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Archive for April 2010

Hindu Terrorism on Rise

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India which claims to be a secular state, has broken all the records of violence, genocide and massacre perpetrated on various ethnic and religious groups, entailing the community of its own lower castes. These atrocities and injustices display that Hindu terrorism is on rise.

South Asia Terrorism Portal’s report revealed, “231 of India’s 608 districts have been affected by various insurgent terrorist movements…continued to pose serious challenges to the country’s security framework. It is high time; we should pay attention on the Indian law and order situation.”

India started militia operation against insurgents in Lalgarh tribal region of the west Bengal, and also banned the Communist Party of India-Maoist, terming it a terrorist organization in the wake of fresh insurgency by the Maoist insurgents. The CPI-M came into existence following the merger of the Communist Party of India, the people’s War group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). Several states such as Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh had declared the CPI-M an unlawful organization. In the eastern regions, Naxalties have established their writ running large hundreds of villagers.

Recently, Maoist intensified their struggle, attacking official installments in the major Indian cities. In this context, on October 31, 2009, The New York Times wrote, “India’s Maoist rebels are now present in 20 states and have killed more than 900 Indian security officers…India’s rapid economic growth has made it an emerging global power but also deepened stark inequalities in society.”

The Maoist militants oppose the ruling Communist Party of Indian government in Bengal. It is unfortunate that the US and the West do not see any threat of the Indian nukes falling in the hands of insurgents, terrorists or Communists. In addition, wide areas of the country appear to have fallen off the map of good governance, and are acutely susceptible to violent political mobilization, lawlessness and organised criminal activity.

It is notable that historical background and religious beliefs which have formed the habits and national character of Hindus are quite different from the other ethnic and religious communities. Indians still have a strong belief in the superiority of their race. Indian Hindus are followers of Chanakya (Say some thing else and do some thing else). These facts have been verified by the misdeeds of Hindu fundamentalist parties like the BJP, RSS, VHP, Shiv Sina and Bajrang Dal which have missed no opportunity to communalise national politics of India even under the Congress rule. With the backing of Indian officials, these parties have intensified anti-Christian and anti-Muslim bloodshed in the last decade coupled with the dissemination of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism).

Besides previous genocide of Muslims and destruction of the Babri Mosque, more than 2500 Muslims were massacred in 2002 in the BJP-ruled Indian state of Gujarat. Regarding that massive genocide, both Human Rights Watch in 2002 and Amnesty International in 2003 charged the “Gujarat state administration” for involvement in “a massive cover-up of the state’s role in that massacre” and pointed out numerous police officials-specifically ministers, high officials and leaders of the VHP, BJP and Bajrang Dal as participants.

On September 13, 2008, the communal riots in Uttar Pradesh killed more than 200 Muslims. In one of the most tragic incidents in Assam, Hindu extremists burnt alive six members of a Muslim family. Violence has continued against the Muslims from time to time. Similarly, assaults on Christians and their property have been executed by the Hindu mobs in Orissa, Assam, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. In this respect, at least 60 Christians have been assassinated in the recent past by Hindu extremists in the state of Orissa. Other minorities of India are also target of Hindu terrorism.

Under the mask of democracy and secularism, Indian subsequent regimes dominated by politicians from the Hindi heartland-Hindutva have been using brutal force ruthlessly against any move to free Assam, Kashmir, Khalistan, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu and Tripura where wars of independence are alive in one or the other form.

India’s prime minister met with Naga separatists on March 2 this year in an attempt to end one of the South Asian nation’s longest-running insurgencies. The meeting could not succeed because India is offering wide autonomy to the group though it has already rejected the separatists’ demand for an independent homeland in northeastern India. The Naga insurgents began fighting more than 50 years ago.

