, and there is no survival without Lord Ram”.

The supporters of the Ram Janmabhoomi cause kept reiterating this loud and clear in Anand Patwardhan’s documentary film Ram ke Naam (In The Name of God), that still serves as the single-most myth busting source centred round the whole dispute. But this very claim itself is based on partial accounts that stem from loose historicity, as depicted in the footage.

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On December 22 1949, Lord Ram was said to have appeared in the dream of a priest in Ayodhya, who along with a few other men installed an idol of the god inside the mosque in the dead of night. The film tracked down one of the priests who had participated in the plan, and identified him as Mahant Ramsevak Das Shastri. He claimed that the erstwhile district magistrate K.K. Nayar was also an organiser of this act and had ensured that Shastri and the others accused were released on bail. Although generally identified as the first breach of communal trust that gradually gave rise to the whole dispute, in truth, this religious fundamentalism has its roots running deeper than most of us fully grasp or acknowledge. 

Even at present, about a dozen places in India and Nepal claim to be the potential birthplace of Ram and there is no consensus among Hindu scholars and historians regarding the same. Ayodhya has been housing many Ram temples since the 19th century, and incidentally, quite a lot of them had claimed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram at one point of time or the other. After the construction of the Babri Masjid in 1528 by the Mughal emperor Babur, historic records show that the first instance of communal riots in the area was not before 1855. Sunni Muslims clashed with Bairai Hindus in the area claiming that the temple of Hanumangarhi (for the Hindu mythological figure Lord Hanuman) was built where once stood an already demolished mosque. Nawab Wajid Ali, the then ruler of Ayodhya promptly intervened and made peace, but not before the incident caught the attention of the colonial overlords. This took place just two years prior to the Great Revolt of 1857. It was the first known pan-Indian unified struggle for independence, and one that was founded upon the Hindu-Muslim unity which had been turning into a growing threat for the ruling East India Company. And of all the temples claiming to be the holy birthplace of Lord Ram, the British chose a mosque having Mughal origins to be the designated one for spreading the rumour that Babur had constructed it after destroying what was once a temple housing Lord Ram’s original birthplace. 

As this notion started gaining momentum, the British installed a fence on the premise, which led to an arrangement that had the Muslims praying inside the inner court and the Hindus being allowed to use the outer courtyard. This communal understanding and secular practice went on and in peace till 1949, until the breach orchestrated by Nayar occurred. 

The 1949 breach then led to communal rifts, which was followed by the mosque being sealed. This marked the beginning of how those in power have been manipulating the masses for centuries, either for ensuring a vote bank, or being mostly fueled by a blind sense of religious fanaticism that made them feel empowered over other religions. 

Repeated petitions were filed to open the locks and allow namaz inside the mosque. While the inner court was kept out of bounds, puja was allowed to be carried out in the outer courtyard. As many as four suits were filed between 1950 and 1961 asking for the restoration of the Muslims’ right to pray, none of which were heeded. Twenty years later, the Sunni Waqf Board finally filed a suit for complete possession of the site, and the one which turned out to be the final blow. Hindu groups in turn formed a committee to protect their rights, and the plan to construct the Ram temple was spearheaded, causing the Ram Janmabhoomi movement gaining momentum like never before, with erstwhile Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) member L. K. Advani giving leadership to the same. 

It was no less than a “political game”, according to the court appointed priest Laldas, who was charged with tending to the Ram idol after the mosque was sealed. During his tenure from 1983 to 1992, he was known to have been critically vocal against the whole Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the premeditated conspiracy that was growing around Babri at that time. He was removed from service 9 months prior to the demolition act and was found to be shot dead a year later under mysterious circumstances. 

“BJP does not believe in Ram, only in hatred…the Hindu Parishad members have never made a single offering or prayed at the temple even once,” he had told Patwardhan during an interview clip in the documentary. 

Surprisingly, none of the subjects that Patwardhan approached in the film knew exactly when Lord Ram was born, or at least even in which century. Not the poor tanner squatting on the ground, not the first year law student brandishing a sword before the march to Ayodhya and not even the saffron clad priest inside the air conditioned Toyota van. But all of them were unwaveringly certain in their belief that Ram’s birthplace was none other than Babri, and how it has been a known fact for many years. 

It was December 6, 1992 that witnessed the right wing mobilisation movement carry out the act of political vandalism quite unparalleled in the modern world, leading to subsequent communal riots, and a massacre which the country has not completely recovered from since. Babri was destroyed. 

Twenty seven years, varying heartbeats, deadly communal violence acts and the loss of about 5,000 odd lives later, the landmark justice on the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute was delivered. 9th November 2019 was a date that meant too much to too many people. It was a day that either meant the end to so many years of rioting, divisibility and cut-throat communalism, or a further tint in the already widening secular fabric of the nation. 

