The US government: torturers with impunity

December 10, 2014

Governments never do anything without its cabinet or congress thinking about it carefully first. There is no acting upon impulse, and everything is done very strategically. This leaves me wondering why the United States would release a report tarnishing the reputation of one of its own institutions – and a major one at that.

One Tuesday December 10, the US government released a report detailing all the human rights abuses committed against “terror suspects” by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Now that the truth is out, what happens next? Is this going to cause another Twitter frenzy for the next few days and then be forgotten about? This is usually what happens. When South Africa’s public protector, Thuli Madonsela, found in a report that President Jacob Zuma spent public money on upgrading his private home, everyone was outraged. The same happened when Zuma’s “very ill” friends, Schabir Shaik and Jackie Selebi, were saved from their prison sentences by being released on medical parole. These incidents angered the public and the media were having a field day. But nothing came of it.

It’s not impossible to hold government officials to account, though not very likely. Some instances may call for a collective stand. Majority of the people in a country need to be prepared to take part in protest action, coupled with brilliant lawyers willing to take up the fight on behalf of the people.

Human rights organisations are often headed by attorneys. The release of the “torture report” has raised the ire of these organisations, upon which I am hoping they would act. Not only do they now have to keep a watchful eye over how the US deals with its terror suspects but they need to all stand together and fight hard to get the US to shut down its detention camps where mostly innocent people are accused of terrorism. It wouldn’t be surprising if they are all actually innocent.

Human rights organisations putting pressure on the US would be holding President Barack Obama to a promise he made when he was still running for the presidency in 2007. He promised to shut down Guantanamo Bay, a statement that probably got him many votes.

After his inauguration in January 2009 he promised it would close within one year. It’s still standing today and innocent people are still being tortured. Presidential candidates and political parties will say and do anything to get votes, and hardly ever do they stick the promises they make.

Sporadically there will be media reports about detainees being held without charge and being tortured for several years. Now and then a human rights watchdog would issue a statement about it. But these random actions will not yield any positive results. The organisations need the backing of the masses, and perhaps it’s by time they work on this strategically.

For how much longer will the US detain and torture people just because they have a Muslim name? Why should the US get away with wrongfully detaining Mamdouh Habib? He was arrested in Parkistan in 2001, taken to Egypt and tortured, and was then transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He was released without charge in 2005.

Abdel Malik Wahab al Rahabi was accused of being the bodyguard of Osama bin Laden and has a long list of alleged terror activities against his name. He was seen as a high risk and major threat to the US, and was among the first men to be held at Guantanamo Bay in 2002. He is now eligible for release after his case came before the Periodic Review Board, which is conducting parole-style hearings for detainees. It goes without saying that he, too, is being tortured while being held at Guantanamo Bay. If he is eligible for release he can’t possibly be guilty of all the terror activities the US government accused him of.

As individuals or small groups, we are powerless against governments. They can do what they want with us and there is nothing that can be done about it. However, it is us that politicians and political parties need. Without our votes they wouldn’t be up there calling the shots. They tell us what we want to hear, it sounds good and we fall for it blindly. We vote for them and once they come into power they wreak havoc. What can we do about it single-handedly? Nothing.

It is time people realise that they have the power. They need to use it wisely to hold politicians to account for a better society.

Originally published on Voices.


9/11: The day Islam became the scapegoat

September 11, 2012

11 September 2001 was a turning point in world history. But it was mainly the day that Islam became a victim of the media. I was a teenager when I got home from school one day and saw the footage of the aeroplane flying directing into the World Trade Centre in New York City. Immediately the demonisation of Islam started.

I remember watching CNN. However, I don’t remember what exactly was being said, but I do recall sitting on the couch watching intently, horrified not only at the situation unfolding, but also that the media was mentioning terrorism and Islam in the same breath. I remember thinking that every bad thing they were saying about Islam was not what I was taught being raised in a Muslim household. It was not what I was being taught in madrassah (Islamic classes). It was not in the Quran. It just was not true – none of it.