As regards the Indian-held Kashmir, since 1947, Indian forces have intermittently been employing all the possible techniques of military terrorism such as curfews, crackdowns, sieges, massacre, targeted killings etc. to maintain their alien rule. However, under the new puppet regime in the occupied Kashmir, Indian brutalities keep on going against the current phase of Kashmiri uprising which began on August 12, 2008. In the last two years, more than 3000 unmarked graves of the unidentified bodies were uncovered in villages of Indian-held Kashmir. Sources have suggested that these graves include bodies of extrajudicial executions committed by the Indian military and paramilitary forces. European Parliament strongly condemned India regarding human rights violations in the occupied Kashmir

In Maharashtra, non-Hindu communities have lived in constant fear and awe since the advent of the fundamentalist party, Shiv Sena whose Chief Bal Thackeray has organised army of hoodlums to beat up any religious minority, openly directing the Hindu terrorists to loot and stone any of their shop or house. Silence of the subsequent governments on every challenge of Shiv Sena and lack of serious action against Thackeray’s vandalism have clearly defeated the secular echoes of India which is in fact a secular terroist state. More alarming point is that Bajrang Dal has also been imparting arms training to its members near Ayodhya.

It is mentionable that ideology of Hindu nationalism prevails in every field at the cost of other minorities. It is even supported by Indian defence forces clandestinely. This fact could be judged from the recent past, when on April 6, 2008 in the house of Bajrang Dal fundamentalists in Nanded, a bomb went off. The investigations proved that the militants belonging to the Bajrang Dal were found in the bomb-making and attack on a mosque in Parbhani in 2003. Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra arrested a serving Lt. Col. Srikant Purohit along with other army officials, indicating that they were helping in training the Hindu terrorists, providing them with the military-grade explosive RDX, used in the Malegaon bombings and terrorist attacks in other Indian cities. ATS further disclosed that Lt. Col. Purohit confessed that in 2007, he was involved in bombing of Samjhota express, which brunt alive 69 Pakistanis. Leaders of the Indian extremist parties, Shiv Sena, BJP, VHP and RSS are now pressurising the Congress regime to release the culprits.

Before these revelations about Hindu terrorism, Indian government has been accusing the Islamic organizations in contact with Pakistani or Bangladeshi intelligence agencies in carrying out bomb blasts in Malegaon and other Indian places.

As regard Hindu terrorism, BBC indicated on November 21, 2008 that a new phrase has entered the sometimes cliche-riddled Indian press: “Hindu terrorism”, calling it the latest addition to the media lexicon

It is now clear that instead of taking action, New Delhi has been using Hindu terrorists to create frenzy against the other religious communities.

Most dangerous point is that Hindu terrorists with the support of Indian army and their intelligence agency, RAW would try to get weapons of mass destruction-and will use them in the US and major European states in order to show that Muslim radicals or Al Qaeda-related insurgents have performed this sinister job. While Hindu extremists, with the backing of RAW has already started a nefarious strategic game in destabilizing Pakistan by creating insurgency in the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (Frontier Province), and backing separatist elements in Balochistan.

In fact, there is a co-relationship of the Hindutva and Hindu fundamentalism which are the genesis of Hindu terrorism. Nonetheless, Hindu terrorism is on rise, which has enveloped whole of India.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power. Dangerous Shift in International Relations

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Following the UN report

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By: Zafar Hilaly

In the past, the army has been loath to have senior officers tried. Coups, wars, botched military operations, corruption on a gargantuan scale and the loss of half the country have produced no trials. Officers responsible for such acts have lived on to write their memoirs

Finally, the government seems to have worked up the courage to begin in earnest an investigation into the murder of Benazir Bhutto. It has been a disgracefully long time in coming. Clearly, the UN Commission of Inquiry Report has been instrumental; not only has it imparted the much-needed testosterone and told us where to look for the culprits, as if we did not know, but also framed a charge-sheet of sorts. It has, therefore, served a vital purpose, regardless of what the legion of its critics spout to the contrary.

Justice, which is to give everyone his due, is the one constant and perpetual wish of society. And a lot of people have borne the pain readily only in the hope that justice will be done. Now the government must ensure that some degree of justice must be seen to be done or else electorally it will perish. And Mr Zardari will never be able to wash off the stain.

Mr Zardari seems to appreciate this and is readying himself to do that. He has said that 90 percent of those involved have been apprehended. What he probably means is that the actual perpetrators, the young men, have been identified, some apprehended and some on the run. No doubt detailed confessions will soon see the light of day. The UN report also confidently identifies a teenager as the suicide bomber and, speaking in Peshawar recently, Mr Zardari also hinted that he might be an Afghan.

