Israeli Apartheid Week pt 2: What about the children?

One of the saddest parts of the conflict in Palestine is that innocent children suffer due to the brutality and greed of adults. In this short video, several children are interviewed. As you watch – particularly the outraged little girl – just imagine these were your children, and this was your reality.

Previous segments: Part 1.

Israeli Apartheid Week pt 1: A short intro

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an annual international series of events (including rallies, lectures, cultural performances, music shows, films and workshops) held in cities, communities and campuses across the globe.

IAW raises awareness of Israel’s apartheid policies toward the indigenous Palestinians and serves to garner support for the non-violent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign which seeks to bring an end to Israel’s apartheid policies and violations of international law.

For us South Africans and our liberation, people of the world mobilized in their hundreds of thousands – if not millions. During the 1980s, they held protests, music concerts, free Nelson Mandela events, lectures, film screenings and a host of other events to raise awareness of Apartheid South Africa’s racist policies and to build support for the successful boycott, divestment and sanctions against South Africa campaign.

Today, we have the opportunity to “give-back” by joining the international movement in solidarity with the indigenous Palestinian people (and their progressive Israeli allies) against Israeli Apartheid, and participating in Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is one such form of solidarity!

Find out more about Israeli Apartheid Week and how you can get involved here: www.bdssouthafrica.com/2011/02/israeli-apartheid-week.html

To help set the theme, here’s a short animated video introducing the conflict:

 

You can also view the full schedule of events across South Africa here.

A thousand words – part 1: Context is everything

It’s said that a picture says a thousand words, so this new series focuses on portraying messages via imagery – whether those be cartoons, photos, or other types of visuals. Text may be included, but the visual is the primary focus.

Part 1: Context is everything

Context

 

“Telling half the story is just as bad as not telling it at all. To suggest that the Israeli attacks were due to the rockets fired by Hamas is a blatant lie. And if so, did anyone in the British media establishment care ask why Hamas fired the rockets in the first place? Does it matter at all that the Palestinians are a nation under Israeli occupation, and Gaza has been under siege for 4 years? Context is everything.” – Anas Altikriti

(Image source: Real Eyes Realize Real Lies)

Lower than the animals

“Surely We created man of the best stature.
Then We reduced him to the lowest of the low,
Save those who believe and do good works, and theirs is a reward unfailing.”

Holy Quran – Surah 95, verses 4-6.

Commenting on this verse, scholars of Islam mention that it means that human beings have the capacity to be higher in stature than the angels, but also could become reduced to a state lower than the animals.

Reading the tragic story below – which occurred in Syria recently – this verse came to mind. The perpetrators of this crime – as well as all others who use rape as a weapon of war and oppression – are indeed far lower than an animal could ever be:

“This is a story of a 28-year-old single woman. She was a virgin, like all the single women in our society. It took place in Douma (a suburb of Damascus), where the Republican Guards broke into the three-floor building where she used to reside, entered all the apartments, and took out all the residents.

“They killed the men, eight total, and kept the women. One officer chose this young woman, dragged her by her hair, tearing her headscarf. When her mother tried to help and protect her, [the officers’] guards hit the mother on the head with their rifles and she fell on the ground bleeding. They took the young woman into a room and raped her. All the women outside heard her screams. They started crying and shouting, asking for mercy for the woman and for themselves, but it was in vain.

“When the victim came out of the room, there was blood everywhere. She had been brutally raped multiple times. They took the bodies of the murdered men and threw

them in front of the entrance to the building and left.

“The young woman was in a heartbreaking condition. She was hysterical. Her mom lost her mind when she saw the horrible state of her daughter.”

The dates of the reported rape is unknown. Because Syrian government officials currently refuse to allow access to journalists, researchers, and aid workers, WMC’s Women Under Siege cannot independently verify this report of sexualized violence in Syria.” (Source: https://womenundersiegesyria.crowdmap.com/reports/view/119 )

We may feel helpless about the situations in Syria, Burma, and elsewhere, but the least we can do is pray for the innocent people whose lives are being ruined by the ruthless criminals that perpetrate such acts.

Beyond that, we can speak about it – or help spread awareness about what’s going on.

