Bhagavad Gita, one of the holiest Hindu scriptures, is facing a legal ban and the prospect of being branded as “an extremist” literature across Russia. A court in Siberia’s Tomsk city is set to deliver its final verdict Monday in a case filed by state prosecutors.
The final pronouncement in the case will come two days after Indian Prime MinisterManmohan Singh during his Dec 15-17 official visit for a bilateral summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev consolidated bilateral trade and strategic ties and personal friendship.
The case, which has been going on in Tomsk court since June, seeks ban on a Russian translation of “Bhagavad Gita As It Is” written by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
It also wants the Hindu religious text banned in Russia and declared as a literature spreading “social discord”, its distribution on Russian soil rendered illegal.
In view of the case, Indians settled in Moscow, numbering about 15,000, and followers of the ISKCON religious movement here have appealed to Manmohan Singh and his government to intervene diplomatically to resolve the issue in favour of the scripture, an important part of Indian epic Mahabharata written by sage Ved Vyas.
The ISKCON followers in Russia have also written a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office in New Delhi, calling for immediate intervention, lest the religious freedom of Hindus living here be compromised. “The case is coming up for a final verdict on Monday in Tomsk court. We want all efforts from the Indian government to protect the religious rights of Hindus in Russia,” Sadhu Priya Das of ISKCON and a devotee of a 40-year-old Krishna temple in central Moscow, told IANS. The court, which took up the case filed by the state prosecutors, had referred the book to the Tomsk State University for “an expert” examination Oct 25. But Hindu groups in Russia, particularly followers of ISKCON, say the university was not qualified as it lacked Indologists who study the history and cultures, languages, and literature of the Indian subcontinent. The Hindus pleaded with the court that the case was inspired by religious bias and intolerance from a “majority religious group in Russia”, and have sought that their rights to practice their religious beliefs be upheld. The prosecutor’s case also seeks to ban the preachings of Prabhupada and ISKCON’s religious beliefs, claiming these were “extremist” in nature and preached “hatred” of other religious beliefs.“They have not just tried to get the Bhagavad Gita banned, but also brand our religious beliefs and preachings as extremist,” Das said. The ISKCON devotees have taken up the matter with the Indian embassy in Moscow too for an early diplomatic intervention before things get worse and the court passes an adverse verdict banning the Bhagavad Gita and Krishna consciousness teachings. In the Nov 1 letter addressed to Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Pulok Chatterji, ISKCON’s New Delhi branch Governing Body Commissioner Gopal Krishna Goswami, said the prosecutor’s affidavit claims Lord Krishna “is evil and not conforming to Christian religious view”. Goswami also urged Manmohan Singh to accord priority to the matter during his Moscow stay and take it up with the Russian authorities. Indian diplomatic corps officials at the embassy here, who were unwilling to be named, told IANS that they have been following up the case since the time it was brought to their notice earlier this year. They had also taken up the matter at the appropriate levels in the Russian government to get the case either withdrawn or get the defence to fight the case to obtain a favourable verdict. Officials at the Indian Prime Minister’s Office, who were part of the Indian delegation accompanying Manmohan Singh, confirmed to IANS the case and the letter they received from ISKCON in this regard. “This matter is receiving the highest attention and the Indian embassy officials in Moscow have been instructed to follow up the case with the Russian authorities,” they said.
Ever since 9/11, the American Muslim community has been placed under a tremendous amount of scrutiny. Even now, more than ten years after those terrible events, the cloud of suspicion has not lifted over the community. According to a months-long investigation, the Associated Press has published an article claiming that the New York Police Department, with apparent help from the CIA, has engaged in an aggressive intelligence-gathering operation within the Muslim community. According to the article:
The department has dispatched undercover officers, known as “rakers,” into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They’ve monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as “mosque crawlers,” to monitor sermons, even when there’s no evidence of wrongdoing…Many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD’s intelligence unit.
An enormous amount of taxpayer money, $1.6 billion since 9/11, has been spent on such an operation. In addition, Wired magazine reports that highly inflammatory anti-Islam materials have been used to paint the entire American Muslim community as “violent” and “radical.” According to the article: “The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that ‘main stream’ [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a ‘cult leader’; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a ‘funding mechanism for combat.’”
