Yesterday, Joseph Stack deliberately flew an airplane into a building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas, in order to advance the political grievances he outlined ina perfectly cogent suicide-manifesto. Stack’s worldview contained elements of the tea party’s anti-government anger along withsubstantial populist complaints generally associated with “the Left” (rage over bailouts, the suffering of America’s poor, and the pilfering of the middle class by a corrupt economic elite and their government-servants). All of that was accompanied by an argument as to why violence was justified (indeed necessary) to protest those injustices:
I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual” . . . . Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.
Despite all that,The New York Times‘ Brian Stelterdocumentsthe deep reluctance of cable news chatterers and government officials to label the incident an act of “terrorism,” even though — asDave Neiwert ably documents– it perfectly fits, indeed is a classic illustration of, every official definition of that term. The issue isn’t whether Stack’s grievances are real or his responses just; it is that the act unquestionably comports with the official definition. But as NBC’s Pete Williams said of the official insistence that this was not an act of Terrorism: there are “a couple of reasons to say that . . .One is he’s an American citizen.” Fox News’ Megan Kelley asked Catherine Herridge about these denials: ”I take it that they meanterrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to?,” to which Herridge replied: “they meanterrorism in that capital T way.”
All of this underscores, yet again, that Terrorism is simultaneously the single most meaningless and most manipulated word in the American political lexicon. The term now has virtually nothing to do with the act itself and everything to do with the identity of the actor, especially his or her religious identity. It has really come to mean: ”a Muslim who fights against or even expresses hostility towards the United States, Israel and their allies.” That’s why all of this confusion and doubt arose yesterday over whether a person who perpetrated a classic act of Terrorism should, in fact, be called a Terrorist: he’s not a Muslim and isn’t acting on behalf of standard Muslim grievances against the U.S. or Israel, and thus does not fit the “definition.” One might concede that perhaps there’s some technical sense in which term might apply to Stack, but as Fox News emphasized: it’s not “terrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to . . . terrorism in that capital T way.” We all know who commits terrorism in “that capital T way,” and it’s not people named Joseph Stack.
he collective hesitance to call Stack a Terrorist with the extremely dubious circumstances under which that term is reflexively applied to Muslims. If a Muslimattacks a military base preparing to deploy soldiers to a war zone, that person isa Terrorist. If anAmerican Muslim arguesthat violence against the U.S. (particularly when aimed at military targets) is justified due to American violence aimed at the Muslim world, that person is a Terrorist who deserves assassination. And if the U.S. military invades a Muslim country, Muslims who live in the invaded and occupied country and who fight back against the invading American army — by attacking nothing but military targets — are also Terrorists. Indeed, large numbers of detainees at Guantanamo were accused of being Terrorists for nothing more than attacking members of an invading foreign army in their country, including 14-year-old Mohamed Jawad, who spent many years in Guantanamo,accused (almost certainly falsely) of throwing a grenade at two American troops in Afghanistan who were part of an invading force in that country. Obviously, plots targeting civilians for death — the 9/11 attacks and attempts to blow up civilian aircraft — are pure terrorism, but a huge portion of the acts committed by Muslims that receive that label are not.
In sum: a Muslim who attacks military targets, including in war zones or even in their own countries that have been invaded by a foreign army, are Terrorists. A non-Muslim who flies an airplane into a government building in pursuit of a political agenda is not, or at least is not a Real Terrorist with a capital T — not the kind who should be tortured and thrown in a cage with no charges and assassinated with no due process. Nor are Christians who stand outside abortion clinics and murder doctors and clinic workers. Nor are acts undertaken by us or our favored allies designed to kill large numbers of civilians or which will recklessly cause such deaths as a means of terrorizing the population into desired behavioral change — the Glorious Shock and Awe campaignandthe pummeling of Gaza. Except as a means for demonizing Muslims, the word is used so inconsistently and manipulatively that it is impoverished of any discernible meaning.
All of this would be an interesting though not terribly important semantic matter if not for the fact that the term Terrorist plays a central role in our political debates. It is the all-justifying term for anything the U.S. Government does. Invasions, torture, due-process-free detentions, military commissions, drone attacks, warrantless surveillance, obsessive secrecy, and even assassinations of American citizens are all justified by the claim that it’s only being done to ”Terrorists,” who, by definition, have no rights. Even worse, one becomes a “Terrorist” not through any judicial adjudication or other formal process, but solely by virtue of the untested, unchecked say-so of the Executive Branch. The President decrees someone to be a Terrorist and that’s the end of that: uncritical followers of both political partiesimmediately justify anything done to the person on the ground that he’s a Terrorist(by which they actually mean: he’s been accused of being one, though that distinction — between presidential accusations and proof — is not one they recognize).
If we’re really going to vest virtually unlimited power in the Government to do anything it wants to people they call ”Terrorists,” we ought at least to have a common understanding of what the term means. But there is none. It’s just become a malleable, all-justifying term to allow the U.S. Governmentcarte blancheto do whatever it wants to Muslims it does not like or who do not like it (i.e.,The Terrorists). It’s really more of a hypnotic mantra than an actual word: its mere utterance causes the nation blindly to cheer on whatever is done against the Muslims who are so labeled.