But what of those who conceived the crime? The chances are, nay the certainty is, that they have not been identified. And if the crime is to be pegged exclusively on the Taliban, on the supposition that as the perpetrators are the Taliban then so must be their minders and their leader, it would not wash with the public. Pakistanis tend to perceive the donkey standing behind bars as a zebra. And it is not their fault. In countries where the system of government can be described as absolutism moderated by murder, suspicion, and not the truth, reigns supreme.

However, so many are the theories in circulation and so far fetched are some that no justice system can address them all, and hence we may happen to settle for the most plausible answer as the true one. And while that sounds pretty boring, let us accept it for a moment and agree to lay the blame for her murder at the door of the Taliban, although few are willing to do so.

But struggling to find out who killed BB is only half, precisely half, the battle. Of no less importance is who left the door open so that the murderers could saunter in and plant their bombs in Karachi, and do what they did at Liaquat Bagh with such impunity. In a sense, they are the real culprits. And if Saud Aziz conveniently takes the rap for ordering the crime site to be hosed down, as he is most likely to, for reasons of ‘crowd control’, then the whole case will appear neatly resolved for some, but it will not suffice for the rest of the country. By next week, therefore, when the small investigation group set up to question him and the former MI chief end their time-bound investigation, we will know where this case is headed.

Of course, the cynics among us say that they know it already. Without proof of a conspiracy, which is something very difficult to prove in court, and impossible to do without all the culprits being in custody, the guilty will go scot-free. So Mr Zardari, if he is to do the job thoroughly, must ensure that all those suspected of being involved are made available to the investigators. And here, of course, he runs up against a big obstacle. Of those who stood to benefit by her removal are/were senior military officers, including the one who is abroad. Roping them in would require a fundamental shift in the way the Pakistani establishment works. But what may prove a greater hurdle is not the courts or foreign governments, but our sad history.

Accountability is a relatively novel concept in Pakistan. It is irksome, messy and disquieting, but necessary nonetheless. But who can say with certainty that the penny has dropped? In the past, the army has been loath to have senior officers tried. Coups, wars, botched military operations, corruption on a gargantuan scale and the loss of half the country have produced no trials. Officers responsible for such acts have lived on to write their memoirs. Some defeated and disgraced generals have even tried to form political parties. Why, then, should the latest crop of officers, who could face charges of conspiracy to murder or criminal negligence, not also go scot-free? Sadly, whereas even colonial rulers made their generals like Clive and Hastings answerable to parliament and the courts, ours have not, to date.

The question is, will this paradigm continue? And almost everyone says that it may, because Mr Zardari does not possess the guts and the gumption to attempt to change it; nor does he have the wherewithal in terms of political support. And, solid and honest as he is by repute, General Kayani may not feel that now is the moment to undertake a revolution in the army’s approach towards errant officers. By making the former DG Military Intelligence, a serving general, available to questioning by civilians is, they say, already a big step. Doing more may prove unsettling.

Of course, such a stance, if indeed it is an accurate depiction of the current thinking, cannot stand if the evidence unearthed suggests the culpability of others. The public will not tolerate it. Nor will parliament. And nor, my gut instinct tells me, will Kayani. And, at the risk of being shouted down, I may add, nor will Mr Zardari. When the time comes to stand and be counted, he will. She stood up, and so will he.

Mr Zardari must now constitute an enquiry panel headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate the murder based on the 18 recommendations contained in the summary of the UN report. If he prevaricates, he will perish.

The writer is a former ambassador. He can be reached at charles123it@hotmail.com

‘Pakistan to get $600m in CSF funds quickly’

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WASHINGTON: The US plans to quickly transfer $600 million to Pakistan to reimburse the government for military operations over the last year, the Pentagon said on Thursday. “There has been some concern on Pakistan’s part about the rate at which they are reimbursed for the Coalition Support Funds for their efforts in the war on terror on our behalf within their borders,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said at a news conference. “We have made great strides over the past few weeks to try to accelerate reimbursement payments to the Pakistanis… We have, I think, in total about $600 million that is in route or will soon be in route in the next few weeks to Pakistan to reimburse them for their operations over the past year.” The payment delay has been a source of friction and has contributed to Pakistan’s economic woes. The US is in arrears in paying about $2 billion in military aid to Pakistan under the so-called Coalition Support Fund.

