This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 4 July 2016 contains two articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are credited.
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– Machete murders in Bangladesh: Islamic fundamentalists’ campaign to enslave women and impose religious tyranny
– Instead of deportations, the US government should be paying off its imperial debt to Central America
Machete murders in Bangladesh:
Islamic fundamentalists’ campaign to enslave women and impose religious tyranny
3 July 2016. A World to Win News Service. The month of Ramadan now drawing to a close has seen one after another monstrous mass murder committed by jihadi Islamist fundamentalists linked to Daesh (IS). The targets have included an Orlando (US) nightclub considered a refuge by LGBT people, the main Istanbul airport, an up-scale bakery in Dhaka, the Christian village of Al Qaa in Lebanon and Al Mukalla in Yemen. The bloodiest was in the Karada neighbourhood of Baghdad on 3 July – 175 bodies have been found so far, with more feared lost. Unusually large crowds were brought into the streets by a fortuitous convergence of eagerly-anticipated events, the breaking of the day’s fast, a televised Euro 2016 football match, the end of the school year and the traditional family outing to buy new clothes for the Eid al-Fitr celebration marking the end of Ramadan. A truck bomb tore apart a shopping street, mall and apartments in this predominantly Shia neighbourhood.
The 1 July Dhaka attack targeted an eatery popular with foreigners. Twenty people, mostly young, were taken hostage and murdered. The attack was claimed on a Daesh Web site, which posted the killers’ portraits, although the Bangladeshi Minister of the Interior disavowed the Daesh connection and attributed it to the country’s Islamist opposition party.
Each of these attacks was specific in its context, targets and other features, and yet all were part of a global phenomenon, the rise of jihadi fundamentalism, which in turn is a totally reactionary response to social and economic changes brought about by globalized capitalism as well as the massive violence and injustices perpetrated by imperialist governments and their allies.
The following article examines this phenomenon in the context of Bangladesh. It first appeared in the 27 June issue of Revolution, newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (revcom.us).
Islamic fundamentalists are carrying out a campaign of machete murders in the South Asian country of Bangladesh. Since February 2013, they’ve murdered some 39 people – secular thinkers and writers, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists, religious minorities, foreign aid workers, and others. And the attacks are continuing: Five were murdered in April, four in May, and three (or more) in June. The killers strike with guns and bombs – but mostly with machetes, slashing the back of their victims’ necks, then riding away on motorbikes. On 23 April, a university professor was hacked to death and nearly beheaded, and on the 25th a gay rights activist and his friend were butchered. On 30 April, a Hindu tailor was cut down – supposedly for criticizing Islam; on 5 June, a Christian grocer; two days later, a Hindu priest. A Bangladeshi blogger who’d exposed police brutality and the abuse of workers was driven into hiding for condemning the Islamists’ murder rampage.
These murders began in early 2013 after tens of thousands gathered at Shahbag Square in the nation’s capital Dhaka to demand prosecution of Islamic leaders for war crimes during the 1971 war that led to the founding of Bangladesh, and against the imposition of religion in political and social life. The Islamic fundamentalists’ first victim was Ahmed Rajib Haider, a secular blogger who helped organize the protests.
No one has claimed responsibility for most of these barbaric killings. Global fundamentalist Islamic jihadist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda as well as Bangladeshi Islamists have been blamed, and infighting among Bangladesh’s reactionary ruling parties may well play a part. But this wave of murders is not simply revenge for a protest. It’s part of the Islamic fundamentalists’ response to the deep changes taking place in Bangladesh.
For centuries, most people in what is now Bangladesh eked out a subsistence existence, mostly farming small plots of land by hand or with a few animals. Women suffered – and still suffer – under the crushing weight of religiously sanctioned patriarchy (male domination). They’re confined to household drudgery and caring for children, unable to leave their immediate neighbourhood unless accompanied by a male relative, denied schooling or social life. Even today, nearly two-thirds of Bangladeshi girls are forced into arranged marriages before they’re 18, usually closing off any chance for an education or job. A staggering 87 percent of the country’s married women have been victims of domestic violence, abuse or torment. Nine in 10 rural men still think they have the “right” to beat their wives.