2019 was also the year that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in for a second term and had implemented a number of administrative decisions that gave BJP’s Hindu supremacist ideology a new momentum and utmost urgency. One of the first things that he did after taking office was revoke the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on August 5, 2019, which had so far granted the internationally disputed Muslim dominated region of Kashmir a special status independent of Indian jurisdiction. The abrogation allowed Kashmir to be reinvaded by a strong Indian military, annexed to the Indian subcontinent and put under complete curfew with an internet blackout. And exactly one year later, Prime Minister Modi is about to lay the foundation stone for the newly constructed Ram temple in Ayodhya on the site of the demolished mosque on August 5, 2020, as thanks to the landmark verdict on the decades-spanning historic wound that has completely redefined the politics of the country, the forces responsible for the demolition had found themselves in complete legal possession of the land. 

For many blinded by irrational faith and hyper nationalism, the judgement reinstated the inherent vice of fanatic Hindutva ideology in the sense that their religion is all superior, and one that fuels the necessity to construct the Ram temple at the very spot of the Babri Masjid. But to others still believing in the idea of the independent India that awoke at the stroke of the midnight hour on 15th August 1947, the judgement could have very well been a bigger, and more dangerous rupture in the democratic and secular pillars of the country than the actual act of the demolition itself. 

The current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who was charged with overseeing the construction of the temple had gone on record as early as 2017 during a pre-election campaign to promise a Ram Mandir

Agar Samajwadi Party jeetegi to Karbala-kabristan banega, jabki Bhajapa ki Sarkar banegi toh Ayodhya mein Ram mandir banega.

30 years ago it was L.K. Advani who had promised that Mandir wahi Banega and today, it is Yogi Adityanath, the third face in line on the saffron political firmament, who is delivering on this promise.

Vikas Pathak, who is a professor at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai, said that this is Hindutva’s true and unalloyed form, one that was supposedly hidden beneath layers of political exigencies for so many years leading up to this. This claim is further supported by an independent multimedia journalist in Kashmir, who said he feels the same due to the obvious choice of the date of inauguration. Requesting to be anonymous, he expressed his thoughts on how this is more of a planned move than a mere coincidence, and one which gives out a clear message.

The fact that it’s happening on the anniversary of the repeal of Kashmir’s autonomy, accentuates the importance that the Modi government places on its aggressive pursuit of a Hindu nationalist agenda”, also augmented Michael Kugelman in his comment on the matter. He is senior associate of the Wilson Center and the deputy director of its Asia Program. 

Just like Jai Shree Ram, this Mandir agenda too had been normalised into one which sounded like a clarion call for battle. In Patwardhan’s film, an unnamed Congress politician held a campaign where he asked the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that if indeed a Ram temple should be built, why could it not be anywhere else in the city, as Ayodhya is such a large place. 

“I am amazed at this stubbornness that they will build the temple at the very same spot! And that too, only after destroying the mosque… He (Advani) can easily build a temple anywhere in Ayodhya, but please do not insist that this can only be possible by demolishing an existing mosque. I want to promise that the temple will most definitely be built, but the mosque must also remain.”

As we went on to see in the film, and even twenty seven years down the line, it was firmly decided that Mandir wahi banega, and one existing holy site was destroyed to give rise to another. Come November 2019,  the temple plan gets sanctioned by the Supreme Court of India as well, ironically granting the Sunni Waqf board an alternate piece of land to construct their mosque instead.

While the 5-judge bench lay claim to the demolishing act accepting it as a crime, and while they also accepted that the installation of the idols inside the mosque was an act of desecration, it also gave the land over to those who desecrated it at the same time. A judge on the bench had called it “one of the most important cases in the world,” but when the perpetrators of what the Supreme Court has openly identified as a crime find themselves to be the main beneficiaries of the judgement, it brings to question how just the verdict actually is.

Quite bizarrely, the court had declared that while there was some evidence of Hindus worshipping on the disputed site, no such documentary evidence could be found in the case of Muslims until before 1857. 

“The mosque was built in 1528, and the area was under Mughal occupation till 1722. Then it was ruled by Nawabs, and finally annexed by the British in 1856. It must be self-evident that during this entire period of being under Muslim rule, Muslims were offering namaz inside the mosque and not the other way round”, said a Kashmiri student currently studying at Jadavpur University in Kolkata on the condition of anonymity, adding how such a reasoning based on “balance of probabilities” as one of the reasons to give it to the Hindu side is itself one of inequality. 

On the other hand, the judgement also referred to a 574 pages long report published by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) 15 years ago, which claimed that Babri Masjid was not built on vacant land. Reading the unanimous judgement and considering the report valid on the assurance of being scientifically tested, Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi who was leading the bench said: 

“There was a structure underlying the disputed structure. The underlying structure was not an Islamic structure.”

