Gaza: India’s two positions, one in Parliament another at UN


Sushma Swaraj’s statement on Palestine in the Rajya Sabha so pleased Jerusalem that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman thanked her that evening over the telephone. But the goodwill thus generated was fading when New Delhi, having changed its mind, voted with the resolution at the UN “condemning Israel for disproportionate use of force in Gaza”.

Twenty nine of UN Human Rights Councils’ 47 members voted in favour of creating a commission of inquiry to look at possible war crimes committed by Israel. Only the United States voted against the resolution, while 17 states abstained, including 10 European states.

“Along with the BRICS, India reaffirmed its commitment to a two state solution with a contiguous and economically viable Palestine State”, with “East Jerusalem as its capital”.

The altered stand has caused the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and its missions at the UN to work overtime trying to persuade New Delhi not to veer away from the special relationship it now has with the Jewish state. The Israeli embassy in New Delhi must feel a little handicapped because it has in place only an Ambassador designate. Efforts are on to fast-forward his presentation of credentials. The US embassy too is in the hands of a stop-gap ambassador.

There is a view that the discrepancy between the statement in Parliament and endorsement of the UNHRC resolution could have been avoided had the External Affairs Minister accompanied Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the BRICS summit in Fortaleza, Brazil. The extent to which BRICS conditions Modi’s understanding of foreign affairs will become clearer during his meeting with President Obama in September. The Israelis have been quick to point that of all the BRICS countries they consider India their close ally. Hence their disappointment with the UNHRC vote.

In 1990, India had lost its central pillar in foreign affairs with the collapse of the Soviet Union. A nervous New Delhi did not merely shift, it lurched towards the US and Israel.

The process of opening embassies in Tel Aviv and New Delhi was speeded up by P.V. Narasimha Rao in 1991.

Even after the exchange of ambassadors, there was very little movement in bilateral ties, inviting then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ satirical remark during his visit to India in 1992:

“Indo-Israeli relations are like French perfume: they are to be smelt not drunk.”

Substance in the relationship came after the Kargil War in 1999 when Israel supplied India with ammunition for its artillery. There has been no looking back. In fact the US-Israel duet became the most powerful influence on the conduct of Indian Foreign Policy.

The affair with the US reached its peak with the Civil Nuclear Deal of 2005. Then, by voting for a Western sponsored resolution at the IAEA in Vienna, meant to reprimand Iran, India signaled a final good bye to its long standing policy of non-alignment.

That step pleased Washington and Jerusalem quite as much as Sushma Swaraj’s statement in the Rajya Sabha. Israeli Newspapers like Jerusalem Post also applauded her stand that “the present conflict in Gaza could have been ended and peace restored by now if Hamas had accepted the ceasefire proposal from Egypt”.

Unfortunately, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi shares Saudi Arabia’s visceral hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood which was once Egypt’s lifeline to Hamas in Gaza.

Egypt discussed the proposed ceasefire with Israel but not with Hamas. Hence Hamas’ rejection of the proposal.

There are other reasons for Hamas’ defiance.

When war breaks out, the first casualty is the truth. Since the US (and Israel) has been involved in a near continuous chain of wars in the Arab world since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Western media has been purveying propaganda. The result of this diminishing credibility is that Israel may well be losing the propaganda war in this round.

In a recent Al Jazeera TV discussion, social media experts in Jerusalem, London and Johannesburg, established that Israeli government propaganda on the social media received only 2,00,000 tweets as opposed to 4.5 million received by Hamas.

Another study, cited by the British expert on the panel, Ben White, shows that support for Israel in the US has dwindled to 57 percent.

Surely, New Delhi too must be alert to these trends. This, in addition to the fact that millions of Indians work in Arab lands must be a sobering thought. The Arabs whom Indians live with (if not the rulers) are sympathetic to the Palestinian victims of an asymmetrical war.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

The film follows the story of programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz. From Swartz’s help in the development of the basic internet protocol RSS to his co-founding of Reddit, his fingerprints are all over the internet. But it was Swartz’s groundbreaking work in social justice and political organizing combined with his aggressive approach to information access that ensnared him in a two-year legal nightmare. It was a battle that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26.

Film by Brian Knappenberger – Luminant Media

(Courtesy: The Documentary Network)

Caliphate opposed to Shia apostasy and, eventually to Sunni monarchies


The expanding Shia-Sunni conflict in the Muslim world is exposing vast gaps in popular understanding of the schism.

For example when Zaine El Abedine Ben Ali, the Tunisian strongman was ousted, people thought a Shia dictator had fallen. From this they extrapolated that the Arab Spring was an anti-Shia plot.

Why would such a misunderstanding arise? Because Zaine El Abedine happens to be a very typical Shia name in large parts of the world. The suffix to his name, Ben Ali, makes the name sound that much more Shia because the basic division between the sects centres on the personality of Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. Shias are “partisans” of Ali in this dispute.

