Book Review: The Kashmir question

This book is an in-depth study of the violent struggle that has plagued Kashmir for decades.
Updated 26 October 2017
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Book Review: The Kashmir question

"Paradise on Fire” is a comprehensive study of the struggle for freedom in Kashmir and a biography of a man who has played a central role in carrying the Kashmiri cause forward with determination and vision. The author of the book, Abdul Hakeem, openly acknowledges his patriotic feelings for India, but, to his credit, does not ignore the wrongdoings of his nation in relation to Kashmir.
The author begins with an elaborate account of the Kashmir dispute. He starts from the era of Afghan rule, through the Indo-Pak Partition of 1947, to the post-partition conspiracies that allegedly duped Kashmiris into accession to India and brings to light all misunderstandings related to the dispute.
Syed Ali Geelani’s struggle is compellingly narrated. His life as a student, the hardships experienced through poverty, his inspirations and early attempts to achieve freedom and his first arrest, which prevented him from performing his father’s last rites, are all documented.
Since then, the now 88-year-old Kashmiri separatist leader has often been detained by the Indian authorities on a variety of charges. 
Despite his failing health, Geelani continues his struggle. While others have succumbed either to threats or the lure of luxury from India, Geelani has remained steadfast in his loyalty to his cause.
He has maintained a clear stance on the rights of Kashmiri minorities, too, respecting and protecting those whose religious beliefs differ from his own. “We want to live with our Hindu and Buddhist brothers,” he has said. “We have never pressured anyone. Hindu brothers who left Kashmir were never told by us to leave the state. It was the Indian government that asked them to leave Kashmir,” he claimed.
There are numerous tales of the wrongs inflicted on Kashmiris: The shooting at Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq’s funeral procession in May 1990, by forces in Kashmir, the alleged gang rape of Kunan Poshpora in February 1991 and the continuing series of heart-wrenching atrocities committed against Kashmiris.
The ill-treatment detainees are subjected to in the interrogation centers is barbaric. Kashmir is a heavily militarized zone with the highest civilian to soldier ratio in the world. It can be no coincidence that 80 percent of Kasmiris suffer from mild or severe psychiatric disorders.
The formation of militant groups in 1989 was probably the first attempt to get widespread attention for the Kashmiri cause. Tired of the futile non-violent measures Kashmiris had been relying on in their struggle for freedom, their efforts turned violent after the 1987 elections were allegedly rigged. They were forced to choose the bullet rather than the ballot.
India has successfully presented the pro-freedom group led by Geelani as an insignificant minority. However, the magnitude of significance and support that Kashmiri people attach to him is shown by the large following answering his calls for strikes or election boycotts. Kashmiris have consistently boycotted elections held by the Indian government in order to showcase the façade of a peace process to the rest of the world. 
Geelani was instrumental in the formation of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). However, an ideological split between those who wanted independent statehood and those who wanted a merger with Pakistan destroyed the party. 
Kashmir’s strategic location in the middle of the Sino-Indian-Pakistani Arc is seen as pivotal to the potential conflicts that could arise between the three, all of whom wish to control the region’s rich abundance of resources. 
Nehru, India’s first prime minister, made a pledge to the people of Kashmir: “If, after a proper plebiscite, the people of Kashmir say, ‘we do not want to be with India,’ we are committed to accept that. We will accept it though it might pain us.”


Review: A political artist talks humanity, refugees and mass migration

Updated 22 April 2018
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Review: A political artist talks humanity, refugees and mass migration

BEIRUT: This precious blue book is a compilation of famed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s thoughts on the global refugee crisis, edited by prominent American collector and publisher Larry Warsh. “Humanity” is full of important messages that can be delivered at any time, hence the handy, bag-friendly size.
The quotations, selected from interviews, magazine features and podcasts from around the world, show Ai Weiwei’s thoughts on humanity, mass migration and refugees.
According to his interview excerpts, the artist believes we have lost the capacity for compassion.
“The refugee crisis is not about refugees, rather, it is about us. Our prioritization of financial gain over people’s struggle for the necessities of life is the primary cause of much of this crisis. The West has all but abandoned its belief in humanity and support for the precious ideals contained in declarations on universal human rights, it has sacrificed these ideals for short-sighted cowardice and greed,” he once said.
Ai Weiwei understands how it feels to be completely destitute in a foreign land, with nothing but one’s humanity. In 1959, during the Cultural Revolution, he accompanied his father to a labor camp in the Gobi Desert. When he returned to Beijing with his parents in 1975, he was 19 and determined to fight against injustice. Not afraid to criticize the Chinese authorities, he became an outspoken artist-cum-activist. He is now considered one of the most iconic artists of our times. He was detained in 2011 at Beijing airport, remained in custody for 81 days and was subsequently placed under house arrest. His passport was taken away and returned in 2015. That same year, Amnesty International awarded Ai Weiwei the Ambassador of Conscience Award for his work in defense of human rights and he relocated to Berlin.
Each quote in this book pricks our conscience, makes us feel uncomfortable, and reminds us that our indifference and and lack of action toward other human beings is inhuman.
For example, in the book, the artist is quoted as saying: “Allowing borders to determine your thinking is incompatible with the modern era.”
A powerful statement that is one of many to be found in this thought-provoking read.