Thursday, October 10, 2013

WORLD: The human rights movement strongly recommends Malala Yousafzai for the Nobel Peace Prize

This is a Statement which I helped to prepare for the AHRC. Many other people assisted but it is important, amongst other things, in that it portrays the commitment and dedication of the Pakistan Desk Officer, Baseer Naveed, to ensure international recognition for this brave young lady.

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

In this age where women and girl children do not receive the protection promised to them by the constitutions of so many countries the challenge for the human rights community in this century is to uplift their rights and lives. The struggle must include equality for women and justice for the violence perpetrated against them.

In her valiant determination for the right to education Malala has become a symbol of this tremendous struggle.

On Friday, October 11, 2013, the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to a global champion of peace and human rights. Malala Yousafzai, a 16 year-old-girl from the Swat Valley of Northeast Pakistan, the youngest ever nominee of the prestigious award, is a deserving front runner for the prize for her courage in standing up to the Pakistani Taliban and fighting for her right to be educated.

The committee consisting of notables from all over the world will meet to select the winner of this year's prize. The Asian Human Rights Commission as a regional organisation, on behalf of the human rights movement, strongly recommends Malala as the recipient for the Peace Prize. The human rights movement has not witnessed anyone of the caliber of Gandhi and Mandela since Malala Yousafzai first entered the arena to fight for her right to education. In doing so she stirred water that had remained stagnant for several decades. And the circles generated by the stirring of this stagnant water have engulfed the entire international community. This 16-year-old girl has seized the attention of scholars, academics, Nobel Laureates, journalists, writers, human rights activists and even the people at street level. For the youth of the world, especially those girls who are suppressed by primitive societies and conservative mindsets she has become a symbol and source of inspiration. Malala, at such a young age, must take the credit for having united the people of the world in the recognition of the extreme importance of the right to education as a basic step for human development.

The AHRC respects the other nominees and fully recognises the contributions they have made for world peace. However, the contribution of this young lady deserves particular attention due to the threats she has faced and continues to face. Awarding her this prize would acknowledge the inalienable right to education by girls and women of all ages.

Malala Yousafzai, coming from a country like Pakistan, which is torn by corruption, impunity, terrorism, and militancy, has become a beacon of hope to the millions of young Pakistani girls who want nothing more than to go to school. She began her journey in 2009 after being invited to write for a BBC blog entitled ‘Diary of a Pakistani School Girl’. She described her daily fears of going to school amid threats from the Taliban, generally considered to be most serious terrorists in the world. She and many other young students refused to bow to their demands to quit school and continued to risk their lives to attend classes.

Her life in Pakistan came to an abrupt halt when she was shot in the head on a school bus heading home on October 9, 2012. Her miraculous recovery and continued dedication to her cause have made her a household name. Rather than stopping her, the Taliban attack served only to amplify Malala’s message.

Continuing a campaign for the rights of young women to receive an education after an assassination attempt is laudable, and even more so at Malala’s young age. Malala recently celebrated her 16th birthday with an address to the UN. This month also marks the one year anniversary of her attempted murder. She follows in the steps of other civil leaders before her as she peacefully campaigns despite continued threats. She has been targeted and slandered by members of the Taliban and some sections of the Pakistani media, whom claim she is being used by the West to shame Pakistan.

Education in Pakistan is in dire need of reform, especially in regard to gender equality. The Education for All Global Monitoring Report claims that of the 5.1 million children out of school in Pakistan, about 63% of them are girls. The Education Index ranks Pakistan 113 out of 120 assessed countries. While factors including mismanagement of funds, corruption, and impunity all contribute to these poor figures, much of the education disparity can be accredited to draconian interpretation of Islamic law and the disvaluing of women.

Too often, Pakistani women are pulled out of school at a young age, often to prevent harassment, attend to household chores, or to be married off. Pakistan ranks 133 out of 135 overall in the 2010 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, behind Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria. Pakistan placed 127 out of 135 in terms of Educational Attainment and dead last in Economic Participation and Opportunity.

The Nobel Peace Prize is unique in that while it recognizes previous accomplishments of the recipient, it indicates an ability to continue to fight for peace. Malala is undoubtedly the most recognized and celebrated of this year’s Nobel contenders. Awarding Malala with the Prize would have ramifications far beyond the West. She is a voice to many young students and women who remain in very precarious places around the world.

In her speech to the UN on her sixteenth birthday, Malala stated that “Education is the only solution.” She claims that problems can be stopped before they start with the education of children. If fathers and mothers were properly educated themselves, they would encourage their children to stay in school because education is a fundamental human right. Malala is peaceful not only in her desire not to shame those who shot her, but in her proactive approach to achieve peace through human development and dialogue.

Miss Yousufzai has been a catalyst and a symbol of inspiration in the struggle for women’s rights in the Muslim community and around the world. She is exemplary of how one small voice can make a difference. To award Malala with the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize would represent a milestone in the fight for women’s equality, bring attention to the severity of the problem in Pakistan, encourage proactive exchange, and give hope to the thousands of young women still living under the thumb of the Taliban and Islamic militancy.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jews, Gays and Mosque Leaders

The following article was written by my good friend and colleague, Baseer Naveed. It is an interesting expose on his reactions to the attitudes of Muslims in Canada. Baseer very kindly allowed me to work on it with him. JS S.

Baseer Naveed

Sitting with the friends and some Pakistanis in Montreal, Canada, a heated debate started over the Jewish conspiracies against Islam and Pakistan. The Pakistanis were very much interested in talking about politics, particularly in the context of the USA, Afghanistan and the past history of Islamic rulers with some unwritten stories to glorify them as remarkable assets.

