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This is Who We Are– By Imam Zaid Shakir

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As the crisis over children being torn from their mothers’ arms at the US-Mexican border continues we hear former first ladies, politicians, pundits and plutocrats proclaiming, “This is not who we are!” “Americans are compassionate people, etc.” While it is fair to say that there are many Americans who do not support the idea of ripping babies away from their mothers, enough do support the idea, particularly those President Trump would identify as belonging to his base, for us to credibly say that this is who we are.

Compassion as a general description for America is like a cat: it has many lives and dies many deaths. It died on the slave man’s auction block. It died at Wounded Knee. It died with Queen Liliuokalani’s broken heart. It died in the concentration camps in the Philippines. It died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It died in Emmitt Till’s coffin. It died on a balcony at a Memphis hotel. It died at My Lai. It died at Abu Ghraib. It died at Baghram. It died in Guantanamo. It dies with every school shooting. It dies with every youth suicide. It dies with every drug overdose. It dies every time an unarmed black youth is shot by a cop. Now it is dying at the Mexican border. In America, it dies every day. This is who we are.

The cruel, calculating, callousness with which the current racist regime deals with immigrants, starting with the so-called Muslim ban, is matched by the segregated moral concerns of many who would condemn it. For example, while Laura Bush’s condemnation of the Trump administration’s current border policy is laudable, had she raised her voice for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan children killed, maimed and orphaned by the policies her husband helped to initiate, her voice would have been laudable as well as morally courageous.

As for Bill Clinton’s concern for the thousands of children separated from their families, he had no such compassion for the hundred of thousands of Iraqi children killed by his enforcement of a murderous sanctions regime put in place after the mechanized slaughter known as Desert Storm. In 1997, his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, infamously and casually agreed that over 500,000 dead Iraqi children who died during the six years US sanctions had been in place in Iraq to that point, “was worth it,” in terms of the US accomplishing its war objectives. Unknown to most they were all under five years old. Many of those children died because of our refusal to allow the Iraqis to import the parts needed to rebuild their destroyed sewage treatment plants. Those facilities were intentionally targeted by the US during the Desert Storm operation knowing that Iraqis would be forced to drink sewage-contaminated water leading to deaths from typhoid, diarrhea, dysentery and related diseases. This is who we are.

As implied above, one does not have to search beyond these shores or along the Mexican border to discover who we are in terms of our treatment of children. Every day in this country an average of 123 people commit suicide. A significant number are children. On an average day 3,041 children in grades 9-12 attempt suicide. What does this say about who we are? Maybe our children are internalizing the message that they are an inconvenient expense. That is certainly the message our politicians send when they defund schools, do nothing meaningful to stop gun violence, including school shootings, or sentence children to private prisons, the judges oftentimes receiving kickbacks from the prisons for their services. This is who we are.

The President said this past Monday, “The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility.” The truth of the matter is that the United States is already a refugee holding facility as a rapidly expanding network of private prisons, jails, and detention centers being put into place to hold the potential millions of refugees, deportees, asylum seekers and other deplorables. In addition to a futile effort to forestall the inevitable “browning of America” the current administration’s refugee policies are another opportunity for Trump’s cronies to loot the public treasury as hundreds of millions of dollars are being doled out to build, staff and maintain the gulags of the deportation industrial complex. Now we are even talking about the possibility of indefinite detention for so-called illegal immigrants.

This is who we are, but this is not who we are destined to be. To achieve our destiny, however, we need to reject not just the policy of separating babies from their mothers, but the idea that we can construct islands of exclusivity in an increasingly integrated and interconnected world. We cannot loot the world’s resources and then scream foul when people demand a fair share of the wealth their lands and people have helped to create –even when they cross the Rio Grande or the Arizona desert to stake their claim.

We cannot systematically destroy the Mexican corn economy for the benefit of farmers in southern Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska and then cry foul when the displaced peasants flood north looking for an opportunity to replace the livelihood stolen from them. We cannot, as Bill Clinton did, systematically destroy the Haitian rice economy for the benefit of rice growers in Arkansas and then demand Haitians leave this country and return to the hell we helped to create.

As Muslims, we are taught that God does not look at one’s color, rather, He looks at one’s heart and deeds. We are all human and as such we all have a right to lead a dignified life. That being the case, we have to reject the politics of racial and national chauvinism. As a community we should be in the forefront of an effort to challenge the racist basis of many of the current immigration policies. We should also be in the forefront of letting our fellow Americans know that over the course of the last several decades, millions of innocent children have perished as a direct result of the policies pursued by this country, and millions more have been orphaned.

