South Asian Unity: A Priority for India and Pakistan

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Like everyone, Muslims are saddened and horrified by the recent Mumbai attacks. However, unlike everyone else, Muslims find themselves defending their religion from stereotypes, misconceptions, and bigoted accusations. It’s not an easy burden to live with — especially in Western countries like the United States — when the media not only scrutinizes and vilifies your religion, but also criticizes you for “not doing enough” to speak out against radicalism.

What’s worse is the division I’m seeing within the South Asian community, Indians and Pakistanis in particular. I was shocked and appalled at the excessive amount of anti-Islamic and anti-Pakistani bigotry written in discussion boards of South Asian internet forums and group pages on Facebook. Not only are fingers being pointed at Pakistan, but also at the religion of Islam, which has been accused continuously for teaching “hatred” and “waging war” on non-Muslims.

First, why is Pakistan being blamed when there is hardly any evidence? As we have seen in the last eight years, jumping to conclusions has resulted in foolish and deadly consequences. The fact that Indian authorities almost immediately accused Pakistan of being behind the attacks indicates that they deny and dismiss the possibility of homegrown terrorism. Tariq Ali, who is a Pakistani novelist, historian, and political campaigner, recently pointed out that the Deccan Mujahedeen — an extremist militant group based in India — made a claim to the Mumbai attacks. In his article on “Counter Punch,” Mr. Ali writes:

“The Deccan Mujahedeen, which claimed the outrage in an e-mail press release, is certainly a new name probably chosen for this single act. But speculation is rife. A senior Indian naval officer has claimed that the attackers (who arrived in a ship, the M V Alpha) were linked to Somali pirates, implying that this was a revenge attack for the Indian Navy’s successful if bloody action against pirates in the Arabian Gulf that led to heavy casualties some weeks ago.”

When I looked at my local newspaper, the article on the Mumbai attacks used the following words to describe Pakistan: “volatile,” “rival,” and “archrival.” And I’m sure many of us remember President-elect Barack Obama warning Pakistan that if they are “unable or unwilling” to fight terrorism, then the U.S. will invade the region (which they already have under the Bush administration).

This hostility and antagonism towards Pakistan is irresponsible. For one, Pakistan has been fighting Taliban militants in North-Western Pakistan since 2004, and according to “Times Online” Pakistan has lost about “1,000 soldiers fighting militants in border mountains that have never come under the control of any government.” Thomas Houlahan wrote a brilliant piece for “The Middle-East Times” titled “Pakistan: Separating the Facts from the Myths” where he criticizes the media for reporting a lot of misinformation about Pakistan. He writes:

“Pakistan has lost more civilians in the war on terror than the United States; Pakistan has lost more troops killed in fighting insurgents than every foreign contingent in Afghanistan combined. These facts fly in the face of the misinformation bandied about that Pakistan is soft on terror.”

Houlahan has also pointed out that “more than one in four insurgents killed in the Afghanistan/Pakistan insurgency (4,500 of 16,500) has been killed by Pakistani security forces.” Last night, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Asif Zardari, appeared on Larry King Live and stated that Pakistan had no involvement with the Mumbai attacks. Furthermore, Zardari insisted that he looked forward to building peaceful relations with their Indian neighbors. Despite these facts and condemnations by Pakistani officials, one must question why the media and even the newly elected President of the United States are skeptical about Pakistan’s commitment to the “War on Terror.” Pakistan has been doing America’s dirty work since September 11th, 2001, and has suffered on several occasions for it. We seem to have forgotten about the recent Marriott Hotel bombing in Pakistan on September 20th, 2008.

To see this kind of division and hostility take shape among every day Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews, and others is discouraging and unsettling. None of us are responsible for what happened in Mumbai and none of us are trying to justify what happened, but when the media starts to influence our fellow South Asians into thinking that “Islamofascisim” or “Islamic Jihad” is simply about killing non-Muslims, particularly Hindus and Jews, then it is imperative for us to engage in mature and civilized dialogue. Because of the fact that a Jewish Center was attacked in India, many perceive this attack to be an “attack on the West,” but what’s so problematic about this assertion is that it completely ignores and overlooks the real factors involved.

Before I continue, it is important to understand that I am not justifying what happened in Mumbai or anywhere else. It’s not about justification, it’s about understanding, and only through understanding can we find the root cause of the problem and develop real strategies to solve them. Rather than chanting war slogans like “Bomb Pakistan!” why don’t we ask intelligent questions as to why an atrocity like this happened? If there is anything that I expect the West and other nations to learn, it’s this: Bombing another nation will only make matters worse; it radicalizes people and creates more violence. This is evidenced clearly in the Iraq war.

