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Iran and the hijab

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By Rafia Zakaria

SHE was a Kurdish woman who had been visiting relatives in the Iranian capital Tehran. Mahsa Amini (who was also called Jina) was out and about in the city when she was detained by the morality police for not wearing the hijab according to Iranian law. No one knows what happened in the time she was brought to the centre where the authorities impart ‘education’ about the proper hijab. The next time Amini’s family saw her she was dead.

A photo circulating on the internet showed the 22-year-old woman before the detention; another showed her hooked up to various tubes, blood oozing from her ear. Her body appears lifeless even in the photo. Reportedly, a woman who had also been detained said that Amini complained she had been hit by the police. The state released a short CCTV clip which purportedly shows Amini collapsing.In the meantime, a wave of protests has erupted in Iran.

The protests that began in Tehran have spread to cities and towns in most Iranian provinces. Led largely by young people they have included a wide variety of social classes and ethnicities. There are a number of issues that have caused the festering discontent in Iran — not least the horrendous condition of the Iranian economy, that has faced international sanctions for years, and corruption in the bureaucracy.Also enervating for many have been examples of how unapologetic some Iranian leaders are in indulging their nepotistic tendencies.

It is all of these factors that form the seething background for the current protests. At its heart lies the struggle over the hijab — over which Mahsa Amini was arrested and likely killed in custody. Iran’s ruling clergy considers the hijab to be a requirement for all Muslim women.It is a convenient belief because in the era when politics from the United States to everywhere else has become mostly about performance, imposing the hijab also makes for excellent political theatre. Just like the reinstated Afghan Taliban in Kabul, Iran’s conservative circles can look around at the women present in the public spaces of their country and get an instant power high about their own might.

Similarly, hungry for power highs, Islamophobic politicians from parties such as Marine le Pen’s National Rally in France and Narendra Modi’s BJP in India want to forbid the wearing of the headscarf and appeal to an ignorant and self-serving version of secularism or Hindutva supremacy.No state, whether it is the Iranian or the Saudi, the French or the Indian, has the right to tell women what to wear.The truth is far simpler: no state, whether it is the Iranian or the Saudi, the French or the Indian, or any other, has the right to tell women what to wear.

At its heart, the struggle over the hijab shows just how eager male-dominated state machineries are to use their power to force women to do one thing or another. In some countries, power is signalled by forcing women to wear the hijab, in others to force them to take it off. In either case, the idea is that women can be ordered to do this or that.

This is why it is so heartening to see Iranian women leading these protests. Many have cut off their hair or burned their headscarves even as the Iranian authorities use deadly force to quell their convenings. Having borne the brunt of the Iranian state’s denegration and being treated as subhuman, dragged into vans and detained by an increasingly repressive morality police at the slightest ‘provocation’, they have had enough. So they have been marching, even though the danger to their lives and the overall cost is huge.The state had recently announced that at least 41 protesters and police had been killed but the number is likely to be much higher as Iran has vowed to “deal decisively” with the protesters.

Here in Pakistan, women know a few things about repression and patriarchal control. One video from the streets of Tehran shows a middle-aged, bearded man on a motorbike almost pushing his face through the window of an adjacent car as he yells and screams at the women inside for their improper hijab. Raining abuses on them and trying to intimidate them, he does not stop until traffic around them forces him to move. Any Pakistani woman who can drive or who has spent any time on the streets would not be surprised at a similar move.

In the past decade, drivers, motorcyclists, grocery shop clerks, restaurant owners, really anyone at all in the public realm, have similarly become an expert in how Pakistani women should and should not be dressed. In these cases, it is always the women who have to be defensive because angry men have all the rights in Pakistan. ‘Mera jism meri marzi’ is at the centre of the Pakistan’s women’s movement, and is being reflected in Iran.This is just why Pakistani women have an important role to play as allies in Iranian women’s struggle against bodily control by the state.

Even though Western feminists in white-majority countries are eager to jump in, Iranian women are rightly rebuffing those offers, because they taint what is a local and grassroots struggle in a country where half the population is just fed up of the repressive status quo. When white and Western feminists get involved it is not about the struggle but the rescue, and how Iranian or Pakistani or Somalian women are being ‘saved’ by the ‘real’ feminists who are also the white feminists.Even though the internet has been blocked in many parts of Iran, many tweets, pictures and slogans, are still emerging through those with VPN servers. Pakistani feminists must make it their business to amplify the voices of Iranian women who are fighting and protesting and showing the world what true feminist courage actually means.

