Friday, 22 June 2012
Human rights in Kashmir and the USA
[Left to right: Edward Hasbrouck, Dr. Hatem Bazian, Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai. Photo by Steve White.]
My family has a long association with the Subcontinent, although you might not expect that from my [white-skinned European] appearance. My grandfather and great-grandfather both spent most of their careers as professors at American-sponsored universities in India and Pakistan, and their summers in the Kashmir Valley. My mother was born in Lahore. And I was travelling with her in Kashmir in 1989, when we saw the start of the of the latest phase of the Kashmiri struggle -- which continues today -- and chanced to meet the Mirwaiz not long before his assassination.
I've been writing since then for American peace movement publications, trying to raise awareness about Kashmir, what I saw, and what I've learned.
But it would be presumptuous, and pointless, for me to try to add to what others so much closer to the situation have said tonight about conditions and issues inside Kashmir.
Instead, I'd like to focus for a few minutes on what's happening here in the USA, where my friend and our comrade in struggle Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai will be spending the next two years in a Federal prison camp -- a place where I spent six months for my own peace activism some years ago.
I'm a supporter of the Kashniri-American Council and of self-determination for Kashmir. But I'm also a US citizen and an activist for human rights in the USA as much as anywhere else in the world.
The US government would say, no doubt, that Dr. Fai is a "common criminal" convicted of violating tax laws, and not a political prisoner.
But the initial legal basis for the investigation of Dr. Fai, and the purported justification for the FBI to bug his home and office, tap his phones, and read his e-mail, was the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a profoundly xenophobic, anti-immigrant law targetted directly at political expression.
The particular evil of FARA is that, while it is rarely enforced, it is widely violated and almost impossible to comply with. That lends it perfectly to use as a legitimation for political surveillance and a tool of selective prosecution and political repression.
Almost all of us, myself included, have probably violated FARA. This US Federal law requires that anyone who engages in political speech or advocacy at the merest "request" of a foreigner or of any entity that receives a "major part" of its funding from foreigners must label all of its publications -- every leaflet, every letter, every Web page -- as "foreign propaganda", and file impossibly detailed reports with the government itemizing every penny received from a foreign citizen and how it was spent.
This is wrong on so many levels, not least because the US government needs to listen so much more, not less, to the views of people from the rest of the world. FARA, in its entirety, should be repealed.
Of course, most organizations have no way to know whether those who send them checks or put money in the collection plate are US or foreign citizens.
If, for example, I write a letter to my representative in Congress at the request of a minister, priest, or imam, and it turns out that their salary is paid in significant part by contributions from a congregation of immigrants who aren't yet US citizens, I'm required by FARA to register as a "foreign agent" and label my letter "foreign propaganda".
Most US advocates for immigrant causes or for the human rights of particular communities abroad -- whether in Kashmir, Tibet, Northern Ireland, or elsewhere -- routinely and inevitably violate this law. Yet only a few are selected for prosecution. And the selection of Dr. Fai for prosecution under this law, unfortunately, is only the latest example of a pattern in the last decade in the USA of Islamophobic selective prosecution of Muslim-American activists and the use of law enforcement as a tool of political repression.
A growing number of political prisoners in the USA are Muslims who have been targetted by police because of their religion, infiltrated through mosques and Muslim community organizations, and entrapped by "sting" operations and agents provacateurs.
Communists were once the target of these sorts of attacks. Now it's Muslims who are the demons of the day. Tomorrow, it could be me, you, or any of our friends and our communities.
I'm disappointed to see so few people like me here, who are neither South Asian nor Muslim. They need to know that what is happening to Dr. Fai and other Muslims could happen to them too.
So as we work to build awareness of the situation in Kashmir, let us also redouble our outreach to activists for human rights and self-determination, opponents of political injustice, and supporters of political prisoners from all communities in the USA.
I look forward to being part of that struglle. i look forward to continuing to work with Dr. Fai, the Kashmiri-American Council, all of you here, and many others for self-determination for the Kashmiri people. I look forward to working with a broader coalition to repeal the Foreign Agents Registration Act and to support human rights in the USA. And I look forward, some day, to visiting Kashmir with a visa stamp in my US passport issued by an independent, sovereign Kashmiri state.
Follow the links below for audio archives of most of the speeches, including mine and the keynote by Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai:
- Yasin Malik, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front
- Mark Hinkle, Libertarian Party USA
- Dr. Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi
- Edward Hasbrouck
- Dr. Hatem Bazian, American Muslims for Palestine
- Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai