Monday, 17 January 2011

Reflecting on Tunisia - 1 Week Later

When I wrote my article a week ago today regarding the protests in Tunisia and how we can support our brothers and sisters, I would never have imagined that in just 5 days from that article Ben Ali would have to flee the country, and all praises to Allah(Swt) for this, who answered my dua’ and I am sure the dua’ of millions. Here was Ben Ali, Tyrant of the region ( a title which is well earned in such an area of despots ), forced to flee with his hangers-on to, as it turned out , Saudi Arabia. I thought it was important for not only myself, but also perhaps the two people that actually read my scrawls, to reflect on what we’ve learnt not only about Tunisia, but also about the capitalist governments and of course their puppets in the region, and perhaps most worringly about ourselves.

I’d like to initially focus on the achievements of the Tunisian people. For it was their achievement and their achievement alone. We can retrospectively speculate upon the power of twitter, wikileaks and all the other social media, as well as to convince ourselves that after 2 decades of ignoring them we suddenly influenced them with changing our avatar, but to do so is to miss the point. Youtube has been banned from Tunisia for years, as well as any semblance of a “free” press that would report revelations such as wikileaks or twitter updates. It could be argued that facebook was accessible in the region, however anything more seditious than reaching level 10 in Farmville would result in the account owner being questioned and their account closed ( though not before Tunisian associates were also recorded). Instead, I would like to think that the Tunisian people did this themselves, pushed to the limit from decades of ruthless oppression, facing a monolithic big brother state but refusing to take it. It is impossible to comprehend fully how subjugated you must have to be to walk down a boulevard shouting against a regime when you know that if it fails then you and your family face the rest of your years in a medieval dungeon.

And what dungeons they were, and indeed still are. Institutions of state rape, torture and isolation. A few quotes from what happened to dissidents from the words of testimony that I have received were enough for me to feel absolute euphoria when I read that prisoners had escaped. I can’t possibly understand the joy that these inmates would have felt. I know of one inmate who was serving a 47 year sentence for the crime of fighting in the Bosnian War, and yet another who lost his sight in prison.

However, a lot of what was going on in Tunisia is perhaps a shock to us now. Only now do we read of lists being kept of who was to be visited for attending the masjid or wearing a niqab. Protests in the past where police would open fire on demonstrators without a moments hesitation. Everything someone said on the phone or on their email recorded and used against them. Perhaps we didn’t see this because we were a part of it. The budget holidays, 5 star hotels, great beaches, were all carefully cultivated by the Tunisian regime to provide Ben Ali and his pirate family with hard currency. This hard currency now safely tucked away in French and Swiss banks, as well as the 1.5 tonnes of Gold which he took with him on the flight to Saudi Arabia.

Which perhaps brings us onto the role of the capitalist governments in the Tunisian peoples repression. As of now, at least 100 political dissidents of Ben Alis regime are in various Italian prisons. Italy co-operated fully with the Tunisian government in arranging for them to be sent back, in some cases such as that of Walid Kammoun arranging for their detention, rape and torture on their return. The French government acted as advisors towards the regime, hence why Ben Ali initially tried to return to France as if they were old friends, which of course without the glare of the media and an angry Tunisian diaspora they would be. Belgium and the Netherlands also co-operated with the regime, seeking to return political dissidents to that tyrant. The United Kingdom and the United States also do not have an unblemished record, the UK at one point arranging for a “memorandum of understanding “ for Tunisian dissidents to be sent back if the political situation allowed. The United States for all their blustering about democracy and human rights now, stayed quiet and supported fully the Ben Ali regime and its torture of political opponents. Only now, when the wind is blowing a different direction, do they seek to control it.

Indeed the wind is howling at a frightening speed, and making its way all over the middle east and the maghreb region. Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Jordan have all been hit by protests, as well as Saudi Arabia for hosting the murderer of thousands. Of course, it is clear that what is often dismissed as conspiracy theory and paranoia has proven to be correct : Saudi Arabia dn the Arab regimes are not independent but instead sing exactly in tune with the capitalist powers and their wishes for the region. How else can a revolutionary state of Libya, a socialist state of Algeria, a ba’athist state of Syria, a repressive monarchy of Morocco and an allegedly “Shariah-compliant” Saudi state all suspiciously align with the wishes of the puppet masters?

