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DAGAinfo

18 June 2001
No. 121


In this issue:
  1. FEATURE
    Religion and Racism
  2. NEWS in Brief
    Burma - MP-Elect Released from Prison
    Sri Lanka - Norwegian factor in Sri Lankan peace
    Indonesia - Military Warns President to Control Supporters
    Malaysia - Signs of Rising Islamic Militancy
    Japan - No! To the Distorted History Textbook
  3. Urgent APPEALS
    Thailand - 45 Almond Jewelry Workers dismissed
  4. ANNOUNCEMENT
    Global Week of Protest

 

1. FEATURE - top
 

RELIGION AND RACISM

(A critical assessment from a Muslim point of view)

By Ahmad Syafii Maarif, Indonesia

Introduction

In the Qur'anic perspective racism is not only a poison for the civilized world, but also a tainted denigration for human dignity and honor. Racism has blocked man's spiritual enhancement to reach a noble position appropriate for humanity. Though racism has never fully died for centuries in certain human communities, the curse against it has plagued widely and has become stronger and more alive everywhere in this globe than before. This means at the end that racism should be totally buried deeply once and forever, though it would not be an easy task.-Otherwise, humanity would be breathlessly imprisoned in its deadly continuing and tricky trap. Racism was originally not inherent in human nature, but it was rather a historical fabrication. This brief paper hopes to make a critical assessment on the problem of racism in the light of my understanding of the Qur'anic injunctions concerning this burning, disturbing, but relevant issue. For the Muslim, the Qur'an is the moral guidance to answer the question: how should I behave in this temporal and terrestrial life?

The Qur'anic doctrine of monotheism and its logical consequences in human collective life

The doctrine of an uncompromised monotheism (al-tauhid) constitutes, according to the Qur'an, the very core of the Islamic belief system. Any doctrine and practices deviating from this core should accordingly be categorized as un-Islamic. "Say (O Muhammad): He is Allah, (the) One; Allah - the Eternal, the Uncaused Cause of all being; He begets not, nor was He begotten; and there is nothing that could be compared with Him"[1]. The doctrine of monotheism must necessarily result in the recognition of the oneness of mankind. And this recognition can only be historically meaningful if the principles of justice, egalitarianism, and brotherhood become manifest in our life. Otherwise, it will lose its relevance and significance to human trembling and fearful existence as we see at present juncture. As to the concept of the unity of mankind, the Qur'an has made a clear statement: "Mankind was one community"[2]. In other words, racism "... in which one group of people denigrates and subordinates another solely on the basis of physical differences with which they are born"[3] has no place in Islam. The racism with all its ramifications should, therefore, be classified as part of barbarism.

That humans differ from one another in many ways is a historical fact. They differ physically and mentally, "giving rise to tribalism, nationalism, racism, and every kind of corporate particularism." But the Muslims regard none of these as constituting grounds for inter-human discrimination.[4] Islam has from the early period of its history in the 7th century Arabia declared war against any form of racial and ethnic discrimination. "The East and the West, the North and the South, the blacks and the whites, the Asians and the Africans - all were equally the creatures of God, obliged to do His will".[5]

Historically, in terms of soclo-religious toleration, Islam was much more tolerant toward other faiths. On this point, Bertrand Russell has rightly noted: "The Empire of the Caliphs was much kinder to Jews and Christians than Christian states were to Jews and Mohammedans. It left Jews and Christians unmolested, provided they paid tribute. Anti-semitism was promoted by Christianity from the moment the Roman Empire became Christian."[6] For a committed Muslim, religious tolerance is part of his belief in the Qur'an since this Book has clearly stated that "there is no compulsion in religion."[7] Or in another verse the Qur'an says: "And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed, all of them together. So, will you (O Muhammad) then compel mankind, until they become believers."[8] From these two verses, and still there are many others, clearly that the Qur'an has certainly admitted the fact of socio-religious pluralism which, if it is correctly comprehended, will considerably enrich the vision and wisdom of mankind.

And then comes the notion of particularism that is in itself actually positive. But if it is deliberately misused and wrongly understood, it can consequently demolish the house of human brotherhood, of something we are afraid. Cultural particuiarism is in essence the manifestation of human natural creative achievement influenced by certain cultural and geographical environment and therefore it should be protected and fully honored. Particularism and racism are, in fact, identical in one thing, that is, both relate to one person or thing as distinct from others. But particularism has no connection with the belief in superiority of a particular race, as does racism. From this perspective, one has to tolerate particularism and yet condemn racism because it is no doubt destructive to the principles of justice and egalitarianism.

