Some of life’s little ironies — well, not so little…

04 Jun

Most others will have forgotten, such is the short-term memory loss in our world of blogs and instant media and information overload, but less than a year ago we had a Prime Minister named John Howard, a Foreign Minister named Alexander Downer, a visit from George W Bush, an Immigration Minister named Kevin Andrews, and our very own international Islamist Terrorist investigation into one Doctor Haneef. My memory is online and uncensored of course: here.

Now we open up the Sydney Morning Herald to read:

LESS than a year after he was locked up in Brisbane as a suspected terrorist, Mohamed Haneef has shared a podium with the Dalai Lama at an anti-terrorism conference in India.

Which is pretty amazing, when you think about it.

The Indian doctor, who was arrested and then cleared of terrorism charges last July, told young Muslims across the world to beware, because they have been typecast as terrorists.

“I am a living example of how the menace of terrorism has affected innocent lives and the phenomenon of how Muslims are stereotyped as being terrorists or sympathisers of terrorists whether they are guilty or not,” he said.

Dr Haneef was a guest at a conference in New Delhi on Sunday organised by the Jama Masjid United Forum, an Islamic organisation in India that aims to “eradicate the root cause” of terrorism.

It was also addressed by Islamic leaders and Indian ministers and MPs.

Dr Haneef told the conference that the “entire world” was watching Muslim youths. “I am here not as an individual but as a representative of innocents who are victims of terrorism,” he said…

The Dalai Lama used his speech to strongly condemn terrorism, but called for “unbiased initiatives” to combat it. He said it was wrong to malign any one religion because of terrorist acts. The Tibetan spiritual leader also said India’s tradition of religious tolerance was a role model for the world.

However, that tolerance has been tested by a devastating terrorist bomb attack in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state, three weeks ago. The series of blasts, which killed 60 people and injured about 200, have been blamed on Muslim extremists.

After the attack an influential conservative Muslim seminary in India, the Darool Uloom Deoband and its political arm, Jamiat-i-Hind, issued a “fatwa” against terrorism. The 150-year-old institution, which influences thousands of smaller Islamic schools across the subcontinent, issued the fatwa at a meeting attended by thousands of clerics and students in Delhi.

Moving on to China, we may reflect that this being June it is nineteen years since the events of Tiananmen Square. Much has changed in China since then, but much hasn’t. As I have mentioned before, I have met quite a few people who were in China at that time, including eye witnesses of Tiananmen, and of related events: M was such an eye witness in Shanghai where he saw the once almost equally famous events that occurred at Shanghai railway station. I have met one of the leaders of the Tiananmen protests. So I think I know about it, and I know the Chinese government continues to lie about it, and continues to have a bad record in many areas. On the other hand, I know also that the actions of the Chinese government (and people) in relation to the recent and ongoing earthquake tragedy in Sichuan have been utterly commendable, especially in contrast to the uniformed dickheads who run Burma — though we must question whether the system, or corruption, subverted building codes to make the Sichuan tragedy worse in the first place. (By the way, I still say “Burma” because the name “Myanmar” is the brainchild of those uniformed “leaders” and excludes parts of the Burmese population.)

The Sydney Morning Herald remembered today:

Tiananmen Square still an almost taboo topic

OF ALL the taboos in modern China, the violent quelling of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests on June 4, 1989, remains the most sensitive.

Nineteen years later, China is now the world’s fourth-largest economy, and proud host of this year’s Olympic Games. But unlike other touchy subjects – Tibet, Taiwan and the Falun Gong group banned as a cult – there is no public discourse on the Tiananmen Square “incident”. The real death toll is a state secret; more than a dozen protesters from that time, plus hundreds more dissidents, are in jail.

Is it fair to raise Tiananmen Square during the Olympic golden year? When the nation is mourning the almost 70,000 dead in the Sichuan earthquake, and Chinese people around the world remain sensitive about perceived anti-China bias after violent protests in London and Paris against the torch relay?

Ding Zilin, whose teenage son was one of the students killed 19 years ago in and around the square, says the Government is hoping that time and material prosperity will make people forget; that the members of a group known as the Tiananmen Mothers will die of old age and their cause with them.

Mrs Ding’s long fight for justice might be a sobering thought for grieving parents now demanding political accountability for why so many schools were built so poorly that they collapsed instantly during the Sichuan earthquake, killing and injuring thousands of children.

Mrs Ding’s son, Jielian, was hiding behind a floral democracy market at a road bridge leading to Tiananmen Square when he was shot in the chest. Earlier, he and classmates had appealed to the soldiers, telling them there was no violent riot needing to be quelled, but a patriotic surge against corruption and unfairness by ordinary people who believed in a better China.

When supporters mistook him for a protester and gave him food, Jielian passed it on to the soldiers.

His mother wonders sometimes if the bullet that tore through his heart later that evening on June 3 or early in the morning on June 4, was fired by a soldier who had accepted her son’s food.

Mrs Ding says that if the Government has become more open after the earthquake, this has been forced by the public. But the national mourning is a watershed, she says.

“It’s the first time the national flag has been flown at half-mast for ordinary people in China. In the past this was only done for leaders like Mao Zedong.

“Nineteen or 20 years cannot alleviate any of my pain,” she says. “I keep asking myself if I am doing the right thing, according to what he would have wanted. If so, I will do so no matter how high the price. My son was peaceful and rational even though he was only 17 years old and politically naive.”

“I feel so tired … I know that the Government is trying to postpone, postpone, postpone until people forget and the families all die. So I don’t expect justice in my lifetime. The only thing I can do is to leave more and more truth for the people.”

The Tiananmen Mothers group has just set up a bilingual website and published two maps, showing where the 188 known victims died and the hospitals to which their bodies were taken.

Repression is lifting – slowly, Mrs Ding concedes. Last year she was allowed for the first time to visit the site where her son died to mark the 18th anniversary. The 24-hour security guards shadowing her movements also melted away last year, although her phone is still tapped.

Last week, as the anniversary loomed, the local police rang to politely ask if Mrs Ding had her annual open letter to the authorities ready. She told him they had presented letters during the annual National People’s Congress in March but there was one message he could pass up to his seniors and the central government: “When will the national flag be lowered for our children?”

Mary-Anne Toy in Beijing


See Yawning Bread in Singapore: The second Burmese conversation.

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Posted by on June 4, 2008 in Asian, Australia, Chinese and China, current affairs, events, human rights, Islam, John Howard, M, memory, peace, South Asian, terrorism


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