Muslims and Islamophobia

I have realized this long ago and said this often in private but I feel this needs to be said more and more in public. Muslims care more about Islam than Muslims and that’s why they are inseperably attached to the term Islamophobia and cannot adopt a more appropriate term. This is also a primary reason why both Islamophobia and Muslimophobia are rising inexorably.

The Christchurch killer and his inspiration Brevik, both showed in their manifestos that how interconnected the global medium is and how America sits at the very commanding center of this globalized interconnected minds. Reading and watching some of the most famous Muslim discourse-makers in the aftermath of the shooting, it seems clear to me that beneath all the outrage about Trump, White Nationalism, far-right etc etc, what they really want to do is ban criticism of Islam. They may spew tons of words about Trump, White Nationalism, far-right but what they really hate with every core of their being are New Atheists and Ex-Muslims. I have no doubt that Mehdi Hasan eats, sleeps and breathes thinking worst things about Sam Harris. In Britain probably Majjid Nawaz would be a close rival of Sam Harris in terms of being object of hatred by media Muslims.

The saddest thing is that their efforts are all going down the drain at all corners except amng the wokes. Even after a great tragedy like Christchurch, very few joined their bandwagon to stop criticism of Islam. People like Majjid Nawaz and ex-Muslims will keep getting more and more attention. The right, not just far right, are unashamable through cudgel of atrocities. They will hurl back their grievances, big and small. A tragedy like Christchurch barely gives a short pause now in attacking both Islam and Muslims.

The center is confused, it may invite Mehdi Hasan time to time, but it understands uncomfortably that there is something very askew in this guy. Nodding along boilerplate rants doesn’t mean that very mixed thoughts about Islam and Muslims are not going on in the heads of people at the center. Even in this age of wokeness, the center knows how central is freedom of criticism of ideas to liberalism. Nobody in the center believes that Islam is in any way better than Christianity. After the buldozing Christianity faced in modernity, few would want Islam to be treated any differently. That is not just fair.

The term Islamophobia is exacerbating Muslimophobia. Protection of ideas at this day and age is very very costly. Muslims are paying the cost of protecting Islam. All decent people want to protect people, most decent people do not want to protect ideas.  Just wait till the next San Bernadino or Nice attack happen. Neither ideas nor people will be spared.

 

 

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American Muslims and Kamala Harris

The number of Democrats who have thrown their hats in to run as President has already approached double digits or crossed it; its difficult to keep tab. So far the most impressive launch was Kamala Harris, who declared from a huge rally in her homeground, Oakland, California. It’s not hard to see more than a similarity with another hugely famous biracial candidate, Barak Obama, who declared in his homeground Illinois with much fanfare.

Everybody understands that Kamala Harris will be a formidable candidate. Apart from all her personal and professional qualifications, liberal America may just want to recitify the Trump presidency with another emphatic progressive statement.

However, for now I am curious about how Muslims in America will regard Kamala Harris. I find it interesting that several Muslims media personalities have been twitting about Harris with barely disguised antipathy and are quickly delving into oppo research of Harris’s background.

Ofcourse, any sober political observer understands that people like Mehdi Hassan are fanatics who cares for only one issue, how good is the candidate for global Muslims and the way to judge that is probably position on Israeli-Palestine issue. But I believe people like Mehdi Hassan and his cohort do not move in own ways. These guys either coordinate intesely or their ideological lodestar acts as an Schelling point for coordination.

I am curious to see if general American Muslims show hesitancy about Kamala Harris. If they do, what could be reason for such luckwarmth?

 

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Bangladesh, economy and politics in imbalance

[During the month of December I wrote several articles in Bangladeshi newspaper about the runup to the election in 30th December. I am going to post some of these here so that BP readers may get a native perspective on what’s going on.]

As Bangladesh heads to parliamentary elections to be held on 30th December, only a risk-loving gambler would bet against the governing party returning to power. In its latest country report, Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) expressed the conventional assessment that the Sheikh Hasina’s government will retain power easily. The analysis powerhouse based this expectation mostly on the strong economic performance of Bangladesh in the last decade under the current regime. Over the last ten years, GDP growth in Bangladesh averaged well over six percent and is projected to be even higher in the next few years. Foreign exchange reserve has increased more than fourfold, and the currency has remained steadfast against hard currencies. During the last ten years the Bangladeshi currency has lost only twenty percent of its value against US Dollar while the Indian Rupee lost thirty-one percent and Pakistani Rupee forty-one percent.

