Saturday, September 22, 2012

Misguided response to desecration of Islam

Over the past couple of days, I tried to make sense of violent, anti-American protests, killings and destruction of property in the Muslim world sparked by a video made in the United States. Anyone interested in international affairs remembers what happened in Benghazi, Libya on 11 September 2012 - the day J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, was killed during a protest against a video mocking Prophet Mohammad.  The ambassador was killed with three other Americans and the US government believes that the attack that claimed the ambassador's life was an act of terrorism.

Terrorism is defined as "... the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objective." [SourceMindful of the definition of "terrorism", it is plausible that the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi was an act of terror by radical Islamists designed to coerce the US administration and intimidate the non-Muslim, civilian population.

Besides the consulate in Benghazi, other US diplomatic posts in the Middle East were breached by violent mobs operating outside the law. Violent protests spread across the Muslim world with incidents reported in Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. In Pakistan, deadly protests left at least 19 people dead on a  day dubbed "day of love" for the Prophet Mohammad by the Pakistani government. This was a disservice to Islam and the Prophet.

Protesters have the right to express their grievances but it cannot be overemphasized that rights come with responsibilities. Rights should not be enjoyed in a way that violate the rights of others. The author of the controversial video has the right to express himself and at the same time he has a moral - if not legal duty to ensure that his rights do not undermine the rights of others.

The movie that sparked all this violence is distasteful. It desecrates Islam. In this vein, it should be condemned.

On the other hand, the response to the video is equally distasteful and reprehensible. The video in question was made by an individual in the US and the Obama administration has distanced itself from it. Top US officials including President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have strongly condemned the video. It is therefore senseless to go attacking US embassies and diplomatic posts because of the action of an individual who has nothing to do with US policy. Such assaults suggest anti-Americanism and justify the deployment of American troops to "protect" the country's interests around the world.

The world would be literally "unlivable" and chaotic if we all go burning flags, attacking embassies and killing diplomatic staff because of the actions of nationals they represent. During a visit by the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William to France, a photographer took topless photographs of the Duchess and the photographs were published in a French magazine. Many Brits and supporters of the Royal Family were offended by what some termed a "grotesque" violation of privacy. French embassies were not attacked by supporters of the monarchy because of the actions of a few individuals in France. The photos were condemned and the offended royals pursued legal means to redress the situation.

Violence is not a sensible and effective response to desecration of a religion. Widespread violence failed to stop a French magazine from publishing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad barely one week after ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed. Again - the decision by the French magazine to publish caricatures of the prophet is provocative. It is also not a cause for violence.

When rights are violated or when people are offended by the actions of others, it is the business of law enforcement and courts to ensure that justice is served. Offended persons should seek redress through legal channels and refrain from operating outside the law. French Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, shared this view during an interview with France 24.

It is unreasonable to attack embassies and diplomats because of the actions of reckless or hate-mongering individuals. Many Muslims understand this - that is why there were counter demonstrations by Muslims against the violence. Not all Muslims endorse violence in response to desecration of Islam.

I am sure many Americans were offended by the denigration of their flag in Egypt, Pakistan and other countries where diplomatic grounds were breached, and the killing of ambassador Christopher Stevens. But no embassies were attacked as a result.

Violence is no solution to offense or provocation.

*Photo: The Week.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hungary not doing enough to protect Roma from neo-Nazis

In its 2012 annual report, Amnesty International noted that discrimination against the Roma remained "entrenched in many areas of life" in Hungary. According to the human rights group, Roma suffered intimidation from vigilante groups between March and April and the police did little to protect them. [SourceHungarian nationalists with links to the far-right Jobbik party continue to intimdate and terrorize the Roma with impunity.

The Roma have a long history of discrimination and repression in Europe. Methods of repression suffered in the past by members of the ethnic minority group included enforced assimilation, enslavement, internment, expulsion and mass killings. A few thousand of them survived the Holocaust and Hitler's concentration camps. [Source]

It's a shame that their persecution has taken other forms in modern-day Europe and has continued for the most part unabated. They are segregated, discriminated and stigmatized in European societies that pride themselves as free and democratic.

In a book titled "Human Rights in Europe: no grounds for complacency" (pg. 57), Thomas Hammarberg, former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights stated: "In many European countries the Roma population is still denied basic human rights and made victims of flagrant racism. They remain far behind others in terms of educational attainment, employment, housing and health standards and they have virtually no political representation. Their exclusion from society feeds isolationism which in turn encourages prejudice against the Roma among xenophobes."

It doesn't take an expert in human rights to agree with Thomas Hammarberg. The plight of the Roma in Europe is there for everyone to see. They are treated with disdain and discriminated against and it is no secret that governments in the region have not done enough to restore and uphold their dwindling rights.

In Hungary, the Roma population is having a tough time in the hands of racist, far-right nationalists. According to news reports, Hungarian nationalists incite anti-Roma sentiments with impunity. Hungary's authorities are reportedly not enforcing legislation outlawing incitement of hatred and the Roma bear the brunt of this anarchy. Neo-Nazi thugs with links to the extreme right-wing Jobbik political party attack and terrorize Roma people without fear of retribution. On 5 August 2012, about 1,000 neo-Nazis reportedly staged a "peaceful" demonstration against the Roma during which they shouted "You're going to die here!" and hurled objects at Roma houses in Devecser.

The government of Hungary has an obligation to protect the Roma from organized gangs of neo-Nazis. Such gangs fan flames of hatred against the Roma. "Anti-Gypsyism" promulgated by far-right extremists will not solve any problems in Hungarian society, including what has been termed "gypsy crime" in the stronghold of the radical Jobbik party. It can only worsen relations between the Roma minority and non-Roma majority.

The Roma are in desperate need of adequate housing, education and jobs. They should not be further victimized and terrorized by intolerant [criminal] gangs after many years of failed and discriminatory government policies that have relegated them to the fringes of society in Hungary and beyond.

Anti-Roma activities or demonstrations designed to incite hatred against the Roma and alienate them should be condemned in the strongest terms and members of vigilante, neo-Nazi groups that spread hatred against Roma and other minority groups during peaceful hateful demonstrations should be brought to book.

The following video sheds more light on the plight of the Roma in Europe.

*Photo of Roma women and children. Source: truthdive.

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