Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Call Your Congressman & House Foreign Affairs Committee: Help stop violence against Hindus in Bangladesh

Hindu American Foundation

Namaste HAF Supporters,

We need you to make TWO 30 second calls today: Call your Congressman and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. As the HAF delegation prepares to hit the halls of Congress next week for the 10th Annual DC Advocacy Days, we need your help in laying the groundwork on an important and timely issue.

What is the issue?
We are asking the House Foreign Affairs Committee to hold a hearing on the escalating violence against minorities, mainly Hindus, in Bangladesh. 

The most recent violence follows the convictions of three Jamaat-e-IsIami (JeI) leaders by the International Crimes Tribunal for engaging in "crimes against humanity" during Bangladesh's 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan, when an estimated three million people were killed and 200,000 women raped. JeI is a radical Islamist political organization seeking to create a theocratic Islamic state in Bangladesh. 

Since late January, large-scale violence by supporters of JeI has resulted in more than 80 deaths and several hundred injuries. Hindu villages, in particular, have been systematically attacked with more than 47 temples destroyed and approximately 700 homes vandalized or burned to the ground.

Why does your call matter?
Influence in a democracy comes down to numbers. Each call made by an HAF supporter increases the importance of this issue. Every single call counts, and your call will be reinforced by HAF's DC Days delegates when we meet with Congressional offices and the Foreign Affairs Committee next Tuesday. 

Our goal is to generate 150 phone calls on this issue before next Tuesday's meetings, so that the House Foreign Affairs Committee knows that a hearing on Bangladesh has broad support from the Hindu American community!

What should you say?
Call #1: Your Representative
1. Find out who your Representative is by entering your zip code in the upper right corner at: http://www.house.gov/representatives/
2. Call the Washington, D.C. office. 
3. When the staff member answers the phone, use the following script:

"Hello.  My name is <your name>, and I am a constituent of Representative <your Rep's name> . I am a member of the Hindu American Foundation and am concerned about the escalating violence against minorities in Bangladesh led by Islamist extremist groups. I am calling to ask the Representative to urge the Foreign Affairs Committee to hold a hearing on this serious issue in an effort to generate awareness and discuss broader implications to US interests in the region. Thank you." 

Call #2: House Foreign Affairs Committee
4. Call the House Foreign Affairs Committee directly at (202) 225-5021. 
5. When the staff member answers the phone, use the following script:
 
"Hello.  My name is <your name>, and I am a constituent of Representative <your Rep's name> . I am a member of the Hindu American Foundation and am concerned about the escalating violence against minorities in Bangladesh led by Islamist extremist groups. I am calling to ask the House Foreign Affairs Committee to hold a hearing on this serious issue in an effort to generate awareness and discuss broader implications to US interests in the region. Thank you."  

You've made these two important calls.  Now what?
Please fill out this FOUR question form so we can record your call as complete. Remember our goal is 150 calls before next Tuesday. If you don't fill out the form, we won't know if you called. 
 
Please spread the word and ask your family and friends to make calls. Remember, every call counts!
 
Sincerely,
The HAF Team

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Bangladesh- Damning Exposures

Dated 22-May-2013
By Bhaskar Roy
 
It was inevitable and had to happen, because some politicians in Bangladesh have conscience.
 
Recently, some senior leaders of the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), told the media, on condition of anonymity, that their Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia was being misled by some close to her to make statements that were both damaging to her and their party.  These leaders did not take any names, but mentioned some “party outsiders” and a particular “leftist-turned-Islamist jihadi intellectual”, and that a section of Khaleda Zia’s staff, including some retired civil servants and military officers, helped this jehadi intellectual to influence her.  Names may not have been mentioned, but for those within the party and other politicians and the media, the accused people would have been quickly identified. Cracks within the BNP had become evident for almost a year now.  Sections of the party’s youth and student bodies have been questioning the direction of the party.  Even at the division level and upazilla level, there was discontent.  Infighting and rivalry are normal in democratic political parties.  When ideology, direction and alliances are questioned, there would have to be serious problems.
 
The issues flagged by the outspoken BNP leaders suggest more than jockeying for position and influence within the party.  They are more fundamental to the stability and development of the nation, and the relevance of liberation and independence in the quest of more than three million nationalists did at the hands of the Pakistani army, and the pro-Pakistan anti-independence forces who were vicious perpetrators of crimes against humanity, otherwise known as genocide.
 
The unhappy, if not yet rebellious BNP leaders, saw Begum Zia’s statement in Bogra that “the army would not sit idle if the government continued with genocide”.  It was a very damaging statement.  The remark implied Khaleda Zia was inviting the army to stage a coup.  Khaleda’s late husband Gen. ZiaurRahaman staged the first military coup in Bangladesh.  After his assassination, Gen. H.M. Ershad executed another coup in his turn.  The army was used by the BNP during its coalition rules between 2001-2006, and another coup in 2007 was somehow put down by the Army Chief.  The current government of Awami League’s grand coalition with Prime Minister Sk. Hasina amended the Constitution to make military coup illegal and unconstitutional.  As a rebut to Begum Zia and BNP, the three Service Chiefs jointly took an oath in the Parliament that they will abide by the Constitution, and will not allow the Constitution to be desecrated.  In essence, the main Opposition leader warned that had better not try to divide the armed forces.
 
