Thursday, December 27, 2007

** From Green To Red Revolution

From Green To Red Revolution - II
B. Raman, Outlook India

An allegation often levelled by non-governmental analysts of the Maoist (Naxalite) insurgency is that one of the causes for the spread of Maoist influence in the tribal areas of central India is the anger among the members of the depressed classes due to their perception that the law and order machinery is sought to be misused against them when they try to ventilate their grievances against those exploiting them--whether they be rich land-lords, forest contractors, money-lenders or the so-called upper caste Hindus.

According to them, it is this anger, which has over the years driven a large number of tribals into the waiting arms of the Maoists, who have been exploiting their anger for organising a Maoist revolution in the tribal areas, in the hope of thereby achieving political power through the barrel of the gun and not through the ballot box.

In this connection, there are two interesting incidents narrated by Shri K.S.Subramanian, which came to his notice, when he served as Director in the Union ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) between 1980 and 1985.

To quote him:
" A particularly violent series of incidents of agrarian violence occurred in the central Districts of Bihar in the early 1980s, resulting in the killings in police 'encounters' of a number of the rural poor innocents. The Press was full of the details. This led the government of India to set up a central team of officials, including this author (Subramanian) led by the then Member-Secretary, Planning Commission, to visit the state for a first-hand assessment. On arrival in Bihar, the team met the aggressively self-confident District Administration proud of its record of maintaining order at the cost of many innocent lives. It took the District officials a while to come to grips with the fact that the purpose of the team was not to appreciate 'their good work', but to evaluate their success in implementing the declared policies of payment of minimum wages, protection of civil rights, distribution of government waste land among the poor--all impeccably constitutional tasks. The record did not stand up to scrutiny."

"The state police reported the number of deaths in police action as 12 persons, all of them 'Naxalites'. The IB, the main reporting agency of the MHA, repeated the figure. There was a gap between the figures reported in the press and those, which the government departments came up with."

"A meeting was later called in the union home secretary's room to discuss the Bihar situation. The chief secretary of the state frankly admitted that the number of persons killed in the violent incidents was near 60 and that none of them was a 'Naxalite'. Most were members of a local peasant organisation fighting for social justice under the Constitution and other laws of the land. The minutes of this meeting were classified 'Top Secret', since the matter under discussion was 'Naxalite Activities in Bihar', a top secret matter for the IB!"

"In another series of violent incidents in the Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu during the same period, which also came up for discussion in the MHA, it was found that most of those similarly killed in police 'encounters' were innocent persons, whose crime had been to demand minimum wages, social dignity and civil rights. The police officer in charge of the district , when confronted with this information, maintained that since the 'Naxalites' did not believe in the Constitution of India, the state police were not obliged to adopt strictly constitutional methods in dealing with them.

He later walked away with a police gallantry medal."

"The MHA, which in words accepted that the social base of the Naxalite movement originated from legitimate rural poor concerns, was, however, ineffective in preventing the misuse of police powers to suppress the so-called Naxalites. It was possible for the ministry to have advised the state governments concerned to deal with the socio-economic issues underlying the movement and address the ideological issues politically. However, the immediate issue became one of law and order."

Subramanian concludes as follows:
"The recent experience of Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh highlights the information gap in the ministry. While the intelligence reports on the situation in the state focus exclusively on the law and order and security angles, the reports emanating from concerned citizens, former civil servants and journalists tell a different tale from the perspective of the victims of violence. The state's response is essentially guided by classified intelligence reports. A more realistic appraisal is possible only if the MHA creates its own sources of information rather than depending exclusively on the reports of the IB."

"Former home secretary Srinivasavaradan (in 1992) had suggested that considering the multiplicity and complexity of the social conflicts emerging in the country and given the inadequacy of the existing information base in the government, the MHA should consider setting up inter-disciplinary study-cum-action groups of scholars, civil servants and social activists to go into conflict situations and produce reports for the government. The priority given to peace and order at the cost of law and justice has led to the re-emergence of a crisis situation in the MHA." The Maoist (Naxalite) movement has two dimensions-- the socio-economic and the internal security.