A.J. Toynbee who was extremely critical of the exponents of racial intolerance in modern era had proposed Islam as a possible solution. This English philosopher and historian wrote: "it is conceivable that the spirit of Islam might be the timely reinforcement which would decide this issue in favour of tolerance and peace."[9] From this conference, it is my sincere hope that other faiths will also share this spirit. If racism prevails, noted Toynbee, "it may eventually provoke a general catastrophe."[10] Toynbee was really an ardent enemy of racism in all its manifestations.

The role of religions ini the midst of an uncertainty

All religions, I am sure, offer an absolute certainty to their adherents. As to the question "what is the meaning of life and death" - this is not a scientific or philosophical question. The answer to this type of question is solely the authority and realm of religion. Regardless of the decline of the religious influence in our era, we cannot imagine the future of mankind without religion and without transcendental anchor. Of course, religions need fresh and creative interpretations. Otherwise, they may become obsolete. In case of Islam, new and fresh interpretations of its doctrines and teachings remain open forever. Under the light of these interpretations, the Muslim hopes that his religion will never be out of date and be able to response the challenges of ever-changing time and space. With this in mind, Islam will take its necessary role to shape the future and offer certainty to humanity. I think other faiths have the same position and will for sure follow suit.

Then, let's turn to the religious development in its relations to cultural diseases. If we observe closely the socio-moral phenomena of modern era, racism is only one of many acute threats to religions. Secular humanism, injustice, xenophobia, neo-imperialism, and other cultural diseases are, in my understanding, the true enemies of all religions. Those religions that deliberately side with these diseases, as happened in the past, in my view, should be critically questioned about the authenticity of their claim as true faiths. The Muslim, for instance, who does a deliberate injustice to anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, should be labeled as a pseudo believer.

For a Muslim, Islam is certainly a total way of life in which he finds the final answer of the meaning of life and death, of the definition of justice and injustice, of the principles of universal brotherhood and egalitarianism, and of the clear vision of social and racial toleration. But unfortunately, most Muslims today throughout the world have long ignored consciously or unconsciously the fundamental teachings of their religion. Consequently, the Muslims now are not in position to shape the future of mankind in the light of prophetic transcendental values as the Qur'an has strongly required them to accomplish such a mission. We read the following:

"And strive hard in Allah's Cause as you ought to strive (with sincerity and with all your efforts that His Name should be superior). He has chosen you..., and has not laid upon you in religion any hardship; it is the religion of your father Ibrahim (Abraham)... It is He (Allah) Who has named you Muslims both before and in this (the Qur'an), that the Messenger (Muhammad) may be a witness over you and you be witnesses over mankind."[11]

The position of the witnesses over mankind has long disappeared from the hands of the Muslim world. Albeit the Muslims outnumber one billion out of the total world population, due to their ignorance and deep slumber for centuries, the main stream of humanity has ceased to side with them. For how long? There is not a single Muslim at present time who has the capacity to answer this crucial and challenging question. The true answer to this of course still lies in the womb of history. But who knows the other faiths in this conference will help the Muslims to clear a road for them to cope with the future.

A concluding remark

According to Islam, the very aim of the creation of mankind with different colors, tongues, racial, and cultural backgrounds is that they may know one another, exchange experience, and live in peace. For this point the Qur'an has made clear to us:

"O men! Behold, We have created you out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of Cod is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware."[12]

Knowing one another is the key words here in order that we live in peace, honesty, harmony, and in an everlasting universal human brotherhood.

Notes:

1. See the Qur'an s.112:14.
2. See the Qur'an s.2:213.
3. Jennifer L. Hochschild, "Racism" in Seymour Martin Lipset (ed.), The Encyclopedia Democracy, vol. III. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1995, p. 1037.
4. Isma'il R. al-Faruqi and Lois Lamya al Faruqi, "The Cultural Atlas of Islam". New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. 1986, p. 159.
5. Ibid.
6. Bertrand Russell, "Why I Am Not a Christian". New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957, p. 202.
7. Sec the Qur'an s.2:256.
8. See the Qur'an s.10:99.
9. A.J. Toynbee, "Civilization on Trial and the World and the West". Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company, 1963, p. 182.
10. Ibid.
11. Set the Qur'an s.22:77-78. The translation of these verses is taken from Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan, "The Noble Qur'an" in the English Language. Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers and Distributors, 1996, p. 622.
12. See the Qur'an s.49:13. The translation of this verse is fully cited from Muhammad Asad, "The Message of ihe Qur'an". Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus Ltd., 1980, p. 794.