With that in mind, here are several Facebook groups/pages you can subscribe to to help keep up to date with the events.

Feel free to add your own additions in the comments section – whether it be related to Syria, Burma, Palestine, or anywhere else that rampant oppression and injustice continues to thrive.

Beyond words and spreading awareness, the actions we take are even greater – whether that be through donating to reputable organisations that are assisting the victims, actually trying to go to such places to assist in relief work, or any other well-intentioned action.

It’s always beautiful to see how tragic events – such as 9-11, the tsunami of a few years ago, and now Hurricane Sandy – pull people together and bring the best out of them. Telethons are held, donation drives are publicised, and people really open their hearts, wallets, and hands (via volunteer efforts) to help the victims.

But tragedies worse than all of those events are happening on a daily basis in these troubled regions of the world – so let’s not limit our generosity to the latest popular cause. Hundreds, thousands, and even millions in these places would welcome our efforts.

Timeless Lessons for Humanity

“And Pharaoh send heralds until all cities, [bidding them to call out his troops and to proclaim:] “Behold, these [children of Israel] are but a contemptible band*; but they are indeed filled with hatred of us seeing that we are, verily, a nation united, fully prepared against danger…”

(Quran; Chapter 26 – “The Poets”, verse 53 to 56; translation of meaning by Muhammad Asad)

This passage struck me because of the commentary Asad gives at the the *:


“Thus the Quran illustrates the psychological truth that, as a rule, a dominant nation is unable really to understand the desire for liberty on the part of the group or groups which it oppresses, and therefore attributes their rebelliousness to no more than unreasonable hatred and blind envy of the strong.”

What came to mind – while reading – is the phrase that former U.S. president George W. Bush would use to justify his ‘war on terror’:


They hate us. They hate our freedoms and our way of life.

And in this hate, they carry out acts of terrorism against the target of their hate.

Looking at other cases in history – and even in the present day, I am certain we could find examples where the media and government demonise an oppressed people’s efforts for freedom as ‘hate’ and ‘unreasonable’. Because if an oppressed people don’t go along and humbly, silently accept and submit to the ill-treatment handed out to them by the oppressive rulers / ruling class or race, they are labelled as troublemakers and hate-mongers.

I’m not saying that all minorities or fighters are in the right all of the time – because they do sometimes go beyond the limits of acceptability – for example, killing innocents can never be justified or acceptable (even as ‘collateral damage’).

But what I am saying is that it’s so common for those in power to tell blatant lies, cover up truth, choose information selectively, and twist the story to depict the weaker side as violent and hateful – while depicting themselves as honest, noble, and just.

A lesson from this is to be wary of what you read and hear from the media and leaders of powerful nations and organisations. Remember who is giving you the information, and whose opinion is being pushed on you – whether directly or subtly. Remember the words of Brother Malcolm X:

"If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." - Malcolm X

Another reason I quoted this passage and commentary from the Quran is that I wish to highlight the timelessness of Allah’s final revelation: how this Book – and the history of our human race – can never be ‘archaic’ and ‘outdated’ – as some critics say. It’ll always be relevant, because though times and technologies change, human nature always remains the same.

And so, just as certain themes occurred in times of old, those themes repeat themselves nowadays – and will continue to repeat themselves in future.

Apartheid Lives!

 

As part of the South African leg of the 2012 Israeli Apartheid Week, the film “Roadmap to Apartheid” is currently being screened in different parts of the country. The film explores, in detail, the apartheid comparison as it is used in the enduring Israel-Palestine conflict. As much a historical document of the rise and fall of apartheid in South Africa, the film shows why many Palestinians feel they are living in an apartheid system today – under Israeli occupation, and why an increasing number of people around the world agree with them. It features interviews with South Africans, Israelis and Palestinians, and the film winds its way through the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and inside Israel moving from town to town and issue to issue to show why the apartheid analogy is being used with increasing potency. It analyses the similar historical narratives of the Jewish people and the Afrikaaners, the tight relationship the two governments shared during the apartheid years, and everything in between.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has seen the film, and commented: “Roadmap to Apartheid is very powerful and compelling, and the visuals of house demolitions are appalling.  Religion is repeatedly misused by politicians. One of the lessons of Jewish history is that God is always on the side of the oppressed.  Another is that those who dehumanise others dehumanise themselves.  Israelis will pay a heavy price for their callous mistreatment of Palestinians.”