While the court relied heavily on this ASI report, independent archaeologists who observed the site on behalf of the Sunni Waqf board differed entirely with the ASI findings. While the six month long court ordered investigation did reveal the existence of an underlying structure beneath the mosque, eminent archaeologists Supriya Varma and Jaya Menon believe that the evidence collected on their part do not support the claims made by ASI. 

Their report read: “underneath the Babri, there existed older mosques.” 

They further added that even if the underlying structures were not of Islamic origin, they closely resembled Buddhist stupas at the most, and in no way anything remotely close to a Hindu temple. This particular claim is in turn also supported by the archaeological surveyor Alexander Cunningham, who was the first individual to survey Ayodhya (around 1862-63), and was known for his interest in tracking down and identifying places associated with Buddhism.

Had India as a country boasted of a very robust and strong judicial institution, such an incident would not have been dragged all the way from 1949 to 2019, let alone pave the way to constructing a temple on the disputed land. December 6, 1992 should have been permanently brought an end to it with strict actions being taken against the perpetrators. While the B.J.P. indeed is directly linked to the whole incident, the Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi allowed the locks to be opened in the 1980s. Following the demolition, the Congress Prime Minister Narsimha Rao allowed them to get away with the violence in 1992. And in 2019, the Supreme Court judges have done the same. 

Ayodhya, for more than a quarter of a century, had been turned into a place of cynical and political revanchism. And thrust between this politics of a loosely manufactured historicity aiming to upend the Republic of secularism by replacing it with a system running on Hindutva ideology, were those that represented what India truly stands for. Of the numerous subjects that Patwardhan interviewed, both Hindus and Muslims, most of them unanimously awaited, and wanted peace. Something that was so easy to understand for someone who lived a simple life of an ironmonger, belonging to the low Bishkarma caste, was at the same time completely unimaginable to those amassing trucks and weapons to demolish the mosque:

“Once it exists, it is wrong to break. If someone tried to break our temple, would we allow it? We’d say go build your mosque elsewhere.”

Zahir Adil, the lead on Save India From Fascism Project of the human rights organization Justice For All also expressed a similar sentiment, saying how he would have actually welcomed it if the temple was not built after illegally destroying a historic mosque. 

“Apart from being a day that RSS criminals are rewarded with a new temple after perpetuating systemic violence in India, 5th August 2020 also goes down in history as the day that the words Jai Shree Ram will be displayed in the iconic Times Square as the Prime Minister will lay the foundation stone for a Ram Temple on the site of the demolished mosque”, informed Masood Rab, spokesperson of Coalition of Americans for Pluralism in India (CAPI). It is one among the coalition of organizations that  have refused to carry forward the programming by the pro-Modi group in Times Square. 

The RSS, or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, being the parent organization of the current ruling party in India has its roots in pre-Independence times and were also known for openly supporting Hitler’s Nazi agenda. They were banned as many as four times when India was ruled by the national Congress, but it has now become the de-facto power under BJP rule, with Modi himself being a known RSS member. 

Indian American Muslim leaders, as well as human rights organizations, having categorically denounced this display of religious bigotry has called for a day long protest in the iconic Times Square from 8 AM, asking for this display of vehement arrogance to be stopped. Those like Adil and Dr. Shaik Ubaid (President of the Indian Minorities Advocacy Network) have also expressed concern on how the proponents of this fascist ideology have become so confident that they are celebrating an illegal and bloody act in the middle of Times Square, and for the entire world to see. But others like Kugelman expect, and have pointed out that while there will be messages in Times Square blaring out communal rhetoric, there may also be messages expressing solidarity for Kashmiris.

“It is perhaps fitting, in this globalized era, if the incredibly polarizing Kashmir issue plays out under the bright lights of Times Square”, said Kugelman over a brief electronic conversation, but added how this juxtaposition is also extremely divisive within the country on the whole.

The mandatory in this case seems more like a political campaign trick than anything to do with actual Hinduism, and essentially a symbiotic Displace perpetrated by a fascist government.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this could be the rise of divisive Hindu supremacy as never seen before. In all its entirety, the day of August 5, 2020 marks the end of an era and the possible beginning of a new one. It detriments the idea that our founding forefathers had envisioned for the nation, and while we may not like it at the same time, this is essentially a new India that is emerging for everyone to see – one that is a land of strident Hindutva and religious dissonance at the forefront. 

LINK to the documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMT18TMNQbY

 

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#Current Affairs

The Perennial Siege: Kashmir’s Tense Lockdown Anniversary

A year after the revocation of Article 370—special status of the valley, Kashmir continues to be under security lockdown, intermittent internet restrictions, almost negligible functioning of education system, amid reports of continuous detentions and across-the-board human rights violations.