(The Dawn/ANN)
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.



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R. Sampanthan: ‘We cannot go on like this’

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By R.K. RADHAKRISHNAN

Member of Parliament Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, who has kept together a diverse coalition of Tamil political parties under the umbrella of the Tamil National Alliance since 2001, has witnessed many phases of the struggle since Sri Lanka became an independent country in 1948. Now 89 and largely confined to his official residence in one of Colombo’s well-guarded areas, Sampanthan still pins his hope on India and the international community to encourage Sri Lanka to arrive at an amicable solution to the issue of the Tamils’ hopes and aspirations.

In a rare interview, Sampanthan, who had the distinction of being the Leader of the Opposition in the Sri Lankan Parliament from 2015 to 2018, outlines what the priorities of the government should be. Excerpts:

Q: What is your assessment of the aragalaya (struggle in Sinhalese)? I see that all those who were in power are back in Sri Lanka and thriving.

A:The aragalaya was successful in the sense that they were able to make the main wrongdoer realise that he could not continue in office [President Gotabaya Rajapaksa]. Unfortunately, Ranil [Wickremesinghe], for his own personal reasons, supported the government. And by virtue of this support he was able to become Prime Minister. Now, he is the President. He became President with the support of those whom he opposed [earlier].

The aragalaya was partly successful, and the main offender, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was compelled to resign. Now the question is do we have a government? Which is the government? Who is supporting whom? What is their stand on the economy? No one knows. It is all very confusing. I don’t know what policies they are pursuing. [Wickremesinghe is the lone member of his United National Party in Parliament. He survives with the support of MPs of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), Rajapaksa’s party].

As of now, what is inevitable and what should happen is there should be general elections. The people should be asked to decide who should be given the mandate to rule.

Q: I think President Ranil Wickremesinghe is following the same policies as the SLPP.

A:The credibility of Mahinda Rajapaksa [former Prime Minister], Gotabaya Rajapaksa [former President], and Basil Rajapaksa [former Finance Minister] were seriously questioned. They were the ones ruling the country. Mahinda Rajapaksa had to go into hiding in Trincomallee [at a naval base] at the peak of the aragalaya. The time has come for the people to be given the opportunity to decide who should govern this country because this [the current state of SLPP controlling despite people wanting the party out of power] should not continue. It will only get worse.

I don’t think the economic debacle is being tackled in any sensible way. They [the government] had gone to the IMF for a bailout. So far, the IMF has said nothing. This is of great concern.

Q: So you think that the only solution is going back to the people?

A: I really don’t know how they continued because the whole country was against them. It was the peak of opposition to any government. I don’t know why it [ aragalaya] did not continue [after Wickremesinghe took charge as President]…. The people wanted this government to go. Hence, they should go back to the people for a mandate.

Q: A negotiated settlement to Tamil political aspirations is the dream that is fast turning into a mirage. We do not see any gains for the Tamils. In fact, they are losing out because of demographic and cultural changes in the north and the east. Tamil political parties have not been able to make much headway.

A: The resolution of the Tamil national question has been a big issue since [Sri Lanka’s] independence. The Tamil people supported independence. They were compelled to change their stand after the citizenship law and the resettling of Sinhalese in large numbers in the east and the north. This changed the demographic composition in those areas.

The Tamil people demanded autonomy and devolution of power in those areas. This was the basis of the [1957] Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact and the [1987] Indo-Sri Lankan accord. Both contained provisions on identity of the Tamil people, the territory, and arrangements with regard to self-determination, or the right to determine their own destiny. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan government breached the agreements.

As far as Sinhala politicians are concerned, whichever political party they belong to, they are primarily concerned about gaining the support of the Sinhala people on the basis of an anti-Tamil stand. As long as this continues, nothing can be done. Sri Lanka is party to the international covenant on civil and political rights, and to the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. Both covenants give the people the right to self-determination.

We don’t want the country to be broken in any way; we stand for an undivided Sri Lanka. At the same time, we cannot go on like this. We have no alternative but to approach the international community, which is well aware of the issue. There should be some arrangement regarding the north and the east. It is the duty of the international community, including India, the US, and the UK, to take the lead and push for an arrangement in the north and the east.