UPDATE: I want to add one point: the immediate official and media reaction was to avoid, even deny, the term “terrorist” because the perpetrator of the violence wasn’t Muslim. But if Stack’s manifesto begins to attract serious attention, I think it’s likely the term Terrorist will be decisively applied to him in order to discredit what he wrote. His message is a sharply anti-establishment and populist grievance of the type that transcends ideological and partisan divisions — the complaints which Stack passionately voices are found as common threads in the tea party movement and among citizens on both the Left and on the Right — and thus tend to be the type which the establishment (which benefits from high levels of partisan distractions and divisions) finds most threatening and in need of demonization. Nothing is more effective at demonizing something than slapping the Terrorist label onto it.
The civilian death toll in the US media-hyped and much government-touted Battle of Marjah is now up to 21, about a third of them children. But that’s only part of this ugly story.
While the slaughter goes on in this pointless display of Marine power, civilians have been dying at American hands elsewhere in Afghanistan. On Thursday a US airstrike allegedly targeting “insurgents” ended up hitting and killing seven Afghani policemen. And yesterday, another airstrike, this time on a “convoy” of three vehicles, killed an astonishing 27-33 civilians and injured at least 12 more–and given the vicious nature of American weaponry, it’s a fair bet that many of those who were injured will end up dying of their wounds too.
Nice work Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Your newly professed “concern” about protecting civilians is working out nicely.
True to form, Gen. McChrystal’s response to these murderous outrages has not been to call for investigations and courts martial of those responsible for the deaths, but rather to express his concern that “inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their [the Afghan people's] trust and confidence in our mission.”
Ah, the “mission.”
Oh yeah, this general who earned his rep running a huge death squad operation in Iraq, says he’s also “extremely saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives.” What he didn’t say though, was that he is that he is extremely angry that American forces are continuing to shoot first and ask questions later, or that he plans to call some people on the carpet and strip some badges off them to ensure compliance with his orders to protect civilians.
Why would this be?
Because the professed “concern” about protecting civilians in this war is all talk and showmanship. It’s not about actually caring about and protecting civilians.
America is not in Afghanistan because of any real concern about the welfare of the people of Afghanistan. It is in Afghanistan because America wants to control Afghanistan. This is a war about geopolitics, not about liberation.
If America really cared about the ordinary people of Afghanistan, who have endured decades of war, it would forswear the use of antipersonnel weapons, which the UN has been trying to ban–over the opposition of the US and other benighted powers like China and Israel–weapons that leave unexploded bomblets littering the landscape to maim and kill innocent people, disproportionately small children. It would sign and obey the land mine ban. It would cease using pilotless drones, which have been killing far more innocent people than actual enemy fighters, and it would stop using airstrikes on “suspected” enemy targets when those targets are likely to have civilians in them.
In fact, if the US really cared about the people of Afghanistan, it wouldn’t be fighting there at all. It would be organizing a regional peace conference, under the auspices of the United Nations and involving all the surrounding nations–Iran, China, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan–and reaching an agreement among all the forces within the country, including the Taliban, to establish a government of national reconciliation. The US would be relying not on war but on the carrot of aid to get such a government to actually work for the peaceful reconstruction of the country. And it would withdraw all of its forces promptly.
But there is no talk of such an approach. Rather, in Washington all we hear is talk of “winning” and “completing the mission,” though nobody seems able to say just what “winning” or the “mission” in Afghanistan might be. That’s understandable since the government of Afghanistan is a corrupt narco-regime led by a family of gangsters, thugs and profiteers, and the military and police are a hopeless combination of inept and corrupt. According to a first-hand, on-the-scene report in the New York Times, which has been an editorial backer of this war, Afghan forces have played almost no role in the Marjah battle, which is supposed to be a test run of the new Obama war strategy. That might explain why only one Afghan soldier has died in the battle, compared to 12 US and other NATO soldiers.
Happily, there is a light at the end of this blood-drenched tunnel. That light is th
e people of the Netherlands, who have so soured on their nation’s support for this stupid, criminal war, that they have brought down their government. Technically what happened is that the Dutch Labor Party, which opposes Dutch military involvement in the Afghan War, has denounced the war and, this week, pulled out of the governing coalition, leaving the coalition with just 47 of 150 seats in the country’s parliament. It is likely that the 1600 Dutch troops serving in Afghanistan will soon be pulled out.
The war, never popular in Europe, Canada or Australia, has become increasingly less popular everywhere but in America. Now, like the famed story of the little boy who saved Holland by putting his finger in a leaking dike, only in reverse, this pulling out of a Dutch finger could lead to a flood of European nations ending their commitment of troops to the NATO participation in the War in Afghanistan, leaving just US and British forces alone there.
The challenge now is for the somnolent and co-opted peace movement in the US to throw off its narcophilic embrace of the Democratic Party and of President Obama, to take heart from the Dutch people, and to demand that the US too end its war making, not just in Afghanistan, but around the globe.
The news about Switzerland’s ban on the construction of minarets has made the headlines, providing shocking evidence of the strength of increasing intolerance in Europe. I shall be writing more about the minaret ban and its implications later, God willing, but right now I wanted to share an interesting side note.
Daniel Streich was a member of the Swiss People’s party (SVP), the political party that pushed the minaret ban initiative. Streich is a military instructor in the Swiss Army and a local politician in the commune of Bulle. Formerly a devout Christian, he converted to Islamand kept it a secret for two years.