Two-day curfew has been imposed in Indian-administered Kashmir in anticipation of containing any form of dissent ahead of the 5 August anniversary—the day Indian government stripped Kashmir of its special status. Officials say the curfew is meant to prevent violence by groups planning to observe 5 August as “black day”.

On August 5 2019, the state was split into two federally administered regions and its semi-autonomous status was revoked. The decision to revoke article 370—part of Indian constitution that guaranteed Kashmir special status—an action with potentially devastating consequences for Kashmiri identity and community was met with anger and feeling of betrayal in the region although it was widely welcomed in the rest of the country. In preparation for this, it put Kashmir into a complete lockdown at midnight on Aug. 4, 2019. Eight million Kashmiris were restricted in their homes. In-an-effort to impose a complete communication blockade, internet connections were cut, and phone connections were terminated.

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Everything seems to have come to a halt, and the past experiences have begun to conjure the images of unprecedented violence. Since the revocation or illegal annexation of Kashmir on August 5, the betrayed and besieged population, including me, treated like a prisoner in a forsaken paradise on earth, continue to mourn India’s deceptively organized virulent manifestation of democracy. The fact-finding report, Women’s Voice, counters the state narrative of “return to normalcy,” indicating that 13,000 boys and young men were detained illegally after August 5, including some as young as 14, with some imprisoned for up to 45 days, and with families paying as much as 60,000 rupees ($850) for their release

Kashmiris, however, saw their integration as a threat to the state’s ethnic character, and a milestone on the road to the realization of the BJP’s dream of a fundamentally Hindu nation. Many legal commentators decried the Indian government’s unilateral abrogation as “illegal,” calling it an “unconstitutional deed,” which was “accomplished by deceitful means” (Noorani 2019). 

The Problem oF Kashmir

A brief context of the conflict offers a perspective to understand the problem of Kashmir. “The world is reaping the chaos the British Empire sowed,” Amy Hawkins wrote in Foreign Policy, and “local populace is still paying for the mess the British left behind in Hong Kong and Kashmir.” The anti-colonial uprisings in the Indian subcontinent, China, the Arab world and elsewhere did not result in freedom or democracy for the nations ruled by the British Empire”. In Kashmir, the British left a bleeding wound amid the partition of colonial India. Kashmir in post-partition and to be more succinct, post-1947 emerged as a boiling pot from the cultivation uterus of the two-nation theory.

Since then, Kashmir is known to be the most heavily militarized zones in the world. More than 7 million soldiers have been deployed, as per the reports, to counter what the Indian army itself claims as “cross-border terrorism”. This myth has been busted time and again because of the actions of the Indian government in the last three decades. If there were any doubts earlier, they should have cleared by now. Their real enemy is the Kashmiri people, especially “Kashmiri Muslims”, the hindrance in the way of turning India into a “Hindutva nation” claims Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2019 U.N. general assembly speech.

India’s decision to abolish the state’s nominal autonomy last year is the most far-reaching move in the region in the last 70 years and has been pushed by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) as a development-focused action to “mainstream” the only Muslim-majority state in the subcontinent. While the government —which justified the shutdown as “preventive” — and the leading Indian media outlets are propagating an image of the region as slowly returning to “normalcy”, the reality on the ground, as documented by the New York Times, is very different. 

Kashmir continues to simmer under the siege.

Post 5—August SiegeAnd  Defiance

This season’s siege is more crushing than ever, possibly the worst since the first one nearly 30 years ago, a stratagem designed carefully to humiliate an entire population. There is also an unwavering manifestation of defiance, as by now the Kashmir street is sufficiently educated politically to not pin its hopes on an infusion of benevolence in the government’s Kashmir policy or any practical outcome from the partial solidarity from the international community. The mass arrests, in thousands, including minors and pellet victims [including a cancer patient] holding 7 million populations under eight hundred thousand jackboots has unveiled the façade of Indian democracy. 

“No government in the world has blocked Internet access as frequently as India. An incredible 213 times in just three years”, reports Time Magazine, “which is far more than Syria, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt together”. And more than half of those shutdowns have been enforced on Kashmir—is that because, questions Abid (PhD scholar, Dept. of political science department, Kashmir University) “of the special (autonomous) status Kashmir “enjoyed” in the larger Indian union? Will they also ban clean air, now that the special status has been erased?” 

