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.

Understanding Rohingya

September 3, 2012

Just a few weeks ago the word “Rohingya” was never even heard of. Little did the world know that they are a stateless group of Muslim people in Burma, suffering under persecution of the worst kind possible. They are not recognised as citizens, they are not allowed to, move around, marry, conceive without state permission, receive an education after the age of seven and neither can they claim rights to land they own. Three out of seven days Rohingya people are required to clean and maintain Buddhist monasteries, and they are referred to as “kalla” mean black.

Rohingya are not allowed to be issued with birth certificates or death certificates – they are labelled as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Rohingya Muslims have been in existence in the Arakan region for more than 1200 years. Mabrur Ahmed, co-founder and co-director of Restless Beings, a humanitarian organisation that works with marginalised communities across the globe, said Rohingya people even existed at the start of Buddhism in Burma which dates back about 4500 years.

“The majority of the spread of Buddhism came from the Arakan region and that is where the clashes are taking place,” explained Ahmed. “For more than 1000 years Arakan has been inhabited by the Rakhine and Rohingya – they are the two indigenous groups of the area.”

The Rakhine are describes as very spiritual, deeply religious and conservative Buddhists. “A lot of the monks of Burma came from that region, but this only really happened after the Kingdom of Arakan because it was a separate kingdom and was engulfed by Burma and that spread of Buddhism took place,”  sad Ahmed. “At the same time the spread of Islam took place. But not as quite the same weight as the spread of Buddhism through the Rakhine in that particular region. The rise of  Buddhism came after the Rohingya already arrived in Burma.”

Burma was placed under a military junta since 1962, resulting in a media blackout. Hence nobody knew of the plight of the Rohingya and the fact that they were stripped of their citizenship more than 30 years ago.

Restless Beings is the first organisation that managed to get video footage out of Burma to highlight the persecution of the Rohingya. Restless Beings is now working with major international media houses get more footage out of the region to create awareness.

“The reason it wasn’t covered is because it was really difficult to get access, but through us the media have an opportunity to get access,” said Ahmed, adding that the Rohingya issue is still not being discussed on a mainstream level.

There is now concern that in a couple of weeks the Rohingya plight would be forgotten. “This people didn’t come from nowhere – their struggle has been in existence since 1962,” said Ahmed.

They have always been part of the Burmese community and Rohingya people have serving in government as elected members of parliament since the advent of the military junta in 1962. However, when the dictatorship began the general in charge was very adamant on pushing tone identity – the Burmese identity and anything that was outside of that realm was recognised as alien.

Burma made up of hundreds of ethnic communities there were recognised during democratic times, but once the dictatorship came into power only 135 communities were recognised.

“It’s the same apartheid we saw in South Africa but in South Africa the world shunned the authorities for their treatment of the black people,” said Ahmed. “And now we are seeing the same thing happening in Burma but the world is accepting it.” VOC (Faatimah Hendricks)

This article was originally published here.

Dirco speaks on AU appointment

July 16, 2012

Today I briefly interviewed the deputy director-general for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco), Clayson Monyela, on the appointment of South Africa’s Home Affairs minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the new head of the African Union (AU). Also up for the position was Gabon’s Jean Ping. Dlamini-Zuma is the first woman to be appointed to this position.