Streich has left the SVP, made his conversion to Islam public, and has denounced the SVP’s anti-Muslim campaign as a witch hunt. As far as I can tell, this story has not broken in the English language press. So, I translated a news article on Streich from German to English, published at the Swiss news siteTwenty Minutes Online.Here it is:
Daniel Streich, military instructor and, until recently, a Swiss People’s Party (SVP) politician in the city of Bulle, has left the party. The reason: He converted to Islam. For two years he kept this secret from his ex-party. Now, with the “witch hunt against Islam,” this situation has become unbearable for him.
He was a true SVPer and Christian. He read the Bible and regularly went to church. Now Daniel Streich, military instructor and community council member, reads the Qur’an, prays five times a day and goes to a mosque. “Islam offers me logical answers to important life questions, which, in the end, I never found in Christianity,” says Streich.
Because he could no longer stand the “SVP’s witch hunt against Islam” Streich left the part two weeks ago (around November 10, 2009) and has made his conversion to Islam become publicly known two years after his conversion. Now he’s participating in the building of the newCivilConservative Democratic Party in the canton of Freiburg. The former churchgoer is vehemently against the minaret initiative: “If the initiative passes, it will be an absolute deep blow for me. I would have to ask myself, why I applied myself professionally and politically for over 30 years for this political system.” In contrast, Switzerland urgently needs more mosques. “It is not worthy of Switzerland to force Muslims to practice their faith in back alleys.”
Reactions in the SVP were mixed. “Everyone can believe what he wants to,” says General Secretary Martin Baltisser. SVP-National Council member Alfred Heer had a less friendly reaction. Politcal scientist Georg Lutz: “The SVP and Islam stand closer to each other than people suppose.
Both advance a conservative worldview.”
With all due respect, I disagree with Lutz’ position. Muslims tend to have political attitudes that are similar to the social teaching of the Catholic Church: “progressive” on economic, environmental, and foreign policy issues, while being “conservative” on sexual ethics. But, a more accurate approach would be to say that Catholics and Muslims frequently do not fit within the stereotypical left/right divide.
If anything, I would say that both Catholicism and Islam are more to the Left. The Right emphasizes particularity (whether the micro-particularity of capitalist individualism or the macro-particularity of nationalism). The Left, on the other hand, tends to stress universality. A balanced political position will address both universality (we’re all members of the same species living on the same planet) and particularity (we are shaped and live in particular communities that have their own traditions, political needs, and strengths and weaknesses). How one falls on the left/right spectrum (assuming such a spectrum exists) would be a function of his or her relative stress on universality vs particularity. Since both Catholicism and Islam (along with other great world religions) say that what unites human beings is more important than what divides them, their fundamental tendency is somewhat to the Left (IMHO).
Anyway, there’s a sidebar item about an SVP politician trying to frame Streich’s conversion as a national security risk, implying that all Muslims in Western militaries are like the lone nut gunman at Fort Hood. (Ironically, in doing so he confirms Streich’s allegation that the SVP’s minaret ban is a “witch hunt” against Muslims). Here’s the piece:
Alfred Heer: Anxiety over the convert Daniel Streich?
Because Daniel Streich converted to Islam when he was an active professional member of the armed forces leads certain politicians to think: “That could be a security risk for the country. We’ve just seen what happened in the USA,” says SVP-National Council member Alfred Heer, referring to the shooting spree of a Muslim military psychiatrist at Fort Hood. Army spokesperson Christopher Brunner responded, “That is an absurd accusation.” The Swiss military is neutral on religious affiliations. Brunner: “it is totally irrelevant which religions our personnel belong to.” Performance, not belief, is what matters.
Whether Switzerland remains true to its democratic heritage, or follows the paranoia that feeds the extremism that devastated Europe in the 30′s and 40′s, depends on whether its citizens, in the long run, will think like Brunner or Heer. As for myself, I hope that some day I can see the Swiss Alps again without being harassed for my Islamic faith.Man denkt, Gott lenkt.
Jason Hamza van Boom was born in Oakland, California. He is a corespondent at Illume Magazine and blogs at Tikkun Daily (www.tikkun.org/daily) and is the host of Islam and Authors: On-Stage Conversations with Authors of New Books and Plays, (more…)
The recent passage of a ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland has a very interesting side story. A member of the political party that pushed for the minaret ban announced that he had become a Muslim. Outside of Switzerland, the mainstream media has ignored this. Muslims around the world, however, have picked up on this story, circulating it on blogs and on Facebook. In the process, however, the story has become distorted into a fairly bizarre shape, and so creating some confusion. Meanwhile, at least one anti-Muslim blog has picked up on the story. Looking at the comments it appears that some opponents of Muslim immigration want to dismiss the fact of his conversion all together.
Nevertheless, it is a verifiable fact that a Swiss elected official belonging to the Swiss People’s Party- the principal backer of the minaret ban- converted to Islam. Daniel Streich, who holds an elected local office and was a long time member of the Swiss People’s Party, announced his resignation from his party. He had been a devout, Bible-reading and church-going Christian. Two years ago, however, he converted to Islam. He kept his conversion under wraps. The Swiss People’s Party’s recent campaign against minarets, however, became too much for Streich. He made his conversion public, and denounced the campaign as a“witch hunt”.