Both are equally important. Subramanian's book provides a valuable insight into the socio-economic dimension and the inadequacies in addressing it. I will be commenting on the internal security dimension in the next part. To be continued

Sunday, December 23, 2007

** Hand over the keys

Hand over the keys, the Indians are here
By Sudha Ramachandran
Asia Times - Dec. 21,07

BANGALORE - Even as Indians were popping champagne corks last week over the appointment of a compatriot Vikram Pandit as chief executive of Citigroup, doubts were being expressed in the US over the wisdom of Western luxury brands being sold to Indian business houses. "I don't believe the US public is ready for ownership out of India of a luxury car make," Ken Gorin told the Wall Street Journal.

Gorin, who chairs the Jaguar Business Operations Council, which represents Jaguar car dealers in the US, was referring to the likely sale by US-based Ford Motors of its Jaguar and Land Rover luxury brands to India's Tata Motors. Cash-strapped Ford - the number two US-based car maker - put the two ailing British iconic British brands on sale in July.

About half a dozen companies put in offers, reduced to three for final negotiations. Of these, two are Indian - Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M). The third is OneEquity, a US private equity firm. Gorin drew attention to "unique image issues" that would arise if the two luxury car brands were sold to either of the two Indian bidders. It "would severely throw a tremendous cast of doubt over the viability of the brand", Gorin said.

Even before the dust kicked up by Gorin's remark could settle, Tata was at the receiving end of another put-down when Orient Express Hotels, a New York-listed luxury hotels and travel group, rejected overtures for an alliance by Tata Group-controlled Indian Hotels. Orient Express chief executive Paul White wrote in a letter to Indian Hotels that any association of its brands and properties with the "predominantly domestic" Indian hotel chain would result in an erosion of the brand and business value of its "global portfolio of luxury hotels and unique travel experiences".

Indian Hotels runs the Taj chain of hotels, which includes the near US$3,000 a night Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai. In 2005, it took over management of the landmark Pierre hotel at Fifth Avenue, New York. The remarks by Gorin and White have been widely perceived in India as rooted in racism. An editorial in Economic Times, a leading business daily, slammed the comments as "close to racism, barely camouflaged in the language of branding". Shombit Sengupta, an international growth strategy consultant and founder of Shining Emotional Surplus, doesn't agree. "Luxury brand business is not hype or PR action. It is embedded in superior craftsmanship and legacy of the past that has been transcended generation after generation. That's why there is no question of racism" in the concerns raised by Gorin and White, he told Asia Times Online.

The Tata Group is one of India's largest and most respected business conglomerates. Early this year, Tata Steel bought the Anglo-Dutch steel company Corus for $11.3 billion. Tata Motors, a subsidiary of the Tata Group is the frontrunner in the race for acquisition of Jaguar and Land Rover. It is India's largest automobile company, with many firsts to its credit. It developed India's first indigenously developed light commercial vehicle, the country's first sports utility vehicle and, in 1998, India's first fully indigenous passenger car.

It is preparing to unveil in early January a "people's car", which at a price of $2,500 will be the world's cheapest automobile.

Those opposing Tata Motor's likely acquisition of Jaguar and Land Rover doubt its capacity to manufacture a luxury car. Could the manufacturer of a people's car be trusted with running a luxury icon? "I do not understand how a company that is going to make cars for $2,000 can sell cars for $120,000," Thomas Stallkamp, a partner with the US private equity firm Ripplewood, was quoted by The Times as saying. Ripplewood was among the companies that were eliminated early in the race for the marques.

