Tag Archives: editorial

Ephemeral Empathy

Spur of the moment phenomena direct most of our lives today. The hundreds of assaults that took place on New Year’s Eve in Cologne were obviously condemnable. The event, described as TAHARRUSH GAMEA, made it to the international front forthwith. Thanks, perhaps, to facebook pages and the twitterati, the air got high on radical ideas and the human brains decisively co-ordinated and lead us all straight out of our comfy homes to rally against the ‘happening’.

Taharrush gamea is an Arab word meaning collective public harassment of a woman by a group of 20-30 men. Two sets of men encircle the woman; while the inner circle assaults, gropes and pulls at the woman – often tearing her clothes apart and sometimes even raping the woman – the outer circle tries to keep the public distracted. Then, the outer circle moves in and exchanges roles with the inner circle to commit the same unimaginable horrors on the woman. To think that an idea so horrifying originated in the 21st century itself (in some Muslim Nations), only to keep women journalists at bay, leaves one uncertain for the future of our world.

But, undoubtedly, assaults have happened since time immemorial, and everywhere in the world. Only when it happens in this manner, in those Muslim Nations, is it termed as Taharrush Gamea. Otherwise, it is simply called harassment. The Cologne attack was termed Taharrush SOLELY because the offenders were Muslim.

So one can wonder, has a similar thing never happened before? Has a woman never been assaulted in Cologne, or anywhere in the rest of the world? Why do only ‘big’ events lead us out to the streets? And why have we always been prejudiced against all of Islam?

According to WHO, one in every three women has been sexually assaulted at least once in her lifetime. I’m sure we haven’t witnessed a ‘million’ protests rising up against sexual assault, while each of those million victims did experience an equally horrible event. Once we are done with protesting, the event fades into oblivion within no time. The dos and don’ts we draw up once in a year during the ‘big’ events end up more like those set of rules we’d deliberately forget. We need to change this attitude of ours. We need to be affected by every small event, by every inhumane move people make.

Agreed, the offenders were migrants and Muslims. But, not all migrants or Muslims should be forced to bear the brunt of the blame of the people – who want all the migrants out of Germany just because of a few hooligans who exist in every country, cutting across all religions. Most of the migrants were genuinely escaping destruction and war in their original countries, and they desired no violence because they obviously had had their share in their lifetime. Holistically speaking, shouldn’t we be a little considerate towards them?

BUT – let the above discussion not leave an impression that we should pour our hearts out to the offenders too. Our guards need to be strengthened, because when offenders end up stating so shamelessly -“I am a Syrian, you have to treat me nicely—Mrs. Merkel invited me!” (Thanks to the liberal open door policy that ‘Mrs. Merkel’ implemented)- we know that people have started taking advantage of a sensitive situation.

 

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Free of All but Responsibility

Freedom is among the most cherished possessions of mankind. Pertaining to the tendencies of the human race, freedom provides contentment, but, it brings with itself an overflow of responsibilities. It must be kept in mind that one’s freedom shouldn’t give one the right to impede another’s freedom. The ones who have freedom also have to think upon the right and wrong of their decisions. Freedom is not absolute. It needs to be respected and upheld, and at the same time, it needs to be checked.

“Supreme Court Judge says that her daughters are liabilities.” This caption along with the photograph of justice Gyan Sudha Misra was published on the front page of an English newspaper. During the disclosure of liabilities and assets, Misra had written: “two daughters to be married” in the column against liabilities. Admittedly, there was no need to mention this as only legal liabilities were to be stated, nevertheless, the newspaper was totally misleading as Ms. Misra’s intention was only to tell that she would have to spend upon her daughters’ marriage. It does not prove that her feelings and emotions towards her children were based upon the monetary expenditure of their nuptials. There are numerous cases where the media has focused upon stories merely for the TRP, and has ignored issues of greater importance. Media and press constitute an important part of society as they are fundamental in shaping our world view. Thus a judicious use of freedom and powers is important.

When we use terms like “responsibility”, it might be viewed as giving powers to the state to curtail the rights of citizens for any reasons which are favorable to them. For example, the Press Law of Syria forbids reporting on topics that are considered to be sensitive by the government. Thus the two notions of freedom and responsibility seem to contradict each other.