Tribals battling hunger and starvation in the heartlands of Madhya Pradesh

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EATING DISORDER

Shriya Mohan

uncovers shocking tales of tribals battling hunger and starvation in the heartlands of Madhya Pradesh

TODAY MAUSAM will not eat. There is just enough wheat flour left for three rotis but she stretches the dough thin to make four. She grinds a chutney of raw green chillies with salt and spreads it on each roti – one roti each for her two, three, five and sixyear- old. They eat slowly and despite the struggle to swallow the spice, waste no morsel. The bread it covers is the only solid food they will get for the next day. They finish in a few minutes – mouths on fire and stomachs numb. Hunger has vanished. The chillies have served their purpose. Water will fill the rest of their stomachs. One more day has passed. Mausam has to wait until her husband returns from town with wages to buy this month’s food grains from the ration store.


Weighed down Unlike normal one-year-olds who can walk, malnutrition means that Rinki, at 4.5 kg, can barely crawl

Currently, in the power corridors of the Union government, debates rage about the National Food Security Act. As per the provisions of the Act, families living below the government-defined poverty line will be provided 25 kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 per kg. There are however sharp disagreements on the net pool of people who should qualify for the food subsidies and if the alloted 25 kg of grains will prove to be sufficient for the family.

Consider the case of Madhya Pradesh – the state often billed as starvation central of India, where hundreds of thousands of Mausams scrape through each day not knowing if there will be food tomorrow. For at least a fifth of Madhya Pradesh, comprising 46 Scheduled Tribes, the state is the powerful sun whose light and warmth never touches the darkness that envelopes them.

Of these, four specific tribes, forming nearly 20 percent of the total ST population, are the most impoverished, faring the lowest in all the human development indicators – the Baiga, Korku, Mawasi and Saharia. Most live in inaccessible terrains where government schemes are fractured and ‘development’ still an unknown word. Every year, malnutrition affects their children, taking away their childhood and very often, their lives altogether. Even today, the Baiga and Korku children fill their stomachs only with paige, the simplest and coarsest possible soup.

In 2010, a report published by the Asian Legal Resource Centre, a human rights organisation with a General Consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, stated that 71.4 percent of tribal children in Madhya Pradesh are malnourished. The figures pose pressing questions to the state. How has Madhya Pradesh really dealt with its tribal population in the face of new development and wildlife conservation projects? What is the root cause of malnutrition – is it a lack of proper government schemes, an unsustainable source of income, poor agriculture or abysmal healthcare facilities? Can the state conceive of an inclusive policy where the tribal population contributes to its development, instead of being hand-held to even pass the basic benchmark of survival?

Over the next four weeks, TEHELKA will unravel how malnutrition operates in the most desperate tribal hamlets of rural Madhya Pradesh. The series will cover the Baigas of Dindori, Mandla and Balaghat, once known as the lords of the jungle; the Korkus tribe in Khandwa whose ancestors believe themselves to be descendants of the mythical Ravana; the Mawasis of Satna, a tribe who served as guards for native rulers in Central India and finally the Saharias of Shivpuri, traditional hunters who were inseparable from the wild jungles of Madhya Pradesh. While some are battling hunger as a direct consequence of being displaced from core forestland, others are exchanging food for money by cultivating cash crops. What unites them all is that constant vacuum throbbing inside the stomachs of their young ones, impairing their growth, stunting their minds and snatching away their lives.

Victor Agauayo, nutrition chief, UNICEF India, says, “If severe acute malnutrition is not controlled within the first two years of birth, then the impact on physical and mental growth is irreversible. Right now, 12,60,000 severely malnourished children in Madhya Pradesh are strapped to live time bombs. The state has to make a quick choice: will it reach out to save them or be a silent spectator as their tiny shrivelled up bodies are piled up to merely be counted for yet another report?

Fighting India’s Maoists Means More Than Guns

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COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS

Interviewee: Mahesh Rangarajan, Professor, University of Delhi
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer

The killing earlier this month (Hindu) of seventy-six government troops by Maoists in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh highlighted the threat from this growing insurgency and the debate over how best to counter it. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the threat posed by Naxalites, as the Maoists are locally known, the “single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.” Last year, Indian home minister P. Chidambaram noted Maoists held pockets of influence in twenty of India’s twenty-eight states and ordered a major offensive against them.