The story, based upon a report in the Swiss media, first appeared in the English language atTikkun Dailyon December 4, 2009, with an immediate cross-posting onOpEdNews. After the story broke, it started getting some circulation on Muslim blogs and news aggregation sites. On January 30, 2010, the Pakistani paperThe Nationpublicized it on its website–with a lot of embellishments. It depicted Streich as a very big, major Swiss politician who specialized in campaigning against Muslims and minarets! After allegedly spreading tons of anti-Muslim propaganda, he had a sudden conversion and now renounced his evil ways:
“RENOWNED Swiss politician Daniel Streich, who rose to fame for his campaign against minarets of mosques, has embraced Islam. A member of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and a well-known politician, Daniel Streich was the first man who had launched a drive for imposition of ban on mosques minarets, and to lock the mosques in Switzerland. The proclamation of Streich’s conversion to Islam has created furore (sic) in Swiss politics, besides causing a tremor for those who supported ban on construction of mosques minarets. Streich propagated his anti-Islamic movement far and wide in the country, sowed seeds of indignation and scorn for Islam among the people, and paved way for public opinion against pulpits and minarets of mosques. But now Streich has become a soldier of Islam. His anti-Islam thoughts finally brought him so close to this religion that he embraced Islam. He is ashamed of his doings now and desires to construct the most beautiful mosque of Europe in Switzerland.”
This is a complete fabrication. Streich happened to belong to a political party that had a wide-ranging political platform, dealing with much more than “minarets of mosques.” Streich did not “rise to fame” on the basis of Islamophobia. And there is no evidence that he’s planning
to build any mosque, beautiful or not.
Peeling away the distortions, what remains are three significant facts. First, although anti-Muslim sentiments are strongest on the political Right, conservatives can become opponents of Islamophobia. Second, Western converts to Islam seem come from all parts of the political spectrum, not just from the Left. Third, a politician took the bold move of leaving his political party, and putting much of his political and social support at risk, for the sake of his conscience.
The notion that a conservative Christian politician could become a Muslim and denounce anti-Muslim campaigns naturally causes irritation for Islamophobes. For example, a forum on the anti-Muslim site FaithFreedom.org has begun discussing the story. Some of the commentators are dismissing it, since the idea that he was a crusader against minarets isn’t consistent with his converting to Islam two years ago.
Many Muslim scientists like Ibn Sina (Avicenna), al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham, known in the West as Alhazen, and Mu?ammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (Algorithmi), made great contributions that shaped the modern world. In the 9th century, Muslim inventor Abbas ibn Firnas was the first to design and test a flying machine, hundreds of years before da Vinci drew plans of his own. Hospitals as we know them today believed to have come from 9th century Egypt.
Sonja Pace | London 16 February 2010
A replica of the first person said to have flown with wings is displayed at the science museum in central London on January 21, 2010. The debt owed by European scholars to their Muslim counterparts on everything from water pumps and blood circulation to engineering and map-making was unveiled in a London exhibition on January 21.
Coffee, computers and piston engines – could we imagine a world without them? These are intricate parts of every day life for most of us and the knowledge that led to them was either invented by or passed down through the ancient Muslim world. That is the theme of an exhibit in London’s Science Museum and it’s a far cry from the view held by some that the Muslim and Western World represent a “clash of civilizations.”
A simple cup of coffee has become an intricate part of so many cultures. It’s called “Kawha”- where it was first developed as a drink – in the Arabian Peninsula, in today’s Yemen.
Professor Salim al-Hassani of the University of Manchester explains the coffee beans were actually brought to Yemen from the Horn of Africa, from Ethiopia.
“Well of course, coffee was invented in the very early years of Islam – a guy called Khaled in Ethiopia, a young man looking after his sheep,” al-Hassani said.
The sheep seemed to like the beans. So the young man took the beans to Yemen – the story goes – and the drink was developed and spread like wildfire.
And there were many other inventions or innovations passed on by the early Muslim world from the 7th Century onward, says Hassani.
“One of them is the invention of the university. This was done in the year 850 by a young lady called Fatima al-Fihri in the city of Fez in Morocco,” al-Hassani said. “The first university as we know it in the world, giving degrees and so on.”
The exhibit in London focuses on scientific or technological inventions and advances that changed our world – from some of the earliest universities, to innovations in medicine, hygiene, pumps, and water wheels.
Some says these important achievements have been forgotten amid the news often coming out of the Muslim world today that focuses so much on strife and terrorism. But, ask just about anyone on the streets of, say, Cairo or Damascus today and they haven’t forgotten - they’ll readily tell you about Islam’s glory days – not just its conquests but its cultural, scientific and technological innovations.”
These advances came at the height of the Islamic empire’s glory when it spread from the Middle East, across North Africa to southern Spain and beyond.
A time when Muslim scholars and inventors were at the forefront, says Hassani.
A scale model of Al-Jazari’s 13th-century Scribe Clock
Muslims absorbed knowledge – from India, China, the Greeks, the ancient Egyptians – and passed it on. One exhibit exemplifies that mixture – a giant clock featuring an Indian elephant and Chinese dragons and using ancient Greek water works. The one here is a replica of the original designed by the Muslim inventor, mathematician and engineer al-Jazari in the early 13th Century.
Anne Marie Brennan teaches forensic biology at London’s South Bank University and is fascinated by these innovations.
“Everybody has to love the elephant clock,” Brennan said. “The elephant clock is wonderful because it is like a United Nations clock. It has all the elements of different civilizations and I like it as a scientist because it shows that science doesn’t have to be boring and sterile and plain, but it can be decorative and it can also pay homage to the cultures that bring it forward.”