The facts, however, consistently belie the contention that the American Muslim community is a violent “fifth column.” According to a US Justice Department study conducted by two North Carolina Universities:
Although the vast majority of Muslim-Americans reject extremist ideology and violence, a small number of Muslim-Americans have radicalized since 9/11. In the eight years following 9/11, according to our project’s count, 139 Muslim-Americans committed acts of terrorism-related violence or were prosecuted for terrorism-related offenses that involve some element of violence. This level of approximately 17 individuals per year is small compared to other violent crime in America, but not insignificant. Homegrown terrorism is a serious, but limited, problem.
The reasons for this, according to the study, are: (1) public and private denunciations of violence, (2) robust self-policing practices and community building, (3) heightened political engagement, and (4) an assertive Muslim-American identity which, the study has shown, has served to undercut the radical message that American values and practices are hostile to Islam. Moreover, opinion polls have consistently shown American Muslims to overwhelmingly reject violence against innocent people, much more so than their Christian and Jewish compatriots.
A recent Gallup survey asked if attacks on civilians by individuals or small groups is ever justified, 89% of Muslims said it is “never” justified. This is more than Protestants (71%), Catholics (71%), Jews (75%), Mormons (79%), or those without any religious affiliation (76%). Asked if it was “sometimes” justified, Muslims were the least in saying yes. A more recent Pew survey has reiterated these findings, with 81% of American Muslims believing that suicide terrorism is never justified.
Further, according to Michael E. Rolince, former FBI Special Agent in Charge of Counterterrorism in the Washington DC field office:
“We conducted about a half a million interviews post-9/11 relative to the attacks of 9/11, and this is important because your community gets painted as not doing enough and you could have helped. I’m not aware — and I know 9/11 about as well as anybody in the FBI knows 9/11 and that’s not bragging that’s just the reality — I’m not aware of any single person in your community who, had they stepped forward, could have provided a clue to help us get out in front of this.”
He said this in 2005 at the Muslim Public Affairs Committee’s annual convention.
So, why the continued suspicion and mistrust of the Islamic-American community? Leave aside the fact that making sweeping generalizations and painting an entire community with the sins of its criminals is patently un-American. Making all Muslims out to be “terrorists-in-waiting” hurts our national security. As the article in Wired says:
The FBI isn’t just treading on thin legal ice by portraying ordinary, observant Americans as terrorists-in-waiting, former counterterrorism agents say. It’s also playing into al-Qaida’s hands. Focusing on the religious behavior of American citizens instead of proven indicators of criminal activity like stockpiling guns or using shady financing makes it more likely that the FBI will miss the real warning signs of terrorism. And depicting Islam as inseparable from political violence is exactly the narrative al-Qaida spins — as is the related idea that America and Islam are necessarily in conflict.
Now, I am under no illusion of the daunting task of preventing another terrorist attack placed before law enforcement officials all across this country. I think I can safely speak for all Americans when I say that I expect nothing less than a relentless effort on the part of law enforcement to root out every single potential terrorist or terrorist plot. But training law-enforcement officials to fear every single peaceful, law-abiding Muslim citizen sends a chilling message of deep suspicion and mistrust, as well as frank betrayal, when what is needed is even stronger collaboration and cooperation.
The American Muslim community is a willing partner in the fight against terrorists who seek to harm innocent Americans. Many domestic terror plots by Muslims, in fact, have been foiled by the American Muslim community itself. I can see how most Americans would think it to be understandable, if not logical, to spy on the Muslim community, given that Muslim extremists successfully attacked NYC twice. Yet, I fear that such spying will further damage an already frail relationship between the Muslim community and law enforcement, and this is the last thing that either party needs. I hope and pray that, through these revelations, smarter heads in our law-enforcement agencies will prevail.
Terror intimidates Muslims more than anyone else on earth. After any terrorist activity, inside their houses, Muslims try to put fingers into their ears, not hear the phrase “another act of Muslim terror”. Outside, in non-Muslim countries, they avoid eye contacts with others to avoid giving possible explanations that “it need not be an act of Muslim terror” or “I wasn’t a part of it.” For a terror-attack anywhere, Muslims everywhere have to hang their heads in shame.