Politicians and others are divided on whether an armed offensive by the state is sufficient to solve the Naxalite problem. Mahesh Rangarajan, a leading Indian historian and political analyst, says the insurgency is not just a security issue. Social and economic dimensions also have to be addressed, he argues, for what has become a major “political challenge” for the Indian democracy. Rangarajan rules out talks between the state and the armed Maoists, but stresses that the state must address social justice for India’s disaffected tribal groups. Many of these groups have not benefited from India’s economic boom, and some have suffered from it, says Rangarajan.

Who are the Naxalites, and what do they want?

The Communist Party of India (Maoists), which was formed in 2004, came about as a result of a merger of two smaller groups. All such groups trace their background to a party which was founded in 1969 called the Communist Party India (Marxist-Leninist). It drew its inspiration from an armed uprising of a group of peasants and tribals led by a couple of Marxist leaders in 1967-68, in a village called Naxalbari in West Bengal. So the word Naxalite is often applied to such groups by their opponents, and by themselves. It’s a Marxist political party which believes that the only way to create a just society in India is by an armed revolutionary overthrow of the existing state system. This puts it at variance with the mainstream communist parties of India. India has several communist parties, [but] the Maoists reject those leftist groups, who they see as having sold out to the dominant classes in Indian society.

Do these Maoists themselves belong to the tribal society?

There has to be a distinction made between the CPI (Maoists) in terms of the leadership of the party–who are largely educated, middle class radicals–and their social base, political base, and their clout, which comes from forested districts that are largely inhabited by members of the scheduled tribes [lowest in the country’s stratified social order]. Scheduled tribes form about 8 percent of the population in India; 8 percent of one billion is a very large number of people. There are other marginal groups, most of whom are dependent on dry land agriculture and wage labor for a living.

We have had in India an insurgent tradition among a section of left-wing groups going back more than forty years. That tradition ebbs and flows. And we are living through a period of a relative flow.

These are backward areas; these are dispossessed people, they’re extremely marginal–their life expectancy, access to healthcare, education, level of entitlement–is far below the national average. And it is these districts, many of them forested, some rich with minerals, that have got caught up in the throes of rapid economic development that makes India such a powerhouse. And the displacement of people by dams, by mines, by forest reservations and nature reserves, is seen by some as creating more fertile ground for such extremism to stick. So they are in areas which have not benefited to a large extent from the huge economic transformation of India and could even be said that there are significant sections of population who have probably lost out.

There are a number of groups active in such areas; the bulk of them are peaceful. Maoists are part of the spectrum, but they’re on the extreme end of the spectrum. So their base is in precisely these areas, they also have a base in some plains areas where there are major disparities between [land-owners] and the landless, particularly in central and north Bihar, but that is one region where their base has somewhat declined in recent years because of better governance and delivery of services to the poor.

At the same time, tribal people that Maoists claim to champion have also suffered at the hands of Maoist violence. Do the Maoists have a following in the tribal areas where they operate?

Their sympathizers claim that they have substantial support. Prominent among them is the celebrated author Arundhati Roy and others. Their opponents would say that whatever base they have is due to coercion, and it is well-known that they have recruits from such communities; they maintain small armed cadres of what they call the People’s Liberation Army.

But despite having such support, in the last decade and a half in their period of growth in some parts of India, they have run regular protection rackets [extortion]; miners, foresters, operational school teachers, virtually everyone working in these areas has to give a part of their pay to such groups. The price for not paying enough is that they deal with you pretty severely, and it’s no surprise that a large number of the people who are killed by them are police constables, forest guards, lowly government officials, elected village council leaders. But no one would claim that the CPI is simply a criminal enterprise. It is a political organization. It has a political objective and it has some measure of sympathy or support, whether that is due to fear or because of ideological allegiance or simply desperation–there’s a big debate on that. We have had in India an insurgent tradition among a section of left-wing groups going back more than forty years. That tradition ebbs and flows. We are living through a period of a relative flow.

India’s home minister has called for an all-out war with the Maoists as well as offered negotiations if they give up arms. So some might say India does not have a clear policy on how the Indian state wants to deal with the Maoists.

The divide is too fundamental between groups who believe the means to justice is through an armed overthrow of the political system, and those who believe that however extreme your grievances, there is space within the political system to accommodate and address those grievances or injustices.

