Tolerance in Bangladesh
Elections in Iran : A lesson for the powerful, the disempowered
Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Turkey falls under boot of dictatorship
March 7, 2016
Under Turkey’s state constitution, freedom of media is supposed to be guaranteed from government interference. Clearly, Turkey can no longer pretend to be a democratic state. It is now a dictatorship where those who criticise the ‘ruler’ are liable to receive prison sentences because they are either ‘terrorist supporters’ or ‘insulting’ his ego, writes Finian Cunningham
WITH the violent police seizure of Turkey’s biggest independent newspaper this weekend, the country has finally crossed the line to become a fully-fledged dictatorship.
For many months now, the government of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been cracking down on media as part of a wider move towards an increasingly authoritarian regime under his ruling Justice and Development Party.
Brutal, chaotic scenes at the offices of Zaman newspaper in Istanbul and its related publications this weekend prove beyond doubt that Erdogan’s regime has now openly embraced dictatorship. This in a country which has a long history of military coups and genocidal authoritarianism.
Recent years of seeming parliamentary democracy are now shown to be a sham. Turkey is reverting to the form of strong-arm despotism under Erdogan and his flunkey prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
The media group which owns Zaman, Feza Media, has been accused of ‘consorting with terrorists’ connected to Kurdish separatists. A Turkish court then ordered at the end of last week that the newspaper be taken into administration under editors appointed by the government.
The charges are flagrantly trumped-up, of course. Zaman and its English-language daily, Today’s Zaman, are ‘guilty’ of nothing other than providing critical reports and analysis of Erdogan’s government, especially over its reprehensible role in Syria’s conflict since 2011.
‘Consorting with terrorists’ is the blanket charge that Erdogan is throwing at other independent Turkish media. Dozens of journalists have been arrested on similar charges. While other media outlets have been likewise closed down by Erdogan’s ruling party.
Can Dundar, the editor of Cumhuriyet newspaper, is facing prosecution on ‘espionage’ and ‘subversion’ charges — and a possible life sentence in jail — simply because he published photographs last year that purported to show how Turkish state intelligence was running weapons across the Syrian border —to supply illegally armed groups trying to overthrow the Damascus government.
A court ruling last month ordered that Dundar be released pending his trial, however Erdogan and his supporters said that they don’t respect the court order. Yet another disturbing example of corrosive lawlessness at the heart of the Turkish state.
This weekend witnessed perhaps the most brazen crackdown on democratic freedoms by Erdogan, with the full-scale invasion of riot police at the premises of Zaman.
Hundreds of police forced their way into the offices with bolt-cutters after battering peaceful protesters off the street. Water cannons and tear gas were fired into the media offices as journalists scrambled for safety from baton-wielding officers.
Today’s Zaman editor-in-chief Sevgi Akarcesme and colleagues were pushed down staircases as the riot-clad police stormed the building.
‘The constitution is finished,’ decried Akarcesme. ‘This is despotism,’ she added.
Under Turkey’s state constitution, freedom of media is supposed to be guaranteed from government interference. Clearly, Turkey can no longer pretend to be a democratic state. The constitution has been sacked in the most graphic way. It is now a dictatorship where those who criticise the ‘ruler’ are liable to receive prison sentences because they are either ‘terrorist supporters’ or ‘insulting’ his ego.
The increasingly despotic nature of Turkey under Erdogan is intimately bound up with his regime’s criminal aggression towards Syria. Over the past five years, Erdogan has moved from covert sponsorship of terror proxies in Syria to a blatant role in waging aggression.
Over the past week, since a tentative Syrian ceasefire was implemented by the United States and Russia, Turkish military forces have been firing artillery barrages into its southern neighbour. This is an act of war on a sovereign state.
There are also reliable reports that Turkish state forces have stepped up their supply of weapons and terrorist insurgents through the few remaining border crossings, which have been largely closed off by the Syrian army supported by Russia’s air power, as well as by Kurdish Syrian fighters.
Erdogan’s regime is thus openly at war with Syria and his desperate recklessness is directly connected to the heavy losses that the Syrian army and Russia have inflicted on his covert surrogate terror brigades. The latter include the internationally recognised terror groups of al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State/Daesh and the Nusra Front.
But such state criminality is hardly tenable in a country where an independent, critical media supposedly operates. The courageous, critical reporting in recent years by Turkish newspapers and television outlets has exposed the violations committed by the Erdogan regime in Syria’s dirty war.
And that is why Erdogan is now shuttering this media with an iron fist, under the utterly fabricated but ironical charges of these outlets allegedly ‘supporting terrorism.’
Erdogan is getting away with this brutal conduct largely because he is being indulged by Washington, the European Union and the US-led NATO military alliance, of which Turkey is a member.
These Western institutions are all equally complicit in Turkey’s state-sponsored terrorism against Syria. So, as the Erdogan regime gags the Turkish media, his Western allies are obliged to keep their mouths shut too.