A senior Tata Group official said that such questions are rooted in ignorance about the conglomerate's diverse interests. Tata manufactures hydraulic excavators, fertilizers, heavy vehicles and cheap cars. It also produces high-end diamond jewelry and sophisticated software, as well as running top-end hotels. "Tatas is running the Ginger chain of hotels where a room could cost around $30. But it is also running exclusive hotels; a room at Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai could cost anywhere around $2,800 per night. So yes, we can be trusted with running luxury icons," the official told Asia Times Online.

As for allegations that Tata's "cheap car image" would damage the Jaguar brand and turn away potential customers, the official pointed out that "no guest has to date refused the privilege of staying in the Taj Mahal Palace because Tata also owns budget hotels". This is not the first time that Indians daring to challenge ownership of global giants have been ridiculed.

Last year, when Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian steel magnate and the world's fifth-richest person, bid for the Europe-based Arcelor to create the world's biggest steelmaker, its chief Guy Dolle belittled Mittal by saying that Arcelor produced perfume whereas Mittal Steel merely made eau de cologne. Dolle also described Mittal's shares as "monkey money". Shareholder pressure made Arcelor subsequently bow to Mittal's takeover of the company.

Indian liquor baron Vijay Mallya's bid for the French champagne company Taittinger was turned down on the grounds that non-French ownership would hurt the brand. Mallya went on last year to acquire Taittinger's wine business. The barbs, the taunts and the disparaging remarks that Indians and Indian predators face today in Western markets is similar to the Japanese experience in the US a couple of decades ago.

When Japanese car manufacturers entered the American market, they faced much hostility, racist verbal abuse and even physical violence. But soon American car manufacturers had to come to terms with an American public that was setting aside automobile nationalism to purchase the more economical and reliable Japanese cars. But when it comes to luxury brands, Asian brands are not hot in Europe and America.

The Americans have always preferred European luxury brands and have been reluctant to embrace luxury brands from elsewhere. "Shiseido [the Japanese luxury cosmetics brand] is not Chanel No 5 for Americans or other buyers of luxury brands," says Sengupta. Even so, the trend with luxury cars appears to be different. The US luxury car market, once dominated by Cadillacs and Lincolns, seemed safe from the Japanese.

That changed in the 1990s when Honda released its Acura line, followed by Toyota with Lexus and Nissan with Infiniti. Today, US automakers have been edged out of the domestic luxury car market: three out of four Americans who buy a luxury car opt for a European or Japanese model.

And while European luxury car brands now dominate in the US, the Lexus is the highest-selling make of luxury car. Indian analysts have pointed out that the fuss over Indian ownership of Jaguar and Land Rover is absurd, especially at a time when global businesses are increasingly turning to Indian talent to run their enterprises.

Citigroup zeroed in on Indian Vivek Pandit to steer it out of the worst crisis the bank has faced in its 195-year history. Earlier, Pepsico chose the Indian-born Indra Nooyi as its chief executive. Of the 15 Fortune 100 companies that are run by foreign-born executives three are of Indian-origin - with Ramani Ayer, chief executive of Hartford Financial Services, up there alongside Pandit and Nooyi.

India's growing presence at the top rungs of corporate America notwithstanding, the country "still conjures up images of abysmal poverty in the West", pointed out a European luxury car dealer in Bangalore. "When Americans buy luxury cars they want the snob value attached to it. They will not warm to Indian-owned luxury brand as it will not give them that value." Not so, argues Harish Bijoor, chief executive of a Bangalore-based consulting firm that specializes in brand and business strategy.

"The image of India in the world market is not what it was in the past. Today, it is seen as a hot bed of commerce and indeed, a hot bed of mergers and acquisitions activity," he told Asia Times Online. Dismissing allegations that Tata's takeover of Jaguar would undermine the latter's brand value, Bijoor argued that "brand value is a function of what consumers think of the brand at large. An ownership shift seldom has a negative impact on brands, particularly when they pass on into the hands of organizations that have a pedigree in the same space."