Muslims are the first suspects in almost all cases of violence, the world over. The Media usually has “credible sources” and bigot analysts to hatch theories against Muslims and the police has “informers” and matrix of terror links with names of Muslim youths inscribed as terrorists-in-line. Thus, investigation, forensic analysis, and fact finding, all have become irrelevant. The new logic of both the media and the police is to blame Muslims first, and investigate later.
Moments after the horrific Norway bomb-blast that killing 7 people on July 22, followed by the massacre of 85 teenagers, speculations started regarding the possible culprits. The renowned media group, the BBC – considered objective, started speculating on the following night that the Islamist group Al-Qaeda could be behind the attacks, although in the next morning they had to change their tone in front of evidence. As The Sun labeled the attacks as “Norway’s 9/11”, The Guardian was not behind in their suspicion and analysis of Jihadists’ role in the bloody episode.
American media’s reaction wasn’t different either. The Fox News O’Reilly Factor, not only suspected the Norway killing-spree as another incidence of Islamic terror, the guest host Laura Ingraham even attempted to link it with the atrocious 9/11 happened in the US, a decade ago by reminding the audience about the ground-zero mosque to be built in Manhattan. No doubt she would succeed in her effort to multiply the right-wing American hatred against the Muslims and the Islam.
Blaming the jihadists, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Norway is targeted for being true to Western norms.” Meanwhile, on the Washington Post’s website, Jennifer Rubin wrote, “This is a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists.” Altogether the instant reaction to the incidence, without any pursuance of proof or evidence, was that Muslim terror must be responsible for the attack.
However, within a day the whole story had to be changed, as the right-wing-Christian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, with a background of hating Muslims and liberals, claimed responsibility for the attacks, exposing the media-bigotry to malign the Muslim image. Once again, it’s been proven that not all terrorists are Muslims.
The same thing happens everywhere. Minutes after the Mumbai blasts on July 13, the Indian TV channels propagated the theory that Indian Mujahedeen (IM), deemed to be an Indian Muslim extremist group, could be behind the blast, although security agencies and the Police took hours before adopting the hypothesis – solely on the basis of spurious previous trends. Based on their guesswork, the Mumbai Police, as usual, detained several Muslims for questioning. One of those detained—Faiz Usmani—died while in police custody on July 17, sparking allegations of police brutality.
It has been more than a week, yet the investigating agencies have found no evidence to support their claims against the IM nor those detained. The tameness of the media and police administration reflects that – Muslims have been harassed, some Muslims have been detained, and one of them has got killed (all without any evidence). So what? Does it really matter? The Muslims are presumed guilty, by the unwritten rule, until proven innocent.
This trend is not new. In the past, although there have been occasions in which Muslim groups have been found linked with terrorist activities, but extremist Hindutva-terrorists have also been proven to have carried out half a dozen attacks in India, such as bomb-blasts in Samajhauta Express, Mecca Masjid, Ajmer Sharif in (2007), and Malegaon (2008), the list goes on. When the right-wing-Hindutva groups are known to have established links with the Indian military and intelligence to carry out terrorist activities, yet raising fingers against them is an anathema.
The level of hypocrisy in attitude of the police and the media is conspicuous. If a Muslim does, it is a terror plot but if a non-Muslim does, it is just an ‘act of violence’. If a Muslim is suspected in a terror act, he is an Islamic terrorist while a proven non-Muslim figure behind terror activities is merely ‘an accused’.
If someone bears a Muslim name, this is enough for the police to suspect him/her as a terrorist. A few weeks ago, when a Mid Day’s photo journalist – Sayed Sameer Abedi – was taking innocuous photographs of a traffic junction and an airplane, Mumbai police detained him. Simply because of his Muslim name, one “unfortunate’ police officer glibly remarked that Mr. Abedi could be a terrorist. Shakespeare was wrong – there is a lot in a name, especially if it is a Muslim sounding name!
If this is how people’s sentiments against Muslims are aroused, how can the 1.5 billion Muslims live in peace with others and what message we are giving to the younger and the future generations? As the facts are now revealing the truth and dispelling the conjectures, media’s bias is getting clearer. In order to be credible, leave fairness, the media should show a little restraint before making allegations against Muslims and maligning Islam.