The Sri Lankan government is not delivering on the political question. On one side, the Sinhala population in the north and the east is being increased by resettlement, and on the other side, the Tamils are fleeing because of the violence and the unstable political situation. If this goes on, the people will be unable to maintain their identity, self-respect, and even their dignity. The international community should not permit that. It will set a bad example to the world. If they want peace in the region, and peace in this country, this problem must be resolved. (The Frontline)

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Path to disaster

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Either we as a world have failed our human expectations to lead a normal life of peace and progress, or our leaders are nowhere close to offering that satisfactorily. Interestingly, war and destruction are not new phenomena to our civilization or to the world. We have been fighting wars in one way or the other. It seems we have been unable to evolve the right way to live with lasting peace.

The longer the Russia-Ukraine war goes on, the further hope of peace and recovery is pushed away. After all, months have passed, and everyday destruction and destitution have increased, not only in the war zones but beyond.

BY PRAVESH JAIN

It is a new-age world, intensely interconnected and interdependent like never before. What happens locally may soon spread globally. The longer the Russia-Ukraine war goes on, the further hope of peace and recovery is pushed away. After all, months have passed, and everyday destruction and destitution have increased, not only in the war zones but beyond.

The possibility of ending the war is not high. Today, the situation is such that everyone in the world is anxious about the morrow. The war is not just making the two warring nations bleed every day in many ways, it has impacted many other nations.

Europe is anxious to save itself from a hard winter, many others are concerned about how to revive their economies that the war has ravaged without visiting their borders. Thousands are dying, millions have become homeless, many innocents have gone to the grave for no fault of theirs, and many more cannot come out of closed doors in the war-impacted zones.

Inflation is growing exponentially, businesses are shaky, and the high hopes of a post-Covid boom have given way to terrible gloom. With rising unemployment, the youth are feeling hopeless. The scale of poverty is set to rise phenomenally; nations and governments around the globe are clamoring for solutions that are simply not there.

But amidst all this, the rising voices of war and revenge are filling the air and more plans are being hatched to intensify the war. For whatever reasons, one thing is conclusive.

Either we as a world have failed our human expectations to lead a normal life of peace and progress, or our leaders are nowhere close to offering that satisfactorily. Interestingly, war and destruction are not new phenomena to our civilization or to the world. We have been fighting wars in one way or the other. It seems we have been unable to evolve the right way to live with lasting peace.

Wars haven’t left us, and we have not stopped warring. It has been and is still around as a monstrous reality, teaching us to justify it as a necessary evil. But the evil is growing bigger by the day, and we remain unmindful of its perils. Time and again, we promise ourselves that we will not embark on wars again, but soon we seem to forget and get embroiled in them. What could the reasons behind this madness, or if I can say self-deceit, be?

After every war, we think and talk of peace. Then the very essence of our pledges evaporates into thin air. Are we thick-skinned, hypocritical, liars, unmindful, or simply incapable of keeping the promises that we make to ourselves?

This demands deep introspection. With the advent of pacifism in the late 19th and early 20th century, it felt like the world would embrace peace and harmony over violence. Then the First World War happened. The optimism at the start of the century was gone. There was widespread destruction, millions lost their lives, and several empires were reduced to rubble.

When the war ended, political leaders of powerful nations agreed on several treaties to ensure lasting peace and the world breathed a sigh of relief. That relief, however, was short-lived. Twenty years later a bigger war broke out. The Second World War was uglier and more destructive in all respects. It was the deadliest conflict in the history of human civilization, leading to a loss of around 80 million lives with several more being brutally affected.

Nobody wanted a third world war. So, nations sat down and decided to form a global body that would work towards ensuring world peace, and the United Nations was formed. Cut to a little less than a century later, and you will agree that the UN has become nothing but a symbolic organization that serves no practical purpose.

Several nations are in armed conflict with each other, and tensions are building across an increasing number of borders. It is as if war has been our way of life. This is not to say that devastating tactics are only used by the United States. Russia too uses these often, although only half as often as the US.