Perhaps the most worring message is what I feel I’ve learnt about each other. I have read the most disgusting comments from the muslim diaspora about the Tunisian people, such as they “only rebelled because they were hungry”, as if this is not a reason. We need to move beyond just changing our facebook picture or some empty slogans and look at how we can effect real social change and come down from our ivory towers. If you don’t think the direction the people are taking is Islamic enough for you, then you need to take responsibility for it and learn about the people of that country. We need to look at the role that we all play in supporting these regimes with our hard currency, our cheap holidays, or positive spin about the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and allowing the Palestinian issue to be manipulated and played by these regimes so the focus is on Israel and not on the tyrants. Israel cannot commit the atrocities they do without the compliance of these states, who perform an anti-semitic pantomime for naïve individuals whilst they murder and repress their own people. We need to learn more about the states that we call muslim, about their concerns and their struggles, and look at how we can help them instead of aiding the oppressors.

For my final reflection, I’d like to say how refreshing it is to see individuals on the street who are truly representative of the population and for whom their first thought is how they can remove oppression and corruption and build a better society. I would urge everyone to support the Tunisian people in their search for a free society, and to aid in the instigation of a similar wave of change across the muslim world. Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Uzbekistan, Algeria, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are just 10 dictator states that I want to see removed in my lifetime. Lets all make it so!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Tunisia, Les Damnés de la Terre

Tunisia is now in the grip of a protest movement that is sweeping across the country and threatening not only that particular despotic regime, but also those in the immediate area.Like a wild sandstorm this is spreading through the Maghreb, and shows no signs of abating. Sadly 21 protestors (and counting ) have lost their lives in the protests, and that total is still rising. Though Algeria has received some coverage, it can be argued that the demonstrations in Tunisia are far more brazen as that country is in the grip of a despot who even the United States has on occasion had to reign in for its wickedness. When the devil himself says “too much for me”, then you know that Ben Ali is a monster of biblical proportions. He is also a monster who claimed support of 99.52% of the population when they voted him “president for life”. I put the case this is an unsophisticated charade perpetuated by Ben Ali and his western backers.

For some of my work with, I wrote about the prison system in Tunisia and the injustice that the brave people of that country suffer daily. Imagine a world where a word against the leader will get you 2 years in prison, and if you happened to discuss the law in the Islamic context of Shariah and Khilafah, then you can fully expect never to be seen again. Indeed, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Witness and others are full of stories of peoples wives, daughters sons and parents being horrifically abused by a regime that knows no bounds. In my contact with prisoners in Italy, they would rather spend their lives in imprisonment in Italy rather than to be returned to Tunisia. Anyone who has read about Italy’s prisons would know what a statement that is.

However away from the prisoners issue, daily life in Tunisia has become unbearable. There is no free press, all opposition parties are controlled by the state, and both tv stations are state-run by relatives of Ben Ali. Ben ali also issued a directive that anyone who criticises Tunisia in the international media will be considered “A traitor to the country”.

There is the oppression against Islam itself, with Ben Ali fearful of its tenets dealing with supporting the oppressed and supporting just rulers. The Hijab has been banned since 2006, all mosques since 1988 have been prevented from having anyone not appointed by the government leading them, mosques are open only at prayer times, police stations are built next to mosques, and so on. Imagine living as a muslim in such an environment. Even stranger when 98% of the population are muslim.

The root of most grievances has traditionally been the economy, and indeed the roots of dissent in Tunisia may play a part, though it is likely that all the factors mentioned above are playing a more significant part than commentators would like to admit. Unemployment is at 15%, however unemployment in parts of Scotland is 30%, yet I have not seen any demonstrations or protestors being shot in Glasgow. It is however the corruption and mismanagement of the economy that I believe the focus should be on. Whole state industries have been “sold” under favourable loans to Ben Ali’s cronies and in-laws, as well as the tourism deals for which Tunisia is famous, whilst the ordinary person on the street has seen inflation, prevention of their business that they’ve run for generations because they don’t have a “licence”, harassment from the police and security services, and so on. This seems to have come to a head on 17th December when a man in an act of desperation set himself on fire in protest at the police confiscating his market stall, and who knows what part that man and those zealous officers in Sidi Bouzid. Amazingly, this was repeated by another individual on 8th January.

