‘Clear breach of international standards’: Experts debate the ban on Bangladeshis marrying Rohingya

January 22nd, 2018


PHOTO/Damir Sagolj/Reuters

The government claims the prohibition is intended to prevent refugees from using their marriage certificates to obtain Bangladeshi citizenship.

Shoaib Hossain Jewel is a Bangladeshi citizen, aged about 25 years, a Hafiz-e-Quran, and a teacher at a madrasa in Dhaka’s Jatrabari area.

Jewel’s life took an eventful turn when he met Rafiza, an 18-year-old Rohingya woman who, with her family, fled to Bangladesh from the Rakhine State of Myanmar, escaping what the UN called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar.

He fell in love with Rafiza when he met her at his teacher’s home in Singair where she and her family took refuge in order to escape starvation and disease at the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Jewel decided to marry Rafiza but his dream of marrying her was shattered on the very day he started preparations for the wedding as the district administration deported Rafiza’s family to Kutupalong refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar on September 14.

Jewel was informed by the local police that since 2014 the government had banned marriage between Rohingyas and Bangladeshi nationals.

Then, in quest of finding his beloved, he travelled all the way to Kutupalong Refugee Camp at Cox’s Bazar and traced Rafiza amongst the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in the makeshift shelters. Upon finding Rafiza, Jewel married her at a mosque located inside the camp, with the consent of Rafiza’s parents. The marriage was conducted by the imam of the mosque in accordance with Islamic norms and principles.

However, they could not register their marriage and Jewel returned to his native village in Singair, in Manikganj with his newly-wedded wife Rafiza. Upon their return, the police at the Singair Upazila were alerted and the couple ran away and hid in fear of being arrested.

In July of 2014, the government had issued a public order which banned marriage between Bangladeshi citizens and Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Accordingly, the government had also issued an order prohibiting marriage registrars or kazis from registering any such marriages.

This year the government issued another gazette notification, directing marriage registrars to ensure that both brides and grooms are of Bangladeshi nationality before registering any marriage in “special areas,” namely Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban, Rangamati and Chittagong, and threatened with punitive actions if the kazis were found negligent in this regard.

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The #MeToo revolution

January 22nd, 2018


The revelations just keep coming. They began at the top, as actresses charged the powerful Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey and comedian Louis CK of rape and various forms of sexual harassment. They soon implicated major TV network personalities, corporate executives and political figures from both capitalist parties.

In the past, when a woman came forward she stood alone, facing a barrage of interrogators. This time, within 24 hours of #MeToo being re-launched on Facebook, 4.7 million people around the world responded with their stories of how men used their position to intimidate and bully women and even children — especially in workplace and prisons, but also within the family.

Will this be different than all the other moments in which sexual abuse was revealed?

We think yes, that this time the level of consciousness and solidarity is deeper. It’s not just high-profile powerful male celebrities who have been exposed. Sexual abuse is a much broader issue in workplaces throughout society, where victims and survivors risk their jobs, careers and economic survival if they dare to speak out. And organized labor can play a big role in demanding a harassment-free environment, merging this movement with the struggle for decent wages.

That’s why the statement that Latina farmworkers from the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas wrote for the November 12 “Take Back the Workplace” march in Los Angeles hits the nail on the head.

“We write on behalf of the approximately 700,000 women who work in the agricultural fields and packing sheds across the United States. For the past several weeks we have watched and listened with sadness as we have learned of the actors, models and other individuals who have come forward to speak out about the gender based violence they’ve experienced at the hands of bosses, coworkers and other powerful people in the entertainment industry. We wish that we could say we’re shocked to learn that this is such a pervasive problem in your industry. Sadly, we’re not surprised because it’s a reality we know far too well. Countless farmworker women across our country suffer in silence because of the widespread sexual harassment and assault that they face at work.

“We do not work under bright stage lights or on the big screen. We work in the shadows of society in isolated fields and packinghouses that are out of sight and out of mind for most people in this country. Your job feeds souls, fills hearts and spreads joy. Our job nourishes the nation with the fruits, vegetables and other crops that we plant, pick and pack.