A Sunni, with a Shia ring to his name is explained by a simple historical detail: the Fatimids ruled large parts of North Africa and Mediterranean enclaves from 909 AD to 1171 AD. They even ruled Sicily. The main church in Palermo, capital of Sicily, has a column with Quranic inscriptions which have been preserved as a tourist attraction. For two hundred years Moharram processions, a patently Shia observance, were mandatory on Palermo’s main roads.

Al Azhar University in Cairo derives its name from Fatima Zehra, the Prophet’s daughter. The late Sid Ahmad one of the left leaning intellectuals in Cairo with a regular Salon on the Nile described sophisticated Egyptians with a telling phrase: “Sunna bil Deen; Shia bil Hawa.” Which means: “Our faith is Sunni but our hearts are Shia” all traced to the Fatimid spell.

This kind of cultural confusion is widespread. There are a large number of Muslims who are born Sunni but respect “ahle bait” or members of the Prophet’s family a notch above others. All the Sufi schools in India, for instance, fall in this category. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Ajmeri’s famous quartrain in praise of Imam Hussain is cited as evidence of this streak.

“Shah ast Husain; Badshahast Hussain Deen ast Hussain; deen panch ast Hussain” (Hussain is my spiritual and temporal Master Hussain is my faith and the protector of my faith)

The Sufis came to India from Central Asia which had retained cultural and spiritual strands from the days of the Persian Empire.

They had spread out so wide in India that as early as the 15th century the great Sufi Malik Mohammad Jaisi was writing his great allegory Padmavat near Rae Bareli, making him the first great poet in Awadhi, preceding Tulsidas by decades.

Shia-Sunni equations remained blurred in many parts of the world because of the confluence of the streams with rapidly advancing Sufi mysticism. For instance the Fatimids left behind an ambiguous Islamic culture on this count in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan and the Levant.

For decades Syrian and Iraqi Islam had a heavy overlay of atheistic Baathism. Religion surfaced in a big way only after the US occupation of Iraq in April 2003. It became almost necessary for the US to encourage Shia power because they needed televised images of Iraqis celebrating Saddam Hussain’s fall.

Habitual Baathists could not overnight appear on the streets as pious Sunnis, denouncing the man they lived in awe of. During the 1992 Shia uprising in Karabla, brutally suppressed by Saddam Hussain, hundreds of thousands of “troublesome” Shias had been settled in a ghetto named Saddam city on the outskirts of Baghdad.

When crowds did not materialize on the streets of Baghdad to celebrate the televised pulling down of Saddam Hussain’s statue at Firdaus Square on April 9, 2003, a request was placed with Shia leaders like Muqtada Sadr to mobilize celebrations. That is when the streets were filled with Shias from Saddam city to provide visual support to US success. Promptly Saddam city was renamed Sadr city. Does it make sense that in ten years of US occupation, Baathists first reverted to being devout Sunnis and have now mutated into the likes of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, leading the faithful into the Sunni Caliphate, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Baghdadi belong to the virulent school of Ikhwan ul Muslimeen opposed to “Shia apostasy” as well as to “Sunni monarchies”.

The Caliphate appears to be a more recent idea which gestated during the brutal campaign in Syria which failed to affect a regime change in Damascus. The embarrassment of those who funneled support to the opposition against Bashar al Assad in Damascus is now enhanced by the durability of Nouri al Maliki in Baghdad. He tried and ousted the Sunni Vice President Tariq al Hashemi who was something of a Western favourite and for that reason suspected by the Iranians.

There are interests in the Syria-Iraq corridor who are under the control of their Western and Saudi sponsors. Aggravating the current situation is the fact that, with time, these controls are loosening. Additionally, a wide range of other Sunni groups who have suffered considerable status reversal, are clustering around an Abu Bakr al Baghdadi like figure, not because they want a Caliphate, but because they wish to weaken and oust Maliki in Baghdad and, if possible, Assad in Damascus.

It is worth noting that while mounting the brutal air and naval attacks against the Palestinians in Gaza, the Israelis are citing the “Caliphate” as the menace they fear Palestinians will eventually gang up with. There is no mention of Hezbullah and Iran.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Why is the world in grip of jehadist menace?


Three momentous events, all in November-December 1979, are the genesis of a great deal of chaos the world faces today.

First, was the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Teheran and the Iranian occupation of the US embassy, a siege which lasted 444 days. The siege began on November 4.

The Iranian Revolution coincided almost exactly with the siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca on November 20, 1979. Armed Wahabis charged with the missionary zeal of the Ikhwan ul Muslimeen or a virulent Muslim Brotherhood, opposed to the Saudi monarchy, occupied the mosque.

The cloak of secrecy the Saudi state threw on the fifteen day siege, gave rise to rumours that Iran of the Ayatollahs was involved. Neither the Saudis nor their American backers were interested in absolving Iran of the outrage. So they allowed the rumour to stand.