Not just in economy, Bangladesh has made great strides in social development. By World Bank estimates, national poverty rate dropped from forty percent to twenty-four percent in the ten years preceding 2017. By Bangladesh government estimates, by 2015 the country has already achieved many of the Millennium Development Goals, for example in nutrition, primary education, child mortality, maternal health etc., far ahead of most of the LDCs. These growth and developments were not urban-centric either, rural household income increased by forty percent from 2010 to 2016.

However, the ongoing pre-election period may baffle an outside observer because, despite strong economic growth and widespread expectations of a win, the regime is carrying out an unprecedented campaign of repression of political opponents. Not only the ruling party is visibly controlling every facet of the administration, including the election commission, but the party is using these state organs to directly thwart, attack, arrest, harass opposing candidates countrywide. This would not surprise regular observers of Bangladesh affairs because, along with the remarkable economic growth, the last ten years were also marked by clear democratic backsliding and authoritarianism. German research group Bertelsmann have been keeping tabs on democratic development in the world since 2005. Its indexes show that status of democracy in Bangladesh has been rapidly deteriorating since the non-competitive election of 2014 and in 2018 Bangladesh was downgraded from a highly defective democracy to a moderate autocracy.

The level of repression before the election suggests that the rosy economic and development numbers may not be providing a faithful representation of the economic well-being of the general people. A recent report by International Labor Organization (ILO) said that youth unemployment in Bangladesh grew by seven percent from 2010 to 2017, one of the worst unemployment growths in developing countries. In a pre-election assessment of the economy of last ten years, CPD, the venerable Bangladeshi thinktank, put forward the calculation that one-third of the educated youth are unemployed. In the recent years, the country has been rocked by several urban youth movements demanding more access to government jobs, for many the only avenue for upward mobility.

At the same time, several estimates from Bangladeshi sources say that as many as half million foreign nationals, mostly Indians, work in Bangladesh in skilled/white collar jobs. This lack of Bangladeshi educated and skilled workers is greatly explained by the dismal state of higher education in the country. Times Higher Education produces annual world university rankings with one of the largest coverage of universities. In the latest 2017 rankings, there are more than thirty Indian universities and five Pakistani universities among the top one thousand universities of the world. Bangladesh has zero. World Bank data shows that during the last ten years, Bangladesh annually spent only about two percent of its GDP in education while Pakistan spent near about three percent and India three and half percent.

Economists studying development argue that a country’s long-term economic growth comes mainly from two sources, investing in human capital and investing in physical capital.  From previous discussion, we have seen that human capital development in Bangladesh has been significantly below par to its neighbors. In investment, the picture is not much better either. The previously mentioned CPD report showed that in the last ten years both private investment and foreign direct investment growth in Bangladesh were anemic. Rather than investments, much of the ‘miraculous’ economic growth of Bangladesh have come from exports, consumption and government spending.

Export growth, in particular, has been spectacular; more than doubling from seventeen billion USD in 2009 to thirty-seven billion in 2017. For comparison purposes, Pakistan’s total export in 2017 was less than twenty-five billion USD. However, if we look at the composition of export, a stark imbalance appears like the elephant in the room. More than eighty-five percent of the total exports of Bangladesh is just from one product category, ready-made garments (RMG) and textiles. Any development economist would say that such high level export dependence on just one product is alarming for any country and any product. RMG may be an especially bad basket to put in all the eggs.

Garments is a low-technology, labor intensive industry that mostly depends on ready-to-export, turn-key factory units. Although the industry employs a great number of factory workers, lack of learning and upgrading in jobs mean that workers have short shelf-life and are unceremoniously terminated after the end of productive years. The mature technology of RMG means there is little effort for innovation, R&D in the export industry. Thus, there is a lack of need for skilled and technology workers, which means that the industry provides little demand for development of human capital and technological capabilities in the country.

A particular feature of garments industry is that, unlike chemicals, machinery, IT services etc., it has very little input-output relations with other major export industries. This means that development of garments industry does not spill over to development of other more value-adding industries. Despite frequent boastful proclamations from regimes and entrepreneurs, industries like pharmaceuticals, electronics, IT services, chemicals etc., are prominent in the Bangladeshi export basket by their insignificance and absence.