“Even though we work in very different environments, we share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security. Like you, there are few positions available to us and reporting any kind of harm or injustice committed against us doesn’t seem like a viable option. Complaining about anything — even sexual harassment — seems unthinkable because too much is at risk, including the ability to feed our families and preserve our reputations.

“We understand the hurt, confusion, isolation and betrayal that you might feel. We also carry shame and fear resulting from this violence. It sits on our backs like oppressive weights. But, deep in our hearts we know that it is not our fault. The only people at fault are the individuals who choose to abuse their power to harass, threaten and harm us, like they have harmed you.

“In these moments of despair, and as you cope with scrutiny and criticism because you have bravely chosen to speak out against the harrowing acts that were committed against you, please know that you’re not alone. We believe and stand with you.”

International Viewpoint for more

Martin Luther King and the challenge of nonviolence

January 22nd, 2018


Rev. James Lawson discusses his phone call inviting Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis, the meeting at his church on April 3 and plans to go forward with a march with or without the court injunction in place. PHOTO/Copyright: Jeff McAdory/Commercial Appeal

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose birth anniversary is being celebrated today, was all of 39 years old when he was assassinated in 1968. Most political careers are far from having been established at that somewhat tender age: the man that had King had looked up to, Mohandas Gandhi, had made something of a name for himself when he was forty, but Gandhi was at that time still living in South Africa and no one could have anticipated that within a decade he would have been transformed into the leader of the Indian independence struggle. King was only in his late 20s when, perhaps somewhat fortuitously, the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956 launched him onto the national stage; thereafter, his position as the preeminent face of the Civil Rights Movement was never in doubt. This is all the more surprising considering that King was scarcely stepping into a political vacuum: there was already a tradition of black political leadership and several of those who would become close associates of King had developed local and regional constituencies well before he arrived on the scene.

King has been the subject of several essays on this blog over the last few years. I have also had occasion to make reference to the extraordinary career of Reverend James M. Lawson, who initiated a nonviolent training workshop that would shape the careers of an entire generation of Civil Rights leaders such as John Lewis, Diane Nash, James Bevel, and many others. Rev. Lawson settled in Los Angeles in the early 1970s and was until a few years ago Pastor of the Holmes Methodist Church in the Adams district of Los Angeles. He remains firmly committed, at the age of 88, to the idea and practice of nonviolent resistance, and at the national level and particularly in the Los Angeles area his activism in the cause of social justice is, if I may use a cliché, the gold standard for aspiring activists. Over the last several years, over twelve lengthy meetings, we have conversed at length—26 hours on tape, to be precise—on the Civil Rights Movement, histories of nonviolent resistance, the Christian tradition of nonviolence, the state of black America, the notion of the Global South, and much else.

Lal Salaam for more

Weekend Edition

January 19th, 2018

Netanyahu and Modi – hypocrites par excellence

January 19th, 2018



both Modi’s and Netanyahu’s hands are with blood filled
the blood is that of members of minorities killed
people are oppressed in occupied lands where they rule
Kashmir by Modi and Palestine by Netanyahu cruel

Netanyahu and Modi have in common one other thing
their hatred of Muslims brings them closer and cling
wish Trump, like Netanyahu, were visiting India too
three would have helluva time cursing Muslims and boo

hypocrites Netanyahu and Modi tried to present a decent face
and hid their fascist nature and crimes with Gandhian lace
with Gandhi or his ideas both of them have nothing to do
they wanted to mask their heinousness with a peace hue

Netanyahu’s violent hands used to killing and holding gun
had to, for public consumption, spin cotton which was no fun
he wrote: “An inspiring visit to the hearth” of great soul
one of humanity’s great prophets of inspiration” and model role

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

(Thanks to Robin Khundkar for the picture)

Exposing BlackRock: Who’s afraid of Laurence Fink and his overpowering institution?

January 19th, 2018


It’s not a bank, nor an insurance company, central bank, finance ministry or sovereign wealth fund. But it advises or owns such institutions. It operates virtually unregulated, often in the background, yet there is scarcely a company, country or region of the planet that this, the world’s largest asset management firm, does not touch or influence.