No, I don’t think that’s a fair observation. India has a long track record of dealing with insurgencies. There is a long record of insurgents coming back into the fold, giving up the guns, and accepting the constitution. There is also a record of insurgent groups having been battled down and simply put down. These are people who are armed, they do have a measure of support. This is a country which has the world’s third or fourth largest army, it has a very substantial armed presence, but in the last week we’ve had statements from the chief of army staff saying they’re willing to help train the police–so they don’t want to be involved in this. And [similarly] from the chief of air staff. They’re correct. You don’t have an army and an air force in a democracy to use them against your own people. And the kind of areas they’re in, you’re not fighting a regular army. If you were to deploy paramilitaries and armies on a mass scale, a lot of innocent people would probably get killed. There’s been a tradition of Maoist cadres when they have staged armed attacks, [soon after] they melt away and you won’t find a single cadre around, and if you do, they will blend into the local population.

So there is debate which is on. It’s a healthy sign in a democratic society to have a debate, particularly because nobody wants a situation where sections of Indian society who are weak, who are excluded by any stretch of civic benchmark that you might use, get victimized in the process. So when the union home minister says he is open to negotiation if they give up arms, he’s not under the illusion that they’ll give up arms; it’s a signal to say that the government is willing to take an extra step for peace, but I don’t think anyone seriously expects them to give up arms. They haven’t for forty years, there’s no reason for them now and they’ve never promised that.

Can talks be a solution?

I doubt it, because this is a group with a very clear political ideology and objectives. In the past when there have been talks, it has not led very far. The divide is too fundamental between groups who believe the means to justice is through an armed overthrow of the political system, and those who believe that however extreme your grievances, there is space within the political system to accommodate and address those grievances or injustices.

So, then what is the solution?

The challenge has to be seen not only as a security one but as a political one, and one of the reasons Maoism lost its appeal in the 1970s and 1980s is that some of these issues [their grievances] continued to be addressed by government. Now for perhaps the last fifteen to twenty years during India’s reform and liberalization, people took eyes off this dimension of the Indian reality. It needs to come back into focus.

So there are two dimensions to it. There is the security dimension which has to be addressed, but there’s also the social and economic dimension.

These are very important parts of India in economic terms, in terms of forests and mineral wealth, but they’re also important because this is a substantial section of Indian society. Maoism is in pockets of adivasi [tribal, literally meaning indigenous people] country. These maps that paint the whole thing red [communist], they are misleading. But it is a challenge for Indian democracy, which in the past has been able to deal with other sorts of divides–the religious divide, the caste divide, the divide between different regions of this vast country. So, it’s a security challenge, but it’s also a political challenge for the ruling alliance and for the political system as a whole.

President Obama’s Relationship with American Muslims is a Quiet One

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Monday, nearly 11 months after addressing the Muslim world from Cairo, President Obama delivered a major speech to Muslims in this country. But his audience was a group of entrepreneurs, investors and educators from more than 50 countries where Muslims are a majority of the population. The speech launched a two-day summit aimed at expanding business ties between the U.S. and the Muslim world.

Obama has yet to deliver a major speech to the American Muslim community and yet Muslim leaders in the U.S. say relations with the White House have never been better. At the same time, some conservatives say White House sensitivity to issues that might offend Muslims, is compromising U.S. security.

In Cairo, Obama said “let there be no doubt, Islam is a part of America.” But in post 9/11 America it remains a politically sensitive part.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., says “the fact is we are fighting terrorism today but terrorism is coming primarily from the Muslim world and the Muslim community.”

That kind of thinking makes public White House outreach to American Muslims politically risky, and perhaps for that reason the Obama administration’s outreach has been quiet and conducted by the president’s aides. But there has been outreach.

James Zogby, of the Arab American Institute, says “the ongoing relationship with the White House is…significantly improved over the 8 years in the Bush administration,” during which he says “there was not a single Arab American briefing.”

In a February speech at New York University, John Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism advisor, said American Muslims have endured “surveillance that has been excessive” and “over-inclusive no-fly lists,” among other grievances. Muslim leaders say frequent contact with administration officials is changing that. They point to the relatively short period of time that passengers from 14 Muslim countries were subjected to extra airport scrutiny, following the failed Christmas Day airline bombing attempt.