Has anyone bothered to ask, “who were the militants” or “who was in that hotel” or “what drives such people to attack innocent people?” Many right-wing pundits will simply say these militants are driven by the teachings of Islam. This kind of ignorance generates mythologies. Mythologies such as “Hindus and Muslims have been fighting for centuries.” Really? Since when? Widespread violence between Hindus and Muslims didn’t start until the 19th century. Prior to that, Muslims, Hindus, and others enjoyed coexistence in multi-cultural and multi-religious societies. This is not to say there wasn’t any violence – of course there were under particular Muslim rulers – but for the most part, large scale violence between the communities occurred after British colonialism. Other mythologies formulate, such as “Jews and Muslims have been fighting forever.” Again, since when? Much of the antagonism and wars between Muslims and Jews started during and after the creation of Israel. Prior to that, Muslims and Jews coexisted for centuries, especially in Jerusalem. Before Muslims ruled the city, Jews were exiled out of Jerusalem. Muslim leaders like Umar ibn al-Khattab and Salah Al-Din invited the Jews back into the city (may God be pleased with them).

Without understanding the struggles of Muslims in regions like Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even India, we won’t be about to solve the problems. But what’s frustrating for many Muslims is that the media only uses the word “terrorism” for one group of people: Muslims. In 2002, over 2,000 Muslims were massacred in the Indian State of Gujarat, while hundreds of Muslim women were gang raped. The worst part is that the government was complicit in these horrible crimes and many of the victims have yet to receive justice. Where was the mainstream western media when those atrocities were committed? Did we hear the media call the assailants “Hindu extremists?” Over 200,000 Muslims were butchered in the Serbian genocide against Muslims in Kosovo, but the Serbians were never called “Christian terrorists.” When over 700,000 indigenous Palestinians were forcefully evicted out of their homes by the Israeli military, the Israeli soldiers were never called “Jewish terrorists.” When Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, the media neglected to report that he was a member of the extremist “Christian Identity Movement.” The Columbine and Virginia Tech school shootings never provoked people to point fingers at a religion or even use the word “terrorist” to describe the shooters, but if the perpetrators were Muslim, you could count on the media to label them “Muslim terrorists.”

So why does the media ignore horrible acts of violence when they are committed against Muslims? Why does our government refuse to make efforts to understand why terrorism occurs in the first place? What is probably more disturbing than anything else is government-sponsored terrorism because it hides behind the guise of “freedom,” “liberty,” and “justice.” When things are made more systematic and acceptable, the more chances it has of being unnoticed.

Lastly, more than anything, Indians and Pakistanis have to stop pointing fingers and blaming each other. We can’t allow that kind of hatred and prejudice to present itself in our communities. We have to stand together, ask the right questions, and find the root cause of the problems. Only then will we be able to effectively prevent horrible atrocities – committed by all groups of people – from happening again.

Salaam, Namaste, Sat Sri Akal, Peace.

~Broken Mystic~

The Truth About Thanksgiving: Brainwashing of the American History Textbook

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Those who are indigenous to this land we call “The United States of America” have been long misrepresented and pushed out of American history textbooks in favor of glorifying those who now rule this nation and represent the dominant culture. What kind of democracy are we when education institutions and teachers refuse to mention the fact that 10 to 30 million Natives were killed at the hands of European invasion and colonialism? What is the point of having a “free market of ideas” when selective and biased history is being taught to our children?

There is no other way to put it, but erasing the memory of an entire race of people through distorted history is a systematic way of deceiving and lying to our children. Not only are we presented with biased history, but we are also subjected to an ever-growing culture of capitalism, in which commercialization of an ambiguous holiday merely pulls us away from facts and meaning. Turkeys are associated with “Thanksgiving” in the same way Santa Clause and the Easter bunny have become synonymous with Christmas and Easter, respectively. Through the guise of innocence, capitalism is constantly telling us to consume because consumption equals “happiness.” Tomorrow is not “Black Friday” for nothing.

And as children dress up as Pilgrims and Natives to reenact the romanticized version of history, they are not only perpetuating stereotypes, but more importantly, they’re being embedded with lies. What do they really know about the Pilgrims and the Natives? Consider a high school history textbook called “The American Tradition” which describes the scene quite succinctly:

After some exploring, the Pilgrims chose the land around Plymouth Harbor for their settlement. Unfortunately, they had arrived in December and were not prepared for the New England winter. However, they were aided by friendly Indians, who gave them food and showed them how to grow corn. When warm weather came, the colonists planted, fished, hunted, and prepared themselves for the next winter. After harvesting their first crop, they and their Indian friends celebrated the first Thanksgiving.

This patronizing version of history excludes many embarrassing facts of European history. As stated by James W. Loewen, author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” many college students are unaware of the horrific plague that devastated and significantly reduced the population of Natives after Columbus’ arrival in the “new world.” Most diseases came from animals that were domesticated by Europeans. Cowpox from cows led to smallpox, which was later “spread through gifts of blankets by infected Europeans.” Of the twelve high school textbooks Professor Loewen studied and analyzed, only three offer some explanation that the plague was a factor of European colonization. The nine remaining textbooks mention almost nothing, and two of them omit the subject altogether. He writes: “Each of the other seven furnishes only a fragment of a paragraph that does not even make it into the index, let alone into students’ minds.”