The participants, sitting in a chilling temperature in a well furnished drawing room, surrounded by many framed photos of the holy places of Saudi Arabia and calligraphies, were telling me of the conspiracies of the Jews with very loud voices. They were saying that Jews do not want Pakistan to be prosperous as it the only country which was created in the name of Islam. I was putting many questions and at every question their reply was in anger. They were saying that Jews have infiltrated the political party of Prime Minister Nawaz Shareef who does not allow operations against the MQM and, according to them the MQM is run by Jews. Shareef has to increase inflation as Jews want this to happen. Drone attacks on Pakistan occur because Jews are behind them.

After such an enlightening and sometimes angry discourse which revealed so much about the Jewish conspiracies we went for dinner. My friends took me to a burger shop called 'Shwartz' and ordered the smoked beef burger. At the shop the word ‘Kosher’ was displayed and I did not know the meaning of this word. I asked them whether the burger was 'Halal' to which they all replied that it was. I then asked them if the shop belonged to a Muslim and they replied that it did not. However, it was part of a famous chain of Jewish eateries and 'Kosher' means 'Halal'. This was somewhat surprising for me as for the last three hours I had been regaled with stories and theories about the Jewish conspiracies against the Muslims of the world. I was a bit irritated and asked them if this was also not a conspiracy of the Jews to sell Halal food.

My question was met with gales of laughter in the burger shop and one person said to me, "Oh Baseer, do not look for conspiracy in everything--leave this bad habit".

I was of the impression that a sizeable number of Pakistanis have migrated to different parts of Canada and the process is continuing, therefore, I would listen to different views of what the media, political parties and religious parties were forcing on us. However, I found the majority of the Pakistanis more conservative than the Pakistanis living back in the country.

There are three most important concerns for the majority of Pakistanis in Canada and the USA. First is the Jews who get blamed every time something bad happens in Pakistan, the second is the Ahmadis and third is the rights of gays, lesbians and transsexuals.

Mosques have appeared in good numbers which is growing steadily. The fundamentalist Muslim leaders have found a good place to settle and feel right at home. They don't hesitate to provoke Pakistan to contribute for Jihad for the implementation of Shariah in the country. In a wedding ceremony a Pesh Imam (prayer leader of a famous mosque) was invited to conduct the marriage ceremony in accordance with the Islamic way. He finally did so but only after he delivered his long, drawn-out speech (which was not based in Islam) on how a bride has to follow the husband's instructions and the husband has every right in that regard.

The Pesh Imam then went on to say that before marriage if the bride and groom have any type of relationship that was unIslamic (Haram). His clear message was that if they had a love affair prior to marriage it was Haram. A whispered laughter came from the audience as every person present knew of the love affairs between the couple for many years. The Pesh Imam was good friend of the father of te bride.

In another meeting with friends and some Pakistanis at Toronto, the issue of Jihad came up in the discussion. The Jihad discussion went to its basis in the Madressas (Muslim seminaries), their curriculum, the hate messages against opposite sects of Islam, producing suicide attackers and, of course, the sexual abuse of children at the seminaries. Interestingly the people were much more interested in talking about the sexual abuse of budding Muslim fundamentalists or homosexual stories of Muslim/mosque leaders. Some shared their young age experience to which they were eye witness when in the Madressas they saw young poverty ridden students, helpless, in the hands of their teachers…and sometimes without clothes.

Everybody was feeling very excited to exchange such stories and making jokes. Suddenly a pious Muslim said that in his mosque a gay came and he delivered a lecture about Islam and he was not there at that time. Being the member of the management committee of Farooqia Masjid, when he came to know about the incident he became angry and ordered the cleaning of the mosque. A silence fell over our joyful meeting, everybody was feeling guilty that he had done something wrong and was trying to change the topic because the pious man changed the mood.

I broke the silence by asking as to why when the Pesh Imam was present at that moment he did not stop the 'gay'. There was no clear answer except that he did not want to turn the mosque into a battle ground. My other question was very irritating for them about the purity of Pesh Imams as they are educated from Madressas, where, as we had already discussed that homosexuality is common.

Again I was made a target and every one explaining the positions of their own mosques and their Pesh Imams but did not refute my allegation that Pesh Imams were from Madressas. No one was to totally refute how they would have been spared of such acts when they were recruited at a young age. One friend became angry and asked me if I was suggesting that they were offering prayers behind the Gays or that Gays were leading our five times prayers in a day?

I simply replied that my comments were based on the following assumptions. They themselves admitted that there was a great deal of homosexuality in the Madressas and that they had even seen Imams having their way with young boys and men. Therefore, it stood to reason that many of these young men that went on to become Imams themselves were 'tainted' with the same desires of their peers. Given the possibility that some of the Pesh Imams were gay it also stood to reason that we were following them in prayer five times a day. I asked if, indeed this was the case as to whether our prayers were justified.

When I finished speaking one of the participants said to me, "Baseer be remain positive, you always see the dark aspect of the thing".

Very harsh remarks were uttered against me such as infidel, apostate and communist. Some accused me of being a blasphemer and declared me as Wajib Ul Qatal (liable to be murdered) but could not carry out that act as I was in Canada where there is strong rule of law and the state provides protection and security to every citizen.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and met many interesting and intelligent people. Sometimes when people leave their homes for a foreign land they quickly give up their cultural heritage and this was not the case with the vast majority of Pakistanis that I met. However, I could not help but feel that their belief that the Jews were behind all the evils of the world was somewhat misplaced. There was also a degree of hypocrisy in their attitude towards gays especially considering the very real possibility that many of their Imams are gay. It was also sad and troubling for me to learn that the mosques were being used, as they are in Pakistan, to raise money for Jihad and I saw that as a betrayal of the country which had given them a home.