_______________________
**[The above article was presented at the CCA-FMU/WCC Forum on Anti-Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerances -Bangkok, 16-20 May 2001]

 

2. NEWS in Brief - top
 

BURMA

MP-Elect Released from Prison

By Zarny Win

June 14, 2001 - Soe Thein aka Maung Wuntha, a well-known journalist and elected Member of Parliament, has been released from prison, according to sources inside Burma. The 56-year-old magazine editor and National League for Democracy (NLD) MP, who has been behind bars since May 1996, went free yesterday evening. His release was immediately hailed as a sign of progress in talks between the NLD and Burma's ruling junta. An NLD member in Rangoon, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Soe Thein's release was "a result of the ongoing dialogue between NLD leaders and the military regime."

Soe Thein, who is the MP-elect for Pegu's Waw Constituency (2), was one of hundreds of party activists arrested in May 1996, just before the sixth anniversary of the NLD's 1990 electoral victory. He had previously served two years in prison after he and hundreds of other MPs-elect were arrested in November 1990 for demanding that the military recognize the results of Burma's first elections in decades.

According to close friends, Soe Thein's health has deteriorated during his five years in prison. Earlier this year, he was transferred from Insein Prison to Rangoon General Hospital's guarded ward to receive treatment for a host of medical problems. International human rights groups concerned about his failing health had campaigned for years to win his early release.

In Burma, Soe Thein is best known as the editor of Ah Twe Ah Myin ("The Thought"), a magazine that he founded in 1984. He was also editor of the Botahtaung daily newspaper until 1988, when he was forcibly pensioned off for actively participating in Burma's nationwide pro-democracy uprising.

While NLD activists said they welcomed news of Soe Thein's release, they noted that 53 other MPs-elect are still serving long prison terms. Another three MPs-elect are under house arrest, and 29 others have been detained in military "guest houses" around the country, according to party sources.

Around 40 other writers are also believed to be behind bars in Burma's notorious prisons, including Ohn Kyaing (penname Aung Wint), a journalist who is serving an 18-year prison term in Taungoo Prison.

[source: Irrawaddy]

SRI LANKA

Norwegian factor, Tigers ban Thwarting Sri Lankan peace

P Ramasamy

It is always difficult to tell when the Sri Lankan government is going to take peace efforts seriously in the country. It was expected that after the recent military debacle in northern Jaffna, the Sri Lankan government would use the good office of the special Norwegian peace envoy Eric Solheim to talk with the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE). But like elsewhere peace is seems to become more and more elusive in the country.

There are two reasons why the peace initiative has bogged down. One is the general reluctance of the Sri Lankan government to lift the proscription on the LTTE. While the government is always urging the LTTE to come forward for peace talks, the pre-conditions for talks are not there.

While the LTTE is open to discussions, it insists that it cannot engage in any meaningful participation without the government lifting the ban imposed some years ago. Even suggestions by some independent parties for the government to remove the restriction have fallen on the deaf ears of the government.

Within the Tamil circles, it is widely acknowledged that without the LTTE's participation in peace talks, permanent peace will never materialise in the country. Thus, for peace to happen, they feel strongly that the government should lift the ban on the LTTE.

The government's position on the proscription is one of general murkiness. While it constantly calls on other countries to pressure the LTTE to come for talks, it is not prepared, at least for the time being, to lift the ban on the LTTE.

It is argued that since the LTTE is a "terrorist" organisation, the question of lifting the ban does not arise. It is not that the government does not realise the folly of such an argument; but the need to please Sinhala right-wing reactionary forces makes it difficult for the proscription to be lifted, even for a temporary period.

Norwegian sidelined

The present impasse on peace talks have been complicated by a second factor - the sidelining of Eric Solheim as the chief peace negotiator by the Sri Lankan government. Apparently this move to sideline Eric Solheim was done without any consultation with the LTTE.

It has been argued in some circles that the move by the government to marginalise Solheim was undertaken to ensure that the Norwegian party is not too sympathetic to the Tamil cause. It is not that Solheim was not objective in his role, but rather his integrity and independence were not very desirable to the government that wanted the Norwegian party to back it on some issues. The sidelining of Solheim has not gone well with the LTTE because it was not consulted on this matter.

From the beginning of the Norwegian involvement in the peace process, the Sri Lankan government has not been very happy with the role of the Solheim. His visits to the country and talks with the various people including government officials, LTTE personnel, and others gave him an objective picture of the total situation.

The random killings of civilians and the legtimacy of the Tamil cause ensured that he would pursue peace talks with objectivity and sincerity. But the government was not very happy with these qualities and they expected Solheim to go along with it on some issues, even though these were antithetical to the Tamil cause.

More importantly, it was the failure on the part of the Sri Lankan government to solicit agreement from Solheim that made the former unhappy with the latter.

Unusual step

Contrary to the government, the LTTE saw in Solheim an experienced and a very objective diplomat committed to the peace cause. He might not have understood the Tamil cause in the manner the LTTE would have wanted him, but nonetheless it was very impressed by the sincerity of the diplomat.

