All major religions espouse compassion, fairness and justice. These ideals occupy a central place in the major religions of the world. Compassion, fairness and justice are theoretically not confined to coreligionists but apply to all of humanity in societies where one of the major faiths constitutes the majority.
Laws constructed on these religious ideals guarantee that no one will be treated differently because of religion. The reality, however, in places like India, Palestine, and Myanmar belies this standard. Distinctions are made based on religion, and legislation gives effect and substance to such differences.
Compassion, fairness, and justice for all are almost nonexistent. This reality exists in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Egypt and China, but for reasons other than superimposing one religion over a nation. The fact in all of these societies is nevertheless the same: the degradation of human beings.
Israel / Palestine – Muslims & Christians
Zionism, the nationalistic ideology that governs Israel, continues to brutalize the Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Under occupation, Muslims and Christians in Palestine face unspeakable hardship and suffering daily. Professor Edward Said (Columbia University), compared the situation in Palestine with apartheid in South Africa. He concluded that as horrible and despicable as apartheid was in South Africa, the indignities and sufferings of Palestinians were considered worse. Since Professor Said articulated these observations of the horrific conditions in Palestine, nothing has changed for the better for the Palestinians. On the contrary, the degradation has reached the point that defies the very essence of humanity.
Palestinians are so restricted that life for them is nothing short of being in a collective prison. The continued annexation of Palestinian land aims to finish off the Palestinian polity. Palestinians resistance to Israel’s settlers encroachment and brutal occupation unleashes massive destruction sanctioned by the state and its judiciary. Frequently homes are demolished, infrastructures such as hospitals, roads, schools, and olive groves are bulldozed and destroyed repeatedly. Also witnessed are the killing or maiming of Palestinians, including women and children, by settlers and Israel military. Many remain silent, but others in Israel and other parts of the world rally against Israel’s policy and actions. The prominent Israeli critic of Zionism, Meron Benveniski, several years ago warned that Israel’s policy of “Bantustans”, translated into a separation wall, would effectively imprison millions of Palestinians. He went further to say that under Israel’s master race democracy (Herrenvolk democracy), Arabs would be nothing but serfs subjected to extreme inequality. His analysis and prediction have turned out to be ironclad.
India / Indian Minority Muslims
India’s BJP Hindutva dehumanizes non-Hindu minorities. Vandalism, arbitrary arrests, detention and summary executions constitute the new face of India. Authorities in states where these abuses take place often invoke the need to fight terrorism as the justification for their egregious discriminatory practices. Intentionality is essential here. Terrorism is not a figment of the imagination; it is real. The mere invoking of it strikes a sympathetic chord with many. It serves to obscure the importance of intent on the part of the Hindutva extremists.
This approach serves to provide a “moral veil” for Hindutva fascism. Its underlying message is that secularism, which grants equality for all, is oppressive to the majority. Therefore, governance by majoritarian rule must supersede it. Relegated to an annoying inconvenience is the constitutional bedrock of secularism as a governing ethos. The governing culture has strengthened the Indian state’s capacity for the mistreatment and violence against minorities, mainly Indian Muslims.
Myanmar (Burma) / Rohingya Muslims
In Myanmar, the scale of violence against Muslims is simply beyond comprehension, and it exposes the dichotomy between Buddhism as a peaceful, kind, nurturing and loving religion and Buddhist monks who have goaded followers of Buddhism to commit indiscriminate acts of violence that have rightfully been categorized as genocide. In August 2017, Myanmar’s army launched a brutal campaign against Rohingya Muslims, killing many and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to Bangladesh. The attacks against the Rohingya Muslims were so vicious and widespread that the United Nations subsequently characterized them as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
In response to fierce and widespread denunciations, the army in Myanmar proffered that it was targeting only militants. Documented evidence, however, refutes the contention of the military. Human Rights Watch shows that at least 288 villages were destroyed (partially or totally). Fleeing women and girls were caught and raped by the Myanmar military. UN investigators in August 2018 accused Myanmar’s military of carrying mass killings and rapes with “genocidal intent”.
Over decades the Rohingya were systematically denied citizenship rights. Rohingyas were required to submit documentation to prove their Burmese heritage. Upon presenting these documents, they disappeared in the bureaucracy. Thus the government asserted that the Rohingyas did not have Burmese origin but rather are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Hence citizenship rights were denied to them despite living in Myanmar for multiple generations.
Living in fear of Buddhist mobs and Myanmar’s army, hundreds of thousands fled Bangladesh, an impoverished country, as refugees. The International Criminal Court has committed itself to prosecute those accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity. Ironically Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Laureate for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights, has repudiated allegations of genocide by the Myanmar army.
China / Uighur Muslims
China’s denial of the Uighur people of fundamental human rights belies its relationships with the Muslim world. It manufactures and sells head coverings of Muslim men and women worldwide. At the same time, its citizens Uighurs can lose their lives and liberty for wearing the same. Uighurs incarceration, deprivation of the freedom to pray, fast, grow a beard, possess religious texts, maintain Muslim names, congregate for religious purposes make daily headlines.
