France At Crossroads

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Can Charlie Hebdo cartoons be seen as satire or simply tasteless insults? This question has divided the journalist community. There has been an intense exchange of emails at the Al Jazeera office discussing this issue. The Arab journalists are of the opinion that Charlie Hebdo cartoons were in bad taste and were maliciously drawn to humiliate Muslims. They wanted the news to focus on the wider issues of Islamophobia in the European society and the role that western intervention in the Middle East has played in the radicalization of these youths.

The key is to look at the biographies of these guys – contrary to conventional wisdom, they were radicalised by images of Abu Ghraib not by images of the Prophet Mohammed

Executive producer Salah-Aldeen Khadr:

The western journalists wanted to limit the focus on journalistic freedoms.

We are Aljazeera.  So, a polite reminder:
#journalismisnotacrime
Kind regards
Jacky Rowland

In the broader context there are many forces at play that are motivating the radicals. People who say it is only about freedom of speech want to take the focus away from the foreign policies of western governments and the people who only talk about foreign policies take focus away from the fact that religion and society has played a role in the radicalization of these youths. Before being killed by the security forces one of the attacker was interviewed by a French journalist. The attacker talked about “insult to prophet” and about the western intervention in Middle East and Afghanistan.

Can we deny the fact that some of the prominent Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan criminalize blasphemy against Islam? Even legitimate criticism of some of the practices carried out in the name of religion is considered blasphemy. In Pakistan such laws are used to settle score with opponents or to persecute the people belonging to the minority community. In the Indian state of Kerala a Christian teacher’s hands were cut off by extremist elements because they believed he insulted the prophet. There is a problem and denial wont help fix it .

The media and the international community must also acknowledge that Islam is the most frequently criticized religion in the world. There are thousands of blogs, anti Islamic websites and books that are dedicated to the criticism of Islam and its prophet.  Most Muslims, practicing or non practicing, are at the receiving end of Islamophobic abuse on the internet. A recently published article showed how Facebook and Twitter are being used to threaten and abuse Muslims across the world. In spite of facing such hate attacks, an overwhelming majority of Muslims are going about their lives normally ignoring the profanities directed at them. The virtue of patience is repeatedly emphasized in the Quran and most Muslims are practicing that. Of course some Muslims need to reform themselves so do the people who vilify all Muslims on the basis of race and religion.

Now let us look at the other side of the issue. France has a large population of migrants mostly from north African Muslim countries. France has the largest population of Muslims in the European Union. France was among the few prominent countries that had opposed the Iraq war.

Most of the French Muslims were born in France. They don’t associate themselves with Morocco or Algeria, the countries of their ancestors. The only country they can associate themselves with is France. The migrant community of France has played an important role in the development of modern France. The French society welcomed the hard labor of the migrants, adopted their food and expected them to assimilate in French values of freedom, equality and liberty.

With the economic downturn in Europe there has been an increase in the anti migrant sentiment. Increasingly the migrants are being subjected to all forms of racism and discrimination. Out of 6 million Muslims living in France hardly 2000 wore the Burqa. Yet France found an urgent need to ban the Burqa. The newsroom discussions focused on how the Islamic values (of migrants) do not fit with French values. France became a “liberal” country like Saudi Arabia where the Govt decides what clothes people can wear.

The French have a very low threshold of tolerance when it comes to antisemitism. Charlie Hebdo which is now being celebrated as the icon of liberal values sacked one of its staff for making an antisemitic joke and the state of France jailed him. France also happens to be the only western country to ban pro Palestine rallies.

When it comes to Islamophobia the French have a completely different value system. The right to publish vile, racist and xenophobic cartoons becomes the fundamental value of France that “uncivilized” migrants wont understand. I refuse to accept that these were the values that modern France was formed on.

There is a difference between satire and profanity. Satire intends to trigger a thought process that may help people see things from a different perspective. Profanity is designed to offend and humiliate. Who would pay to buy Charlie Hebdo magazine except those who enjoy tasteless and mindless humiliation directed at the weaker sections of the society?  Would they be making vulgar cartoons of the soldiers who died fighting for France? No. Because that will hurt the sentiments of the French.

The French Muslims love France and its people. One gave his life protecting the very same people who were publishing vile cartoons to humiliate his community and the other risked his life to save lives in a super market.

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Republishing vile racist cartoons wont make France a stronger nation. To recover from this tragedy as a stronger nation the French must reclaim the values they hold dear. Freedom, Equality, Liberty and Justice have no meaning in a society that applies these principles selectively.

What Happened To The Hindu Population of West Pakistan?

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It has long been argued by the right wing Hindutva ideologues that:

  • After the exchange of population between India and Pakistan in 1947, 15% of the total population of West Pakistan was Hindu.
  • Since 1947 the population share of Pakistani Hindus came down drastically from 15% to the present day 1.6%.