On the latest newspaper seizure, the US state department issued a trite statement expressing concern. ‘We see this as the latest in a series of troubling judicial and law enforcement actions taken by the Turkish government targeting media outlets and others critical of it,’ said US spokesman John Kirby.
One can only imagine how different Washington’s response would be if, say, similar events took place in Moscow. There would be wall-to-wall Western media coverage denouncing Vladimir Putin as a dictator.
Western hypocrisy and double-think reaches a crescendo as the European Union leaders meet with Erdogan’s officials in the coming days over the refugee crisis.
European Council president Donald Tusk only days ago praised Turkey as a partner in stemming the flow of refugees into Greece, and the EU is planning to grant Erdogan’s regime $3.4 billion in taxpayers’ money to help accommodate more migrants on its territory.
You can’t get more absurd than that. EU leaders pander to Turkey after the latter has played a leading role in destabilising Syria and triggering the refugee crisis. And when this same regime cracks down on independent media exposing its criminal collusion with terrorism, the EU says or does nothing of importance.
Turkey is embracing fascist dictatorship; and Washington and its European minions are smitten by the same embrace.
Only last week, the French government censured Le Monde newspaper for reports on France’s ‘secret war’ in Libya.
Erdogan’s regime is marching all over democratic rights as Turkish media succumbs to the jackboot of dictatorship. Not far behind and in lockstep are Washington and the European Union. Their cynical silence is their indictment.
Finian Cunningham, an author and journalist, has written extensively on international affairs. He is a master’s graduate in agricultural chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For nearly 20 years, he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent.
There is a common perception in Bangladesh that religious communities generally live together in peaceful coexistence and have done so since the beginning of time. This is exemplified by the way in which a number of religious celebrations and festivities, such as Eid, Durga Puja, Buddha Purnima and Christmas, are observed and celebrated in the country by the whole population. In a country with a religious majority where 90 percent of the population is Muslim, while other faiths such as Hindu, Buddhist and Christian faiths comprise the remainder, this is a significant achievement. In similar circumstances, in many other parts of the world, the respect for religious diversity is not as manifest as it is in Bangladesh. While the people of Bangladesh in general can and should be praised for this achievement, constitutional guarantees providing equal status of all religions serve as a bulwark against intolerance.
Nonetheless, although Bangladesh has stood out in many ways as a tolerant society, increasingly there are indications that this peaceful coexistence is coming under growing pressure. For example, there have been instances of land grabbing, where religious minority communities see ownership of their land under threat. And the Ramu incidents with destruction of Buddhist places of worship in 2012 are still fresh in peoples' minds. Furthermore, the number of Hindu population has halved during the last 30 years. For real or perceived reasons, there is a sense that Bangladesh is losing some of its tolerance of minority communities.
In spite of these setbacks, religious intolerance and extremism are still not common in Bangladeshi society. Sadly, this cannot be said for other parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, where over the last few years we have witnessed an expansion of extremist ideologies, even in countries which hitherto were models of tolerance, not unlike Bangladesh today. With this in mind, it cannot be denied that Bangladesh has recently experienced a number of incidents that distinguish it from its traditional spirit of tolerance. A number of recent violent attacks against persons from religious minority groups and their places of worship have resulted in the loss of lives and destruction of property. These incidents include bomb attacks against Hindu temples in Dinajpur and the killing of a Hindu priest near Panchagarh, violent armed attacks against Christian priests in Pabna and Dinajpur, and a number of other priests receiving death threats, armed attacks against a Shia procession in Dhaka and a Shia Mosque in Shibganj resulting in the death of the muezzin. And we are all aware of the numerous violent attacks against on-line activists over the last couple of years.
Incidents like these can be manifestations of a changing society and the emergence of an environment in which fear, violence and intolerance exist. This trend is of utmost concern and needs to be taken seriously by all actors in the political arena as well as among the leaders of all religious faiths. Situations in which individuals have lost their lives and places of worship have been destroyed need to be clearly condemned, and perpetrators brought to justice. If not, the risk of further incidents is high and a culture of impunity can prevail.
In April 2015 at the High-Level Thematic Debate on Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation: Fostering Peaceful, Inclusive Societies and Countering Violent Extremism, the UN Secretary General remarked that the UN “will emphasise the core values of peace, justice and human dignity as true alternatives to the extremists' hatred and fear. It will focus on prevention through equitable institutions, inclusive governance, and respect for human rights and the rule of law…we must also enable women to assume their rightful, equal leadership role in this movement”.
With this in mind, the United Nations in Bangladesh seeks to underline the importance of promoting a culture which respects the freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The protection of human rights, at the centre of any such policy, needs to be accompanied by corresponding legislation, policies and practical measures. In this case, the necessary institutional frameworks for the executive, legislature and judiciary, in line with principles of transparency, rule of law and popular participation, need to be both elaborated and firmly anchored.
On 9 March 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief who visited Bangladesh in September 2015 will present his report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. This report, and the recommendations made therein, will hopefully be seen as an opportunity for Bangladesh to establish a platform for further discussion and action to strengthen the enjoyment of the freedom of religion or belief as well as an opportunity to enhance the conditions of religious minorities in the county.