But in recent decades, the workings of global imperialism have created cracks in the traditional order. Two of every three Bangladeshis still live in the countryside, but tens of millions have been driven by landlessness, destitution, and the promise of jobs to seek survival in Bangladesh’s congested megacities (17 million in Dhaka alone). There, cheap labour has turned Bangladesh into a prime destination for global capitalist investment in its rapidly expanding clothing industry.
Three and a half million workers – 80 percent of them young women – slave in sweatshops, often for as little as 21 cents an hour, many for 14 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. Most get to work on foot through squalid shanties stinking of excrement. These factories can be death traps: in April 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed, killing or maiming more than 1,100 people. When workers organize against these horrors, they’re met with threats and beatings.
Yet for women to have jobs outside the home and be paid wages, small as they are (though sometimes more than their husbands earn), can have the effect of undermining traditional patriarchy. The same goes for other changes taking place, including the growth of a middle class, more women going to school, and some professions becoming more “feminized”.
Islamic fundamentalists: barbaric means for barbaric ends
Islamic fundamentalism is an all-encompassing ideology and programme that aims to reshape every sphere of social, cultural, and political life in order to strictly and brutally reinforce traditional forms of oppression – especially the patriarchal enslavement of women. In the face of big changes shaking the world, they aim to tighten tradition’s chains.
After the 2013 Shahbag Square protests, Hifazat-e-Islam, an association of fundamentalist Islamic groups, issued a 13-point programme calling for the imposition of fundamentalist Islam throughout society: adding “Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah” to the constitution as a fundamental principal of the state; establishing the death penalty for criticizing Islam; ending the “free mixing of men and women”; ending secular education; and making “Islamic education mandatory from primary to higher secondary levels.”
These are the goals driving their machete murders. Those who criticize fundamentalist religion and/or promote science, secularism, and critical thinking (which humanity needs to understand and change the world) are targets for savage executions.
The fundamentalists aim to re-imprison women in the home, enslaved to husbands and male relatives. One way is by supporting the violent male backlash taking place against women. In Bangladesh today, there’s an epidemic of rape, including gang rape.
And, according to one news report, “Every week, somewhere in Bangladesh, a woman’s life is changed forever when she is doused with acid and disfigured…. Victims suffer horrific physical injuries. Not only does their skin burn, but often they are severely disfigured. Acid causes the skin tissue to melt, it attacks the eyes, it dissolves the bones. In certain cases, ears and noses are lost completely.” (“Stolen faces: female victims of Bangladesh acid attacks refuse to be beaten”, News.com, Australia, 25 June 2015) The cause? A spurned advance, a missed dowry payment, or any slight to male privilege. Over the past 17 years, there have been 3,240 reported acid attacks. Yes, at least 3,240!
The Islamic fundamentalists blame the victims for refusing to obey suffocating Islamic strictures. Many women are now being forced – by family or society – to wear the burqa. One study reported, “In the villages, various fatwas sanction the stoning of women to death for the ‘crime’ of asking for justice, for having been raped.” (“Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Bangladesh”, Ananya Das)
This is why the Islamists machete-murdered Xulhaz Mannan, who edited Bangladesh’s first LGBT publication and tried to organize the country’s first “Rainbow Rally” for LGBT rights. The oppression of LGBT people has evolved as part of the enforcement of rigid gender roles that enforce patriarchy. The “holy” scriptures of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all demand these strict gender roles and forbid homosexuality on pain of death.
And the fundamentalist Islamists are targeting Hindus, Christians, and Buddhists – terrorizing, marginalizing, and even forcing out non-Muslims from Bangladesh as part of establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state.
Between 10-16 June, Bangladesh’s pro-imperialist government rounded up some 11,000 people they declared were “suspects” in these attacks. This supposedly secular government had done nothing for years to stop the machete attacks but instead has conciliated with the fundamentalists and condemned critics of Islam, while its police are widely known for arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and torture. Human rights groups and others warn that the mass round-up is an indiscriminate sweep also aimed at other dissidents; only a small percentage of those arrested reportedly belong to any jihadist group. (Analysing the struggle among Bangladesh’s rulers is beyond the scope of this article.)