One of the first things you are taught at journalism school is that you have the power to shape public opinion. And slowly but surely over the years since 9/11 people have allowed Western media to infiltrate their minds and their logic.

When we read the newspaper, listen to the radio or watch the news on television, we sub-consciously formulate our perceptions. For example, yesterday a story on the attacks in Iraq on Al Jazeera’s website started with “Suspected Al-Qaeda fighters”, yet the accompanying video clip clearly stated that nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks and it wasn’t known who was behind it. But as soon as the public reads those three words the (inaccurate?) picture has already been painted.

Since 9/11 the term Islamaphobia was popularised, a term I strongly believe has no meaning whatsoever. People aren’t SCARED of Muslims, they’re just ignorant. “Islamaphobes” are always spewing hate speech as if they’re the experts on religion when, in fact, they haven’t even touched a Bible or Quran. They’re like all other racists out there.

Since 9/11 Islam was blamed for extremism displayed by non-Muslims such as Norwegian Anders Breivik. It seemed ok to the world out there that Breivik’s excuse for killing 77 people in Oslo last year was that he wanted to “free Europe from the clutches of Islam”. He was sentenced to 21 years in jail for his act of terrorism, which had absolutely nothing to do with Islam. Many suspected – most likely innocent – Muslim terrorist suspects are being held at Guantanamo Bay detention camp without trial and without even being charged, brutally tortured year in and year out. Dr Aafia Siddiqui was also targeted by US authorities.

Since 9/11 terms such as “Islamist” and “Islamification” were also popularised and overused, words so loosely used and always with a negative connotation to it and in a negative context. When a white American starts shooting innocent people at a college or cinema, it just happens to be a sad case of affairs. But if it’s a Muslim American the media goes out of its way to emphasise the shooter’s ethnicity and religion, and with the word “Islamist” attached to the headline, what is the automatic sub-conscious perception being created in the mind of the person who believes everything and questions nothing?

Since 9/11 everyone became an “expert” on Islam, especially those who never opened a Quran, interacted with Muslims or made an effort to learn from a Muslim scholar what Islam teaches. All opinions derived from biased Western media and internet discussion forums.

Since 9/11 Islam has grown tremendously in the US and globally. The inquisitive minds are determined to have their questions answered. And once answered, they see the beauty of the religion. So thank you, American media, for strengthening the ummah (Muslim populace).

This article was originally published here.

Clinton booed at UWC

August 8, 2012

Students and activists totalling approximately 100 protested at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) on Wednesday where United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered her speech on the strengthening of US-SA ties. Workers International Vanguard Party (WIVP) and Palestine Solidarity Group (PSG) were among the organisations protesting against US imperialism and American involvement in Africa and South Africa.

Shaheed Mahomed of WIVP said it was a pity they never had shoes and tomatoes in their possession to throw towards Clinton. Clinton was touring seven African nations in 11 days, and during her Egypt trip in July her motorcade was pelted with tomatoes.

“We were outside the main hall picketing … when the students saw what was happening, a number of them joined the protest and some of them made their own placards,” said Mahomed. “We had 48 hours to mobilise this protest and we are happy that a statement was made that the people of South Africa reject US imperialism.”

While the youth were most times thought to be complacent about politics and social issues, Mahomed said South African youngsters should not be underestimated.

“The youth are very highly conscientised and they have access to social media where often they have links to activists on the ground in Palestine and all over the world and they get the news uncensored and direct,” said Mahomed. “Many of them said they will join the protest because Clinton is here for one thing – in the Middle East they took the wealth and oil and here they want to take everything.”

Meanwhile, US and SA officials have signed many agreements, some of which ensured that SA would be able to fight HIV and Aids more efficiently. On Wednesday morning a document was signed at the Delft-South clinic that was said to have marked a big transition in SA’s fight against HIV and Aids.