His few visits to the Vanni areas and talks with various groups of Tamils could have given him the rare insights that often elude diplomats and peace negotiators. If the Sri Lankan government was not happy with Solheim, the matter could have been conveyed to the LTTE, but the former took no responsibility in doing so.

Rather, they took the rather unusual step of removing Solheim from the peace process by appealing to a higher authority in Norway. So it would be rather difficult for the LTTE to accept another Norwegian party just because the government finds it desirable to do so.

Meanwhile, the LTTE has come out with many statements criticising the government for sidelining the peace process by belittling the role of Solheim. Over the last eighteen years or so, Sri Lanka has been oscillating between war and peace. Every time peace came within grasp, something takes place to make it difficult.

The matter of Solheim could be resolved if the new party from Norway shows the same sincerity and commitment shown by the former, but the problem of proscription of the LTTE will remain. This will be the crucial issue that will determine whether the LTTE enters into peace negotiations.

No choice

The LTTE is not opposed to a peaceful and meaningful settlement of the Tamil problem. It showed its sincerity earlier by declaring a unilateral ceasefire which lasted nearly four months and at the cost of losing more than 160 cadres and imposing terrible inconvenience on the civilian Tamil population in the north and east of the country.

The question is simple - if the government can invite the LTTE for peace negotiations than what is the necessity for the proscription? India, the United States and the United Kingdom might have their reasons for the proscription of the LTTE, but Sri Lanka is not in the same boat.

It has no choice but to sit down with the LTTE to thrash out the Tamil problem once and for all.

[Source: MalaysiaKini]

INDONESIA

Military Warns President to Control Supporters

Summary

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid replaced four top Cabinet members June 1 and threatened unspecified action if the national assembly does not within one week halt plans to hold impeachment hearings. The political maneuverings, while signaling Wahid's desperation to remain in charge, will have no significant effect on the president's diminishing political security. A possible declaration of a state of emergency by Wahid will incite riots and increase the parliament's resolve to remove him from office.
Indonesian police arrest a protestor after a clash in Pasuruan, May 30.

Analysis

The top Cabinet officials replaced include the security minister, attorney general, fisheries minister and the minister in charge of economic restructuring. Presidential spokesman Yahya Staquf announced the changes are intended to "improve the effectiveness and coordination of the running of the government." Wahid also reportedly planned to fire national police chief Gen. Suroyo Bimantoro, who responded by saying he would not resign as his removal from office required the approval of parliament.

The Cabinet reshuffling will not save Wahid from impeachment or removal from office. Political opponents of the president number far too many and he does not have the support of the military. Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri rejected a power sharing deal from Wahid May 25, illustrating her support for the termination of Wahid's presidency.

Wahid's Desperation

Wahid also issued a veiled threat to carry out unspecified actions should the People's Consultative Council (MPR) fail to stop impeachment hearings against him by June 8. Such a threat will not deter the MPR, as the political body voted 365 - 4 in favor of holding the hearings, which are scheduled to begin August 1.

The declaration of a state of emergency would be the most likely course of action for Wahid to pursue should the MPR hold the hearings. Wahid claimed the restive state of Aceh would declare independence should he resign, and that it would only be natural to issue a decree on a state of emergency if the country were in a state of danger. Defense Minister Mohammad Mahfud, however said he would resign if the president declared a state of emergency and that other Cabinet officials and top military officers would also have to be replaced.

An issuing of a state of emergency by Wahid would likely accomplish little other than inciting riots, possibly leading to a state of emergency. The military, however, will not allow Wahid to create a state of danger in order to avoid impeachment. The former security minister said in an interview that as recently as this week Wahid was prepared to declare a state of emergency and dissolve parliament, but was opposed by the country's armed forces chiefs.

Military Fires a Warning Shot

Outbreaks of violence could further hurt Wahid's position. Indonesia's elite Kostrad troops parachuted six miles east of Pasuruan May 30 to quell rioting by 10,000 supporters of WahidPresident Abdurrahman Wahid, ahead of the decision by parliament that day to go forward with impeachment proceedings, AFP reported. Officials in East Java - Wahid's hometown province - said some of the demonstrators had been paid to riot. The military deployed the troops to warn the president he cannot send his supporters to the streets and cause chaos. If need be, the army will use force to put down Wahid supporters and stabilize the country.

Wahid will probably call for peace among his supporters, most of whom belong to Nahdlatul Ulama, a 40 million-strong Muslim organization that Wahid chaired for 15 years until he became president in 1999. If Wahid can control his supporters, he will probably stave off an eruption of violence until Aug. 1, when the hearing to impeach him is scheduled. But if his supporters do go through with threats of a holy war, parliament may speed up impeachment efforts in order to restore security to the country.