Picking out promising adolescents; sometimes old men and even women, they branded them, as with batons and red-hot irons, to forcefully teach them how to behave. Abid Khan, 28, and Idrees, 29 from Shopian district in South Kashmir were raided in the middle of the night, tortured for hours by dozens of army men. Khan says he was dragged out and blindfolded along with his brother, who has learning difficulties, on August 14. “They gave electric shocks to my brother on the road outside our home. I heard him scream painfully,” quoted in AFP story, showing marks on his arms, legs and buttocks. Khan said. “Then they gave me electric shocks again on my genitals and wounds. One of them said ‘I will make you impotent’.” On September 13, Irshad Ahmed, a 12-year-old boy from neighboring Buchpora, Srinagar, suffered a serious head injury. His hospital registration card noted that it was a ‘fire-arm injury’, adding the word “alleged”. Those accompanying him said he had been hit by a cluster of pellets in his head. The bar has been raised so high for all forms of political dissent, and the detentions, numbering in thousands have choked any form of political activity on the ground. What remains still is an unwavering manifestation of the overarching defiance against the government-enforced execution of oppression. 

Pandemic Lockdown- In and Out of Kashmir

Since the world has now entered the sixth month of Covid-19 restrictions. With self-isolation, physical-distancing and e-learning online education, for most populations the robust internet and phone service has still provided a lifeline to let them work and be engaged and entertained. But in the Himalayan territory of Kashmir, the repression and militaristic method in the latest indignity in a 73-year cycle of oppression, militarization and scarcity especially since last year August in Kashmir has intensified: communications were completely cut in August 2019 and were only beginning, even after weeks pandemic broke out. Since March, only 2G is available, and only sporadically. As Waheed Mirza, novelist and political commentator on Kashmir asserts “A military siege is like a chokehold on an entire people”.  

For the world, asserts Arundhati Roy:

“Kashmir and Kashmiris signify as a prototype to learn the craft of surviving under a lockdown. For the former, it is a self-imposed precautionary measure experienced for the first time in the recent history by the world to fight against an unseen disease; as for the latter, it is the endless fight against the continuation of a seven month long enforced siege against their will.”

 This reality soon turned into a buzzword “the world is turning into Kashmir”. Azad Kashmir President Sardar Masood Khan asserted India has been using the “cover of the coronavirus” to “mow down” Kashmiri youth and change the Muslim-majority character of the disputed region.  

According to news reports on Kashmir, anyone who violates curfew–even those with valid passes allowing them to leave their homes–risks being detained by soldiers or police and possibly beaten. Even doctors, who’ve been celebrated as heroes elsewhere in the world, report being harassed on their way to work in Kashmir, which already suffers an acute lack of medical resources and staff. Limited access to information has also obstructed Kashmir’s coronavirus fight. The region uses 2G internet, an online connection so slow that it is nonexistent elsewhere in the world. Indian authorities have cut online access in Kashmir 55 times since it was restored in March 2020. According to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies, a local group that documents and litigates human rights abuses “this has delayed doctors’ ability to read emerging treatment guidelines and new research on the disease”.

For some, the repressive methods allude to the fact that the Indian government’s priorities in Kashmir have not been changed by the pandemic. “Any administration that is willing to impose the longest Internet shutdown in history only believes in the right of censorship and surveillance,” says Mishi Choudhary, the legal director at the Software Freedom Law Center, a group that campaigns for Internet freedoms. The period post 5 August 2019 has changed the whole political landscape of the region. This season’s siege is more crushing than ever, possibly the worst since that first one nearly 30 years ago, a stratagem designed carefully to humiliate an entire people. 

Mental health workers say “Kashmir is witnessing an alarming increase in instances of depression, anxiety and psychotic events”.  Doctors Without Borders estimated after surveying 5,600 households in 2015. Nine of 10 have experienced conflict-related traumas. The figures are much higher than in India, according to other surveys.

Education: The Perennial Casualty

Ten months after India unilaterally revoked Kashmir’s autonomy, reports New York Times, “education stands as one of the crisis’s most glaring casualties”. Previously, Kashmiri Valley in particular suffered huge education losses as the students were forcibly kept away from schools and colleges by frequent official curfews and restrictions, shutdowns, incidents of violence and prolonged political unrest stretching for months, the worst of these witnessed in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016. “The long school closures in the valley cause major disruptions in young people’s educational and professional development, producing feelings of insecurity, helplessness, and demoralization,” said Haley Duschinski, an anthropologist at Ohio University specializing in Kashmir.

Around 1.5 million Kashmiri students remain out of school. All educational institutions are closed, and most government and private schools are shut—except for few intermittent opening of educational institutions for some weeks, one of the clearest signs of the fear that has gripped Kashmir since the Indian government locked down the disputed territory. Parents in the Kashmir Valley also show this fear that “they are terrified of sending their children out with any exception reaction from the public amid troops deployed everywhere and on the prowl for trouble”. 