If transcending the status quo is predicated on a profound moral shift, or as Dr. King worded it, “a radical revolution of values,” then let us be a revolutionary community. This latest outrage should make it clear that the social, political and economic status quos are untenable. If it does not arrest its downward spiral into the cesspool of lies, incivility, demagoguery, and worse, this country is doomed. We should never forget that when the Titanic went down, it took with it everyone trapped on board. Working together we can save this ship, God-willing. If we are silent and do nothing it will destroy us.

Imam Zaid Shakir

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Afshan

    June 25, 2018 at 10:10 AM

    Thank you for a thoughtful response. Each day we are subjected to systemic racism and oppression and we cannot remain silent anymore.

  2. Avatar

    Yasmin

    June 28, 2018 at 4:33 PM

    It is overwhelming to read the things the US gov allowed and continues to allow and the detrimental statistics and events that resulted and are still going on to this day. I am truly overwhelmed….the school shootings and suicides are just heartbreaking.

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Civil Rights

Podcast: The Unfinished Business of Martin Luther King | Imam Zaid Shakir

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Our Muslim community is one whose existence, contrary to popular misconception, is predicated on the establishment of peace.

I believe that we have been divinely prepared to take up the torch held aloft so courageously by Dr. King and dedicate ourselves to the completion of his work.Click To Tweet

– Imam Zaid Shakir

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The New Scramble For Africa

Africa
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Africa is a blessed continent with resources and biodiversity that would impress anyone. Africa’s history in Islam (while neglected) played a major role, it was home to the first country to welcome the Muslims and allow them to practice freely. After the spread of Islam trough traders, regions across Africa became hubs for knowledge and trade. The richest man in history hailed from Africa and was Muslim, and his name was Mansa Musa. The riches of Africa have always sought after. People from all over the world have aimed to to do business or exploit the blessed continent. Unfortunately, the history of Africa is filled with strife, bloodshed, slavery, and holocausts. This rings true till today. The purpose of this article is not to dwell on the past, be it Arab influence or colonization. The events going on today needs out attention, we have ignored the struggles of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Africa long enough. 

The first major scramble for Africa was in the 19th century, when Europe carved it up like it was their property. The second was during the cold war, when East and West seek allegiances of newly independent African states. We are witnessing a third scramble that is less obvious, and more behind the scenes with “investments” and “wars”. It can be described as a cold war between China and America. 

African mines

Some see the resources they have like oil, chocolate, rare earth minerals, diamonds, etc. as a blessing (investors mostly), but to the people living through this every day it is a curse. Oil or mineral dependent countries in Africa suffer from enclave industrialization, limited diversity in their economy, and vulnerability to price shock. While this is happening, they see decay in their agriculture, manufacturing, and other trades. The continent is still traumatized by five centuries of exploitation. It is no easy obstacle to overcome. What we are seeing will only get worse as oil production is expected to peak in 2025, world scarcity will increase, and we will see more wars around oil. For the last decade, China has been using “soft power,” basically using money for leverage. This comes in the form of aid, trade, infrastructure projects, and loans. This is a plot to make them a superpower in the region. America, on the other hand, is doing what it has been doing since 1776, it is confronting Africa as a “battlefield,” basically running operations or anti-terrorism projects in dozens of countries that the American public is unaware of. 

One example is South Sudan, and the American campaign to split the Muslim country of Sudan to two. Before the split, China reportedly had invested $20 billion in Sudan. With American interventions occurring, China watched the events unfold. After the split the newly inaugurated president of South Sudan flew to China to secure an $8 billion investment. By 2013, China controlled 40% of their largest crude oil producers and was importing 77% of the country’s output. After unrest and bloodshed occurring in Libya, Mali, Sudan, etc, China has established a stronger effort with peacekeeping officers to protect their oil interest. As one superpower implements one tactic, another superpower follows its traditional method. Last year in Niger, American soldiers, including two commandos, were killed. This was surprising to me as I was unaware of American military operation in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world with Muslims making 98% of its population.

We have seen a dangerous rise of commandos in Africa. In 2006, under Bush, 1% of deployed commandos were in Africa, by 2011 under Obama it had risen to 3%. It does not stop there, before stepping down from office, in 2016, 16.5% of American commandos deployed were deployed in Africa.

In 2006, only 70 special ops were deployed across the continent, in 2014 we have 700 deployed special ops in Africa. “None of these special operations forces are intended to be engaged in direct combat operations,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Robert S. Karem. Despite this declaration, despite the deaths of soldiers in Niger, U.S. commandos keep finding themselves in situations that are indistinguishable from combat. 