Before each of the president's two censures by parliament this year, Wahid supporters have vowed to form death squads and flood Jakarta with up to 300,000 demonstrators to prevent any effort to remove him from office. The violence following the votes was subsequently minimal however, as Wahid's supporters heeded his call for calm. However, since before this week's approval of the August impeachment session Wahid supporters have taken to the streets by the thousands in Jakarta, Surabaya, Pasuruan and other cities.

In Pasuruan rioters attacked the office of Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle, which has given crucial support in the effort to impeach Wahid. One person was killed in clashes with police, while 4,000 supporters tried to occupy the parliament building before leaving peacefully. More than 40,000 security force personnel are in Jakarta in preparation for any further violent outbursts from protesters, and police chiefs have already delivered a warning that they will shoot troublemakers.

The president's political reputation would not improve should some his supporters rise up violently in his favor and be killed as a result. For that reason, Wahid is likely to heed the military's warning and urge his backers to remain peaceful. Other forces, however, may have more influence over Wahid's supporters than he does. According to the Jakarta Post May 30, East Java Police Chief Inspector Gen. E. Sutanto said third parties are inciting many protesters and many have said they have received between $2.24 and $4.48 to join the protests.

Regardless of the motives of Wahid's supporters, violence will come to a head should they clash with anti-Wahid protesters. Supporters of anti-Wahid forces -- Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri's political party, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, the Golkar Party and the United Development Party -- have yet to take to the streets. Should the two forces clash, however, the military and police in Jakarta will have a highly volatile and possibly deadly situation on their hands, strengthening parliament's resolve and eliminating any chance for Wahid for retain power.

[source: stratfor]

MALAYSIA

Signs of Rising Islamic Militancy
15 June 2001

Nine Islamic militants are being held in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur on suspicion of being involved in several killings - including that of politician Joe Fernandez, a member of Malaysia's ruling coalition. Other crimes the group allegedly committed include the murders of two ethnic Indians; an armed robbery; an attack on a police station; and the bombings of a church, an Indian temple and a video center.

The June 7 arrests came almost a year after a raid on a Malaysian military facility by a group linked to the Al-Ma'unah Islamic sect. The group took more than a hundred machine guns and small arms as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition by truck. Though not connected to the Al-Ma'unah sect, the nine suspects have fought in Muslim uprisings in Afghanistan and Indonesia, Malaysia's national police chief has said.

The alleged activities of the Malaysian jihad warriors taken into police custody show the increasing violence Islamic fundamentalists are using to achieve their goals. Though only a fraction of Malaysian Muslims have called for a purist Islamic state, the arrest of reportedly foreign-trained and warfare-experienced fundamentalists may reveal a new strain of violence among Islamic militants - and a growing threat to Malaysian stability and government.

It is possible the Malaysian government or its ruling coalition used the raid on the military facility as an excuse to turn up pressure on the Islamic fundamentalist movement. The ruling coalition faces a political threat from the fundamentalist Muslim party Parti Islam Se Malaysia (PAS), which made surprising gains in the Nov. 29 elections. If the government links the recent violence to PAS, the party's political following could deteriorate.

If the suspects actually were trained in Afghanistan and Indonesia, Malaysia could be headed down the path of instability already trod by neighbors such as the Philippines and Indonesia.

The allegations may be substantive. Saudi millionaire Osama Bin Laden, an alleged terrorism sponsor, has many connections to Malaysia. Bin Laden reportedly used $3 million from a bank account in Malaysia to aid the Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas in the Philippines, Philippine Headline News Online reported June 21, 2000. Malaysia also serves as home to many Bin Laden followers and reportedly has been used as a trans-shipment point for arms by Bin Laden.

Malaysia historically has remained relatively peaceful, largely due to the prosperity of its majority Muslim population. But in the Philippines and Indonesia, financial problems have plagued the minority Muslim populations, leaving them desolate and easily open to calls to action from Islamic fundamentalists.

Malaysia's economy, however, is suffering and will continue to do so, especially as the global economy founders and the Asian economy sinks.

Should the militants recently arrested in Malaysia turn out to have the same foreign training and experience as those in neighboring countries, Kuala Lumpur's internal security problems could begin to resemble those of the Philippines or Indonesia. Though only nine were arrested, they probably have many more contemporaries.

[Source: Stratfor]

JAPAN

No! To the Distorted History Textbook

A Declaration and Action Plan of the Asian Solidarity Conference on Textbook Issues in Japan

Declaration:

Nationalism, which attempts to justify past war atrocities and colonialist rule, is on the rise in Japan. The influence aims to make Japan into a nation which can go to war. Those who are deeply concerned about this grave situation as well as concerned about the history and civics textbooks published for this purpose, by the Society for New History Textbook (Tsukurukai), held "The Asian Solidarity Conference on Textbook Issues in Japan. - No! to the Distorted History Textbook." on June 10th and 11th 2001, in Tokyo. Included were the total of 250 participants from ROK (South Korea), DPRK (North Korea: due to the refusal of entry into Japan, participated by submitting their papers), China, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Japan (including Ainu, Okinawa, and Koreans in Japan).