This was resounding rejection of any plans Khaleda Zia harboured to use the military.  It also assured the government that jihadist and Islamic radicals will be rooted out from the forces.  Some elements of the Hizbul-ut-Tehrir had attempted a coup of sorts last December.
 
The other aspect of Khaleda Zia’s pronouncement was the use of the word ‘genocide” to describe this action of security personnel in quelling riots engineered by the Opposition combination in which some people died.  The police may have used excessive force in some cases, but ‘genocide’?  The BNP is yet to clearly declare the 1971 killings as genocide.  Such statements are bound to distance the people, especially the youth, from the BNP.  The emerging youth of Bangladesh, who are educated, globalized, and have understood 1971 better resulting in the Shahbag Square protests demanding death sentence for the 1971 anti-Liberation war crime perpetrators under trial now in Dhaka.  It is an open question to all BNP leaders and youth – how do you compare 1971 against today’s police actions which may be termed at the most as police excess?
 
Another blunder was Khaleda Zia’s call to support the Hefajat-e-Islam Bangladesh (HIB) siege of Dhaka, Narayanganj and Chittagong, among others, on May 5 to force the government to concede their 13-point demand.  There was chaos and rioting and the government had to respond with force.  Some people died, including a police officer.  The Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) and its students wing, the  Islamic Chatra Shibir (ICS) went viral on the internet and Facebook to say more than 2,500 peaceful protestors were killed and heavy weapons, including burning of the Holy book Koran.  Their huge, but uneducated conspiracy is to blame the government and pro-Liberation citizens of being guilty of desecrating the holy book.  The conspiracy, however, failed miserably.  What is HIB?  It consists of Maulavis and teachers of Quami (independent) Madarssas that form two percent of the total Madarssas.  Where do they get the resources to stage such huge demonstrations in different parts of the country?
 
What do the HIB’s 13-point demands mean for Bangladesh?  The demands are basically to sabotage the secular pillar of the nation’s Constitution and destroy the soul, spirit and ideals of the Liberation War.  Introduction of the phrase ‘Absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah” in the Constitution as demanded by the HIB will put into a corner the other religious minorities.
 
Secularism is the lynchpin of Bangladesh’s profile among the international community and the United Nations. This is particularly so when the world at large, save a few, are fighting against religious terrorism and promoting religious inclusivity. The world is fully aware of the activities of terrorist organizations like the Jamaatul Muhajidin Bangladesh (JMB), its associated body JMJB and others functioning freely under the BNP-JEI rule between 2001-2006. The then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia is on record saying that the JMB was a fiction created by the media.  Members of the BNP and JEI are under arrest for their close association with these organizations.
 
The HIB also calls for the introduction of the Blasphemy Law, calls the protestors of Shabag Square demanding secularism and execution of the 1971 war, anti-Islam and demand their execution. They also demand, among other things in their 13-point demand, segregation of women at work and outside their homes.  If such demands are acquiesced to, demands would be raised on their dress code, education and many other things.
 
By calling for support to the HIB strike on May 05, which was infiltrated by BNP, JEI and ICS activists and led to violence, Opposition leader and Prime Minister aspirant Khaleda laid siege to secularism, encouraged retrograde religious constitution and rules, and tried to disenfranchise the women of Bangladesh of their moral and constitutional rights.
 
In Bangladesh, women hold up half the sky.  They work shoulder-to-shoulder with men and contribute significantly to the GDP of the nation and get their families come out of poverty.  Bangladesh’s garment export industry, only second to that of China’s and is the biggest foreign exchange earner.
 
The progressive elements and media, even in Pakistan, are aghast at the demands of the HIB and their support from Khaleda Zia and the JEI.  Pakistan enacted the Blasphemy Law and declare the Ahmedias as non-Muslims, something  which the HIB demands.  As a consequence, it is not only the Ahmedias who are suffering in Pakistan, but has also encouraged religious sectarianism with the dominant Sunnis massacring the minority Shias at every opportunity.  All these policies culminated in the terrorism that has engulfed Pakistan.
 
It is difficult to decipher Khaleda Zia’s mind, because the only method in her madness is that the Awami League must be ousted, no matter what, even if the country becomes Talibanized.
The BNP and the JEI have invested significantly for propaganda abroad.  A highly reputed Western weekly surprised everyone by supporting the BNP against the Awami League, and viciously attacked India, in turn, for supporting the secular Awami League. 
 
The human rights organizations seem to have got confused whose rights they are fighting for.  Most of the time, they empathize with leaders of the 1971 genocide who are under trial in Bangladesh.  A Hong Kong based organisation, which calls itself “The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong”, issued a statement on May 06, titled “A massacre of demonstrators”.  The statement was bizarre. It alleged that the security forces used “heavy artillery”, which are “normally used in battle fronts”, to disperse the protestors.  The statement was clearly supportive of the HIB.
 