And then there is mathematics and algebra. In general, our numbers are known as “Arabic numerals” today, but it wasn’t always so, says professor Hassani.
“The numbers that we have today – 1,2,3,4 – they’re called Arabic numerals, but actually the Arabs at the time called them Indian numerals,” al-Hassani said.
And, the number “0″ for example – “zephir” in Arabic – was used first by early Arab scholars as an integral part of mathematical equations. And that’s part of the all important formula of zeros and ones that was crucial to the development of computers and other new technology.
The Magenn Power Air Rotor System (MARS) is a patented high altitude lighter-than-air tethered device that rotates about a horizontal axis in response to wind, efficiently generating clean renewable electrical energy at a lower cost than all competing systems. This electrical energy is transferred down the tether to a transformer at a ground station and then transferred to the electricity power grid. Helium (an inert non-reactive lighter than air gas) sustains the Air Rotor which ascends to an altitude for best winds and its rotation also causes the Magnus effect. This provides additional lift, keeps the device stabilized, keeps it positioned within a very controlled and restricted location, and causes it to pull up overhead rather than drift downwind on its tether.
All competing conventional wind generators use bladed two-dimensional disk-like structures and rigid towers. The Magenn Power Air Rotor system is a closed three-dimensional structure (cylinder). It offers high torque, low starting speeds, and superior overall efficiency thanks to its ability to deploy higher. The closed structure allows Magenn Power to produce wind rotors from very small to very large sizes at a fraction of the cost of current wind generators.
The distinct advantages of the Magenn Air Rotor System design are as follows:
Magenn Air Rotor System is less expensive per unit of actual electrical energy output than competing wind power systems.
Magenn Power Air Rotor System will deliver time-averaged output much closer to its rated capacity than the capacity factor typical with conventional designs. Magenn efficiency will be 25 to 60 percent. This is hugely important, since doubling capacity factor cuts the cost of each delivered watt by half.
Wind farms can be placed closer to demand centers, reducing transmission line costs and transmission line loses.
Magenn Air Rotors are operable between 2 meter/sec and in excess of 28 meters/sec.
Magenn Air Rotors can be raised to higher altitudes, thus capitalizing on higher winds aloft. Altitudes from 400-ft to 1,000-ft above ground level are possible, without having to build an expensive tower, or use a crane to perform maintenance.
Magenn Air Rotors are mobile and can be easily moved to different locations to correspond to changing wind patterns. Mobility is also useful in emergency deployment and disaster relief situations.
These points are mutually inclusive. The advantages above combine to make Magenn the most cost-effective wind electrical generation system.
‘To tie down’ is the literal meaning of the Arabic word Wakf. It’s used across the Muslim world to denote property donated by individuals and institutions in the name of Allah for the benefit of the poor in the community.
800 years is how old the institution of Wakf is in India. It began when Muslim rulers donated huge lands for charity.
3,00,000 is the approximate number of registered Wakf properties in India
4 lakh acresis the land Wakf properties account for. According to the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, K. Rahman Khan, this makes the board the third-largest landholder after the railways and defence.
35 is the number of Wakf boards in India, many of them non-functional
5 is the minimum number of members a board must have. The number, however, varies according to the Muslim population of a state. Members are nominated by ruling parties in each state.
Wakf Acts The 1954 and 1995 central laws endow huge powers with the state governments that set up and run Wakf boards in their states
Builder or businessman identifies a Wakf property
They approach members of the board
The land is sold for a pittance
Board members get their cut
Happens in states where outright sale is not encouraged
Builder/ businessman approaches board members
The land is given on a ridiculously low lease
Land use is changed to facilitate commercial exploitation
Members pocket their cuts
Allegations against the board
Although Wakf is a national resource to be used to develop institutions and earn income for Muslims, it is so terribly managed that it is the only system where virtually no accountability is demanded
Cases of blatant corruption abound. Land is sold off for buildings, hotels, malls or factories for a pittance or given out for shockingly low rents to commercial interests.
The boards have become an avenue for political patronage. Muslims who cannot be accommodated in ministries are sent off here. They mostly never do anything for the community. In most cases, they are hand-in-glove with the land mafia and encroachers.
The “Islam in danger” sentiment is crudely raised to hoodwink the Muslim public and stop any real scrutiny of the functioning of boards, whose members are out to make a fast buck
Ironically, Wakf boards keep claiming properties protected by the ASI as “living” religious shrines. In many cases, there is a clear monetary incentive under the guise of religion.
The mess in the boards is also a reflection of the apathy of state governments. Many have not constituted boards; none have carried out a survey of Wakf properties as required by the 1995 Act.
As a result of this mess, 70 per cent of Wakf properties are encroached upon, often in connivance with board members or government department overseeing.
The board covertly encourages Muslims to encroach on a monument. Friday prayers begin to be held on a regular basis. Wakf board then attempts to make it a ‘living’ place of worship. Very often, the encroachers are board members or persons acting on their behalf.
Later surrounding land is sold/ leased as private property for commercial purposes.
It is collectively the biggest land scam in India’s history. Wakf can be described as a religious endowment made in the name of Allah for the benefit of the poor and needy in the Muslim community. There are approximately 3,00,000 registered Wakf properties in India on about four lakh acres of land. It is a national resource that should have been developed for the welfare of the community, as it is meant to.