“What if the school or a bus carrying children is attacked?” asked Saqib Mushtaq Bhat, a father worried about violence by Indian troops or militants. “What if there are protests and their faces get shot by pellets?’’ Amid only 2G internet services working in the valley, G.N. Var, chairman of Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK) which has 2,200 schools associated with it, termed it ‘denial of right to education’. The research scholars across the valley have equally suffered due to low speed internet and hugely affected the mental stability of people across the spectrum of the society. 

He said, “The restrictions on high speed internet are making it difficult for our students to avail online courses and access information which is vital in their career-building. We see it as a denial of the right to education.”  Reports suggest “no government in the world has blocked Internet access as frequently as India with 55 Internet blackouts in 2019 alone, including the longest in recorded history, 213 days, when Delhi put the valley on lockdown last year August.

Settler Colonialism

So far, anti-insurgency operations have proved equally devastating for Kashmiris amid the pandemic. As of June 30, 229 killings, 107 CASO’s (cordon and search operation), 55 internet shutdowns, 48 properties destroyed in the first half of 2020. Children and women continued to be victims of violence in J&K as 3 children and 2 women were killed in the first half of 2020. India continues to take possession of Kashmir despite being hit ever harder by the pandemic.

With all the constitutional amendments and new laws India has instituted in Kashmir especially since 5 August last year, the Palestinian case is often invoked to find the parallelism of how this sounds like the beginning of settler colonialism. The recent developments that highlight this process are, on the contrary, a further deepening and expansion of a matrix of control characteristic of such a project, duly aided through laws, to ensure the eventual elimination of the native.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration’s order to withdraw a 1971 circular that made it mandatory for the Indian Army, the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force to obtain a “no objection certificate” to acquire land in the region is also seen as part of a settler colonial project. Not only has the decrees evoked a sharp reaction among locals, which have long feared Delhi’s forceful integration of the restive region with the Indian union, but observers are also accusing Modi’s right-wing dispensation of using the Covid-19 pandemic to advance its Hindu settler colonial enterprise in the region, saying it is a page right out of the Israeli playbook to transform the region’s demographics. United Kingdom-based Kashmiri lawyer Mirza Saaib Bég argues that “J&K’s demography is bound to be altered beyond belief. And at a speed so astonishing that the procedure for issuing a domicile certificate will seem, unfortunately, a quasi-colonial project”.

Around 400 thousand people have been granted domicile certificates in Indian-administered Kashmir till July, 2020 proving right the fears of the beginning of demographic changes in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region. The certificate, a sort of citizenship right, entitles a person to residency and government jobs in the region, which till last year was reserved only for the local population. “The whole purpose of revoking Article 370 was to settle outsiders here and change the demography of the state. Now this provides the modalities and entitles so many categories of Indians whose settlement will be legalised over here.” – Kashmiri law professor and legal scholar Sheikh Showkat Hussain (Al Jazeera, April 1, 2020).

Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden said, “India should take all necessary steps to restore the rights of all the people of Kashmir.” He also asserts “Restrictions on dissent, such as peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the internet weakens democracy,” in a policy paper posted on his website. Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement that India’s latest step was a vindication of the country’s “consistent stance that the major intention behind the Indian Government’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5 August 2019 was to change the demographic structure of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and turn Kashmiris into a minority in their own land”.

“This has long been part of the RSS-BJP’s ‘Hindutva’ agenda,” the statement added.

An  Indian Consul General in New York, Sandeep Chakraborty’s recent call for the ‘Israel model’ in Kashmir should ring alarm bells for the Muslim world. He flagrantly asserted “I don’t know why we don’t follow it. It has happened in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it,” Chakravorty said.

Kashmiris on Twitter were quick to call out Al-Jazeera, accusing them of “promoting settler colonialism”. The social media users were mainly drawing a parallel with expansionist or colonial settlements of Israeli Jews in Palestine or of Han Chinese in Xinjiag to forcibly settle and diffuse indigenous identity.

Tailpiece:

Kashmir is transformed into an open prison where the state works with a self-proscribed impunity to confiscate or mitigate basic universal rights, while the Indian state is trying to entice assimilatory participation of the common people. That territory-wide control by the state and its various institutions is countered through years of survival, persistence and resistance against the state’s operations over Kashmiri lives.

One inevitable fact that successive union governments since India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru have arrogantly with military highhandedness ignored is the political question of Kashmir. The recent political expedition of the Indian government in Kashmir paradigmatically problematized the political destiny of Kashmir and future of Kashmiris. Even in the 21st century globalized world, in the middle of a global pandemic, 8 million people are denied access to education, livelihood, entertainment, and health respite via a medium that has become an essential service for the rest of the world.

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#Current Affairs

Indian Myths Channel Genocide in Kashmir

India is a land and society of myths. More so now than ever before, under the Hindutva-inspired Bharatiya Janata Party government led by the claim of the myth manufacturer Modi: “India is a democracy; it is in our DNA.”