The siege was actually a manifestation of widespread anger with the Saudi monarchy’s minimal shift away from Wahhabi puritanism. There was universal disgust with the substantial American presence around the oil wells of Dahran. The rebels saw the “American infidel” as a harmful influence on Wahhabi faith.

The twists and turns the media gave to the story fuelled anti-Americanism worldwide. The US embassy in Islamabad was set on fire.

Just then the Soviets obliged. They moved into Afghanistan on Christmas eve. This became the third momentous development of 1979.

The world’s eyes were fixed on the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Islamic revolution in Teheran. The far reaching potential in Juhayman al-Otaybi’s revolt to topple the House of Saud was diligently hidden from public view.

The Saudi ruling clique, including Minister for Internal Security, Prince Nayef, found in President Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, a willing partner to transform danger into an opportunity.

Otaybi’s Jehad against the Saudi state and against the Americans would be transformed into a 20th century crusade against Soviet Communism. Once the Soviets were overcome, Iranian Shiaism would be the next target. Then Akhwan ul Muslimeen or Muslim Brotherhood, (as in Egypt recently) and so on. Internal anger in Saudi Arabia would be given an external outlet, almost in perpetuity.

Saudi security would be tied to enemies outside its borders. Take for instance, the illogical situation in Bahrain which is linked by the 37 kms Causeway to Saudi’s oil rich, Shia dominated, Eastern regions of Dammam and Qatif.

Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy, the House of Khalifa, treats 80 percent of its population, which happen to be Shia, as “the opposition”. The forward looking crown Prince Salman Kahlifa along with a US diplomat, Jeffrey Feltman, created a mechanism for greater Shia participation. But before the agreement could be inked, Saudi tanks rolled down the 37 km causeway linking Dammam to Bahrain. The message to the incipient, internal rebellion was loud and clear: look, we are holding Shia apostasy at bay. They may live, but they may not have power.

On the Muslim world’s centre stage, the Nayef-Brzezinski duet roped in Pakistan’s Zia ul Haq for a mass production of Mujahideen in Afghanistan. These would fight the Soviets and be a bulwark against Shia Iran. Zia would help Arabize Pakistani Islam and wrench it from India’s composite culture.

Meanwhile, the Saudis cooked up a parallel plot. Soviet and Nasserite socialism held sway over Aden and south Yemen. While the Caliphate ended in Turkey in 1924, the Imamat, a more Shia-like institution, lasted in North Yemen until 1962. To check Soviet and Shia influences in the two Yemens, training sanctuaries for Jehadists were set up under the supervision of Mohsen al Ahmar, half brother of Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh. These trained Jehadis have today morphed into Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

From Aden to Somalia is a short boat ride. This is a simple logistical explanation for the expansion of Al Shabab terrorists into neighbouring Kenya and beyond. A brigade strength Indian Peace Keeping Force (bag pipes and all) was dispatched under Gen. Mono Bhagat in 1994 to quell the civil war after the fall of Somalian strongman, Siad Barre, in Mogadishu. I have extensive TV footage of this campaign. It was a vicious inter clan conflict. Somalia was a peculiar country: violent but totally secular. That is why al Shabab is a puzzle.

Likewise, one could never have imagined Jehadism in Qaddafi’s Libya either. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton materialized in Tripoli she spoke the memorable line: “I came, I saw and he died”. The split screen had her in one half and Qaddafi in the other, screaming, sodomized by a knife.

An efficient dictatorship was thus transformed into a series of feuding tribes. Jehadists, identified as the ones involved in the Danish cartoon mayhem, began to populate Benghazi where eventually US ambassador Christopher Stevens was murdered. Jehadi legions crossed into southern Egypt on the one hand and past Niger into Mali, desecrating the great Sufi mosque of Timbaktu, exactly as the Taleban in Afghanistan had blown up the Bamyan Buddha. Further south, the boost to Boko Haram in Nigeria and Islamic militancy along the Sahel, all derive their DNA from Afghanistan, after the triple tumult of 1979.

More recently the inability to oust Bashar al-Assad from Damascus and the durability of Nouri al Maliki in Baghdad where Sunnis suffered their first status reversal once Saddam Hussain and the Baathists made way for the first Shia government, have added to Sunni rage, stoked by Saudi Arabia.

When Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, all with American and European help, provided men, money and arms for the civil war in Syria, Sunnis began to sense power. Now external support is drying up. The moment therefore has produced the man. In the persona of Abu Bakr Baghdadi of the ISIS, has emerged a latter day Otaybi, independent of all past sponsors, turning viciously to bite the very hand that feeds. Americans are beginning to learn yet again an old lesson: in the ultimate analysis, there are limits to power.

Meanwhile, the worry in the subcontinent ought to be on a different count: is a Baghdadi like danger possible in our neighbourhood?

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)