At a mere 27 years of age, BlackRock manages $4.5 trillion in assets, making it the single largest investor on Earth. It manages more wealth than Japan and Germany have in GDP. In fact, only China and the United States have a larger GDP than BlackRock has assets under management. Yet when one includes assets that the company not only manages, but advises upon, the number soars to around $15 trillion, roughly equal to U.S. GDP.

It’s safe to say that BlackRock is the single largest financial institution in the world: a vast holding company that has become a major shareholder in roughly 40% of all publicly traded companies in the U.S., the largest single shareholder in one out of every five U.S. corporations, and one of the largest shareholders in companies around the world, from Canada to Brazil, Germany, Japan, China and beyond.

Owning it All

Specifically, BlackRock is one of the top shareholders in all major U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo.

In terms of America’s most profitable and recognizable corporations, BlackRock is a top shareholder of Walmart, General Electric, General Motors, Ford, AT&T, Verizon, Google, Apple, Exxon Mobil and Chevron.

BlackRock’s other large holdings include Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Amazon, Facebook, Berkshire Hathaway, Gilead Sciences, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Merck, Intel, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney Company, Home Depot, Philip Morris, VISA, McDonald’s, Cisco Systems, PepsiCo, IBM, Oracle, Comcast, Lockheed Martin, MasterCard, Starbucks, Boeing and ConocoPhillips, along with thousands of other, smaller brands.

But despite its size and influence, BlackRock remains virtually unregulated as an asset management firm. Unlike a bank, asset management firms do not manage and invest their own money, but do so on behalf of their many clients. In the case of BlackRock, those clients come in the form of banks, corporations, insurance companies, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, central banks and foundations. Gerald Davis, a professor of management and organization at the University of Michigan, described BlackRock as “the silent giant” that few know about, but which is “incredibly powerful.”

The company’s power is expressed not merely in terms of its equity (shareholdings) and bonds (debt ownership), but in its role as an adviser to governments and institutions. This role is not only played by certain divisions within the company, but by the co-founder and CEO of BlackRock itself, Larry Fink. The son of a shoe salesman and English professor, Laurence Fink started his finance career working for First Boston, trading bonds during the 1980s, and became the firm’s youngest-ever managing director at the age of 31.

Andrew Gavin Marshall for more

Learning to love Nehru

January 19th, 2018


Jawaharlal Nehru awaiting his sister at the airport in Palam, India, in 1954. PHOTO/ Alkazi Collection of Photography

I grew up with an aversion to India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

He was the towering figure of the postcolonial world. Harrow- and Cambridge-educated, he was one of the architects of the Non-Aligned Movement, which sought a third way through the odious binaries of the Cold War. In India, he dominated the political landscape and is credited with laying the foundation for our country’s democracy.

The cult of Nehru continued through his heirs. His daughter, Indira Gandhi, and grandson, Rajiv Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi), both went on to be prime minister. Nehru died in 1964, and by the time I was growing up, some two decades later, the brand of socialism he had championed was failing. The impression that came down to me of this father of Indian democracy was of a fey creature, embarrassingly Anglicized, making grandiloquent speeches in an Oxbridge accent about light and freedom and “trysts with destiny.”

By then, India was changing. The economic reforms of the 1990s had empowered a new class of Indian, less colonized, more culturally intact. We entered an age when authenticity was prized above all else, and Nehru, by his own admission, was not authentic, not culturally whole. He was a hybrid, forged on the line between India and Britain, East and West. The reputation of Mahatma Gandhi, though he was no less a hybrid, survived the change. Nehru’s did not.

Nehru today is a figure of revulsion on the Hindu right, which governs India. The era of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party is in every respect a repudiation of Nehru. Mr. Modi represents authenticity and Indianness; Nehru is the quintessential foreigner in his own land.

Every year, around Nehru’s birthday on Nov. 14, a battle rages in which the bedraggled remains of India’s left try to defend the first prime minister, even as an increasingly louder chorus of voices on the right portray him as having been soft on Muslims and having betrayed the interests of the Hindu majority.

His ease with Western mores and society is a liability, for it implies an apparent contempt for Hindu culture and religion. Nehru comes to seem almost like a symbol of a country looking at itself through foreign eyes, and in a newly assertive India, his legacy is being dismantled. In at least one B.J.P.-controlled state he is being completely written out of textbooks; he is maligned daily on social media, with hashtags like #knowyournehru.