A much talked about myth has been that India is a secular state, and in the light of the post August 5 2019 developments in Kashmir and the Indian mainland, much sighing is being aired that Indian secularism is endangered.

However, the question arises, when was India secular? Was India “secular,” when it invaded Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) on October 26, 1947 on the pretext that a non-Muslim should rule a Muslim-majority state, or was it “secular” when Hyderabad Deccan was invaded and annexed on September 23, 1948 on the pretext that a Muslim could not rule over a Hindu majority?

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Based on a myth about the birthplace of the mythical “Lord Rama,” the 600-year old Babri Mosque was attacked and demolished on December 6, 1992. India’s Supreme Court validated the goon squad’s action on November 9, 2019. Today, the mosque’s attackers rule India.

Even the national anthem ‘Vande Matram’ is not secular, where Muslims object to its idolatrous aspects. For instance, the fourth stanza, addresses motherland India as, “Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, with her hands that strike and her swords of sheen, Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned…”

When a Muslim sings these words, he is forced to equate his country with the Hindu goddesses Durga and Lakshmi, thereby deifying the land of India. This goes against the concept of tawheed (the Absolute Oneness of God), according to which a Muslim cannot supplicate to anyone except God.

The other long-standing myth, which India validated through a presidential fiat last year, is that J&K are its “integral” part – a territory it has occupied since September 1947 with a million-man force. In doing so, it served up another myth: the constitutional relationship between J&K and India.

Subodh Varma (“Some Myths About Article 370, 35A and Kashmir”, Sabrang India August 8, 2019) explains that in the process of effectively scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution through a presidential order supported by a Lok Sabha (lower house) resolution, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters regurgitated a slew of myths, half-truths and sleights of hand that have been part of its parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) propaganda for decades. Ironically, many parties and opinion leaders who do not subscribe to the RSS ideology also repeated them, which show how far these myths have traveled. Meanwhile, social media went ballistic with RSS/BJP supporters posting bizarre claims while others started offering land for sale in Kashmir.

Arun Jaitley (d. August 24, 2019), who served as finance minister from 2014 to 2019, had tweeted on August 4, “J&K integration with India took place in October 1947. Article 370 came into force in 1952, Article 35A came in 1954, four and seven years later respectively. How can Articles 370 and 35A be a condition precedent to merger?”

He had sought to prove that Articles 370 and 35A were somehow unrelated to J&K’s “joining” [albeit perforce] the Indian Union implying that they are unnecessary and also that they were the result of some [past] Congress governments’ stupidity.

This is a lie.

On October 26, 1947, India invaded J&K, obliging its ruler, Raja Hari Singh, to sign the Instrument of Accession (IOA); the Dogra ruler’s ancestor having purchased the territory and its citizen from the British. However, this document states that the Indian parliament could only legislate on the state’s defense, external affairs, communications and some ancillary subjects. The agreement’s Clause 5 reads: “The terms of this my Instrument of Accession cannot be varied by any amendment of the Act or of Indian Independence Act unless such amendment is accepted by me by an Instrument supplementary to this Instrument.” Clause 7 says: “Nothing in this Instrument shall be deemed to commit me in any way to acceptance of any future constitution of India or to fetter my discretion to enter into arrangements with the Government of India under any such future constitution.”

Simply stated, it says that many things left pending in the IOA were to be settled later through negotiations. After its invasion, India, which faced the Kashmiri resistance till 1949, finally seeking a UN-negotiated armistice, has yet to lay out the laws and governance mechanism. Accordingly, the UN Security Council adopted successive resolutions call for a plebiscite where the Kashmiris would vote freely to decide their future.

The UN continues to recognize Kashmir as a disputed territory.

The 1947 partition agreed upon by Muslim and Hindu leaders with Britain, the departing colonial ruler, reads that Muslim majority states would merge with Pakistan. Kashmir is a clear case.

To preserve the IOA’s spirit and to reassure the Raja, Article 370 was moved in India’s Constituent Assembly in May 1949, which was voted to be part of the Indian Constitution in October 1949. Consequently, Presidential Orders were issued in 1950, 1952 and 1954 to settle various issues. Jawaharlal Nehru  -India’s first prime minister- and his interior minister Vallabhbhai Patel (d. 1950) were part of these negotiations, which negates the RSS myth that Patel opposed Article 370.

The RSS propped up the full integration bogey to stir up agitation against the land reforms initiated by the Raja-appointed Sheikh Abdullah government. The RSS gave it a communal hue as the landowners were mostly Dogras and Pandits and most peasants were Muslims.