Bangladesh: Crying Out for communist revolution — not barbaric islamic fundamentalism
Bangladesh is a concentrated expression of how the world is flying apart and people are looking for answers. But fundamentalist Islamic Jihad is about turning backward to a draconian hell!
Just several decades ago, Maoism was a powerful current in India and Bangladesh, and it represented a real, radical, and liberating alternative to both feudalism and imperialism, with a vision of re-cohering society on an emancipatory basis. And there’s a strong basis for a revolutionary trend to emerge there today – for instance, the Shahbag protests of tens of thousands against the Islamization of society.
Bob Avakian (BA) has put that alternative on a firmer, more scientific foundation, including in its understanding of gender, the centrality of women’s emancipation to the emancipation of humanity, and most of all the need for a scientific approach to be taken up by masses of people. This new synthesis of communism brought forward by BA is the pathway for advancing – in today’s world with all its changes and turmoil – to overcome oppressive social, class, and gender divisions, and get to a much different and far better world on the road to total human emancipation. There is not a moment to lose to spread this path-breaking advance in human understanding to every corner of the globe.
Instead of deportations, the US government should be paying off its imperial debt to Central America
4 July 2016. A World to Win News Service. The following article by Joseph Nevins first appeared on the Web site NACLA.org. Reprinted by permission of the author.
On 12 May, Reuters revealed that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is poised to undertake a 30-day “surge” in deportations. The label for the operation suggests a military-like endeavor – the stated goal of which is to arrest and deport hundreds of single adults, mothers, and children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who arrived after 1 January 2014, have been ordered to leave the country, yet remain in the United States without authorization. According to Reuters, it will constitute “the largest deportation sweep targeting immigrant families by the administration of President Barack Obama this year.”
Reports of the looming surge have led to protests, with many asserting that the would-be targets of the operation are in fact refugees, as defined by international law. They are individuals who have a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” and can’t rely on their national governments for protection. As such, the critics (who range from immigrant rights advocates to Bernie Sanders to mainstream Democrats) argue that the women and children from Central America’s “Northern Triangle” who are said to be in the United States “illegally” have a right to stay – even if only temporarily.
While this argument certainly has merit, their critique of Obama administration policy accepts the narrow international definition of who is and isn’t “deserving” of asylum. The result is that the criticism can only bear fruit to the extent that US authorities accept and acknowledge that the humans they prey upon are under extraordinary threat in their countries of birth. Under this framing, would-be deportees do not have a right to stay in the United States because of who they are – as human beings – but because of a determination as to what nefarious forces have done to them, or may do to them, should they be deported.
By merely asking that Washington be more inclusive in its classification of those under threat, the critique, one supported by many progressives, allows the US government to remain the arbiter of who belongs and who does not, thus ensuring future waves of deportation. Moreover, it disregards an expansive notion of human rights, particularly a human right to mobility. Even if one refuses to accept such a right, a basic concept of justice demands recognition that migration involving the movement of people from exploited and relatively impoverished parts of the world to countries of relative wealth and privilege, is, or at least should be, a right born of debt – an imperial debt. The right to migration, in other words, is a form of reparations.
Take the case of just one of the Central American countries from where the targeted individuals have fled: El Salvador. As Elise Foley and Roque Planas have pointed out, although the Obama administration contends that the country is sufficiently safe for deportees, it considers El Salvador too dangerous for the US Peace Corps. Due to “the ongoing security environment” in El Salvador, the Peace Corps suspended its operations there in January.
There’s no doubt that El Salvador is very dangerous – not least for deportees from the United States, many of whom have been killed upon their forced return. The country’s murder rate is 22 times that of the United States. The first three months of 2016 saw nearly one murder per hour, making the country one of the most violent in the world. As in Guatemala and Honduras, criminal gangs plague the country, and the boundary between gang members and the police and the military is often quite fuzzy. But horrific violence in El Salvador is not new, nor is its making limited to the country’s territory. As is the case for all too many countries in Latin America, the roots of El Salvador’s violence are tied to Washington’s longstanding project of domination of the hemisphere.