Which brings me to an embarrassing confession: Nehru is one of those people I thought I knew without ever feeling the need to read. He was among the great literary statesmen, and his output was prodigious: letters, speeches, famous books like “The Discovery of India” and “Glimpses of World History.” And there is his autobiography, “Toward Freedom,” in which he truly comes alive.

The New York Times
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Modernity and morality in Northern Nigeria

January 18th, 2018


PHOTO/Moses E. Ochonu

Why Salafi clerics’ London visit sparked a debate

The two clerics were in London to attend an Islamic conference and squeezed in leisure and tourism into their itinerary. Their touristic adventures in the British capital, which, in the rhetoric of many puritan clerics, is a bastion of an immoral modernity, Western education, and cultural trends antithetical to righteous Muslim living, surprised many Northern Nigerian Muslims.

The innocuous photos of two Nigerian Islamic clerics shopping and relaxing in London circulated in Northern Nigerian social media communities two weeks ago. These photos and the debate they sparked in these communities open a window onto an ongoing but little noticed ideological struggle over modernity, morality and piety in Muslim-majority Northern Nigeria, which is in the throes of Islamist group Boko Haram’s violent insurgency.

The photos in question were unremarkable, familiar banalities in the age of social media and online visual culture. One picture shows the two men sitting on a park bench; another shows them in a clothing store wearing cowboy hats. In both pictures, they are dressed in suits. To protect themselves from the elements in cold, wet London, they are wearing cloves and scarves.

Why were these images so controversial, and why did they become touchstones for debate in online communities of Western-educated Northern Nigerian Muslim men and women? In a Muslim-majority region in which Islamic clerics attempt to define the boundaries of private and public morality, modes of dress, the sexual conduct of adults, and their engagements with modernity and Western goods, there is a constantly present cloud of judgmental scrutiny on the conduct of clerics. This reverse judgmental gaze is heightened by the fact that the clerics routinely espouse a neat moral binary between supposedly Muslim material cultures and those of the West, which they condemn.

Given this policing of morality that conservative clerics thrive on, there is often a silent collection of Muslims waiting to call the same clerics out on acts and choices perceived to contradict their teachings. As clerics have come to wield an outsize influence over the body of Muslims and to act as moral enforcers of an increasingly puritan religious order, the sartorial choices of the two clerics — they were wearing what in Northern Nigerian is considered Western dress — touched off debates between Muslim youths who long resented the growing intrusions of the clerics into their lives and those who continue to look upon the religious figures as revered exemplars of piety.

The two clerics were in London to attend an Islamic conference and squeezed in leisure and tourism into their itinerary. Their touristic adventures in the British capital, which, in the rhetoric of many puritan clerics, is a bastion of an immoral modernity, Western education, and cultural trends antithetical to righteous Muslim living, surprised many Northern Nigerian Muslims. It polarized online Northern Nigerian Muslim communities into two broad camps — those who accused the clerics of hypocrisy and those who defended their sartorial choices as consistent with Islamic prescriptions on decent dressing and their London activities as personal choices that do not violate any Muslim precepts.

As the debate progressed, some Northern Nigerian Muslims wondered if the two clerics were preemptively ingratiating themselves to the British and priming their followers for an impending moderation occasioned by the moderate turn in the foreign and domestic policies of Saudi Arabia, the country that funds most conservative preachers in Northern Nigeria. In this reading, the clerics were signaling a new willingness to moderate their stand on Western cultures in line with the pro-Western reforms of Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Pambazuka for more

Scientists are rethinking the very nature of space and time

January 18th, 2018


IMAGE/Science is Brilliant

The Nature of Space and Time

A pair of researchers have uncovered a potential bridge between general relativity and quantum mechanics — the two preeminent physics theories — and it could force physicists to rethink the very nature of space and time.

Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity describes gravity as a geometric property of space and time. The more massive an object, the greater its distortion of spacetime, and that distortion is felt as gravity.