During the two-day conference, valuable testimonies were shared from the stand point of the "comfort women" who were forced to become sex slaves of the Japanese military, survivors of village massacres who experienced unimaginable suffering during the war with Japan, Ainu people, Okinawan and Koreans in Japan. We exchanged our ideas and opinions on how we can take joint action to prevent the adoption of the Tsukurukai textbooks and to establish new visions of history education for the future. We declare that we strengthen solidarity among Asian people in order to achieve these two aims.

The criticism has been on the rise about the Tsukurukai textbook in Japan and more than 300 nationwide meetings on the textbook issue have been held this year. The Korean and Chinese Governments have already made demands to the Japanese Government to make corrections on the Tsukurukai textbook that passed official screening. In addition a member of the Korean Parliament, and former "comfort women" did a sit-in in front of the Diet building to protest against the Japanese Government. And there have been other protests voiced from various countries around Asia. This simply and clearly implies that how dangerous the Tsukurukai textbooks are for people in Asia.

The first problem with the Tsukurukai history textbook is its attempts to justify Japan's aggression and invasion as a war of liberation, liberating Asia from Western colonialist rule. It legitimates its own colonialist rule by pointing out that other Asian countries benefited by their rule. Second, it is written by Emperor's historical view (kokokushikan); instead of pursuing the responsibility of the emperor for the war, it in fact glorifies the emperor. Third, it questions the actuality of the Massacre of Nanjing, and erases from its records any mention of the Japanese military sexual slavery system, which was largest war violence in the 20th century (the Comfort Women System), (the editor stated that writing about the "Comfort Women" was like writing about the history of the toilet - adding insult to insult). Fourth, the subject of history is portrayed as the nation-state and the people and minorities are absent and not represented. Fifth, it defends the family system, !
and emphasizes the "good wife, wise mother" mold of traditional gender role-based division of labor, thereby revealing a discriminatory attitude toward women. In other words, it is a self-race centered, nation state centered, power politics centered, male chauvinistic view of history that pervades its pages.

Such a view of history can also be seen in the Tsukurukai civics textbook. First it unabashedly calls for the need to build a nation that can go to war, by revising the constitution, glorifying the Self-Defense Force, encouraging overseas dispatchment of forces, insisting on the right to " collective self-defense ", emphasizing the threat of DPRK (North Korea) and China, teaching respect for the national anthem and flag and national interest and national order, insisting on the obligation to protect ones own nation from outside aggression, and affirmation of the need for nuclear armament. Second, in order to create a militaristic nation, it plays down the rights and freedoms of individual citizens, lifting up the priorities of public welfare. It sees family unity as more important than the individual. It discriminates and looks down on foreigners and minorities. And it takes a hostile position toward citizen's movements, placing national interest over human rights. They proc!
laim a nation centered, anti-foreign, and racist philosophy. Third, there is no sensitivity to the violence done toward women, or honoring human rights and male-female equality education, thereby revealing its discrimination toward women.

These history and civics textbooks need to be understood together. An understanding of history based on the legitimization of past war aggressions in the history textbooks, leads to the affirmation of war in the civic textbooks. These textbooks also are contrary to the spirits of UN Human Rights Law such as UN Covenant on Human Rights and other UN Recommendations. We can not estimate what could be the impact of these distorted textbooks upon children.

Along with the move of revision for Education Basic Law and Constitution and planned official visit of Yasukuni shrine under the Koizumi cabinet, the Tsukurukai textbook issue is another step to build a nation that can go to war. And unless there is some way with the cooperation of people beyond national boundaries in Asia, to put a stop to the growing nationalism in Japan, this could spell danger and bring more atrocities and damages to other Asian countries.

The dangerous nationalism, however, spreads and provokes conflicts and violence all over the world as a counteraction of globalization. We need to stop this occurrence in Asia. To this end, we need to examine history in our own countries, to bring education back to people from the power of the nation and to promote history education for peace.

First, we strongly protest to the Japanese government for allowing the Tsukurukai textbook to pass the screening process. And we hold the Japanese government accountable for passing these textbooks which clearly contradict the recent official Japanese government policies reflected in speech done by Chief Cabinet Secretary, Miyazawa and " the provision concerning neighboring countries "(1982), the 1995 speech by former Prime Minister Murayama, the 1998 Japan-Korea Joint Declaration and the Japan-China Joint Declaration of the same year. And we strongly demand that the Japanese government sincerely consider and comply with the demands for corrections presented by the ROK (South Korea) and China.