The European Union has finally come around to accept that the War Crimes Tribunals are working well, but are against death penalty.  The U.S.  is also beginning to see some merit in the way the trials are being conducted, but also is against death penalty.  The EU must especially be sensitive to the cause of Bangladesh, having suffered under Adolf Hitler’s Germany in the World War-II, and extermination of Jews in the gas chambers of Serbibor and the like.
 
There, however, appear to be two conspiracies that go beyond Bangladesh’s borders.  One is the preference for the BNP to rule with the JEI projected as a moderate Islamic political party.  The politics here is the West’s projection that it is not against Islam. 
 
The other conspiracy is to promote Wahabi Islam in Bangladesh where the huge Muslim majority has been traditionally moderate and follow a Sufi mode.  The JEI is keen to promote Wahabism, and used HIB as a front.  The Saudi and Kuwaiti NGOs financed the JEI and the Islamist groups promoting Wahabism.  The Jamaat has understood that its existence in Bangladesh is under threat from the secularists.  Elimination of their leaders under trial will expose them and cut them at the grass-roots.  The action of the secularist youth who want a different future, took them by surprise.  For the JEI, it is now do or die.
 
Khaladea Zia’s actions have divided the party.  Most BNP leaders come from different ideological permutations. The party does not have any strong ideological moorings.  If Khaleda persists in her destructive path, the BNP will fragment, tendencies it demonstrated earlier.
 
It is good that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon finally intervened and wrote to Khaleda Zia to reconcile political differences peacefully, and through dialogue.  That is the best way forward.  But Bangladesh will never be at peace till the anti-Liberation forces are eliminated.  The negative developments in Bangladesh will not reside within the boundaries of the country.  It will affect India to start with, and traces of this were seen in Kolkata, capital of the neighbouring Bengali-speaking Indian state.  They will also encourage Islamists in Maldives, Sri Lanka and in Myanmar.  These views will recirculate in Pakistan and also in Afghanistan.
 
There is a heavy responsibility on the international drivers to ensure Bangladesh remains secular, instead of playing small time politics.  Bangladesh may be far away, but the globalised world has ensured that nothing is too far
 
The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst.  He can be reached at e-mail grouchohart@yahoo.com.
 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

As Minority Violence in Bangladesh Escalates, Coalition Urges Congress to Act


Washington, D.C.(May 15, 2013) - Decrying a steep rise in atrocities against religious minorities, an international religious freedom coalition of 23 organizations and individuals led by the Hindu American Foundation urged the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee to host a Congressional hearing on the ongoing persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh.
 
According to the Coalition, large-scale anti-minority violence, widespread restrictions on religious freedom, and the growing influence and power of radical Islamist groups, such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and Hefazat-e-Islam, have resulted in a rapidly deteriorating situation for religious minorities in Bangladesh.
 
"It's critical that Congress, and specifically the House Foreign Affairs Committee, holds a hearing to examine the growing threat that Islamic extremist groups, including Jamaat-e-Islami, pose to vulnerable religious minorities as well as to Bangladesh's internal security and regional stability," said Jay Kansara, HAF's Associate Director of Government Relations. "A hearing will further allow the Committee to determine how to appropriately address escalating violence and rampant human rights violations in Bangladesh, which serves as an important trade partner and is vital to American geopolitical interests in the region."
 
In recent months, minorities have been systematically targeted by supporters of JeI and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir, in violent attacks across the country. Hindu villages, in particular, have been attacked with more than 47 temples destroyed and approximately 700 homes vandalized or burned to the ground since late January.
 
The latest violence followed the convictions of three JeI leaders by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) for committing "crimes against humanity" during Bangladesh's 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan. A fourth JeI leader, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, was convicted by the ICT earlier this month and sentenced to death for engaging in widespread killings, rape, torture, and kidnapping during the 1971 War.
 
The government and security forces have allegedly been slow and ineffective in responding to the JeI sponsored violence, and Hindus and other minorities remain vulnerable to further attacks, especially with additional war crimes trials scheduled over the next few months.
 
Extremist groups have also increasingly agitated for a 13-point Islamist agenda, including the imposition of anti-blasphemy regulations, oaths to Allah in the constitution, and prohibitions on the public fraternization of men and women. On April 6, for instance, hundreds of thousands of protesters led by Hefazat descended on the capital, Dhaka, to demand anti-blasphemy laws and to call for the prosecution and execution of "atheist bloggers" whose writings allegedly insult Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.
 
In response to Islamist demands, the government reportedly blocked approximately a dozen websites and arrested at least four bloggers for hurting the religious sentiments of the country's Muslim population.
 
"The mounting religious intolerance exhibited by both Islamist groups and the government is extremely concerning," said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF's Director and Senior Fellow for Human Rights. "Instead of clamping down on extremists, the ruling government is placating Islamist sentiments by repressing free speech and restricting minority rights."