And "Tata Motors has that pedigree, as has Mahindra & Mahindra [the other Indian bidder for Jaguar]," Bijoor said. The workers, meanwhile, have a different perspective. Tata Motor's bid for Jaguar and the Land Rover received a boost last month when Unite, Britain's largest manufacturing union, said it preferred the luxury brands being sold to Tata as it offered them the best future in the long run. And unlike their counterparts across the Atlantic, Jaguar dealers in Britain have extended their vote of confidence in Tata's ownership of of the marque. As the dispute rages, Tata is the frontrunner to secure Jaguar and Range Rover, with deal expected to be clinched within the next few days.

"It is definitely Tata. There is one final meeting and so long as there are no last-minute hitches, which are not expected, then an announcement will be made on Friday," sources in Land Rover have been quoted as saying. It looks like Europe and the US need to brace themselves - corporate India is coming, and at Jaguar and Land Rover, they will have to make way for an Indian in the driving seat. Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

** Why they hate her?

Why do they hate her so?
Saswat Panigrahi

Driven out of West Bengal after Left Front chairman Biman Bose indirectly declared her as persona non grata -- "if Ms Taslima Nasreen's stay disturbs the atmosphere of peace in the State, she must leave," Mr Bose had said -- the dissident Bangladeshi writer has already spent three weeks in virtual house arrest in an undisclosed place in Delhi.

It's not only the Left Front Government of West Bengal that bowed before violent Islamic fundamentalists on the rampage in Kolkata, the UPA Government hasn't shown any spine to stand beside the beleaguered woman either -- both eyeing the Muslim vote-bank. A stoic Congress-led Government at the Centre has said it is ready to provide shelter to Ms Nasreen, but expects the writer to refrain from activities and expressions that may "hurt the sentiments of the people".

"Those given shelter in India have always undertaken to eschew political activities in India or any actions which may harm India's relations with friendly countries. It is also expected that the guests will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people." This statement read in Parliament by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, in an oblique reference to Ms Nasreen, smacks of appeasement of the fundamentalist forces.

If Ms Nasreen's prospect of returning to her home country Bangladesh is remote, her chances of returning to Kolkata in the milieu of her linguistic community of Bengalis are dim. This, despite her decision to delete three 'objectionable' pages from her autobiography Dwikhandita. For the first time in the country, a famous woman writer has been disgraced due to vote-bank politics. In doing so, pseudo-secularist Union and State Governments have suavely brushed aside the Indian philosophy of "atithi dewo bhawa" (a guest is godly). This is a dishonour to the Indian culture as well.

A woman is being disrespected by two 'secular' fundamentalist Governments that have, on another front, failed to deport Bangladeshi infiltrators who pose a serious threat to national security. Come election, these political parties shamelessly compete with each other for a bigger share of the illegal immigrants' vote-bank pie.

A defenceless woman, who showed rare courage to speak out against growing Islamic fundamentalism, has come in the way of the UPA and Left Front Government's greed for votes.
----------------------------------- More below: ---------------------------------------
Taslima's 'house arrest' a national shame: BJP
Pioneer Daily

The BJP on Friday said the "shocking news" of the house arrest of noted writer Taslima Nasreen was a matter of shame for the UPA Government, especially in a country that proudly propounds the age-old philosophy of Athithi Devo Bhava.

Party spokesman Prakash Javadekar said it was even more shocking that for the sake of their political survival and acting completely under pressure from the CPI(M), the Central Government had gone ahead and conveyed to Taslima that she cannot go back to Kolkata, a city that she loves.

"This has thrown up an extremely relevant and important question as to how a victim of persecution is being treated by a civilised State in which the victim has sought refuge. Taslima is a victim of religious persecution in Bangladesh. She is now a refugee in India," Javadekar added.
Criticising the UPA and the CPI(M) for their dismal display of conduct in Taslima episode, Javadekar maintained it clearly established their complete submission to Islamic fundamentalists. He demanded freedom of movement, safety and just treatment to Taslima, as also to allow her to follow her wishes.