In March of 2018, the New York Times released an article of 10 unreported attacks of American troops between 2015 and 2017. Despite these attacks and distrust towards the region, the Pentagon built a $100 million drone base in Agadez, Niger, regardless of the people’s concerns towards a base being built near their home. Our worldly desires is fueling this new scramble for Africa. Our need for resources, technology, and fuel comes at a cost. This cost manifests itself as the development of the rentier state (eventually developing into a kleptocracy across Africa, professional soldiers ruling the resource-rich lands or an expansion of the “war on terror”. 

Here are a few theoretical solutions, some are to be initiated by the government and some rely on people-power movements. The government needs to reduce corruption and that can be done through a menu of policies created to control and maintain corruption. Controlling corruption can be done through; changing the selections of national agents, modifying the rewards and punishments systems, and restructuring the relations between national agents and users to reduce monopolies. Another venue the government can explore is directly distributing resource revenues to the people. This is practiced in Alaska, and has been wildly successful. Finally, the government can invest the resource revenues in social development. Harnessing the revenues for human development to include education, healthcare, job training, and housing will lift up the urban and rural poor. 

The people can pressure the government to pursue any of those ideas mentioned. A power-people movement can look different depending on the need. One idea is that consumers in the West to boycott African minerals due to corruption and/or exploitation. This can develop into “smart boycotts” where we use internet hedge funds to attack corporations that exploit and feed into corruption. Developing campaigns like “blood diamonds” in the past have been proven effective to generate awareness and bring vital change. The same was done with the ivory, and now even China has laws making the product illegal.

People-power movements work and have helped locals rid of unwanted corporations in their region. Ken Saro-Wiwa, was a leader of the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta, he rallied against the abuses of the Nigerian military regime and the oil pollution created by multi-national companies, which resulted in a change of consciousness for the better. 

In his words: “Whether I live or die is immaterial. It is enough to know that there are people who commit time, money and energy to fight this one evil among so many others predominating worldwide. If they do not succeed today, they will succeed tomorrow.”

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CAA – NRC Row: Why There Is More To It Than An Attack On Secular Ethos

indian economy caa
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‘Indian Muslims have nothing to fear. No one knows what CAA/NRC is all about. They are simply protesting because they are misled’, thus proclaimed a former classmate of mine who himself left India for brighter prospects during PM Narendra Modi’s regime but continues to believe in his promise of ‘acche din’ (good days).

Today the whole of India is divided over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which is to be followed by the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Thousands of students from India’s premier institutions like Jamia Milia Islamia, Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Aligarh Muslim University, Delhi University, IITs and IIMs are thronging the streets to protest against the bigoted law.

The ripple effect has even reached top educational institutions across the world including Harvard, Oxford, Yale and MIT. From lawyers to celebrities to academicians, people across the world, belonging to different religions are raising their dissent against the law which is deemed to be against the secular fabric of the Indian Constitution.

What is this law all about?

The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) provides an accelerated path to Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhists, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities from three countries – Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is an official record of all those who are legal Indian citizens. So far, such a database has only been created for the northeastern state of Assam which has been struggling with the issue of illegal immigration for a long time. In Assam 1.9 million people were effectively rendered stateless after NRC and were put into detention centers. Out of these 1.9 million, around 0.6 million are Muslim.

On November 20, Home Minister Amit Shah declared during a parliamentary session that the register would be extended to the entire country.

Why the uproar?

At first glance the CAA seems to be a harmless law, which the government claims was made to help those who are facing religious persecution. However, the question arises why only those suffering religious persecution? Millions of people are suffering persecution in the name of race, region or language in India’s neighboring countries.

Even if we talk about just religious persecution, why does the law only accommodate those from three neighboring countries? Rohingyas are suffering brutal persecution in Myanmar. Christians are suffering in Sri Lanka. Tibetans have been persecuted because of their beliefs.

Many people opine that the CAA is not problematic in itself. It becomes problematic when it’s seen in conjunction with NRC. When NRC is implemented, millions of people will be declared illegal due to lack of documents in a country where the masses live in villages and documentation is a complicated bureaucratic process with a high error rate. According Professor Shruti Rajagopalan, the State Of Aadhaar Report 2017-18 by IDinsight, covering 2,947 households, found that 8.8% of Aadhaar holders reported errors in their name, age, address or other information in their Aadhaar letter (Aadhaar is the identity number issued to Indian residents). In the NRC, a spelling mistake can deprive one of citizenship and 8.8% affects over 120 million people.