It’s a must-see for all who feel strongly about justice in the world, and especially South Africans – who know very well the experience of such a cruel and divisive system.

You can view the trailer here, and if you’re in SA, there are still a few screenings remaining in the country:

Cape Town
Sunday, 11 March @ 14h30 (Joseph Stone Auditorium, Klipfontein Road, Athlone)

Durban
Thursday, 08 March @ 19h30 (Factory Cafe, 369 Magwaza Maphalala Street (Gale Street), Glenwood)
Sunday, 11 March @ 14h00 (Al Ansaar Hall, West Road, Overport, Durban)

Pretoria
Thursday, 08 March @ 13h30 (L2-69, Graduate Centre, University of Pretoria)

Click here for details of screenings in Soweto, Modimolle/Nylstroom, Ermelo, and Polokwane; and here for details of further events around the country for this cause, including a panel discussion with cartoonist Zapiro, Professor Allan Boesak, Ronnie Kasrils on Thursday evening.

Other important documentaries and resources on the subject are:

With all the war talk about an Israeli attack on Iran, let’s not forget about the silent war that happens each and every day in the occupied territories.

Look beyond the political rhetoric, and think about the people that are suffering as a result of this absurd, inhumane occupation – and imagine what it would be like if you or your family were the victims.

It’s through ventures like this 2012 campaign that the reality of the situation can be exposed, and more and more people are awoken to the shocking truth of just what is going on.

Lessons from the Orion-MJC debacle

I’m sure most South African Muslims are aware of the Orion-MJC saga that started late last year, and has resurfaced this week with a documentary airing on e-tv. I didn’t see the program, so I’m not in a position to comment on it, but from what I have observed, many people are very emotional over it – and rightly so.

The sad thing, though, is when people start using inappropriate and derogatory language to insult the ulama of our country. Yes, we have the right to be angry with this situation and the way it was handled (both the actual ‘crime’ and the public relations disaster that followed) – but that doesn’t give us the right to overstep the Islamic limits of speech.

I’m not saying that we can’t publically criticize them – that we should just sweep this under the rug because we must protect our ulama. This is a public issue, and one that can be discussed publically – whether on Facebook, forums, or other platforms.

But what is wrong is when ulama are insulted with language that is not befitting of any Muslim. There’s a way to criticize without getting nasty, and unfortunately, some have fallen into the trap – the trap that shaytaan has laid out for us in this incident.

There’s debate about whether critiscising the alims is ‘backbiting’ – and on that point, I refer you back to an old post that covered backbiting.

I won’t accuse anyone of backbiting in this case, because I don’t want to argue with individuals, and I’m in no position to judge anyone. But what I will say is that the proper Islamic etiquette is required if you’re going to criticize anyone in public – whether an alim, organization, politician, celebrity, or ordinary person. In fact, this applies in private too.

This whole thing really is a test for our community: in the actual halaal industry (which has long been criticized and in need of reforms, according to many), but also in the way we respond or react to it.

Let’s remember that every word we say or write is something that goes on our record – which we will be held accountable for. We should seek the truth and speak from a position of solid knowledge – and not jump to conclusions and say things based on rumours and unproven suspicions (because, as verse 12 in Surah Hujurat says, “…. Avoid much suspicion; indeed, some suspicions are sins…”)

Let’s take some lessons from this incident, and make it a means of improving our own understanding of how to conduct ourselves correctly (in addition to the community-level issues that need to be addressed with the MJC and halaal certification industry).

This story, from Voice of the Cape (the leading Muslim radio station in Cape Town), sums up a lot of what I think:

We must do better: Mufti

There were several lessons to learn out of the Orion halal saga, in particular as it played itself out this week after the screening of the etv expose on 3rd Degree. This was the view of Mufti Abdul Kader Hoosain, speaking on VOC’s Q&A on Thursday. The alim said what was seen on the documentary was “a real disgrace” since it showed Muslims “being caught with their pants down”.