On CPI(M)'s attack on the party in its mouthpiece People's Democracy, the BJP said it was a sign of the growing insecurity amongst its leadership and cadre. "They have falsely charged the BJP with going back to basics of aggressive communal polaralisation. This precisely reflects the complete insecurity and frustration of the CPI(M), in face of the growing popularity of the BJP," Javdekar claimed.

Amused at Prime Minister's admission that Left-wing extremism was growing, the BJP said it was the Congress politics, which was responsible for proliferation of Maoist activities.
The BJP demanded that instead of mere statements, the Union Government must display the resolve and follow it up with a specific action plan to conclusively combat and defeat Maoism across the country.

Meanwhile, a day after the Government told Taslima Nasreen that she could either continue to stay in the national Capital confined or leave the country, the controversial Bangladeshi writer appealed to the Government to "change its mind". Nasreen, who is living amid tight security in a safe house here, told NDTV: "I appeal to the Government to change its mind." She also asserted that she would leave India if she is stopped from returning to Kolkata, which she considers her home, adds IANS.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

** CBI exposes Nandigram

CBI exposes truth about Nandigram
Daily Pioneer
Edit Desk

It is unfortunate that the investigations into the violence of March 14, 2007 at Nandigram in West Bengal have now been brought under a cloud of controversy.

The report on the March massacre at Nandigram submitted by the CBI to the Calcutta High Court is disturbing for it has put a question mark on the fairness of the police investigation, such as it was, ordered by the Left Front Government, as also on the establishment of peace -- as claimed by the Marxist regime -- in this district.

If the facts of the CBI report are true, and there is no reason to doubt them, then it would appear that the CPI(M) is attempting a cover-up of the ghastly killing of 14 innocent people -- claimed to have been shot dead by the police but in all probability victims of Marxist cadre on the rampage -- by intimidating witnesses.

The State Government should take note of these charges and act, for such intimidation is not tolerable. If it has any respect for the rule of law, the Government must intervene immediately to put an end to the reign of fear that prevails in the villages of Nandigram.

A judicially founded inquiry cannot be affected by extraneous considerations nor must it give the appearance of being so affected. As for the events of March 14, it will be recalled that the police had claimed that these deaths occurred when they tried to enter Nandigram and were "attacked" by thousands of villagers.

The CBI investigation has so far recorded the contention of the villagers that the police resorted to firing without giving them a chance to disperse. They have also denied that they resorted to violence against the police. The CBI's initial report submitted to the court provides only a glimpse of the true story of Nandigram. Its final report -- the agency has been given two more months by the court to conclude its investigations -- would reveal the full contours of Marxist barbarity. Although the report is meant for the court, public interest demands that it should not be kept under wraps.

That the CPI(M) would try to cover up the crimes committed by its cadre on March 14 -- as also in end-October and early-November -- was only to be expected. The State police, which has been thoroughly politicised by the Left Front Government and is no more than an extension counter of the ruling party, could not have acted otherwise.

If it had conducted a fair inquiry into the events leading up to March 14, then the Government would have been severely embarrassed and the CPI(M) exposed. Hence, a web of lies and deceit was spun to foist the impression that casualties were not as high as was claimed by the victims and the media. Those lies now lie in tatters: The CBI inquiry shows many more people were wounded than was admitted by the Government. For all we know, more than 14 people died that day.

** Pimps on prowl, minors on sale

Nation's shame: Pimps on prowl, minors on sale
Siddhartha Gautam / CNN-IBN

New Delhi: From the dingy alleys of national capital to the bylanes of Kolkata’s red-light district, underage prostitution and child trafficking rackets are thriving and pimps are making a quick buck at the expense of minor girls.

While Delhi is fast gaining the dubious distinction as a hub of underage prostitution racket, the trail begins in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Nepal.
Minor girls are being pimped as "virgins" for huge prices to customers from across India and while the experts say the alarming trend is common to most metro cities, Delhi's reputation seems to have taken the severest beating.