That may be not because of a lack of a will for supremacy, but because of the inability to afford the risks and resources so effortlessly. China, seeking to become the dominant power in the East and later the world, has also employed this methodology occasionally. And the intent is unfolding more vigorously along with matching actions. The question arises: why does the global leadership in general and the US in particular use mean to escalate conflict rather than defuse it?

Hasn’t anyone learned a lesson from the major world wars and their aftermaths? Nuclear conflict is a looming possibility, and everyone knows there will most probably be no human civilization left to tell the tales of that war.

On global forums, all nations repeatedly warn others to avoid nuclear war, but ground reality proves otherwise, as these same nations openly or secretly acquire nuclear weapons. That is the game plan, isn’t it While big nations churn profits from war, war-ravaged nations suffer brutal damage.

Aside from the destruction of their economies, the humanitarian losses are huge. Millions lose livelihoods if not their lives, families are displaced and the after-effects last for several generations. And this is when two nations clash across borders.

With the number of provocative tactics being applied by the USA around the world and Russia, China, and North Korea, adopting an eye-for-an-eye attitude in response, a third world war seems an increasingly likely possibility. To a neutral observer, this might seem childish, or even laughable. But there is nothing laughable about war, especially in modern times when almost every powerful nation is equipped with nuclear armaments.

What is frustrating is that world leaders do not recognize this. Or if they do, they don’t do enough to emphasize the point. Do our leaders ever realize that they are chosen by the people to lead them to progress and peace, not death and destruction? Are our leaders not accountable for their karma?

The karmic theory has its own bona-fide, unfailing principles. As you sow, so shall you reap. Often, I wonder what will happen to our leaders who flaunt their strength and arrogance and unleash acts of hegemony, rather than ensuring harmony for humanity to live in peace. Do they have no fear? Do they think that their power is eternal? Or are they simply not concerned about all this, blindly driven by their own misplaced missions?

Many questions arise in both mind and soul when one thinks of these destructive leaders. In many countries, the financial systems are fast collapsing and soon many banks may shut down. The world with its aspirations for better standards of living has been pushed a decade back. Every thinking human must have apprehensions about a dark future. (The Statesman/ANN)

(The writer is Chairman and Managing Trustee, Paras Foundation and can be reached at praveshjain@parasdyes.com)

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Twin personas; reaction long after the action

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I am pleasantly surprised and marvel too most times I read the editorial in The Island. Why? Because they are so very apt on the most current issue in the land. The editor has the clever knack of hitting the nail right on the head and is fearless even when the nail represents a VVIP.

Friday 25 November had the sharp, truth writing editor commenting on President Ranil W and his stunning metamorphosis from a peace promoting, democracy advocating politician to a persona that he himself says is Hitler like. And as the editor has written, one wondered if he and his immediate predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had swapped bodies, for the former sounded just like the latter. Gota was expected to be a dictator; a monk called out to him to be Sri Lanka’s Hitler while his brother Basil bracketed him with the ‘Terminator’.

Ranil seems to hear cries for protection of human rights as a cover for violent protests. Gota, though an army man and later as a civilian, cosseted the army at great cost to the exchequer, did not threaten to bring the army out to quell protests. It was done once or twice: e. g at Rathupaswela and at an FTZ. These orders were not proven to be directly emanating from him nor directly connected to him. However, peace proclaiming Wickremesinghe with his new surname added on is outdoing the former army officer. He maintains the PTA and now says (probably in all truth and belief – scarce characteristics of politicians) that he will call out the army to quell protests, which have been and will be, mostly peaceful.

What this woman, a former teacher and counselor, opines with common sense and intuition is that he is going about it all wrong. He is inciting protest and lawlessness, even violence, since the youth of the country, with others, are utterly frustrated, angered, troubled and volcanic – waiting to erupt and so are the sideline catalysts: the terrorism promoting core politicized protesters of the IUSF, FSP and certain JVPers. Ranil should have been wiser and less outreaching, and negotiated with leaders of the groups mentioned, including trouble rousers like Stalin, and convinced them of the dire state the country is in. Negotiating with die-hard protesters may not be his cuppa; he shies away from direct contact with the hoi polloi. But talk to them he must. He should include persons like Guv CB to the negotiating table since Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe is one of the very few, if not the only high-up, that all respect. The rabble-rousers should be convinced, even threatened privately, that at this juncture what the country needs and the IMF promotes is encouraging money making projects, the surest and largest-inflow-of dollars earning tourism to resume and continue with peace prevailing in the country. With so many countries with so much to offer, why should tourists visit a near warring Sri Lanka? The reality of course is that this dot of an island has most to offer the tourist as pronounced by even Lonely Planet guides.