The first lesson, mufti said, was for organisations like the halal certifying bodies to realise that they needed skilled public relations officers to deal with the media.  “This is not something that anyone can do. Muslims cannot be caught offside like this again. It is not only bad for Muslims, but also for Islam since there are so many non-Muslims watching us. So it is imperative that we have professional people in this regard,” the alim said.

A second lesson related to the issue of giving halal certification to non-Muslim businesses, especially where it was not under Muslim management. “This is something I have personally always been opposed to. I could not agree with the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) when they first certified McDonalds and I still cannot agree with this practise, because once we give halal certication to a non Muslim owned business that is not under Muslim management, how can we trust it? So my humble appeal is for the ulema to review this policy.”

Inspections

Thirdly, on the matter of halal inspections, he said much tighter controls were needed. “When meat comes from abroad, it is recertified upon its arrival here. However, once it leaves the port and goes to importers like Orion Cold Storage, who is responsible for checking it? We now saw how these products were deliberately relabelled and someone must be held accountable. These people have committed a criminal offence by relabelling these products fraudulently, but we also carry blame because we left the door open for them to exploit.”

He said it was critical for halal certifiers to ensure that there were no loopholes in the halal certification process so that the purity of the halal chain from the point of origin to the Muslim table can be ensured. “Having said that, I don’t think it is a good thing to bring in ‘halal’ imports in the first place, because sometimes they have lower halal standards in that country than in South Africa,” he added.

According to Mufti, the public was justified in feeling that the halal certification business was only about money. “No wonder people speak about ‘scholars for dollars’. We cannot be upset about these perceptions, because where there is smoke, there is fire. It is a tragedy that, as Muslims, we may have unwittingly found ourselves holding pork in our hands, cooking and eating it. Someone must be honest and take responsibility for that. We must apologise to the public and admit that it was an oversight,” he advised.

MJC

Asked about the public anger, especially towards the Muslim Judicial Council Halal Trust (MJCHT), the alim said a bit more perspective was needed. “The MJC is an organisation that is older than me and it has done great work since 1945 which we cannot wipe away. If one has an axe to grind with them, then it is your personal issue. You cannot now blame the entire MJC for it. That is totally wrong. The Quran urges us not to let our hatred of a people make us forget to be just. This also applies to people with whom we disagree. That is Islam.”

The alim pointed out that while the MJC had done sterling work since its inception, in this instance, they handled things incorrectly and not only needed to rectify it, but also take steps to ensure that the same mistake was not made again. “At the same time, the public must not go to the other extreme to call for boycotts and the like. That is the wrong approach,” Mufti stated.

“The MJC made a mistake and they must apologise for it. Allah alone knows everyone’s intention, therefore we cannot set ourselves the task to get even with the MJC. Islam teaches us to forgive people when they make mistakes. More than that, let us not just look at people’s shortcomings. We don’t have the time to look at another person’s shortcomings when we have so many faults of our own. So let us hope that sanity prevails,” Mufti said.

Criticism

With reference to the ulema bashing that had been part of the public criticism on the Orion issue, the alim pointed out that there was a fine line between legitimate criticism and ulema bashing. He said many members of the ulema do not appreciate being criticised, including by their peers. “As alims we must admit that the public has the right to criticise us. Sometimes alims act as if they are above reproach and this is incorrect,” he said.

“At the same time, people must remember that our ulema are the heirs of the prophets and they have to be respected as such. However, this does not mean they cannot be criticised. In criticising the ulema there are three things to remembers. Firstly, the intention must be to offer sincere naseega, rather than simply focussing on looking at their faults,” Mufti explained.

“People often become obsessed with the latter and then run the ulema down just for the sake of doing so. We are taught that once you start looking for the faults of others, then Allah will disgrace you, even if you are right. Therefore when we criticise, we must also be magnanimous in our approach. Our deen is a deen of the heart and therefore if advice needs to be given, let it be sincere,” the alim advised. VOC

Appreciating Ramadan

Many of us take this month for granted – the fact that we can fast (as we’ve been commanded to do), perform taraweeh, and do all the other, communal things that come packaged with this ‘month of the ummah’.