The depth this contradiction can attain was witnessed subsequent to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. On one side, Islamists have argued that religion should not be subject to ridicule while on the other hand, people have blamed the extremists for their actions. The claim of the French government of being a protector of free speech came into light as pro-Palestine demonstrations were banned in Paris. Many questions were raised by the international community, some being: was it right to ban the burqa? Is it sufficient to condemn the extremists or do we need to argue upon blasphemy and religious beliefs?

Ideally this battle between the ideologies of responsibility and freedom can be resolved, but our world is far from being ideal. It is difficult to draw the line where freedom should end and responsibility should begin. And who is authorized to draw this line? Should all the powers be given to the government or should there be a scope of individual judgment?

Blurred Lines

We live in an age of more. Every single day, thousands of new companies join the fray to climb to the top of the corporate ladder. This world is ruthless, tossing aside those who do not push the envelope, those who do not take risks. Multinational giants along their way to the top often cross moral lines – entering into ethically grey areas. On such instances who should be held accountable for their misdeeds, the country harboring the company, or the company itself?

Such organizations operate across several countries, often having multiple subsidiaries increasing the complexity of their financial structure. They bank on the fact that different countries have different laws. Such firms establish themselves in countries with laws favorable to them, and herein lies the crux of the case. As long as the company doesn’t break the laws it is bound by, it cannot be held accountable for its actions however close they reach the fringes of what is ethically right. Usually countries structure laws to attract investors and companies, on occasion leaving loopholes for them to exploit.

One such instance is when India signed the Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with tax havens such as Mauritius and the Cayman Islands way back in 1982, allowing companies residing in India and one of these two nations to pay their taxes in either territories. This is propitious to firms as these havens exempt certain forms of tax, hence sending a beacon to companies the world over to invest in India. When in 2007, Vodafone orchestrated a transaction through the Caymans without paying any tax – as per the laws of the Cayman Islands – the revenue department of India cried foul. Following an acrimonious court case, the Supreme Court dismissed the charges against Vodafone, cementing the capitalist nature of India’s economic policy.

In the end it was Vodafone’s shrewd interpretation of the law that profited them. Unless countries legislate laws which are not subject to subterfuge, companies can and will continue to capitalize on the situation, for as long as they don’t explicitly break the law they are not culpable for their actions.

Freedom of Expression Vs. National Security

Over the years, there have been several discussions about how much of an individual’s rights can be restricted to ensure the safety of the nation. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of human rights state that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” In several nations however, there are laws that allow the government to curtail an individual’s rights. But, is this just? Should the government have the power to curtail an individual’s basic human right?

During the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, when a group of terrorists held several civilians hostage in the Taj Hotel, several news stations were reporting live from the scene, and were doing live broadcasts. They were also broadcasting videos of the militants. In this case, the broadcasts could have exposed the militants’ strategies to the terrorists, who held innocent civilians as hostages. This, thus, put civilian lives at risk and the TV stations were banned from broadcasting live from the scene. In such cases, the media houses should be sensible about the information they are broadcasting. They should have taken into consideration the fact that the terrorists could have access to a television, and not have jumped at this as an opportunity to improve their TRP rating. The government did the right thing by stopping the broadcast in this case, despite it curtailing the freedom of expression.

On the other hand however, there are cases like the Tiananmen Square protests on 1989. The protests were forcibly suppressed and the Communist Party of China has forbidden discussion of the event. Within a year of the protest, several newspapers were shut down and over 150 movies and books were banned. Several people born after 1990 are not even aware of this incident. Foreign journalists are frequently denied access to the Tiananmen Square during anniversaries. While the government takes these measures to prevent any future protests like the Tiananmen Square protests, and to prevent civil unrest, it curtails the freedom of expression of millions of people. Also, the reason for censoring this information is not well founded, because censoring all information related to the protests is not going to ensure that no other such protests take place. Neither will people start protesting once they read about this incident. Clearly, in this case, the Chinese Government either has more information about the event that could put the whole nation at risk, or have ulterior motives behind censoring the information. Maybe they just fear that this information will inspire others to protest against the corrupt officials and other issues with the Chinese government.