Second, we are committed to a joint action in Japan and in other Asian countries, to oppose the adoption of Tsukurukai textbooks by any local Committee of Education for use in the classrooms.

Third, we strongly desire that we work together toward creating an Asia of peace and human rights for all, on the basis of trust and reconciliation. And we commit ourselves to creating the kind of history textbooks that will help to nurture children who will be able to take on such a role in the future. Toward this end we commit ourselves to work together.

In order to reach these goals, we agree to form the Asia Network on History Education (tentative name) and propose the following action plan:

Action Plan

1 To stop adoption of Tsukurukai textbooks
- In the community and schools
- At the national level and throughout Asia

2 To establish history education to create a common future of Asia
- From a gender based perspective.
- As historian and scholars of education.
- International cooperation of history education

3 International campaign
- Pursue the responsibility of those companies, which sponsor the Tsukurukai textbook: Publicize the names of companies, boycott campaign against their products.
- Movement against Japan to become permanent member of UN Security Council.
- Review bilateral agreements such as Japan Korea Joint Agreement.

June 11th, 2001
Tokyo, Japan.

Participants of "The Asian Solidarity Conference on Textbook Issues in Japan -No! to the Distorted History Textbook."

** For more information on the Japanese Textbook Issue, write to the National Christian Council in Japan at tynccj@aol.com

 

3. RESOURCES Received - top
 

DAGA receives a lot of juournals, periodicals, newsletters and many other forms of printed resources from its network of Action Groups in Asia and around the world.  Please click on "Resources" in the left bar for an extended listing.

 

4. Urgent APPEAL - top
 

Thailand - 45 Almond Jewelry Workers dismissed

This is a request received from the Committee for Asian Women for International Solidarity to support the Almond Labour Union and 45 dismissed Almond Jewelry Workers in Thailand.

Thai Labour Campaign and the Paper and Printing Federation of Thailand have been assisting the struggle of Almond Labour Union since March 2001.

Almond (Thailand) Company Ltd is a subsidiary of Almond International Company, based in the US which began operations in Thailand since 1988. The company is owned by Jonathan Mandelbaum, the 88th wealthiest man on Long Island. The company produces jewelry for stores such as Wal-Mart, Piercing Pagoda, QVC, JC Penny, and Marks Brothers. In January 2001, Michael Anthony Jewelers became the sole distributor for Almond’s gold jewelry. Almond Company directly employs 600 workers and indirectly employs another 150 through subcontracting through another company.

The workers of Almond (Thailand) formed a union on December 16, 2000. As soon as the union was formed, the company began an aggressive suppression campaign and pressured union members to resign from the union. On 8th January 2001 the company dismissed 45 union members before the union committee election, expecting to it would break the union. The union members, however, refused to give up, elected new leadership and conducted their first general congress 23 January 2001.

The 45 dismissed reported their case to the Labour Relations Committee asking for reinstatement and back wages. Though the committee eventually ruled in favor of 41 of the workers, the owner refused to reinstate them and has appealed the case to the Central Labour Court. It will take many months for the case to work its way through the court system.

Throughout this whole period, management still refuses to negotiate with or recognize the union. Moreover, they have applied constant pressure to and have been directly threatening union members. The company falsely accused 2 union members of stealing gold and demanded their resignation from the factory, to show the company’s power and scare other union members. Management follows and harasses the chairman of the union and has begun timing bathroom breaks of the workers and is limiting them to 5 minutes at a time.

Despite the actions of the company, the union has been in a consistent effort to educate its membership and maintain membership and to apply pressure on management. In the beginning of the struggle, membership fluctuated as the employer was able to scare off members. However, at the moment membership have been increasing due to trust of the workers in the union.

Almond Labour Union has sent a letter to the customers appealing for their support in their case, however, there has not been a positive response. It is very hard for new unions to form in Thailand as employers simply fire the leadership and harass those involved while court cases drag on for years. It is thus crucial that we support this young union.

We are asking friends to please send letters to the president of Almond, Jonathan Mandelbaum and urge him to implement the union's demands. The demands of the union of the employer at this point are as follows:

  1. Reinstate the 47 fired union members to their previous positions and compensate wages lost since the firing.

  2. Drop the charges against the 2 employees accused of stealing.

  3. Stop workplace threats and harassment of union members.

  4. Negotiate with the union in good faith.

Background Information: Almond (Thailand) Ltd.

  • Almond (Thailand) Ltd. is receiving increasing international attention for its violations of workers rights.