Instead, this resource has been mortgaged, sold and encroached upon with the connivance of the very institutions and individuals responsible for safeguarding it. This is an investigation into a systemic rot. The Wakf boards in most states of India are repositories of corruption, in league with land sharks and builders. They continue to get away with the daylight robbery of their own community because, whenever there is any demand for scrutiny, they crudely take cover behind the “Islam in danger” sentiment.
Earlier, a sale or exchange of land had to have the approval of the district judge. Now the board pretty much does what it wants.
Rahman Khan, deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, was chairman of the joint parliamentary committee on Wakf that submitted its report a year ago. Having examined the issue in depth, he says: “If the Wakf properties were managed properly, many problems of Muslims such as joblessness, lack of education and resultant poverty would have been resolved. Today, even if we presume that 70 per cent of these properties have been encroached upon or sold off, even the remaining 30 per cent is a huge resource that can be developed.” He has already recommended to the Manmohan Singh government that there be a “total change” in the constitution of the boards and a national Wakf development corporation be set up with professionals at the helm. “Imagine what great institutions can be built as the land cost is zero,” he says.
Wakf property now encroached upon: Fatehpuri Mosque, Delhi In one instance, the board got a property with Punjab National Bank vacated and then leased it to a society headed by one of its own members. Shops too have been given out on lease.
But that is some distance away and will happen only if public awareness about the scale of the problem is created. Currently, those who purport to be leaders of the community are complicit in the conspiracy to rob resources while perpetuating a siege mentality. They want to capture existing institutions and sell them off piece by piece. They are adept at fanning fears and feeding into the victimhood syndrome but quite incapable of building institutions or shepherding the community towards modernity. Atyab Siddiqui, advocate and standing counsel of the Jamia Millia Islamia university, says that “anytime we talk of reforming Wakf, they bring religion into it”. According to him, the 1995 Wakf Act actually increased corruption within the boards. Earlier, any sale or exchange of land had to be cleared by a district judge. “But now,” he says, “the board can pretty much do what it likes, and shocking decisions are taken all the time.”
Some examples of suspect land deals from across the land:
Chennai: In 1997, the Tamil Nadu Wakf Board took the decision to outright sell 1,710 square feet of land in the commercialised Triplicane High street in Madras for a paltry Rs 3 lakh. A sale like this would have required the sanction of two-thirds of the board members.
Mumbai: The Maharashtra Wakf Board got a measly Rs 16 lakh for 4,532 square metres in the upscale Altamount Road on which none other than Mukesh Ambani is building his plush 27-storey home.
Bangalore: Developed on about five acres of land, the Windsor Manor hotel here was till recently giving the board a rent of Rs 12,000 a month for a property worth Rs 500 crore.
Faridabad: The Wakf board has been giving out about five acres of land on 11-month leases for several years at a ridiculously low rent between Rs 500 and Rs 1,500 per month. A factory was built and land use altered.
When Outlook approached Salman Khursheed, the Union minister for minority affairs, he admitted that “Wakf is one of those areas in which accountability has not been demanded. The community itself has not demanded accountability possibly due to a level of ignorance”. Can things change? Khursheed says he has proposed changes in the existing laws. “Once there was no accountability in the management of Haj. Now questions are asked all the time,” he points out. “Although the Wakf situation looks impossible, things do and can change once awareness builds up.”
Wakf land now a hotel: Windsor Manor, Bangalore
The hotel was paying a lease of just Rs 12,000 a month for this five-acre plot till the courts recently ordered a rent of Rs 6 lakh a month for a property worth Rs 500 crore
The heart of the problem lies in the constitution of the boards. A senior bureaucrat familiar with the issue says bluntly: “The boards are ill-constituted, not constituted or politically constituted. Often, they’re nothing more than a gang of thieves.” Mostly, political hangers-on and operators from the minority community are sent off to man the boards. The policies of successive governments have created a class of “sarkari Musalmans” adept at capturing institutions and bagging positions through which they can patronise others down the pecking order. The incentive they have, besides authority, is to pilfer as much as they can get away with.
The policies of successive governments have created a class of ‘sarkari Musalmans’ who are adept at capturing institutions.
There are enough examples of how a small group of “insiders” at Muslim institutions benefit from the overall laxity in the boards. For instance, there is the case of a member of the Delhi minorities commission running a private school on a large tract of Wakf land in the expensive Nizamuddin area and paying the board a pittance of Rs 1,000 rent per month. Mohammad Arif, section officer in charge of properties in the Delhi Wakf office, admits reluctantly that there are “some schools running on Wakf land but they are not for the poor and charge fees”. Further digging reveals that, two decades ago, Delhi Wakf ran a charitable dispensary but it was shut down. Now the main service they provide is paying salaries of imams attached to masjids (see On a Wink and a Prayer).