A CNN-IBN Special Investigation Team went undercover, posing as customers, traveled with pimps from Delhi to Kolkata and caught child traffickers putting young minor girls on sale without a care for the law.

The journey began in Delhi.

Delhi: Not a virgin territory
The first girl on offer was Payal (name changed), a underage girl being touted by a pimp called Mukesh at a shop in south Delhi. Mukesh regularly “supplies” underage, virgin girls to customers in Delhi.

Their “going rates” are on his fingertips. Given below is an excerpt from a conversation CNN-IBN had with Mukesh.

Mukesh: Uska bahut mota paisa lagega. (Payal will be very expensive)
CNN-IBN: Kitna lagega? (How much?)

Mukesh: Kam se kam 80-90 hazar rupay lagega. (At least Rs 80,000 to Rs 90,000.)
A week later, Rahul, Mukesh's right hand man got Payal to meet the SIT team again and repeatedly assured that she was a minor.

Rahul: (I assure you she is young, but you should be the only one having intercourse with her, otherwise there’ll be trouble and I will be in trouble.)
CNN-IBN: Khoon nikelaga? (Will she bleed?)

Rahul: Haan. Nahi niklega toh paisey ley jao. Rs 1000 de dena. (Yes. She will. If she does not, you’ll get your money back. Just pay us Rs 1,000 in that case.)
Kolkata: A naked truth emerges

To see how deep the rot ran, the SIT asked Mukesh and Rahul to introduce them to more underage girls in a group.

An excerpt from the conversation:
CNN-IBN: Mujhe 5 ya 6 ek saath dikhao! Ek jagah par dekh saku jahan main. (Show me five or six girls together)

CNN-IBN (Reporter 2 to pimps): Choose karne ke liye bol raha hai bhai. (He wants to choose).
Mukesh: Dekho ye alag-alag hoti hai kahi-kahi jagah par, aur hame dhund ke lana parte hai. (They meet different clients at different places, we need to look for them)

The SIT insisted it needed to see more girls and wanted their pictures as well. Rahul then asked the team to travel with him to Kolkata.

At the New Delhi Railway station, Rahul introduced the undercover team to one Priyanca and a child he claimed was his son.

Rahul even allowed the team to shoot him on a handycam and just before reaching Kolkata, demanded an advance.

Rahul: Main bolta hu Rs 5,000 abhi de ke rakh. Baad ka jo kharcha hoga dekh lenge. (Give me Rs 5,000 right away. We’ll deal with the other expenses later.)

CNN-IBN: Zyada se zyada Rs 3,000 hai. Samjha kar. (I have just Rs 3,000 right now)
Near Kolkata's Sealdah Railway Station, Priyanca said she could help the team film some underage girls.

“Mera baat suno. Dono kaam ek sath karna hai, thik hai? Tum log jaoge, dekhoge, mai razi kar saku usko, thik hai na? Jo paisa bol rahe ho dedunga tumhare samne, lenge toh thik hai aur nahi to mera koi galti nahi hai. Mere baas mai jitna hoga mai karungi aap log ke liye. (Listen to me, both of you work together okay? Whatever money you are speaking of, just offer that. You can film them. I’ll try my best to help you both.)” she said.

Rahul took the team to Sonagachi, India's biggest red-light area, home to over 10,000 sex workers. The group entered a house and were greeted by a man who said he was the owner. The team switched on the handycam and a brutal parade began.

The girls were made to introduce themselves, forced smiles in place. Some of them looked about 16 but many were not even 12 years old.

Most of the underage girls the team met in Kolkata were trafficked from Bihar, Jharkhand and Nepal and were then put on trains to Delhi and forced into flesh trade.

During the investigation, the SIT found there was a huge demand for underage girls in metros like Delhi. According to figures released by Government of India, 53 per cent of India's children are sexually abused at least once. A UN report too claims it's child prostitution is $32-bn industry.

