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Dousing imagined conflagrations

| | in Oped

Given its woeful record of standing by the oppressed, it’s rather impertinent of the US to issue a report on religious freedom across the globe, that is used to browbeat other nations. Pretending to put out fires in other lands, when one's own fields are ablaze, isn’t a good idea

In his classic study, Open Veins of Latin America, a lament of the civilisational scale of Latin America’s exploitation at the hands of Western powers — in an earlier age by the gold hunting, Cross displaying and bayonet wielding Conquistadors and in the present by US Marines and proxy conglomerates of the US Administration — Eduardo Galeano, one of the literary giants of the region, describes the desiccation of a continent, a people and a whole civilisation.

“Our wealth” wrote Galeano “has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others… in the colonial and neocolonial alchemy, gold changes into scrap and food into poison.” Pointing at US efforts to forcibly limit Latin America’s population growth — incidentally a region with “no real surplus of people” — to “kill guerrilleros in the womb”, Galeano described how “various US missions have sterilised thousands of women in Amazonia, although it is the least populated habitable zone on our planet.” 

In the foreword to the same book, celebrated Chilean novelist Isabel Allende, while describing the exploitation and oppression of Latin America by US interventionism, spoke of how the overthrow of Chilean President Salvadore Allende, in an externally manipulated coup in 1973, “ended a century of democratic tradition in Chile and started the long reign of Augusto Pinochet.”

Since Pinochet served well the US in controlling, what Henry Kissinger infamously referred to as, its “backyard”, his prolonged human rights abuses, crimes against humanity, terrorisation of minorities and dissenters was overlooked, forgiven or simply disowned. Pinochet and the likes survived and flourished with impunity in the “backyard” of one of the greatest sentinel states of democratic humanity, ravaging and wracking apart the socio-cultural and economic fabrics of one of the richest and most colourful continents on earth with a deep civilisational past.

“Similar coups followed in other countries”, wrote Allende, “and soon half the continent’s population was living in terror. This was a strategy designed in Washington and imposed upon the Latin American people… Repression was organised on a large scale, torture, concentration camps, censorship, imprisonment without trial, and summary executions became common practices. Thousands of people ‘disappeared’, masses of exiles and refugees left their countries running for their lives.”

Around the same period, two years before Allende’s ouster, the Indian sub-continent was rocked by the War for Bangladesh’s liberation. Even here the US silently abetted the Pakistani Army’s genocide in East Pakistan, its torture and mass executions of Hindus, of the Bengali intelligentsia and students. All voices asking for justice, including those coming from within its own circles, were threatened into silence. When the then US Consul General in Dhaka, Archer Blood, cabled, describing the Pakistani Army’s assault on the Hindus of East Pakistan as nothing short of a “genocide” and appealed to the Nixon Administration to condemn the act and reign in Pakistan, President Richard Nixon underlined three times in cold-handwriting, “don’t squeeze Yahya at this time”, while Kissinger denounced Blood as “this maniac in Dacca.” In short, it served the US’s geo-strategic interests to look the other way while Pakistan massacred its minorities and perpetrated a holocaust.

For a country and administration with such a woeful record of standing by the minorities and the oppressed of the world, the US’s act thus, of issuing an annual report on the status of religious freedom across the globe and to use it to browbeat other nations — especially those emerging powers and leaders who wish to chalk out a distinctly bold and dynamic global path for their countries — is audacious as well as impertinent to say the least.

The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom Report 2015, on the condition of religious freedom in the world is out — and as always, unfailingly bases itself on half-truths, concoctions and false reportage. Over the years, the US has repeatedly used the report to conjure up the image of an unstable India at war with itself. In a non-serious reportage the document draws up a false religious scenario in India and basing itself on feedback from little known evangelical groups, it focuses this time on church attacks, obviously blanketing the fact that the issue has been extensively examined in India and have been found to be non-denominational in nature and perpetrated by miscreants.

The report does not stop at such false propaganda but goes on to brazenly cast aspersion on the governance structure of India, by accusing the Indian judiciary of being “antiquated” and ill-equipped to handle “communal” cases, by indicting the law enforcing agencies who “refuse to accept complaints”, and by pillorying the media which indulges in “propaganda [by] accusing Muslims of being terrorists.” For USCIRF thus, no pillar of Indian democracy seems to be sacred and yet it professes to reach out to India with promises to evolve the next stage of a long-term and comprehensive strategic partnership. Is that to be accepted in reality?

In a motivated move, the report singles out BJP president Amit Shah for his call to discuss the need for a nationwide anti-conversion law, obfuscating the fact that such a call is part of a long debate on the issue of religious conversions in India which, starting before Swami Vivekananda, saw the participation of the monk, of Mahatma Gandhi and many others, and continues to this day.

For a society, a vast majority of whose members cannot differentiate the design of Osama Bin Laden’s turban from that of a pious Sikh — a 2013 study, Turban Myths, undertaken by Stanford University’s Peace and Innovation Lab in collaboration with a US-based Sikh organisation found that 70 per cent of the American public cannot identify a picture of a Sikh man as a Sikh and half associate a Sikh turban with Islam — the habit of analysing the state of religions in other countries smacks of arrogance and displays a reprehensible neo-imperial mindset, which is out of tune with the essential spirit of global living and cooperation.

Plagued by an increasing number of hate crimes against Asians, Sikhs, Hindus, Afro-Asians — remember Sureshbhai Patel who had his bones broken by white policemen because he spoke no English, or 82-year-old Piara Singh who was bludgeoned in Fresno, or C9olumbia University Professor Prabhjot Singh who was punched and kicked and called “Osama” — the US is itself sitting on a powder-keg of racial discrimination and is suffering from a sub-conscious habit of apartheid. The Ferguson shootout, the Baltimore riots all point to the urgent need for the US to address a series of fundamental crisis challenging its own society.

Dousing imagined conflagrations in other lands, thus, when one’s own fields are afire, may not be a good proposition, after all.

 
 
 
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