Can we possibly imagine how far these individuals have been pushed to the point where they set themselves on fire, or protest with their faces uncovered and knowing that any picture which identifies them can get them 30 years in prison? For many this is the last throw of the dice, a struggle for liberty, for work, for justice and for an end to the oppression that they’ve suffered for decades.

But what is our role in this, the English speaking, ummah-centric muslim community of the diaspora? What practical steps can we take to help our brothers and sisters in Tunisia? I have some suggestions and would welcome more.

a. Stop Visiting

Tunisia relies on foreign support, foreign currency, and the recommendations of others. “its cheap for a reason” has never been more appropriate, as that reason is the oppression and destruction of muslims in that country. As we enjoy the sun and the stories of Carthage, millions are living in fear for their lives from a regime that knows no bounds. Withdraw your investments and take a vacation to a country that doesn’t oppress its own people. Hard to find in this day and age I know, but keep looking.

b. Circulate news about Tunisia

Let people know whats going on. Get informed yourself. There are youtube videos regarding the recent protests, paste them to your friends, family and on forums. Make the world understand that Tunisia is a country of injustice.

c. Write to the Tunisian Government, their embassies and their State media

Inform these despots that you in the west are aware of their crimes, and inform them that you will be telling others. Make sure they understand the impact that their crimes will have on their economy, by making it a life goal of yours to dissuade others from visiting or investing in that country.

d. Take part in Protests

If you are aware of any people conducting either online or offline campaigns against Tunisia, participate in them. Sign the petitions, sign the letters, attend the demonstrations, send those emails.

e. Finally, make Dua; for the protestors

The protestors will undoubtedly suffer if the regime succeeds in their crackdown, so make Dua’ to Allah(swt) that their regime fails. You can help stop Ben Ali by making dua’ against him and the other taghut that infest the muslim world like a virus, stopping the rot and sending a message to the other “leaders” that if they don’t care about the muslims, then the muslims don’t care about them.

I ask Allah(swt) to make the protests a success, to Remove Ben Ali and to give the Tunisians a just government that can be a beacon for the world to follow.

Victims of State Terror : Khaled El Masri

Imagine if you had arranged for a short holiday to escape the drudgery of unemployment on the recommendation of a friend, getting a cheap bus ticket and looking forward to some time away. Imagine then if you are seized from the bus once it crossed the border, violently interrogated, shipped off to a destination thousands of miles away, subjected to horrendous abuse, then when it is realised a mistake has been made thrown on a deserted road in a foreign country and left for dead without explanation or apology. This is not a film starring Matt Damon, this was real life for Khaled El Masri for five terrible months.

Khaled was an unemployed car salesmen from Germany, who is married with six children. His friend suggested he take a cheap holiday to Skopje in Macedonia after he had noticed his friend feeling down and depressed due to the poverty he was suffering in Germany. The El-Masris at that time lived in a single room for the whole family, a situation which would test anyone.

Once he crossed into Macedonia on this bus, armed police arrived on the bus and took him away at gun-point. He was taken to a hotel room where he was searched and subjected to questions about “Islamic organisations”, of which there were none other than attendance at his local Masjid. He was also told that if “he admitted to being a member of Al Qaidah, he can get sent back to Germany straight away.” He was told it was just “administrative reasons” that they would have to say this. After he refused to go along with this ridiculous assertion, he was bundled into a car and taken where he was told he would be sent to germany after a medical exam. Once he got into the room at an airport of some sort, the beatings started. They stripped him naked with a knife or scissors, hitting him on all limbs before taking photos and subjecting him to a violent cavity search. After this, he was dressed in a nappy and jumpsuit, with his ears plugged and nose clipped. He was then strapped down in an aircraft and given an injection. When he landed he was thrown into a boot of a car, before taken out and thrown into a cell with just a blanket and a bottle of putrid water. To say he was disoriented would be the understatement of the millennium.