However, as is always the case, the country pleases but men in it are vile and utterly stupid. The protestors do not realize their protests will not change things immediately. But they most certainly cost the country much. These fire breathing, loud mouthed protestors and so-called protectors of peace and human rights are at present the principal harmers of the land.If after sincere one-to-one negotiation, some remain recalcitrant, then the police should be called in to deal with them.

Bang shut empty stable door

Mentioned many times before by Cass and other writers, Sri Lankans in general suffer short memories: will vilify a person today and praise him tomorrow not only because they are turncoats but because the people have forgotten and of course forgiven yesterday’s sins of leaders. Another characteristic is shutting the stable door once the horse has bolted. The preliminaries of the flight of the horse are seen but no alarm is raised. Once the horse has bolted; then come forth loud hues and cries of damage done.This last character trait of the Sinhala race mostly, was exhibited and exposed in the news telecast on MTV 1 Channel on Sunday November 27.

Villagers of a certain forest area, with voices raised women to the forefront, confronted a man who was in a new built, multi roomed hut-like construction. He seemed settled down. The crowd that walked across a vast area of bare land accused that the forest that covered this area had been illegally decimated. They demanded evidence of his right to settle down there. He said the police and other officials had cleared him. Trespassing was not even mentioned. Cass’ wonder at this loud fracas was why the fuss now with land bare and a house built when the villagers surely heard if not saw trees being felled en masse. Why had they not informed authorities then? Why wait for the deforestation and illegal building to be completed before protesting? Had they been waiting all these past months for the TV cameras to arrive to act angry and national minded?

It was suspected, if not known for sure, that vociferous Diana Gamage was a dual citizenship holder or maybe even a citizen of another country visiting her home turf. She was up front for long and since being made a State Minister by Prez Wickremasinghe, his hand guided by a crow pulling strings from even thousands of miles to the west, became prominently vociferous with forex earning projects foundationed on fun and good times. She proposed the growing of ganja plants; creating a Disney theme park; making Mannar an international gambling den and what else Cass fails to recall. Now firmly in Parliament as an elected member she faces the public rising up and declaring she is not eligible to hold a Parliamentary seat since the passage of A21 or 22. The mare had bolted to the green pastures by the Diyawanne and now people are a-rising to close the door she galloped through. Confine her at home with no powers and privileges or deport her to turf in her adopted country?

Bandula Gunawardena, holding the portfolio of Minister of Trade, held forth on the subject he thinks he is omniscient in. He claims economics as his forte of intellectual knowledge; certification of this fact being he was a tuition master in the subject. He refers to himself as Doctor Bandula G; the doctorate coming to him from where we know not. In a pontification in Parliament on the Sunday, he waxed eloquent on mismanagement of the Central Bank and trotted out figures in billions and decimals thereof of printed money. He blamed past CB persons. Why was this economist considering himself on par with Amartya Sen, Paul Krugman and Maynard Keynes, silent then when Nivaard Cabral kept the printing machines in the CB turning day and night churning out 5000 rupee notes? (PS. Cass wonders very much whether he has heard of Krugman and knows Keynes was one of the Bloomsbury Group. Cass can wager her life that he does not know who this group was).

Speaking of this Mr Cabral, he was recently seen on TV at a press interview passing the buck adroitly and proclaiming he was obeying orders to print money. Was he a robot and of whom?

Short take

A very good move was mooted recently in Parliament and will soon be law. Cass refers to the stricture that university students will be allowed one extra year after their graduating date whether they fail the final exam and wish to repeat or when they dodge sitting the final exam. Here again the closing of the loophole after damage is done. Firebrand Wasantha is said to have been in the University of Sri Jayawardenapura for eight solid years. Wasn’t this truancy of sitting the finals seen earlier? Authorities too scared to report the fact; saving their scalps by ignoring anomalies. just as they turn blind eyes to filthy and dangerous ragging in universities?

This land of ours which is truly incomparable, is derogatively a land like no other when speaking of it with tongue in cheek.

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