In a recent article published on various websites Prof. Saswati Sarkar wrote:

“let me first start with startling facts that should have by now been well known to an Indian audience in normal course. When Pakistan was created in 1947, Hindus constituted about 15% of the population of West Pakistan (current Pakistan); by 1998 it is about 1.6% [1] – the population has declined by about 90% in about 50 years. This decimation is the outcome of sustained legal and social discrimination ever since the creation of Pakistan.”

~ Professor Saswati Sarkar , Dept. of Electrical and Systems Eng., University of Pennsylvania

To support this claim Professor Saswati Sarkar has provided a link to the Hindu American foundation website here. But do these startling claims made by the Hindu American Foundation and Prof Sarkar stand up to scrutiny? In this article I will present various documentary evidences to try and understand the reality of the population numbers of Hindus in present day Pakistan.

Three academics from some of the best educational institutions in the world came together to study the migratory flow of populations after the partition of India. In their paper they wrote this:

“In Pakistan, since we know ex-post that almost all Hindus/Sikhs moved, it is easy to identify the potential movers in 1931, and say with some confidence that Muslims in Pakistan in 1931 compromise the non-movers in 1931. We cannot say this for India and Bangladesh since only some Muslims/Hindus moved. The percentage Hindus/Sikhs in Pakistan dropped from 17% in 1931 to 2% in 1951. The minority numbers for India and Bangladesh are 12% to 9% and 29% to 21%. Clearly a large number of Muslims stayed back in India and a large number of Hindus stayed back in Bangladesh (until 1951).”

(Page 7, Footnote 9)

The Partition of India: Demographic consequences by Prashant Bhardwaj, Asim Khwaja & Atif Mian (Exhibit A)

This is by far the best academic study that I could find on the subject. In this study the academicians have covered a wide range of issues that impacted migration during the partition of India. This paper is based on the district wise tabulated data of 1931 census of undivided India and the 1951 census of India and Pakistan.

As per the 1931 census, Hindus and Sikhs had a total share of 17% of the total population in the districts that later became West Pakistan. There is no reason to believe that this population ratio changed until the partition in 1947.

To verify the census figures I had to look for another source of data against which these figures can be compared. I searched through newspaper archives to look for migration figures from the time of the Partition to get an idea of the number of Hindus and Sikhs who left West Pakistan.

According to this Reuters report (Exhibit B) published in 1953 a total of 7.5 million Hindus and Sikhs migrated from East and West Pakistan and settled in India by 1951. As per the census carried out by India in 1951 a total of 2.5 million Hindus entered into India from East Pakistan (Bangladesh). This means that out of the total migration of 7.5 million people into India, 5 million entered from West Pakistan and the remaining 2.5 million entered from East Pakistan.

Exhibit B

This figure can also be corroborated from another news published in 1949 (Exhibit C). The ministry of rehabilitation established to help the refugees took a census and estimated the number of refugees from West Pakistan to be 5 million. Notice the number of migrants from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) were around 2 million in 1949 and this number swelled to 2.5 million by 1951.

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Exhibit C

The number Hindus and Sikhs who left West Pakistan were replaced by almost the same number of Muslims who left India. This means that the overall population of West Pakistan remained the same. This is supported by the initial reports of migration that were published in December 1947 (Exhibit D). As per this report out of the total 8.5 million people who crossed Punjab border 4,362,000 were non Muslims. Later this number swelled to 5 million as migrations continued.

Exhibit D

As per the census of 1951 the total population of West Pakistan was around 34 million. 5 million Hindus and Sikhs who left West Pakistan would have made 14.7% of that population.

The study claims that 2% of Hindus still remained in Pakistan even after Partition. Lets add 2% to the 14.7 % and the final figure comes to 16.7% which is very close to the 17% as claimed in the paper presented by the academicians. The numbers add up.

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Exhibit E

The reporting of that time reflected the fact that almost all Hindus of Pakistan lived in East Bengal. There was only a tiny minority of Hindus that existed in West Pakistan (Exhibit E).

According to the 1998 census figures of Pakistan the total population share of Hindus is 1.85%  including the scheduled castes (not 1.60% as claimed by HAF). Prof Sarkar also argues that many Hindus in Pakistan hide their religious identity due to fear of persecution. So according to her claim the population share of Hindus may be much higher than 1.85%.

Going by this report many Dalit Hindus have converted to Christianity in Pakistan due to the efforts of missionary groups. This is plausible because we have seen similar conversions in India. This means that 1.59% Christian population of Pakistan also includes some erstwhile Hindus.

Looking at the numbers and the supporting documents we can safely conclude that the the population share of Hindus in present day Pakistan has not shown a decline as is being claimed by the Hindutva ideologues.

It is very important to highlight the plight of minorities in Pakistan who face discrimination and persecution and this must done on the basis of facts. There are many authentic reports that can be used to support the fact that minorities face hardships in Pakistan. Misrepresentation of facts does not help the cause.