But while we have it easy – while we have this freedom – our brothers and sisters in some places are being subjected to tremendous oppression – in that they are actively discouraged, or even banned, from fulfilling these great Ramadan activities.

 

Tajikstan
For example, take the Muslim majority country of Tajikstan – whose secular government has banned Muslim youth from the masajid. This legacy of the country’s former Soviet rulers – who banned and punished the practicing of religion – also includes the government imposing sermons on imams to deliver at mosques – publishing a collection of 52 sermons that must be preached during the weekly Friday prayers. Additionally, a government campaign includs the arrest of men with beards, and ordering them to shave. All this in the name of countering “religious extremism”. For more info on the Tajikstan situation, see this article.

 

Xinjiang
Another example is the plight of the Uighur Muslims in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Chinese Muslims already face severe restrictions, but Muslim members of the government throughout Xinjiang must sign “letters of responsibility” promising to avoid fasting, taraweeh, and other religious activities. The Communist government says “Party members are not allowed to fast for Ramadan, and neither are civil servants.” Other individuals are allowed – as it’s a “traditional ethnic custom” – according to the government – but they aren’t allowed to hold any religious activities during Ramadan.

With regard to Muslims working for private companies, while there isn’t an outright ban, there are still consequences. Uighur Muslim employees are offered lunches during fasting hours; and anyone who refuses to eat could lose their annual bonus, or even their job – according to one account.

And schoolkids and the youth are also not free. Officials target Muslim schoolchildren, providing them with free lunches during the fasting period. Another report, from an Uighur resident ofBeijing, said that students under 18 are forbidden from fasting during Ramadan.

For more info on the Uighur situation, see this article.

 

These are just two examples of political oppression – but there may be others. And in addition, there are Muslims in other places that are being deprived of a ‘normal’ (in our sense) Ramadan by other issues – poverty, famine, war, and more.

So while we enjoy our Ramadan and attempt to draw closer to Allah through fasting, taraweeh, and everything good that the month brings, let’s stop to feel the pain, try to help, and at least make dua for our suffering brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

And let’s appreciate the religious freedom we have, while we have it. Because if we don’t, we may lose it, and then we’ll look back to these times of freedom with fondness and longing – but without the ability to practice and enjoy our religion the way we are able to right now.

Cartoons and Freedom of Expression

As many of you will know, there’s currently a furore around South African cartoonist Zapiro’s depiction of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The South African Muslim leadership has united in condemning the incident; as well as strongly discouraging the community from reacting violently – because we cannot defend our Prophet by acting in a way he would not sanction (for that merely perpetuates the false stereotype of Muslims as violent, extremist maniacs).

But at the root of it all is the issue of freedom of expression. The cartoonist firmly sticks to his right of this freedom, and goes further to assert his right to satirise religion. The latter point, I believe, is indicative of the Western liberal mindset which holds nothing sacred, and views everything as ‘fair game.’ Such is a consequence of the collapse of religious values in the public sphere.

In fact, when it comes to sacredness, it seems that the only thing some people hold sacred is their secular constitutions – which, in many cases, they hold as more important than any Divinely-revealed code of life.

With regard to freedom of expression – and indeed any freedom – the point that many people miss is that there can be no freedom without a related responsibility. With each freedom comes a responsibility to exercise that freedom responsibly – i.e. without harming others.

With some cartoons, like the Danish ones and some which have recently come out on the Facebook group which called for “Draw Muhammad day” – this responsibility is forgotten.

Anyway, one of my favourite writers, Khalid Baig, very nicely summarises the issue of this freedom in the piece below.

After reading it, feel free to leave your comments on the whole situation and debate.

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Freedom of Expression?

Source: http://albalagh.net/food_for_thought/0096.shtml
By: Khalid Baig (Posted 20 May 2010)

With the latest in-your-face act of the Facebook, the issue is once again attracting headlines. Should Muslims react? How should they react? Where do they stand on the philosophical issue underlying all this?

In the media the issue has been framed as a clash between two camps. One camp stands for freedom of expression. The other wants to curtail it.  Needless to say the first camp is enlightened and virtuous. The other is a relic of the dark ages. The clash, in other words, is between a civilized and civilizing West – and Islam, that just refuses to be civilized.