“SA will become the first country in Africa to plan, manage and pay for more of your own efforts to combat the epidemic while the US will continue to provide funding and technical support through our Pepfar programme,” said Clinton during her speech.

She indicated that “leaders” from American companies such as FedEx and Chevron were looking to expand their work in South Africa. “They met with their counterparts in the South African business community … nearly 200 representatives are looking to strengthen our ties commercially.”

A multi-million dollar public-private partnership to improve teacher quality would be launched that would bring together the two governments’ foundations and businesses. Grants would also be provided to disadvantaged South African students to be able to study in the US.

Clinton announced a global disease detection centre was established that would be led jointly by health experts from both SA and the US. A new programme was also established that aimed to assist judges and court systems more effectively to combat gender-based violence. On Wednesday afternoon an agreement with the City of Cape Town was signed that would provide high-speed internet access to Khayelitsha.

Clinton admitted that SA and the US have not always seen “eye to eye” on matters of safety and security, but encouraged SA to help stop Iran from continuing with its nuclear programme.

“The differences we have between us in these moments are over tactics, not principles and that should not obscure our many shared goals from supporting the political transition in Somalia to combating the piracy, from addressing the threat of terrorism and violent extremism,” said Clinton.

“SA has set the standard for the world in stopping nuclear proliferations … you can most convincingly make the case in giving up nuclear weapons as a sign of strength, not weakness and you can help ensure that any country that pursues nuclear programmes will invite more pressure and isolation. This means SA can play an even greater role on issues like curbing Iran’s pursued nuclear weapons or preventing nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists.” VOC (Faatimah Hendricks)

A story of forgiveness

July 20, 2011

Rais Bhuiyah (left) and his attacker Mark Stroman.

He stared death in the eyes while blood poured from his face and head after being viciously attacked in a hate crime, but ten years later Bangladeshi-born Rais Bhuiyan (37) said he has never hated the person who shot him. Exactly ten days after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on 11 September 2001, most commonly known as the 9/11 attacks, Bhuiyan was working at a gas station in Dallas, Texas when a suspected robber approached him. Bhuiyan immediately told the armed man, clad with a bandanna, dark glasses and baseball cap that he could have the cash register, but that is not what he was interested in. Then came the strange question from a gun-wielding Mark Stroman: “Where are you from?”

“Excuse me?” asked a shell-shocked Bhuiyan, who later felt the sensation of a million bees stinging the right side of his face, followed by an explosion. “Images of my mother, father, siblings and my fiancé appeared before my eyes and I was not sure if I was still alive,” said Bhuiyan, recalling the events that took place on that fateful Friday. “I looked down and I saw blood was pouring like an open faucet from the right side of my head and I thought that I have to keep my brain from spilling out… so I put my hands on my head.”

Bhuiyan screamed for his mother and saw Stroman staring at him. He then pretended to die, as he felt this was the only way he could save his own life. “So I jumped on the floor and at the same time I was reciting from the Holy Quran … I was crying and telling God ‘You are the only one who can help…please help me. I don’t want to die today’.”

Eventually Stroman left the garage store. “I didn’t know how many seconds I had left before I passed away so I had to stay positive … and not give up my hope.” Bhuiyan then grabbed the phone and ran to the barber shop next door. He begged one of the people there to call 911. “For the fist time I could see my face in the mirror. It was a horror face full of blood…I looked terrible and I asked for God’s mercy.”

Stroman, who already had a criminal record at the time of the shooting, is said to be a white supremacist who was angry with Muslims after his sister died in the 9/11 attacks. He then launched a series of attacks on Bhuiyan and two other Muslim men, Pakistani Waqar Hasan and Vasudev Patel, an Indian immigrant. The other two men died. On 5 April 2002, Stroman was sentenced to death row and is due to be executed on Wednesday, 20 July 2011.