Yes, there have been threats of sanctions. Still, they have had no impact on China’s oppression of Uighurs. China has used its vast economic and political power to silence Muslim majority countries and the Organization of Islamic States. It uses its power as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to dampen any protests at this level. Reports are that US President Trump gave the green light to China’s President Xi Jinping to oppress the Uighurs.
China has imprisoned millions of Uighurs in re-education centres to undertake programs to counter religious opinions and politically erroneous ideas. As is typical with repressive regimes, bent on usurping citizens’ rights, plausible justifications are given.
China’s explanations are:
- Uighur Muslim extremists threaten its national security interests, and
- Re-education is a necessary means of averting terrorists’ attacks.
Instead of being allowed to practise their religious tenets, they are forced to sing communist songs, chant praises for Xi Jinping and study communist propaganda. In other words they are compelled to behave in ways that are equivalent to renouncing their religion.
Psychological and physical torture is employed egregiously to achieve conformity. It is thus drawing a parallel between what is happening in China and the Holocaust. The paradox here is that most of the Muslim world seems to side with Xi Jinping.
Saudi Arabia & UAE / Yemeni Muslims
Yemen and Syria are indeed at the epicentre of utter tragedy and despair. Almost a decade ago, on March 15, 2011, ordinary Syrians rose to protest the injustices, corruption and nepotism of Bashar Al Assad’s regime. Al Assad responded brutally and indiscriminately against the Syrian people. Events soon spiralled out of control, and a full-scale civil war was in place, which to date has claimed the lives of over two million Syrians and dispersion of millions worldwide. Credible sources indicate that the use of torture and poisonous gas by the Syrian regime has been widespread. Today, over five million Syrians are living in neighbouring countries. Refugee Syrian women and young girls are exploited and abused. The reality in Syria speaks to tyranny at its worst.
In Yemen, malnourished humans, many with flesh sticking to bones, gaunt faces, teary and frightened eyes and a sense of resignation to misery and death are the most salient features of life in this country on the brink of collapse. Infrastructure has been reduced to rubbles in many places, leaving the inhabitants without food, drinking water, adequate sanitation, access to medical help and other necessary services. The bombings continue relentlessly by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two proxies involved in the conflict on behalf of the ousted president, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. Ironically, the supply of lethal weapons used by these two countries comes from the United States, the so-called champion of human rights. On the other hand, Iran continues its nefarious and subversive efforts on behalf of the Houthi Shiite rebels who seized Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, in September of 2014. The devastating and unconscionable conflict in Yemen has truly little to do with religion. It is mostly about power and the hegemonistic goals of the proxies involved. Death, destruction and misery, despite their magnitude, are necessary collaterals from their point of view.
If one views Libya as a textbook definition of a failed state, they would be justified in doing so. There is so much chaos, violence and anarchy that the safety, of the civilian population, especially for women has become a constant worry. Political institutions have collapsed. The country has been carved into areas of control by multiple militias driven by divergent ideologies like militant or moderate Islamists, secessionists or monarchists or by regional or ethnic considerations. Libya is rife with international players, who are seeking their national interests. The Libyan people, however, are faced with tragedy as hundreds of thousands have been displaced internally, desperately requiring humanitarian aid.
In terms of human rights violations, Egypt also enjoys egregious notoriety. A democratically elected government was subverted and then overthrown after only a short tenure in power. The army and the police killed thousands of fellow citizens who were supporters of the now-deposed elected government. And many more are indefinitely imprisoned. The deposed president was incarcerated and eventually died of untreated illness. For decades leading to the election of the first democratic president, Egyptian society enjoyed minimal civil rights and civil liberties. The rule of law existed only in official declarations. The ruling regime ruled arbitrarily and ruthlessly. Having reverted to totalitarianism after a brief period of democracy, Egypt again stands out as one of the most repressive countries in the Middle East. And once again the horrendous suppression of human rights has been taking place without any concrete steps taken by regional and international communities to stop it.
Where are we going?
The diversity of humanity is being cudgelled politically by authoritarian regimes to conform and accept the entrenchment of the resource-rich and powerful. Realpolitik trumps human rights. People are abandoned and subjected to the worst forms of persecutions. Has the leadership of the world today forgotten history and the commitment to “never again”?
What has become of the institutional support to ensure human rights for all? The UN Security Council silenced by the national interests of one or the other permanent members’ veto power. There is indifference from nations who claim to be bulwarks against human rights injustices. The price of indifference is incalculably painful and irreversible. Rwanda has so amply shown this as factual. As the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis was occurring, the Contracting Parties to December 9, 1948, Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crime of Genocide pretended looked the other way. The outcome of this indifference was the loss of over 800,000 of Tutsis lives.
Today, Muslims by far are the primary victims of hunger, homelessness, torture and murder. This at the hands of regimes masked by different political systems. Many factors motivate this oppressive impulse such as xenophobia, Islamophobia, totalitarianism, fear of subversion, corruption and nepotism. Tomorrow it could be any other religious or ethnic group. Tomorrow’s scenario must never be allowed to become a reality. Policymakers, business leaders and ordinary men and women must today take a stand. We cannot continue to be merely consumers of the news; we cannot continue to be ambivalent or indifferent. We must act now in the true spirit of humanity to end the degradation of human beings.