Wakf land n
ow Ambani Home: Altamount Rd, Mumbai
The market value of this 4,532 sq m plot on which Mukesh Ambani is building a 27-storey skyscraper is Rs 21 crore but the board ratified its sale for a “contribution” of Rs 16 lakh
There are two revealing cases linked to the huge Fatehpuri mosque in Delhi. According to some documents accessed by Outlook, what was listed as “Wakf estate number 6540 in masjid Fatehpuri” was occupied by a branch of the Punjab National Bank. The board fought a case and got the property vacated. Subsequently, however, it leased the property to a society headed by one of its own members, a Maulana Moazzam Ahmad. A blatant case of insider trading? Three years ago, a lawyer representing a school running inside the Fatehpuri mosque tried to get a shop at the entrance removed. The Wakf board claimed that the documents relevant for that plot of land were missing—it was widely suspected that the shopkeeper was paying off members. Salman Khursheed also pleads helplessness. “What do we do when the boards let their own properties be encroached upon and then say the documents are missing and they have lost the title deeds?”
That is, in fact, the most common tactic used when the boards are in league with encroachers. RS deputy chairman Rahman Khan says that there is no doubt that almost 70 to 80 per cent of Wakf land is encroached upon. Often, it is the government that simply takes over the land. But all too often Muslims themselves are the encroachers who pay off board members to live inside mosques and shrines or run shops and businesses on the premises. “Corruption in the boards is rampant,” says Rahman Khan, “and this is made worse by the attitude of state governments to Muslim institutions. They don’t want to interfere in case there is a reaction and they also don’t care because Muslims are involved.”
Wakf land sold cheap: Lal Bagh, Bangalore
This 90,000 sq ft of prime property in the city’s posh area was sold for just Rs 1 crore when it could have fetched over Rs 90 crore in the market
Standing counsel for Jamia Millia Islamia Atyab Siddiqui says that whenever there is an initiative from educated Muslims to preserve a legacy, build an institution or perhaps even introduce modern education, there is a run-in with the Wakf board. “We believe the Wakf does not have the instruments to preserve old mosques and we have been arguing that the ASI is better positioned to manage properties. But the problem that enlightened sections of society face is that they run up against monetary interests of a few who hide behind the guise of religion.” K.K. Mohammad is a veteran ASI archaeologist who has worked across India. Now the superintending archaeologist for the Delhi circle, he says, “My experience shows me that whenever people claim protected monuments as living shrines, there is a commercial incentive of occupying the monument or developing the land around it. All communities have people who do this.”
Most old Wakf properties have caretakers who treat it like a personal fiefdom, building houses and businesses and destroying the character of the shrine. Siddiqui has been part of the initiative to preserve the historic Anglo-Arabic school in Delhi’s Ajmeri gate area. He says, “The high court ordered the removal of encroachers (about 50 families) from the heritage property. But the same lot of property dealers, local toughs, interlopers are again trying to move in under the Wakf umbrella.”
Andhra has the largest number of Wakf properties registered in the country. Here the government has simply taken over land.
Across the country, there are examples of the huge Wakf mess. West Bengal has many cases of properties being encroached upon and made into little slums. Some examples: 4,000 illegal occupants are in possession of a property in Calcutta known as the Mysore Family Fateha Fund Wakf Estate. Over a hundred mosques in Calcutta and Howrah have been encroached upon. Sixty-four other mosques in the state have been illegally occupied. The story is somewhat different in Andhra Pradesh, which has the largest number of Wakf properties registered in the country. Here the government has simply taken over huge tracts of Wakf lands. For instance, Hyderabad’s hi-tech city stands on Wakf land. There is the interesting case of the government taking over 6,000 acres of land worth Rs 500 crore in Visakhapatnam and allotting 900 acres out of this to NTPC and 800 acres to the Hindujas at the rate of Rs 2.25 lakh per acre. When the Wakf board contested this, the Supreme Court ruled in its favour saying that the land was theirs and transferred it back to them. The government had to then transfer the money to the Wakf board.
Wakf land now sold to developer: Aurangabad
Notified as Wakf property in 1973, 14 acres of this Rs 60-crore property was allegedly sold for Rs 8 crore to Nirman Bharti Developers, owned by Vilasrao Deshmukh’s brother Dilip
Clearly, Wakf is a remarkable resource that can be tapped for the community. In a state like Kerala where people are literate and demand accountability, the board is manned by professionals and headed by two advocates, not by racketeers. Bureaucrats in the ministry of minority affairs in New Delhi cite the work done in Kerala as an example of what is possible. But that is an exception. The norm is rampant corruption, in the firm belief that no one will demand accountability.
More than anything else, the terrible state of Wakf properties in India reflects on the Muslim community’s failure to build institutions. Compare this with the manner in which the tiny Christian minority has preserved and built schools, colleges and hospitals. There is a complex set of reasons for this state of affairs in institutions that purport to work for the welfare of the country’s largest minority and the world’s second-largest Muslim population. In the case of Wakf, many illiterate Muslims just see their placards and presume the land belongs to t
hem. They are encouraged to believe there is some higher religious purpose to Wakf, little knowing that it has become a synonym for daylight robbery. The greatest hypocrisy perhaps is that the men who violate the spirit of charity behind the concept of Wakf then pretend to be devout and pious believers.
Misuse of Wakf properties: Who is Responsible for It? Submitted by admin on 9 February 2010 – 11:26pm.
* Indian Muslim
By Syed Sultan Mohiddin
The Outlook (September 21, 2009) made a shocking revelation about the colossal delinquency by the Wakf Boards. The cover page printed these shameful letters: WAKF – INDIA’S BIGGEST LAND SCANDAL. Followed by this it said: “4,00,000 acres – 3,00,000 properties. Wakf boards around the country are doling out land meant for poor Muslims for a pittance.” Inside the glossy magazine, the cover story by Saba Naqvi has unveiled the height of dishonesty and lackadaisical attitude of the Wakf Boards.