Over a number of years, while Stroman was incarcerated, Bhuiyan had to endure several medical procedures for the injuries he sustained. After a number of eye surgeries, doctors were able to save his right eye, but the vision was lost. There are still 35 pillars in the right side of his face and head.

Bhuiyan said his religion and his strong Islamic upbringing taught him to forgive and not to harbour any hatred for another human being. He forgave Stroman for nearly killing him and has also been campaigning extensively to stop the execution from going ahead. Many would think that the death sentence is justifiable for Stroman after the heinous crimes he committed, however Bhuiyan feels differently. “My upbringing and my Islamic faith teaches me that forgiveness is the best policy,” he said. “When I was a little kid my mother taught me that if somebody hurts you, you don’t hurt them back. If you hurt them back you are going to create a cycle of violence and if you hurt them back they will hurt you again.”

“He [Stroman] was ignorant and he was not capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. Hate comes from ignorance,” said Bhuiyan. “If we execute him what are we getting out of this? We will simply lose a human life without eliminating the root cause…which is hate. If we save his life it would give him a chance and he could become a spokesperson and raise awareness of hate crimes.”

Bhuiyan said he genuinely felt that Stroman is a changed man. “He did this crime, he has changed and now he is a different person … let’s give him a chance and educate other people who are as ignorant as him.” Through documentary filmmakers, Stroman passed on his message of remorse to Bhuiyan. He had also written letters to Bhuiyan and the families of the other victims explaining the reasons for his actions and how sorry he was. Bhuiyan said Stroman did not have a support structure while growing up, which led to him living a troublesome life.

Bhuiyan has since created a website to raise awareness about hate crimes and also the pending execution of his attacker. Before embarking on the campaign, he sought guidance from a local imam, the families of the other two victims and his parents. He has requested to meet with the members of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)  in attempt to have Stroman’s sentence reduced from death to life in prison. Bhuiyan is yet to receive a response.

He has also travelled through Europe, engaging with various media organisations, hoping they would in turn put pressure on the TDCJ. Bhuiyan remains hopeful that the execution will not go through. As a victim, he has the right to go through a mediation process with his attacker – something that has not been given to him. He also applied to the parole board to have Stroman’s sentence reduced. Bhuiyan said his rights as a victim were violated. He has since filed a law suit against the governor of Texas, Rick Perry.

“After being behind bars for nine and a half years he has changed and he is no more a monster, he is no more a cold blooded murderer and he learnt from his mistakes,” said Bhuiyan. “He had a chance to change his heart and we can save this life and help other people on the street who are as ignorant as him. We all want to live in a peaceful world and in a better society and if this guy can contribute towards that why shouldn’t we take that.”

Should Stroman’s execution go ahead on Wednesday, Bhuiyan said he would continue to do his part in eradicating ignorance which leads to hate crimes. Now post-9/11, is Islamaphobia the new 21st century form racism, especially in the United States? “September 11 did two things – something good and something bad,” said Bhuiyan. “Because of September 11 a lot of people were interested to learn about Islam. A lot of people came into Islam and at the same time it did some damage. It caused a lot of unknown fear,” said Bhuiyan.

“Islam doesn’t teach any kind of hate or killings…none of the religions teach hate. It’s the people. We people take advantage of the religion for our own personal gain. The fear caused after September 11 can be overcome but we just need to reach out to others. We need to open our eyes and get out of our comfort zone to understand what Islam teaches.”

This article originally appeared here.

There’s no link between Islam and terrorism

November 15, 2009

There is one thing in life that pees me off way more than what children throwing tantrums in shopping malls does. And that is when people associate Islam with terrorism.

Two Thursdays ago on 6 November United States army Major Nidal Malik Hasan shot dead 12 people at the Texas military base. Since 911, whenever a Muslim commits a crime it becomes an act of terror. Because Hasan was a devout Muslim and made his salaah (prayers) regularly he is being looked at as an “extremist” and “terrorist”. Officials are even investigating a Mosque that he attended.