In the 1970s, physicists Stephen Hawking and Jacob Bekenstein noted a link between the surface area of black holes and their microscopic quantum structure, which determines their entropy. This marked the first realization that a connection existed between Einstein’s theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Less than three decades later, theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena observed another link between between gravity and the quantum world. That connection led to the creation of a model that proposes that spacetime can be created or destroyed by changing the amount of entanglement between different surface regions of an object.

In other words, this implies that spacetime itself, at least as it is defined in models, is a product of the entanglement between objects.

To further explore this line of thinking, ChunJun Cao and Sean Carroll of the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) set out to see if they could actually derive the dynamical properties of gravity (as familiar from general relativity) using the framework in which spacetime arises out of quantum entanglement. Their research was recently published in arXiv.

Using an abstract mathematical concept called Hilbert space, Cao and Carroll were able to find similarities between the equations that govern quantum entanglement and Einstein’s equations of general relativity. This supports the idea that spacetime and gravity do emerge from entanglement.

Carroll told Futurism the next step in the research is to determine the accuracy of the assumptions they made for this study.

“One of the most obvious ones is to check whether the symmetries of relativity are recovered in this framework, in particular, the idea that the laws of physics don’t depend on how fast you are moving through space,” he said.

A Theory of Everything

Today, almost everything we know about the physical aspects of our universe can be explained by either general relativity or quantum mechanics. The former does a great job of explaining activity on very large scales, such as planets or galaxies, while the latter helps us understand the very small, such as atoms and sub-atomic particles.

However, the two theories are seemingly not compatible with one another. This has led physicists in pursuit of the elusive “theory of everything” — a single framework that would explain it all, including the nature of space and time.

Futurism for more

The Kurdish crisis in Iraq and Syria

January 18th, 2018


IMAGE/Duck Duck Go

The Kurdish struggle in Syria and Iraq has witnessed number of recent changes, with clear contrasts in each country. The broad victory of the “yes” in the Iraqi autonomous Kurdistan region’s independence referendum on September 25 was rooted in the long historical will of the Kurdish people to establish a state. It was also the consequence of a violent history of oppression inflicted upon the Iraqi-Kurdish population by various previous Iraqi nationalist authoritarian regimes.

The massacre by chemical weapons against the Kurdish population of Halabja in 1988 by Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime [then supported by the U.S. and other Western governments — ed.] is particularly remembered. About 5000 Kurds perished in this massacre. This attack was part of Operation Anfal launched by the authorities in Baghdad during this period, which killed 182,000 people and destroyed more than 90% of the Kurdish villages.

The Iraqi referendum also demonstrated, once again, the failure of the models of the capitalist, chauvinist and centralized nation-states of the region, which have consistently repressed, erased, and/or denied the plurality of their societies by affirming the supremacy and/or domination of an ethnic group over others, a religious sect over others, or both at the same time.

In Syria, no solution for the Kurdish issue and an inclusive Syria can be found without recognizing the Kurds as a proper “people” or “nation” and providing unconditional support to the self-determination of the Kurdish people in the country and elsewhere.

The destiny of the Kurdish people in Syria was and remains intrinsically linked to the dynamics of the Syrian uprising and therefore its future is in danger, just as with the rest of the protest movement. This is why we should not isolate the struggle for self-determination of the Kurdish people from the dynamics of the Syrian revolution.

Any possibility of self-determination of the Kurdish people in Syria, as well as in Iran and in Turkey, has to go through common struggle with the popular classes of these countries against the various fractions of the bourgeoisie that dominate these states, whether they are from reactionary Islamic fundamentalism or nationalist chauvinism, or a mix of both.

That is why we must support the right of self-determination for the between 28 and 35 million Kurdish people in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. We need to denounce these authoritarian regimes, foreign international and regional measures and pressures that prevent Kurdish populations from deciding their own future.

Iraqi Kurds’ initial enthusiasm following the massive victory of the “yes” vote at over 92% in favor of independence on September 25 quickly gave way to multiple threats and military offensives against the autonomous territories under the control of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) since 1992.

Composed of three provinces of northern Iraq, this broad swath of land stretching from the Iranian to the Syrian border with Kirkuk at its center — and claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad — was lost in mid-October. The loss included the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

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