CEO of NGO Naz Foundation, Anjali Gopalan explains the disturbing trend. “Minor girls are being increasingly pushed into the flesh market because many men think they will be safe from being infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases,” she says.

That’s not all. With girl children fetching up to Rs 1 lakh, traffickers like Rahul and Mukesh admitted family members were often prepared to push their girls into the flesh trade.
Clearly, it’s the money that drives the perverse virgin prostitute racket, pushing thousands of minor girls into sexual slavery.

(With Ritwik Deo and Manmohan Gupta) url:

Thursday, December 6, 2007

** Islam’s Moderates

Islam’s Silent Moderates:NY Times
December 7, 2007

The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with 100 stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. (Koran 24:2)

IN the last few weeks, in three widely publicized episodes, we have seen Islamic justice enacted in ways that should make Muslim moderates rise up in horror.

A 20-year-old woman from Qatif, Saudi Arabia, reported that she had been abducted by several men and repeatedly raped. But judges found the victim herself to be guilty. Her crime is called “mingling”: when she was abducted, she was in a car with a man not related to her by blood or marriage, and in Saudi Arabia, that is illegal.

Last month, she was sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes with a bamboo cane.
Two hundred lashes are enough to kill a strong man. Women usually receive no more than 30 lashes at a time, which means that for seven weeks the “girl from Qatif,” as she’s usually described in news articles, will dread her next session with Islamic justice. When she is released, her life will certainly never return to normal: already there have been reports that her brother has tried to kill her because her “crime” has tarnished her family’s honor.

We also saw Islamic justice in action in Sudan, when a 54-year-old British teacher named Gillian Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in jail before the government pardoned her this week; she could have faced 40 lashes.

When she began a reading project with her class involving a teddy bear, Ms. Gibbons suggested the children choose a name for it. They chose Muhammad; she let them do it. This was deemed to be blasphemy.

Then there’s Taslima Nasreen, the 45-year-old Bangladeshi writer who bravely defends women’s rights in the Muslim world. Forced to flee Bangladesh, she has been living in India. But Muslim groups there want her expelled, and one has offered 500,000 rupees for her head.

In August she was assaulted by Muslim militants in Hyderabad, and in recent weeks she has had to leave Calcutta and then Rajasthan. Taslima Nasreen’s visa expires next year, and she fears she will not be allowed to live in India again.

It is often said that Islam has been “hijacked” by a small extremist group of radical fundamentalists.

The vast majority of Muslims are said to be moderates.
But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these?

How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say, in the case of the girl from Qatif, that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal and bigoted — and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?

Usually, Muslim groups like the Organization of the Islamic Conference are quick to defend any affront to the image of Islam. The organization, which represents 57 Muslim states, sent four ambassadors to the leader of my political party in the Netherlands asking him to expel me from Parliament after I gave a newspaper interview in 2003 noting that by Western standards some of the Prophet Muhammad’s behavior would be unconscionable. A few years later, Muslim ambassadors to Denmark protested the cartoons of Muhammad and demanded that their perpetrators be prosecuted.

But while the incidents in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and India have done more to damage the image of Islamic justice than a dozen cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the organizations that lined up to protest the hideous Danish offense to Islam are quiet now.

I wish there were more Islamic moderates. For example, I would welcome some guidance from that famous Muslim theologian of moderation, Tariq Ramadan.

But when there is true suffering, real cruelty in the name of Islam, we hear, first, denial from all these organizations that are so concerned about Islam’s image. We hear that violence is not in the Koran, that Islam means peace, that this is a hijacking by extremists and a smear campaign and so on. But the evidence mounts up.

Islamic justice is a proud institution, one to which more than a billion people subscribe, at least in theory, and in the heart of the Islamic world it is the law of the land. But take a look at the verse above: more compelling even than the order to flog adulterers is the command that the believer show no compassion. It is this order to choose Allah above his sense of conscience and compassion that imprisons the Muslim in a mindset that is archaic and extreme.