Why is that whenever it is a Muslim European or especially an American commits a crime the media feels the need to mention that the suspect is “of Arab decent” or “a devout Muslim” or “raised with strong Islamic beliefs”? Their criminal acts does not have anything to do with their faith. But the instant the media makes reference to Islam or being Muslim the situation automatically becomes one of religion and terrorism in the same breath. Look at the introduction of this story about Hasan. Was it really necessary to mention that he is an “American Muslim of Palestinian origin”. If a non-Muslim commits criminal acts they wouldn’t even consider their religious background. Terrorism will never be considered. Just because they are not Muslim. Here is an article making the whole situation about Islam.

Sky News got straight to the point called Hasan a  “Palestinian terrorist”. I can’t believe how far news agencies will go to for sensationalist crap. And it is disgusting to see how many people believe it.

Does anyone remember Timothy McVeigh? The guy responsible for the Oklahoma bombing. Would you not call that an act of terrorism? But nobody ever mentioned his ethinicity or religous background. It was kind of “okay” for him to do what he did because he was not Muslim. Therefore what he did was never as big a thing as when a Muslim person was involved.

After 911 and George Bush’s ignorance and paranoia, a fear of Islam and Muslims started increasing. It really is sad to see how ignorant people are and how easily they can be indoctrinated with lies by their media. Whenever an American Muslim commits a crime the media uses the situation to promote propaganda. I suppose it’s what sells these days too.

When people start realising that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism? I just hope and pray that peoples’ eyes will start opening up and they will realise what is the truth and what is just propaganda.

A Nigerian’s perspective on South Africa

October 21, 2009
Below is a letter submitted to a Nigerian newspaper called ThisDay. Initially I laughed, thinking this guy is crazy. He clearly is living in a closed box. But what do you think? Does he have a point? Does South Africa owe her “greatness” to Apartheid?

My Revealing South African Experience

On Thursday night of October 1st 2009, the national Chairman of our great Party Chief Bisi Akande, the Lagos State Chairman of the Party in Lagos Chief Dele Ajomale, his wife, the representative of the Governor and my humble self left for South Africa to inaugurate the chapter of our Party. Business finished on Saturday 2 and 3 of October 2009 in both Pretoria and Johannesburg, we had Sunday October 4 to look around. It was my first visit to South Africa and what I saw stunned me into disbelief.

Am I in Africa or Europe? Am I in America? Is this another Singapore? Could this be true? Where was Nigeria when South Africa was putting all these structures in place? If the white man did all these in South Africa why were the Nelson Mandelas of this world complaining? If South Africans got their independence on a platter of gold the way Nigeria got hers in 1960, would there have been all these structures I am seeing here today? Impossible! Impossible!! Impossible!!! From what I saw on ground in South Africa, it looks as if all the companies and industries all over the world are physically present there. Ah! Nigeria has been left behind. South Africa is the potential and undisputable leader in Africa. Thanks to white South Africans.

I came to the unhappy conclusion that the mosquitoes that drove the whites away from Nigeria in 1960 did a colossal and unmitigated damage to Nigerians. I again asked myself these questions: How many black Africans did the whites kill before surrendering power to them few years back? How many Nigerians have been killed by Nigerian leaders since they took over power from the whites in 1960? Let us compare the figures. I am sure the supreme prize South Africans paid to have the South Africa I see today will be so infinitesimal compared with what our leaders have killed to remain in power in Nigeria I see today.

What I am saying if that is God had allowed the whites to tarry for at least 30 years more in Nigeria, we would have been better for it. Mandela survived 27 years in prison because the whiteman was a better person. He could not have survived ten years in prision in Nigeria.

My conclusion after seeing what I saw in South Africa is that the whites left Nigeria in a hurry, and that is why we are suffering today. Had the whites tarried in Nigeria, Nigeria would have been like South Africa today. I want the whites back in Nigeria!

Joe Igbokwe,
Lagos (20/10/09)

(Click here for the original article)