Some economists argue that “countries become what they make”. The RMG industry, by dominating Bangladeshi economy for long time, has not only dramatically shaped the society but also the politics. This is a strikingly unequal industry with a few dominating large firms and many small firms servicing those large firms; there is a conspicuous lack of mid-sized and diverse firms. The industry creates a narrow business elite that can easily collude with the government for preferential treatment. The regime, in return from this privileged treatment of the industry, obtains assurance of steady and increasing revenue which it invests in building up the bureaucracy and infrastructure. This growing public investment not only help boost the GDP but also provide the political regime with means to buy off loyalty of bureaucracy and civic society. Regimes then use the RMG-fueled state and civic power to suppress political opposition and stage ‘managed’ elections. We have witnessed these intimately related events again and again in recent years, most notably in Cambodia, another RMG-dominated country, where the ruling regime just staged an election in 2018 where it ‘won’ hundred percent of the seats.

Many technology, economics analysts have argued recently recently that Bangladeshi garments industry is a prime candidate for severe incoming disruption from automation. Development of new automation technology, changes that are now within realistic realm, can wipe away advantages of cheap labor at a stroke and render millions of garments workers jobless worldwide. The spectacular growth of garments industry in Bangladesh explains source of the dominating power the ruling regime has over political opponents. At the same time, the uneven economic and social development from this industry and the very precariousness of the industry’s future, help us understand why there is simmering discontent among aspiring citizens. The puzzle of repression during times of plenty, is not so baffling after all.

 

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Land of Devis and Ma-Jananis

There are few things that trigger me more into blood-pumping fury than when somebody claims how superior South Asian culture is in respecting women and blah blah family values. By South Asia, I mean India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. I do not want to take space venting my fury here because I primarily want to post the following Guardian article. However, I must write a few lines.

These words need not be said because they are generally well understood by all knowledgable people. South Asia has the world’s worst reputation of treating women. It has worst reputation of violence to women, disrespect to women, sexual objectification of women and just every-day, every hour awkward behaavior to women. It has such bad reputation that whenever a foreign girl, white, black, East Asian, latina, expresses interest in visiting South Asia, all South Asian friends immediately discourage her. Female stewards in international flights specially watch out for South Asian men for perverted behavior. And so on and on. In sum, South Asia has the shittiest culture for women. We can debate till cows come home whether Islam, Hinduism, Muslim occupation, British colonialism etc are to blame for this but there is no escaping what it is now.

Finally South Asia is home to the world’s largest industry of making utterly fake paens, hommages to women. Cue a Karan Zohar movie theme.

Nearly 40% of female suicides occur in India

Study indicates early marriage, male violence and patriarchal culture are to blame

Nearly two in every five women in the world who kill themselves are Indian, according to a Lancet study published this week that says the country’s suicides rates constitute a public health crisis.

The rate of Indian women who die by suicide has fallen since 1990, but not as fast as elsewhere in the world, and now represents 36.6% of global female suicide deaths, the report in the UK medical journal found.

Indian women who died by suicide were more likely to be married, to be from more developed states and, by a large margin, aged below 35.

“It shows girls in India are in serious trouble,” said Poonam Muttreja, the executive director of the Population Foundation of India, a public health group.

She and other specialists blamed the trend on early marriage – one-fifth of Indian women still marry before the age of 15 – along with male violence against women and other symptoms of a deeply entrenched patriarchal culture.

The suicide rate among Indian women was three times higher than what might be predicted for a country with similar geography and socio-economic indicators, the researchers said.

“Our social norms are very regressive,” Muttreja said. “In the village, a girl is called her father’s daughter, then she is her husband’s wife, and when she has a son, she is her son’s mother.”

Muttreja said research carried out by her organisation had shown that 62% of surveyed women believed it was legitimate for their husbands to beat them.

The researchers speculated the link between suicide and marriage was due to the burdens of youth motherhood, the low social status afforded to wives in some households, the lack of financial independence and exposure to domestic violence.

“The disproportionately high suicide deaths in India are a public health crisis,” the authors, who are mostly affiliated with Indian public health research groups, said.