The report has exposed as to how the Wakf Board officials, far from being the guardians of the Muslim properties worth thousands of crores of rupees, have allowed the encroachments, given the occupation of prime lands on ridiculously low rents and even resorted to outright sale of priceless properties. All these disgraceful acts they are doing, the author alleged, “to fill their pockets”. Some examples cited in the article would surely boil the blood of even a suave Muslim. The Maharashtra Wakf Board sold 4,532 square metres plot at the posh Altamount Road in Mumbai to Mukesh Ambani, for a measly Rs.16 lakh. He is building a 27-storey skyscraper on it. By any mean standards, the land would have fetched Rs.21 crore in the market. The 90,000 sq ft prime property at Lal Bagh in Bangalore with market value of about Rs.90 crore was sold for just 1 crore. In Aurangabad, 14 acres of land worth Rs.60 crore was sold for Rs.8 crores. [Courtesy: The Outlook].
Though one should categorically blame the Wakf Boards for the misuse of wakf properties, there are other factors too which have contributed to the hopeless situation. The snail’s pace in the justice-delivery system where cases are not cleared for decades on end, and the callous attitude of the local authorities that never bothered to execute the judicial orders are equally responsible. Even the Wakf laws do not have sufficient teeth to bite the offenders.
A Muslim graveyard in Kadapa (Andhra Pradesh) is a classic case to prove the point in question. An extent of 1.10 acre was granted by the Nawab of Kadapa around 260 years ago for its use as the burial ground. The graveyard had been under the control and use by the Muslim community until 1966, when suddenly a few hoodlums occupied around 22 cents of the land by flattening the tombs and erecting some huts over them.
THE ENDLESS SAGA
The Muthavalli of the graveyard, Mr. Allabaksh Miah, promptly approached the District authorities and pleaded for removal of the encroachments. The Wakf Board also addressed several letters to the District Collector informing that the graveyard is the Wakf Board property and no part of the same can be allotted to private persons. In the year 1967, the then District Collector, Mr. R.M. Sastry, on receipt of a letter from the Secretary of Wakf Board, Andhra Pradesh state, Hyderabad ordered the Municipal authorities to remove the encroachments. The Muthavalli went from pillar to post, pleading for the implementation of the orders from the Collector but the concerned authorities did not take any action to remove the encroachments.
The hooligans resorted to further encroachment of land by demolishing a few more tombs in 1970. This time, the Muthavalli decided to seek justice from the Judiciary. It has taken 12 years for the Court to give its verdict. In the year 1982, the Sub-Court of Kadapa in its judgement clearly said: “The District Collector has the right to remove the encroachments if there are any, taking into consideration the sentiments of the Muslim community.” The High Court too upheld the verdict of the sub-court, Kadapa in its judgement of 1987. As the District Collector did not care to execute the court orders – the Muthavalli got frustrated and handed over the maintenance of the graveyard in the year 1988 to the Committee of Roshan Munawwar Mosque, which is also situated in the premises of the same graveyard.
Now it was the turn of Mr. Jaffer Baig, President of Roshan Munawwar Mosque Committee, to walk through a thorny and exasperating road. He was a high-ranking officer in the government service as the Superintending Engineer before he retired in 1985. Initially he thought of leading a hassle-free life after retirement, but gave up the thought when he knew about the illegal occupancy of a Muslim graveyard. He took up the cause of liberating the occupied land. During the past 20 years, he did not leave any stone unturned to secure the wakf land from the clutches of illegal occupants. A massive Dharna organised under his leadership in 1993, was participated by around 5000 Muslims and a large number of secular and peace-loving non-Muslims. It jolted the then District Collector to convene a meeting at his bungalow by summoning the Committee members and the encroachers. A promise was made to the Committee that the matter will be resolved in a few days. ‘That day’ never came. As the years rolled by, Mr. Baig approached the authorities tirelessly without renouncing hope. The Civil Court of Kadapa passed the buck to the Wakf Board Tribunal in April 2000. The case is pending for disposal in the Wakf Board tribunal for nine long years! When this writer met Mr. Jaffer Baig at his house, he was preparing to go to Hyderabad to appear for the 157th adjournment in the Wakf Board tribunal. He is doing too much at his ripe age of 84 years. “Do you see light at the end of the tunnel?” asked this writer. “Why not? I do have faith in the law of the land,” he retorted.
The Wakf properties are under the clutches of unauthorised hands – in the name of lease, tenancy or encroachment. As the statistics reveals, it is the government, which is in the possession of large wakf properties. What the Muslim leadership and intelligentsia should fight for is for the passing of a law on the floor of the Parliament that gives statutory powers to the Wakf Boards, to enable them to take possession of all the notified Wakf lands in the country on a time-bound plan. Besides, the State Wakf Boards should be cleansed of the political brats who shall be replaced with bureaucrats having impeccable integrity.
The Wakf properties in the country are more than sufficient to address the myriad problems faced by the Muslim community like illiteracy, unemployment and socio-economic backwardness. The trillion-dollar question is: Will the Muslim parliamentarians raise their voice in the parliament for a special law with statutory powers to the Wakf Boards?
— First published in Radiance Viewsweekly Vol. XLVII No.30, 2009-11-01 issue.