They will be rendered stateless and sent to detention centers with inhumane conditions. Out of these ‘illegals’, everyone but Muslims can seek accelerated citizenship under CAA.

The fact is that even if we view CAA alone, the very act of offering citizenship on the basis of religion goes against the fundamentals of secularism and equality as mentioned in the Indian constitution.

UN Human Rights chief, Michelle Bachelet has termed the CAA as “fundamentally discriminatory”.

In this context, it’s also relevant to understand the revolt that is happening in the north eastern state of Assam. While the rest of India is against CAA and NRC for exclusion of Muslims, the people of Assam are protesting against the inclusion of 1.3 million undocumented Non-Muslims, as identified in the NCR. According to them, if these foreigners are granted citizenship under CAA, they pose a threat to the language and culture of Assam.

Police brutality against protesters

Student fraternity across the world was shocked when students of Jamia Milia Islamia who were peacefully protesting against the CAA were brutally attacked by police forces. Police accused students of destroying public property and fired tear gas shells, beat them up mercilessly and even open fired at them. They barged into the library, mosque and even the women’s hostels without authorization.

Video footage shot by students and reviewed by Reuters show students, including women, hiding beneath desks in the library, cowering in restrooms, jumping over broken furniture in an attempt to flee. It was later verified that none of the students had anything to do with some of the buses that were set ablaze outside the campus.

Reports of even more horrific police brutality surfaced from Aligarh Muslim University. A student’s hand had to be amputated after a tear gas shell hit him and exploded. Hundreds of students were severely injured.

Section 144 of the Criminal Code which prohibits any gathering of 5 or more people has been imposed across the entire state of UP. Internet has been shut down in several parts.

Videos showing police destroying properties of innocent Muslims in UP have surfaced which the ‘Godi media’, a term coined for PM Modi’s lapdog media, refuses to acknowledge. Innocent youth are being dragged out of their homes and their properties are being seized on the accusation of destruction of public property. Death toll has crossed 22. Thousands are in custody.

It’s not surprising that Narendra Modi is being compared to Adolf Hitler.

India’s secular ethos

Religion based politics is nothing new in India, the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi issue and Gujarat riots being two of the most glaring examples.

However, in day to day life ‘Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isai, Aapas mein sab bhai bhai’ (Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians are all brothers) has not just been a slogan but a way of life.

Muslims in India have held prominent positions in every sphere of life, be it arts, literature, sports or leadership and have been admired by Hindus and Muslims alike.

The current BJP government aims to change all of that with its RSS-inspired fascist ideology of Hindutva – Hindu nationalism andHindu rashtra’ (nation).

India’s faltering economy and dejected youth

One of the heartening aspects of the CAA/NRC uprising is that it is not being seen as just a Muslim struggle. It is rightly being seen as a struggle to uphold the secular ethos of the Constitution of India. However, there is more to this struggle which is being led by the youth of the country.

Underlying the CAA-NRC struggles is the country’s deep disappointment with PM Modi’s lofty promises of ‘acche din’ (good days) which gave the country a new hope . Among other things he promised to make India an economic superpower. Today the nation’s economy is in doldrums which has led to frustration and dejection in the youth.

IMF’s last forecast for India was 6.1% growth in 2019. This has slumped to 4.9%. Unemployment is at a 45-year high and industrial growth rate is negative.

One of the major reasons for the economic slowdown has been the government’s radical decision of demonetization in 2016 which sent the entire country in a turmoil and failed to achieve any of its stated objectives. Small businesses took a further hit with the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

At a time when the government’s primary concern should have been the faltering economy, the government diverted the country’s attention to the Babri Masjid -Ram Janmabhoomi issue. As soon as that ended it announced the CAA and NRC, continuing its propaganda of Hindu nationalism as opposed to real issues faced by the nation.

At this critical junction the economy can be expected to take a further hit by the cost of the implementation of the CAA and NRC exercise.By conservative estimates, nationwide NRC will cost Indians a whopping 500 billion rupees in admin expenses alone. Add to it the massive cost of building and maintaining detention centers across the country and the nation looks set for an economic and logistical nightmare.

Today the educated youth of the country is voicing its frustration at the price the country has been paying due to the government’s fascist ideologies. They no longer want the world to know India for its age old mandir-masjid disputes, mob lynchings, communal riots, human rights violations, poverty or illiteracy.

The current uprising is not just against one particular law.The people, especially the youth of India are protesting for their rights to work together as one nation to take the country towards being an exemplary democracy and an economic superpower.

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