Around one in four men in the world who die by suicide are Indian, roughly the same proportion as in 1990, the study said.

Suicide was also the leading cause of death for young people of both genders but was worse for women.

The study noted that suicide had recently been decriminalised, so there was a possibility the true rate could be even higher but hidden by families and doctors for fear of stigma or police interference.

  • https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/13/nearly-two-out-of-five-women-who-commit-suicide-are-indian

 

 

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An Interview on Bangladesh Street Protests

I think this short interview about Bangladesh Street protests pretty much sums up what is going on in Bangladesh. The interview led to predictable and dire consequences for the person foolish enough to speak his mind about Bangladesh to the foreign media while living within Bangladesh! I am posting the transcript of the interview and then posting the video.

Q: These protests were sparked by two teens who were killed in a road accident but is this all about road safety or is there something larger going on?

A: Very much larger. This has been going on for a very very long time. It is an unelected government so they do not really have a mandate to rule, But they have been clinging on by brute force. The looting of banks, the gagging of the media. You mentioned just now the mobile internet is currently switched off, the extra-judicial killings, the disappearances, the need to give protection money at all levels, bribery at all levels, corruption in education. It is a never ending list. It has been huge.

So it really it is that pent up energy, emotion, anger, that has been let lose. This particular incident, sad as it is, really is the valve that has allowed things to go through. Very recently there was another very big protest about the quota because the quota system is rigged in such a way that only people close to the party in power get to get government jobs and there is a disproportionate amount of jobs going to them so ordinary people protested. And that was very brutally brought down.

Under pressure the prime minister offered reforms but them reneged on them. So that is also part of the reason. So this time when students did go on protests, again it went to a situation where they could not control it and the Prime minister has promised that she will cede to their demands, but of course people no longer believe. She has no credibility. She has made promises before, it has not been accepted, so now they don’t do it.

But I think what we need is to look at is what is happening in the streets today. The police specifically asked for help from these armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads. I mean now ridiculous is that. Today I was in the street and there are people with machetes in their hands chasing unarmed students and the police are standing by watching it happen. In some cases they are actually helping it out. I mean …. this morning, there was tear-gassing and I saw the police ganging up trying to catch these un-armed students, whereas these armed goons, are going out, wielding sticks and machetes, are walking past and they [the police] are just standing by.

Q: So where do you think these things are going to go from here? These protests appear to have spread across the country quite spontaneously and without any kind of central leadership here. This is part of the challenge the government is dealing with, in that it is so grass-roots in the way that it has spread.

A: I think the Government has miscalculated. It certainly felt that fear was enough, repression would have been enough, but I think you cannot tame an entire nation in this manner. And of course they are approaching elections, so the nearer it gets to elections, the more sensitive they are. They know that if there is a fair and free election, they will lose. But they haven’t got an exit plan as they have misruled for so long so that if they do lose, they will be torn apart. So they have to hang on by any means, so that is exactly what they are doing. They are clinging on using the entire might of the system plus the armed goons at their disposal.

 

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A Profile in Courage

I am not adding anything extra with this short news item, I think the news speaks eloquently and voluminously by itself. I just want to add that I feel utterly humble when I consider how much courage and determination people like  Jibran Nasir possess to do what he is doing day after day in a place like Pakistan.

Rare secular candidate in Pakistan hounded by angry mob

Labaik spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi said his party “did not send anyone to do this”, adding that people running in elections should declare their faith.

Nasir gained nationwide prominence in 2014 after staging protests against the Red Mosque, the Islamabad center of a militant network with links to Pakistani Taliban strongholds in the northwest and in neighboring Afghanistan.

The mosque was the site of a military standoff in 2007, but within two years its chief cleric was freed from detention and was once again calling for strict Islamic rule across Pakistan.

The mosque campaign earned Nasir a phone call and death threats from a high-ranking Taliban commander.

“We are doing it for the millions of Pakistanis … who right now are forced to choose amongst the lesser of evils, who are willing to embrace different political leaders with all their biases and religious bigotry,” he said.

“Every day I am carrying on with my mission, they are making a fool of themselves.”

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-election-independent/rare-secular-candidate-in-pakistan-hounded-by-angry-mobs-idUSKBN1KD1L7

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