Still, some of the Obama administration’s efforts to avoid offending Muslims have attracted sharp criticism, particularly the decision to drop the Bush administration phrase “war on terror.”

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of two Muslim members of Congress, feels the Bush administration approach was too simplistic. Ellison said “You can’t just have this mono-statement where you say, ‘we denounce terrorism’ and rattle our sword.” But Lisa Curtis, of the Heritage foundation, says sensitivity constrained the White House response to last November’s bloody massacre at Ft. Hood, Texas, when a gunman identified as a Muslim Army Major killed 13 people and wounded 30 more.

“I think there was too much attention given to trying to downplay the fact that this was an act of terrorism.” In fact it was two months after the incident before administration officials called it terrorism.

And today, Ct. Senator Joe Lieberman, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced the administration has failed to provide some of the information his committee has subpoenaed and has provided none of the witnesses he wants to interview, to determine if the shootings could have been prevented.

Ellison also says former President Bush doesn’t get enough credit for his outreach to Muslims. He notes Bush launched the tradition of holding Iftar dinners at the White House during Ramadan. Ellison says “in many ways some of the good things he tried to do were overshadowed by Iraq and Afghanistan.”

President Bush also named the first American representative to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). President Obama’s OIC representative, Rashad Hussain, drew sharp criticism from conservatives for calling the prosecution of some terror suspects “politically motivated,” a comment both Hussain and the White House initially denied.

Zogby believes the U.S. relationship with Muslims at home and abroad has evolved under the Obama administration. He cheers the decision to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, though Obama is finding it difficult to actually accomplish. Conservatives almost universally oppose the decision, which they see as a mistaken belief that the “war” on terrorism can be treated as a “criminal matter.”

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, goes a step further, accusing the Obama administration of “trying to label some things profiling and off limits that actually have always been good law enforcement practices.”

The White House, meanwhile, denies that political sensitivity is keeping the president from making a public outreach to American Muslims.

When asked if Obama feared it would fuel radical internet claims that he’s not an American citizen and is hiding Muslim roots, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said “The president has dealt with the crazy Internet rumors for — for years. I don’t think that’s deterred anything that he’s done in understanding what the right thing is to do for this country.”

Israel seeks to justify a new war on Lebanon: Hariri

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DOHA: Israel is seeking to justify a new war on Lebanon by alleging that Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah has obtained Scud missiles, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in remarks to a Qatari newspaper.


About 1,200 Lebanese were killed during Israel’s 34-offensive against Hezbollah militants in south Lebanon

“We reject the allegations … (Israel) is trying to justify a war against Lebanon that it could launch when it wishes,” Hariri said in an interview with Al-Watan to be published on Thursday, excerpts of which were obtained by AFP.

“Where is the proof that Hezbollah has these missiles,” Hariri asked, adding that “Israel possesses nuclear weapons.”

He also refused “to ask Hezbollah to deny the possession of such weapons,” saying, “Why put ourselves in the position of being accused, and why give Israel the right to make such accusations?”

On Tuesday, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman took a similar stance, dismissing the Scud charges as “Israeli inventions.”

“A war against Lebanon will not be an easy task and Israel knows that,” a statement quoted Sleiman as saying during a visit to Brazil. “If the Jewish state wants war, it will find that Lebanon is ready to defend itself.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres has accused Syria of providing Hezbollah with the missiles, prompting Washington to warn that this “potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk.”

Earlier this month, a UN report said Hezbollah’s arms posed “a key challenge to the safety of Lebanese civilians and to the authority of the government” and said the United Nations had information that “appears to corroborate the allegation of smuggling of weapons across the land borders.”

And a senior US State Department official said last week said Washington was “concerned with the broadening nature of cooperation between Syria and Hezbollah.”

Damascus is “providing a wider array of missiles to Hezbollah,” added the diplomat, who asked not to be named and who refused to accuse Syria of delivering the high-grade weapons to Hezbollah.

Syria has rejected the allegation it transferred the missiles, which could put all of Israel in range.

In July 2006, Israel launched an assault on Lebanon after Hezbollah fighters captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets into Israel during the 34-day conflict.

About 1,200 Lebanese, many of them civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers, died in the conflict.