The RSS/BJP propaganda about Article 35A hides the fact that Raja Hari Singh had proclaimed the Hereditary State Subject Order in 1927, which allowed only the state’s residents to own land and to government jobs. The state’s assembly voted to include this order in the J&K Constitution. In keeping with the IOA terms regarding the preservation of rights of state’s residents, Article 35A was added to the Constitution through the Presidential Order of 1954.

Kashmir’s annexation falls under RSS ambition of a pure Hindu India.

The RSS states that J&K, with its “oppressive Muslim-majority character, has been a headache for our country ever since Independence.”

RSS alleges that forces “inimical to Bharat never wanted Kashmir to integrate itself with Bharat …  and in October 1947, these elements conspired with the enemy to defeat every move to save the situation from our [Indian] side.” While, India continues to loudly claim that it was Pakistani tribal fighters and not Kashmiri freedom-fighters who confronted the Indian invading army, RSS claims that it was its fighters who fought alongside Indian troops, adding that if a ceasefire had not been agreed upon, its fighters would have helped completely conquer J&K.

RSS blames the large Muslim presence for J&K being conferred a special status under Article 370, even after its total “accession.”

On December 11, 1991, BJP president Dr. Murli Manohar and Narendra Modi, and also, the now interior minister Amit Shah, led the 15,000 mile “Ekta Yatra” (Unity March) from Kanyakumari -a Tamil Nadu coastal town, the southernmost town in mainland India- which culminated in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk on January 26, 1992 to hoist the Indian flag, signaling that they had “arrived to settle the account.”

RSS claims: “The endless appeasement of the Muslim population, especially in Kashmir, practiced by the successive governments at Delhi, has been the bane of our government’s Kashmir policy. Just as too much mollycoddling and lack of discipline spoil the child, so has been Kashmir, a problem created out of our own folly.” RSS alleges that Pakistan arms militants for armed revolt from within India.

Amit Shah has harped the long-repeated party line that Article 370 is the root cause of spread of terrorism. As a corollary, it is also said that the article was the source of sentimental belief in a separate Kashmir, providing ground to cross-border terrorists to exploit.

However, it is the erosion of Article 370 that has led to increasing disenchantment of Kashmiris and their search for a way out. For instance, Article 370 provided for extending provisions of law to J&K through Presidential Orders, issued after concurrence of the state assembly. However, the 1954 Order has extended almost the entire Constitution to J&K. Out of the 97 entries in the Union List, 94 have been made applicable to the state and out of the 47 entries in the Concurrent List, 26 have been extended to the state. This has largely reduced the state’s powers. Overall, Article 370’s provisions were used at least 45 times to extend Constitution’s provisions to J&K.

Not only have the J&K rights been increasingly restricted, but also the spirit of the section has been violated by simply getting the state government to rubber stamp such extensions.

Also, the J&K Constitution was amended several times using Article 370. For instance, Article 356 was extended removing a similar provision in the J&K Constitution (Article 92), which called for President’s concurrence for imposing President’s rule. Article 370 was used for the extension of President’s rule. Even Article 249 (parliament’s power to make laws on State List entries) was extended to J&K through a recommendation of the governor, bypassing the state legislature.

In the past, Congress governments and later BJP, used these measures to manipulate the politics of the state to install ministries or impose President’s Rule.

Another myth, really a blatant lie, proffered by BJP, is that development was not possible because Article 370 didn’t allow it. Post-August 5, Indian politicians and opinion leaders continue to harp that with the removal of special status, including J&K will now become part of global India. Seriously, how Article 370 stopped any government from providing or encouraging more investment and industry in the state when most provisions of the Constitution, including Union list entries were extended to the state. The Union governments could have undertaken any economic measures or programs they wanted in J&K. In fact, there was nothing except unkempt promises of colossal special packages. No Indian government undertook any economic or political measures that would provide sustainable and long-term benefits to J&K.

Simply, the removal of Article 35A will now free real estate sharks to gobble up properties and use it for setting up private businesses including private schools. It is difficult to believe that private investment will flow into J&K, when an occupied people there are discontented and uncertain.

Indian propagandists in and out of government harp on the myth Articles 370 and 35A, and the arrangements they enshrine, were unique to J&K. In fact, Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and Goa enjoy similar provisions. In other states too, there are laws preventing non-domiciliary persons from owning land.

The Narendra Modi-led central government had, after the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, recently announced that people will now be able to buy land in Kashmir. As a result, the 1971 circular, which restricted land acquisition and requisition without a ‘No Objection Certificate (NOC)” from the Home Department, has now been replaced by the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. And, the displacement of Kashmiris with the replacement of Indians has begun the process of ethnic cleansing, leading to a genocide of the Kashmiri people.

Citizens of India ought not to live by the myth of living in the largest democracy and in greatness but instead should heed to Gandhi, “as human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”

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