  • Almond (Thailand) Ltd. is a subsidiary of Almond International INC. Almond International is an American owned company with its major production site in Thailand and offices in Japan, Italy and New York. The owner, Jonathan Mandelbaum, declared his business in Thailand to be worth only 76 million Baht, yet his revenue declared in America was US$75 million. Therefore, although he has received benefits from the Board of Investment and the Export Promotion Department of Thailand, in reality he has paid taxes on only a small portion of his profits in Thailand, not doing much for bringing income into the country. According to Newsday.com, Mr. Mandelbaum ranks 88th on the list of the most wealthy Long Island businessmen.

  • The company boasts a product line of 15,000 designs. Major customers of Almond Jewellers in March of 2001 included Piercing Pagoda, Leo Frank and Son, J. Vincent, Aurafin, QVC, Michael Hill, Abbeycrest and Select Jewellery. JC Penny, Marks Bros, Quality Gold, Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer Inc. have also placed regular orders with the company. Products include silver, gold and diamond jewellery, including religious symbols.

  • The 600 workers at Almond (Thailand) Ltd. earn between 165 - 303 baht [$4-$7] per day, and work 6 days a week, 7 am to 4 pm when they are not working overtime.

  • On 16th December of 2000 workers at Almond Thailand formed a union following a dispute in which the company refused to pay the workers their annual bonus. Immediately following the registration, the employer fired 45 union members, mostly the leadership of the union. This firing was illegal as he did not give notice and did not pay severance. The employer also falsely charged two union activists with stealing from the company and subsequently fired them. The union was forced to raise bail to secure their release and the case is still pending.

  • Tthe union conducted its first election of their leadership, yet the company refuses to recognize or bargain with the union. The union also took their case to the Labour Relations Committee of the Ministry of Labour.

  • The company has utilized all sorts of tactics to destroy the union including harassing and antagonizing union members, threatening firings, relocating employees, timing bathroom visits, issuing warnings (so as not to have to pay severance if the company chose to fire workers), refusing to upgrade union members to monthly wage status, refusing to allow union members to work overtime and employing other divisive tactics. These tactics have forced several members to withdraw from the union.

  • On January, Almond International signed an agreement giving Michael Anthony Jewelers the sole rights to market and distribute gold jewelry products for Almond.

  • Since February the company has started employing subcontracted labor in the factory. Though these employees perform the same duties as Almond workers, they receive lower wages and are prohibited from being union members. There are currently about 100 subcontracted employees working in the factory. This is an obvious attempt by the employer to replace the unionized workforce with temporary and flexible labor.

  • On April 19th, the Labour Relations Committee ruled in favor of the union that 41 fired workers had been illegally terminated and had the right to return to work and receive back wages. The employer has thus far refused to reinstate the workers and has mentioned that he will appeal the case to the Central Labour Court.

  • The demands of the union of the employer at this point are as follows:
    1) Reinstate the 47 fired union members to their previous positions and compensate wages lost since the firing.
    2) Drop the charges against the 2 employees accused of stealing.
    3) Stop workplace threats and harassment of union members.
    4) Negotiate with the union in good faith.

Contacts:

Almond (Thailand):
Somchai Sahachaisere, Managing Director
31 Bangchan Industrial Estate
Minburi, Bangkok 10510
Thailand
Tel (66)2 517-0042-3
Fax (66)2 517-0044

Almond Labor Union:
Mr. Arun Kealwon
c/o Ms. Junya Yimprasert
Thai Labour Campaign
Tel/Fax (66) 2-538-6366
Email: lek@thailabour.org

Almond International:
Mr. Jonathan Mandelbaum, President
111 Cantiague Rock Road
Westbury, N.Y. 11560
Tel (516) 933-6000
Fax (516) 933-6092

Michael Anthony Jeweler
115 S. MacQuesten Pkwy
White Plains, New York
Fax: + 1 914 664 4884

 

5. ANNOUNCEMENT - top
 

GLOBAL WEEK OF PROTEST

At the Dakar South-North Consultation last December 2000, participants agreed to declare the week of July 15 to 21 as a GLOBAL WEEK OF PROTEST AGAINST THE DEBT. The dates were chosen primarily because they are immediately precede the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy. The following activities have are being planned for Genoa:

  • July 14-15 Convening of the fist meeting of the South-North Working Group on Illegitimate Debt. The formation of the Working Group on Illegitimate Debt is one of the resolutions of the Dakar Consultation.

  • July 17-19 Co-organization of a three-part Public Forum on Debt together with other networks and organizations.

  • Other events including the mobilizations on the 20th and 21st are also being planned.

It is hoped that the Global Week of Protest will also be marked by activities and mobilization in many countries in Asia, as well as activities and mobilizations in Genoa.

Please send your comments, reactions, enquiries and other information to: jubileesouth@skyinet.net and jubileesouth@yahoogroups.com

 


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