After taking stock of the writing on the walls, the dress of the guards, he established he was in Afghanistan, and well away from the consciences of the public. He was interrogated by Americans through a Palestinian translator. He was told repeatedly he was in a country without laws, and they can do what they want to him and no one will know. From the voices in the cell corridor there were Pakistanis, Yemenis, Arabs and Africans presumably in the same predicament. He began a hunger strike, lasting 37 days before he was forcefed by a tube being shoved up his nostrils. He was then taken to see a german native speaker, who would not state whether he was from the German government, however suspicions are that the government knew about his torture and false imprisonment.

In one of the most bizarre twists of the war against Islam has been that the American Government actually claimed that they have made a “mistake”, agreeing to release him. He was told by the German that the Americans realised this was a mistake but were trying to remove any trace of him ever having been there at that prison. He was also told never to tell anyone of his release. This then led to him being bundled again into a car blindfolded, taken to an airplane, then after a long flight still blindfolded was driven through winding roads which seemed like mountains. Then, taken out the boot, handcuffs cut off, was on a deserted road at night was told” to walk straight and don’t look back.” Believing he was about to be shot in the back of the head, he walked hysterically till he rounded the bend, and amazingly instead of a bullet greeting him, there were members of the Albanian border guards, who immediately demanded to know who he was and why he was in Albania. Having been provided with his passport, he was able to arrange to be deported to Germany.

If we take stock of the above five months, can we imagine the terror that the United States Government, The Afghanistan Puppet Regime, The German Authorities and the Macedonian Authorities put this person through? To be kidnapped, tortured, and then abandoned is surely one of the most callous acts in modern times, it is the actions of criminals, not of governments. To then read on Wikileaks that the US Government then threatened Germany to stop investigating ( surely in no way coincidental that his case regarding complicity was thrown out of the German Court ) is proof that the dispossessed of society can expect no justice through the fourth reich and its supporters.

Now, the psychological effects and physiological effects of such treatment were felt the minute he was returned to Germany and continue to this day. He lost 40 pounds, and worse was his family had returned to Lebanon believing that he had abandoned them. He engaged in a campaign to tell the world his story, even travelling to the United States as part of an ACLU delegation, and it is only through his bravery that we were able to compile this story. Of course, in a culture where the word “sorry” is hard to come by with substance, all his legal claims have been thrown out of court, with the usual array of “national security considerations” being quoted. The German Government shamefully dropped their claims towards the United States, and it seems that Khaled is expected to “just get on with it”.

Unfortunately, he has been unable to do this since his return, experiencing hallucinations, paranoia that he is being followed constantly, and this eventually took his toll when he was committed to a psychriatic hospital following an altercation at a shop. Early last year he was involved in another altercation this time with the mayor of Ulm, who he believed was responsible for agents trying to “recruit him”. He has been sentenced to two years in prison whilst his kidnappers and the state supporters continue to walk free.

This is War on Terror Justice, and we should never forget.

Write to Khaled El-Masri

Khaled El-Masri
JVA Memmingem
Gaswerkstraße 23
87700 Memmingen

About the “Victims” Series

When we use the word victim, we think of a weak, dishevelled, cowed creature who cannot defend themselves and is subjected to the most brutal attacks and violence. Clearly those who have suffered torture and ill-treatment yet remain stoic in adversity do not fit into this category as their bravery knows no bounds.

However, its important to remember that however a brave face has been put on a matter, their experience will have long term physical and mental implications for the rest of their lives and it is still fair in spite of their bravery to be considered victims justifiably.

Through reclaiming this term, we also reclaim the responsibility for it and we direct the responsibility not to a government with weak apologies and photo-friendly expressions of regret, but instead to a series of governments who wilfully and deliberately tried to rob men and women of their futures and have demonstrated nothing to show that they would not do so again. Indeed, many such cases of kidnapping, violence and murder are still carried out in the name of freedom : the extrajudicial killings are one aspect, yet the secret prisons continue to exist and the families continue to suffer. believe that only through understanding the past and remembering the past can we get angry about the present and motivate ourselves to have the confidence and the will to challenge this oppression.

Who radicalised Roshonara?

Recently, the sister Roshonara Choudhry was convicted of an attack against Stephen Timms, a serving Member of Parliament. This attack was slowly built up by the media from being one in which she was described as perhaps having psychological problems to suddenly being Al-Qaeda’s sleeper cell in the United Kingdom. Headlines ranged from the sensational (“Brainwashed by Al-Qaeda into stabbing MP”) through to the downright preposterous (“From Spider-man to a Web Fanatic”). In all articles however, there is one thing noticeably absent : the facts into why a young woman would take matters into her own hands.

One can gain an insight into her mindset, through the police interviews that are allegedly from her and conducted by a DC Hussain as reported by the Guardian, that this was clearly a woman troubled immensely by her conscience and what she perceives as the numerous injustices perpetrated against the muslim community both in this country and around the world.

She talks firstly of how her local MP, an MP who is meant to represent 1000s of muslims and people of conscience in his borough, voted unrepentantly for the war in Iraq, perhaps to further his political career as part of the “Blairite Revolution” (after all, we know it wasn’t on evidence of WMD). This was a war in which over 100,000 have been killed through the actions of the United States, UK and other States, and a war which was carried out for no reason but greed of the rich and powerful. The price of civilian death was a price which was borne mainly by the Muslims of Iraq, with Blair and Bush free to write their memoirs whilst families grow up without their father, mother, daughter or son.

She then talks of her University, which chose to honour one of the butchers of Qana in Lebanon, Shimon Peres. This person was given an honorary doctorate in Law from Kings College for “Services to Peace”, and mirrors his Nobel Prize received just 2 years after the shelling of Qana where 800 civillians died.

Roshonara then talks of her sympathy with the muslims in Palestine, a sympathy that is shared with muslims and non-muslims around the world. Palestine, a country where they survive in an open concentration camp called Gaza, with an embargo on trade and their so-called “brothers” of Jordan and Egypt actively starving them to death. All this whilst the world looks on.

She then mentions oppression, again an issue noticeably absent by both the journalists, and I’m sad to say the muslim organisations, who have stayed silent in this sisters cause with a few exceptions. This oppression is something that reads about and tries to address every single day. Not a week goes by without a brother mentioning the beating he received in an Italian Jail, or the harassment of the police towards his family, or the denial of basic materials in their cells, and so on. This is just in the microcosm of prison, but what about outside?

Is the government oblivious to the impact that picking up the newspaper every morning, seeing a “pundit” condemn immigrants, foreigners, muslim womens dress, a new community centre, a new mosque, might have on the muslim community? To be constantly bombarded with blatant racism and anti-muslim sentiment, to the point of physical violence on the part of right-wing extremists under the guise of “supporting our boys” will obviously play on peoples minds.

Then to be accused of “not integrating”, not doing enough to “condemn extremism”, having CCTV targeted on muslim areas exclusively, having constant pressure put on you about how you dress, how long your beard is, how many times you pray, what schools you send your children to, the books you read, the conversations you have, the general suspicion of a public hyped up through diatribes in the Daily Mail, what effect does the government and the Police believe it will have on the growing muslim community?

Then we have specific laws targeted towards muslims. Laws that allow men already acquitted of terrorism offences to still carry that label for the rest of their lives, living out a meagre existence under harsher house arrest conditions than Aung San Suu Ki, with the threat of deportation to torture hanging over their heads every day. Situations where not even a prima facie case has been presented to a court yet we have brothers awaiting extraditon to a country they have never set foot in with evidence they have never been presented with facing life imprisonment in a US Supermax prison. Where we have sisters being framed, tortured for years then given life sentences with evidence that holds no water. Where we have brothers kidnapped from the streets of Milan or Sarajevo, and shipped off to underground torture chambers where the governments remain unrepentant of the suffering they caused. Where we have a government that tries to cover up torture of those who were meant to be under their care.

Despite all of this, the constant bombardment, harassment, intimidation and oppression of the muslim community both in the UK and worldwide, through the media, the government, and elements of the population, we instead blame a distant sheikh in a far-off land for the “radicalisation” of Roshonara Choudhary, a sister who to the point of extreme mental anguish could clearly take the paradox no more. Perhaps rather than blaming others, its time the UK looked closer to home.