Why is it important to mention the plague? It reinforced European ethnocentricism which hardly produced a “friendly” relationship between the Natives and Europeans. To most of the Pilgrims and Europeans, the Natives were heathens, savages, treacherous, and Satanic. Upon seeing thousands of dead Natives, the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, called the plague “miraculous.” In 1634, he wrote to a friend in England:

But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by the small pox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not fifty, have put themselves under our protect…

The ugly truth is that many Pilgrims were thankful and grateful that the Native population was decreasing. Even worse, there was the Pequot Massacre in 1637, which started after the colonists found a murdered white man in his boat. Ninety armed settlers burned a Native village, along with their crops, and then demanded the Natives to turn in the murderers. When the Natives refused, a massacre followed.

Captain John Mason and his colonist army surrounded a fortified Pequot village and reportedly shouted: “We must burn them! Such a dreadful terror let the Almighty fall upon their spirits that they would flee from us and run into the very flames. Thus did the Lord Judge the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies.” The surviving Pequot were hunted and slain.

The Governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, further elaborates:

Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.

Perhaps most disturbingly, it is strongly argued by many historians that the Pequot Massacre led to the “Thanksgiving” festivities. The day after the massacre, the aforementioned Governor Massachusetts Bay Colony declared: “A day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children.” It was signed into law that, “This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots.”

Now, one may ask: What about Squanto, the Wampanoag man who learned to speak English and helped the hungry, ill, and poor Pilgrims? As cited by Professor Loewen, an American high school textbook called “Land of Promise” reads:

Squanto had learned their language, the author explained, from English fishermen who ventured into the New England waters each summer. Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, squash, and pumpkins. Would the small band of settlers have survived without Squanto’s help? We cannot say. But by the fall of 1621, colonists and Indians could sit down to several days of feast and thanksgiving to God (later celebrated as the first Thanksgiving).

Note that this text states the first Thanksgiving was on 1621. Indeed, there was a feast on that year, but it was not called a “Thanksgiving feast” nor was it repeated until years later after the Pequot Massacre in 1637. In regards to Squanto, the correct question to ask is: How did Squanto learn English? History textbooks neglect to mention that the Europeans did not perceive Squanto as an equal, but rather as “an instrument of their God” to help the “chosen people.” It is also omitted that, as a boy, Squanto was stolen by a British captain in 1605 and taken to England. He worked for a Plymouth Merchant who eventually helped him arrange passage back to Massachusetts, but less than a year later, he was seized by a British slave raider. Along with two dozen fellow Natives, Squanto was sold into slavery in Spain. He would manage to escape slavery, journey back to England, and then talk a ship captain into taking him along on his next trip to Cape Cod in 1619.

As Squanto walked back into his home village, he was horrified to find that he was the only surviving member of his village. The rest were either killed in battle or died of illness and disease. Excluding Squanto’s enslavement is to paint an incredibly distorted version of history that suggests Natives like Squanto learned English for no other reason but to help the colonists. It is to glorify the Europeans and erase the struggles and experiences of the Native people.

When history is transformed into myths, tales, and bedtime stories, we ignore historical research that enables us to learn valuable and meaningful lessons about our present, as well as about our future. History is meant to be an accurate and honest account of civilizations, cultures, and events; not a body of ethnocentric and selective alterations.

As Professor Loewen states:

Thanksgiving is full of embarrassing facts. The Pilgrims did not introduce the Native Americans to the tradition; Eastern Indians had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries. Our modern celebrations date back only to 1863; not until the 1890s did the Pilgrims get included in the tradition; no one even called them ‘Pilgrims’ until the 1870s.

I did not write this article with intentions to offend or say we shouldn’t celebrate “Thanksgiving.” None of us are responsible for the atrocious deaths of Natives and Europeans. None of us caused the plague or the massacres. But as human beings, I do feel that it’s important for us to approach history with honesty and sensitivity. Perhaps some of you don’t believe this history is relevant to you, but I would strongly argue that a history that is not inclusive is a dangerously racist and prejudice one. Yes, we should spend time with our families and Loved ones, and yes, we should be grateful and thankful for all that we have, but not at the expense of ignoring an entire race of people, their culture, and their history. The fact that history textbooks and schools try to glorify the Pilgrims while omitting significant facts about the Natives represents that there is a lot to improve in the United States. Let us not become blinded by super-patriotism or blowout sales of “Black Friday.” Let us give some thought to the Native people, learn from their struggles, and embolden ourselves to stand up against racism and genocide in all forms.

They deserve your attention.

~Broken Mystic~

UPDATE: Thank you all for commenting and sharing your thoughts on this post.  Unfortunately, I do NOT write on this blog anymore, but you can still share your comments on an updated and revised piece I wrote on my new blog (see link below).  Also, there are others who have written excellent articles on the truth of “Thanksgiving” and their work certainly deserves more attention than this post.

Please bring your comments to my new blog here (where I also provide links to must-read articles):

http://muslimreverie.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/thanksgiving-and-forgotten-genocide-brainwashing-of-american-textbooks/

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