During the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans fled the terror associated with their country’s brutal civil war and headed to the United States – typically entering clandestinely as the Reagan administration, with rare exceptions, refused to grant them refugee status. It wasn’t until 1990, with both the war in El Salvador and the Cold War winding down, that the U.S. government granted Temporary Protected Status to Salvadorans living in the United States – placing them in what sociologist Cecilia Menjívar has characterized as “legal limbo”.
Life in the neighborhoods where Salvadoran refugees settled helped to give rise to El Salvador’s contemporary gang problem. As anthropologist Elana Zilberg writes in her book, Spaces of Detention: The Making of a Transnational Gang Crisis Between Los Angeles and El Salvador, many of the young people were products of the very violence they were fleeing.
Many Salvadoran youth had lost family members to the Salvadoran civil war, or were left by parents on the run from political persecution or for reasons of mere economic survival. They had seen tortured corpses and severed body parts on their way to school. While in school or out on the streets, boys no more than twelve years old were forcefully conscripted into the army. Children joined the guerrillas – in the early years, sometimes by force. Some learned to make Molotov cocktails, to kill and to torture. This was the history that followed them, a history funded by the United States.
Once in El Norte, a lot of them, particularly those residing in and around Los Angeles, found themselves living in poor, often destitute communities in which gangs already had a strong presence. The marginalized conditions in which many Salvadoran refugee youth subsisted, along with the violent histories they embodied, led many to join and form gangs, not least for reasons of self-protection.
As Zilberg suggests, the United States funded much of the terror associated with the civil war – in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid – to prop up El Salvador’s right-wing government and the grossly unjust political-economic order it defended. The Pentagon, via the infamous School of the Americas, also trained some of El Salvador’s most notorious military officer – ones found to have committed some of the worst atrocities associated with the civil war. This included the assassination of Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero and the massacre of several hundred civilians, many of them young children, in the village of El Mozote.
In addition, Washington sent what were euphemistically referred to in official circles as “advisers” to help El Salvador’s brutal military establishment in its fight against the guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). It was later revealed that these “advisers” – members of the U.S. Special Forces, who, over the course of the war, numbered in the thousands – actively engaged in combat operations, and presumably some of the associated war crimes as well.
According to El Salvador’s official truth commission, more than 75,000 Salvadoran civilians lost their lives during the civil war (1980-1992) – this in a country of about five million people at the time. The commission’s report attributed 85 percent of the deaths to the US-backed state (in the form of the country’s military, paramilitary forces, and “death squads”), and five percent to the FMLN.
Since the 1992 Peace Accords, which marked the end of the civil war and a transition to democratic elections, the US government has deported gang members – real and imagined – to El Salvador in large numbers. This, combined with the country’s legacy of violence, its impoverished state, and the dislocating effects of a neoliberal “free trade” agreement, the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) imposed by the country’s conservative elites and heavily pushed by the United States more than a decade ago, is what has given rise to El Salvador’s present-day gang crisis and the marked increase in out-migration.
All this manifests US culpability for much of El Salvador’s past and inextricably-tied present-day plight. It illustrates how deeply interconnected, and unjustly so, US and Salvadoran societies are, a reality that strict boundary and immigration policing, which the deportation “surge” embodies, disguises and works to erase. It also should negate any justification by the United States government to deport and deny rights of residence to people of Salvadoran origin.
Donald Trump’s promise to engage in mass deportations if and when he becomes president has given rise to much concern and derision. The reaction to Trump, however, has often served to mask the fertile soil from which the reality TV star’s ugly dreams bloom. As the threatened surge demonstrates, it’s soil that the Obama administration has played a large a role in producing, having deported more individuals than any previous administration and almost as many as all those of the 20th century combined.
The roots of this deportation regime must be eradicated and replaced. But this will not occur by asking the federal government to be more “humanitarian” in carrying out its regime of immigrant and territorial exclusion. It will only come about by demanding – and fighting for – a very different world, in which the US government does not undermine the very conditions that make life viable for the majority in migrant-sending countries. This would be a world in which the US state does not block those fleeing the ravages Washington has helped to produce from seeking a better life in US territorial confines – if not for reasons of common humanity, then, at the very least, as compensation for the conditions it created.
Until we make this happen, we can be sure that another “surge” will always be on the horizon.