If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from Qatif, then what exactly makes them so moderate?

When a “moderate” Muslim’s sense of compassion and conscience collides with matters prescribed by Allah, he should choose compassion. Unless that happens much more widely, a moderate Islam will remain wishful thinking.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former member of the Dutch Parliament and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of “Infidel.”

Related stories below:
Her interview on Swedish TV
Problem with Censorship
Call for Reform

Sunday, December 2, 2007

** India-Russia ties testy

India-Russia ties enter testy waters
Pioneer News

No renegotiation of Gorshkov's price: Navy Chief

Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta on Monday ruled out renegotiation with Russia for the price of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and said delays would make India think about its defence relations with its longstanding partner. He, however, rejected opting out of the $1.5 billion deal signed in 2004.

The tough posturing by the Naval Chief came in the wake of Russia recently asking for $2.7 billion for the carrier renamed INS Vikramaditya, instead of the contracted price of $1.5 billion. The ship, now undergoing major refurbishment in Russia according to the Indian specifications, was supposed to be delivered to the Navy in 2008 and now it seemed the deadline could be extended by another two years.
Taken aback by the Russian proposal, the Ministry of Defence took the matter seriously and decided to take up the issue at high level and a Russian delegation was expected to land here later this week. Officials clarified that there was no provision for increasing the price of the deal in the original agreement.
The strategic and defence ties between the two countries, having stood the test of time, were now getting into rough weather with Russia adopting a rather business-like approach and no longer offering "friendly prices" to India.
This was true for defence as the three services had more than 70 per cent inventory of Russian origin. Coupled with this factor, the recent "cold reception" to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Moscow was a pointer towards the relationship getting stretched.
Addressing a news conference here on the eve of the Navy Day, Mehta spoke at length about the Gorshkov deal and expressed concern over dilly-dallying by Russia. He went on to say such a delay would make India ponder over "where our defence relations are going to" and made it clear that there could be no renegotiation on the price of the carrier.
"We have paid more than $400 million for the carrier and we own it now," the Naval Chief said. "I have told the Government that the Navy's line is that we should not talk on renegotiating the price for the carrier," he said but ruled out any possibility of opting out of the deal.
As per the inter-Governmental contract, Russia was to deliver the carrier by August 2008. But now, Moscow wants revision of the price to a whopping $2.7 billion, citing major cable laying work of 2,400 km on the carrier.
"When we signed the deal, it was fixed-price contract, taking into account all eventualities of retrofitting. The retrofitting process will take at least two years. We have to see where our relations are going to with Moscow," said Mehta, who is also Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee.
"We should not pay anything more than what we have committed in the original contract," the Navy Chief said. Holding Russia responsible for delay in the delivery of the carrier, he blamed the Russian decision to divert a large number of qualified manpower to building its own new generation nuclear submarines.
"It was Gorshkov project which helped Russian shipyards provide jobs when their economy was down. With our money, there has been lot of prosperity in the (Russian) region," the Navy chief said.
"But now, sudden oil boom has brought about a lot of prosperity, enabling the Russians to launch new warships and submarines, diverting the workforce," he added. Mehta, however, reassured the nation that notwithstanding the delay, the Navy would have two carrier-borne groups operational in Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea by 2015.
Elaborating upon the modernisation and acquisition plans of the force, he said the Navy had floated international tenders for purchase of eight long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft. The planes were likely to join service within four years after identification of the vendor, Mehta said.
He said the Navy was also on course to float another Request for Proposals (RFP) for acquiring a Medium Range Maritime reconnaissance aircraft. About the Navy proposal to acquire Rotary-based Unmanned Aerial Vehicle NR-UAV, Mehta said this could be an indigenous project with the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) building the helicopter and buying sensors and other equipment from abroad.
He also said the Navy was finalising the RFP to buy medium range anti-submarine helicopters to replace the ageing Sea-King helicopters.