Robert Watkins is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh.
By Ali Sadrzadeh
Granted, elections in Iran have little impact on the real political conditions in the Islamic republic, where to this day the leader of the revolution retains his hold on the reins of power. But even so, the latest round of voting has highlighted the atmosphere among large sections of the civilian population, writes Ali Sadrzadeh
A decent result for Iran’s women: a total of 4,844 candidates, just under 500 of them women, were permitted to stand in the parliamentary elections. Eight women were among the 30 elected representatives in the capital, according to Iranian state television.
Last Friday’s elections in Iran, to the country’s parliament and assembly of experts, is likely to have a lasting influence on Iranian politics. This might at first sound like an exaggeration: you might object that Iran’s parliament is not the place where fundamental matters are really decided. Nor do the elected reformers and moderate forces have a serious plan for solving the numerous problems in Iranian society.
These arguments are correct, without a doubt. You might even add that these elected moderate forces or reformers don’t even want to change the foundations of the Islamic republic; after all, they themselves were — and still are — the architects and servants of the religious state to this day. We can therefore expect no political U-turn from them. And without a radical transformation of Iranian domestic and foreign policy, there is no end in sight to Iran’s misery. In Iran, elections are not a process for selecting leaders with comprehensive decision-making powers. All observers are agreed on this point. But even so, these recent elections have been a useful lesson for all Iranians — for the powerful and the powerless of the country alike.
A resounding slap in the face
ABOVE all, it has been a lesson for the country’s most powerful man, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. These elections once again let him know that he doesn’t have the majority of Iranians behind him. He spoke out openly and directly in support of radical forces several times during the election campaign. The official partisanship was echoed a thousand times over by the official media.
But the majority of Iranians did not follow Khamenei in casting their votes. The elections were therefore a particularly personal and painful defeat for him. Despite his comprehensive control of the country’s most important media and almost all the Friday preachers, who tried to convey Khamenei’s words to the population even in the country’s remotest mosques, the vote did not go in favour of the revolutionary leader’s favourites.
HAS Khamenei learnt from this defeat? Hard to say: after all, it’s not the first time the Iranian people have voted against his wishes. The best example is probably provided by the 2009 parliamentary elections. At that time, Khamenei took Ahmadinejad’s side, leading to the country’s greatest internal political crisis. And the scars from those wounds have still not healed. The other two 2009 presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, are still under house arrest. At the time, the two dissidents accused the regime of manipulating the presidential election in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was eventually re-elected.
The coming months and years will show how Khamenei will deal with the results of the most recent election. He is in any case powerful enough to turn the tables whenever and however he sees fit. Last Monday one of Tehran’s daily newspapers, ‘Kayhan’, Khamenei’s hymnal, carried a leading article which read: ‘Do not be so self-assured or start imagining things! According to the constitution and the words of religion, the policy of this country is still determined by the leader of the revolution. How, we will learn in the next few years, if he should live; he has apparently been diagnosed with cancer.’
A borrowed victory
President Rouhani, celebrated as the winner of this election up and down the country, can learn a few things from the voting, too. He knows his victory would have been unthinkable without the assistance of the younger generation. Iran’s young people, Internet-savvy and active on social media, desperately want a life with a job and without paternalism. There are a great many graduates in Iran today — some say too many. But half of them are unemployed.
This time round, it was above all young women from Iranian cities who seem to have made a difference, the majority of them apparently voting for the list and the candidates close to Rouhani. Despite the fact that since becoming president, Rouhani hasn’t been able to do much for this generation — the more radical elements within the government won’t allow it. He has also been kept much too busy with the negotiation of the nuclear agreement. But it is also clear that Rouhani wouldn’t and couldn’t ever be a reformer, even if he always describes himself as a moderate.
The younger generation
But without these supposed reformers, this victory would have been impossible. Their figurehead is the former president Mohammad Khatami, whose image and name are however now banned from official media. But Khatami addressed the public via YouTube, warning them of the consequences of boycotting the elections. His clip spread like wildfire, being viewed millions of times in Iran. The reformers, too, have had to learn a lesson from this vote: boycotting elections is damaging and a return to power will only be possible through a more complicated alliance. This is, of course, a painstaking process that demands a great deal of patience. And it is questionable whether the younger generation is still prepared to summon up the patience required.
And this election has one final lesson for the Iranians. Two thirds of young Iranians are completely au fait with the Internet and social media. During this election, they have shown that even in Iran the age of traditional media is over. And if the circumstances of this election had been different, if all candidates had been permitted to stand, then we might well have seen even more surprises in the voting behaviour of the younger generation.
Ali Sadrzadeh initially worked as a teacher in Tehran. In 1970, Sadrzadeh came to Germany to study psychology and engineering in Kiel, concluding his studies in Frankfurt in German and politics. In 1980, Sadrzadeh returned to Iran. He has worked for the DPA and the Frankfurter Rundschau. From 1990 to 1994, he was North African correspondent with the German state broadcaster ARD.
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