Once you accept this framing of the whole issue, the outcome is already decided. “Are you for freedom of expression or not?” It is a loaded question, and just like the yes/no question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” – no matter how you answer it, you remain guilty.

Look at the typical Muslim response which begins, “We also believe in freedom of expression, but…” It matters little what you say after that. It is obvious that you are trying to add exclusions and limitations to a basic moral value while the other side is asking for no such limits. It is not difficult to see which side will come out ahead.

But this predicament is a result of uncritically accepting a false statement about the nature of the clash. For the real clash is not between those who are for and those who are against a freedom. Rather it is between two different freedoms. On the one hand is the freedom to insult. On the other is freedom from insult. Whether it was the Satanic Verses of the 1980s or the Cartoons of 2005 and their endless reproduction since then, if they stand for any freedom, it is freedom to insult. Pure and simple. Muslims, on the other hand, have stood for and demanded freedom from insult. Nothing more. Nothing less.

These are certainly opposing values. You can be for one or the other. And the question does arise, which one is a better value.

To see that let us imagine a society that truly believes in the first as a cherished moral value. It celebrates freedom to insult and guards it at all costs. Every member of it enjoys this freedom and practices it regularly. In a business everyone insults everyone else. The boss is insulting the employees, the employees are insulting the bosses. The salesmen are insulting the customers. The accountants are insulting the creditors. Everyone is enjoying the great freedom to insult. The same is true of the home. The parents are always insulting the children. The children are constantly insulting the parents. The spouses are incessantly insulting each other. And in doing so they all stand on the high moral ground because freedom to insult is such a fundamental freedom on which the society is built.

Actually, contrary to the claims of the pundits, if the Western society was truly built on this “cherished moral value,” it would have perished a long time ago — consumed by the fires of hatred and negativity generated by this freedom. No home, no neighborhood, no village, no business, no organization and no society can survive for long if it makes freedom to insult as a cornerstone of its freedoms. Clearly, most who advocate this freedom do not practice it in their daily lives. But they are making an exception in the case of Islam and Muslims. The driving force behind this is not any great moral principle but a deep rooted hatred born of ignorance.

Software professionals sometimes use a term called beature. It stands for a bug turned into a feature. A bug is a defect in the software. A feature, on the other hand, is a desirable attribute. A beature is a defect that is presented (thanks to slick marketing) as a feature. Freedom to insult is also a beature. It is the growing sickness of Islamophobia in the West which is being presented as a high moral value, packaged by the slick marketing departments as freedom of expression.

Well, whether or not freedom to insult is a Western value, Islam has nothing to do with it. It lays emphasis on its exact opposite: the freedom from insult. It values human dignity, decency, and harmony in the society. The freedom of religion it ensures includes freedom from insults. While it does not shy away from academic discussion of its beliefs and showing the falsehood of non-Islamic beliefs, it makes sure that the discussion remains civil. In those discussions it wants to engage the intellect of its opponents; in contrast those who itch to insult their opponents – who are interested in satisfying their vulgar emotions. Thus while Islam’s most important battle is against false gods, it asks its followers to refrain from reviling them. (Qur’an, Al-anam, 6:108). It also reminds its followers to stay away from harsh speech. “Allah loves not the utterance of harsh speech save by one who has been wronged.” (Qur’an, Al-Nisa, 4:148). Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, who is being reviled by the scum of the world, taught Muslims to never let the low moral standards of their adversaries dictate their own moral standards.

As a result of these teachings, Muslims can never even imagine insulting any Prophet — from Adam to Moses to Jesus to Muhammad (peace be upon them all). Even when they ruled the world, Muslims treated the religious leaders of non-Muslim with respect – even during battles. In the Baghdad court, Jewish and Christian scholars engaged in open discussions with the Muslim savants. Needless to say, they had not been attracted by the freedom to insult – but its exact opposite. Freedom from insult is a fundamental value that assures peace and harmony. It leads to healthy societies. And Muslims are very proud of their impeccable record here.

What is true of a home or a village is also true of the world – as it has become a global village. Now, more than ever before, the world needs the harmony and tolerance that can only be assured by the freedom from insults.