While it is important that the nation’s security is given more importance than an individuals’ rights, there will be corrupt officials who can take advantage of this and misuse it. But on the other hand, if the state does not have powers to curtail an individuals’ freedom of expression, the individual can also misuse it and put the entire nation at risk. Hence, the state should have the power to curtail the rights of an individual to protect the interests of the state. However, there should be methods to ensure that this is not misused by government officials. An independent committee, for example, can be set up to look into these issues.

terrorism

As of late, the terrorism in the Middle East has been growing to larger and larger peaks. It has broken the shackles of geographic boundaries and has managed to touch the entire globe. The number of people that leave their homes to sign up for the terrorist cause is staggering – over 15,000 people joined up from 80 countries throughout the world in the four short months after ISIS began to mobilize in the June of last year. This number begs the question: what is capable of driving thousands of people, some of whom lead comfortable lives, to drop everything, travel across the world, undergo rigorous combat training, and throw their lives away in a bloody martyrdom?

Many studies have been conducted to better understand this international radicalization process – specifically on the types of people which are most receptive to it. However, the results of these studies end up creating more questions than they answer. Unsurprisingly, certain of the sects of Muslims which feel marginalized or segregated from the rest of society are prone to turn to terrorism. Peculiarly, it has also been observed that most European insurgents are well-off, sociable representatives of the middle class – some of them having only recently converted to Islam. These two groups demonstrate a stark contrast in the kinds of people who give up their lives for terrorism, and it is only logical to assume that there is a similar contrast in their respective reasons for doing so.

Many Muslim communities in the Western World are isolated from the remainder of the society that they belong to. Although this isolation is many times self-imposed, the sentiments of oppression and marginalization that it creates are just as powerful as they would be if it were not. This is not to say that all such communities are spawning grounds for terrorists – only the most extremist of them are. For the disgruntled members of these communities, the life of a terrorist represents the perfect way to strike back at who they see as their Western oppressors. To them, inspiring fear through acts of brutality is the most effective method to draw attention to their cause.

The reasons respectable, middle class people end up joining terrorist organizations are much more difficult to pin down. Much of what is understood at the moment about their motives is still conjecture. The most popular theory is that perhaps they are running away from some aspect of their lives that they cannot bear to face; such as financial or social problems. Or maybe they have some criminal record that they wish to expiate, and they believe the terrorist cause is their vehicle to do so. In some instances, adolescents join up merely because they are at the junction in their lives when living in a camp and shooting guns seems appealing. If these kinds of people suddenly hear about what ‘Islam’ has to offer, then, obviously, they will jump at the chance to convert and realize their own aspirations.

In recent years, the number of people in the Western nations approaching Muslim religious leaders to ask for conversion has significantly increased. What is more telling, however, is the number of people who disappear after being taught what Islam is, and represents, by these authorities. There are people out there, living in our societies, slowly but surely spreading the propaganda that terrorist organizations adhere to.

But, although these reasons offer a somewhat satisfactory explanation for why terrorists choose to be terrorists, they do not explain how terrorists – rational human beings no different from us – can possibly justify the barbarous murders of innocents to themselves.

These men and women have interpreted the teachings of the Quran and applied them to the present world in a certain way – a way that allows them to accept and even relish in the loss of innocent life. According to their interpretation, any government that chooses to oppose them, and take military action against them, can only do so with the support of its people. In this way, every citizen of the nation becomes responsible for the inevitable loss of terrorist life that occurs during combat. Moreover, although terrorists accept that women and children not directly involved in the fighting are innocent, since they sleep and eat in the same countries that house the armies killing terrorists, their deaths too are sanctioned by God. Furthermore, an interpretation of a specific line in the Quran leads one to believe that even Islamic people living in Western nations are not truly Islamic, by virtue of the fact that they accept Christian or Jewish leaders. Through this tangled web of spurious logic, terrorists have managed to rationalize the killing of anybody who so much as is present in a nation warring against them.

These men and women put their religion on a pedestal, and allay any guilt they feel for their actions by telling themselves that they are merely the instruments of God’s design. To these men and women, even logic as absurd as this is acceptable, because what they are looking for is not a reason to kill, but an excuse to kill. The more logical the terrorists’ minds are, the deeper they must immerse themselves in their excuse, to escape the self-recrimination. This excuse is repeated so many times in the minds of terrorists that eventually, they begin to truly believe it; and the product of this mental conditioning are the religious zealots we see now terrorizing the world.