Friday, October 29, 2010

The wage-Slave Coast

For three centuries, tens of millions of people were captured, kidnapped, and subsequently sold to European traders along the 150 mile slave coast in West Africa. In our contemporary time, the locale and the terms have certainly changed, but to these employed individuals the feeling of being a slave must live in the heart and mind. Bangladesh, like the areas of the Slave Coast between the 1500-1900, is one of the most densely populated nations in the world. Over 156 million people are crammed into a nation slightly larger than New York state in terms of square mileage, with a median age just under 23. Last year according the CIA World Factbook, Bangladesh ran about a five billion dollar budget deficit though its unemployment rate hovers around 4 percent. Although the CIA cites that most Bangladeshi workers are ‘underemployed’, we submit that in truth, they are simply underpaid. And moreover, Bangladesh is a nation on Tier 2 Watch due to its non-compliance with the minimum, international trafficking standards. The CIA World Factbook states:

Bangladesh is a source and transit for men, women, and children for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sex exploitation; a significant share of Bangladesh’s trafficking victims are men recruited for work overseas with fraudulent employment offers who are subsequently exploited under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage; children are trafficked within Bangladesh for commercial sexual exploitation, bonded labor, and forced labor; women and children from Bangladesh are also trafficked to India and Pakistan for sexual exploitation.

A dear sister in Islam posted on her Facebook page something that bears examination in relation to Muslims, in general, and Bangladesh in particular. She wrote, While people in this world are becoming slaves to their bosses, slaves to their jobs, slaves to fashion, slaves to money, slaves to fame, slaves to their desires, and obedient slaves to Shaytain, the Muslims are to remains slaves to The One and Only Creator, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful, Allah. Alhamdulillah. As I read this, my heart was disturbed and the mind troubled, for we know that some 90 percent of the 156 million people in Bangladesh are Muslim. The dear sister, who offered what should be a practical, universal truth, wrote these words from her home in London, England under the mantle of relative liberty and sound welfare, both personal and communal. This fact is not a reflection on her as a Muslimah or a human being, for we believe she is a good and decent woman. Yet, one must ponder how many countless Bangladeshi Muslimahs, both good and decent, are being forced to work in the most repressive and squalid conditions as these words are read? How many Bangladeshi sisters are forced to perform fellatio on man after man under the penalty of death if they refuse? How many Bangladeshi sisters are forced to watch as their children are given to women and men who will one day make them prostitutes for their own benefit? How many of said children will contract HIV/AIDS due to their being trafficked into the sex trade that they must feel, and probably have been told, is the only reason for their existence? How many Bangladeshi men will pray to Allah (SWT) for jobs that will allow them to escape the prison of their own systemic conditions and receive an opportunity of a better future for their families only to be paid $0.15 cents an hour?

It is arduous to remain a slave to Allah (SWT), Alone and without partner, within the Muslim community, even among the Muslims in the West. The slave to employment and money gains the respect of a potential father and mother-in laws, and is able to marry the sister he wishes. He is a slave to his job and a slave to his boss, which fosters success at his company. The slave to fame earns the respect of the people in the masjid. Muslims who practice the Five Pillars of Islam are so often slaves to gods other than Allah. These modern, contemporary idols of culture, convention, tradition, wealth, inter-Ummah ethnocentrism, racism, misogyny, and local community respect live in the hearts of Muslims more so than Qur’an and Sunna. It is a great tactic of Shaytain for a man to speak of The One True and Living God, though he is deluded into believing his muddled intentions are not directed and focused on the dunya profits and rewards within the Muslim community. He is likened to the man the prophet Muhammad (SAAW) said would recite The Holy Qur’an with such precise, pure beauty, only to find Hell-fire as his reward on the Day of Judgment.

This is why Islamic nationalism and the eventual reconstitution of Dar al-Salaam is so vital to the world, for it would be the State’s role to eradicate these subtle forms of shirk that are based on economic systems and personal finance. Under an Islamic system, there would be a right to work and worker’s rights based on the Economic Theories of Islam. There would be a right to family and Zakat to level the inequity of wealth distribution that is inevitable in the notion of private property and the process of business acquisition. The State’s role would be to set conditions so that a man and a woman could be seen for who they are and not-as it is in the West-because of what they own. These are values that are the antithesis of Globalization, where one is deemed virtuous and Blessed because of what they have.

For make no mistake, capitalism unchecked by moral, human, and Divine ideologies and philosophies, must feed on someone in order to be profitable. It is Globalization that is devouring our brothers, sisters, and their children in Bangladesh. The National Labor Committee, headed by Charles Kernaghan, cites an example of fellow Muslims who feed on the bodies, labor, and Islamic Rights of 181 guest workers, 132 of whom are Bangladeshi:

Upon their arrival at the Musa factory, foreign guest workers are stripped of their passports—they are confiscated and withheld by management. Many of the guest workers have been stripped of their passports for two, three, or more years. Over the course of years, the workers have repeatedly begged management to return their passports or at least provide them with copies, but management ignored the workers’ pleas…According to a Ministry of Labor report (July 9, 2009): “The general conditions in the dormitories are acceptable. Depending on the size of the dormitory room, it is shared between 4-8 workers. The rooms are regularly cleaned and sufficient toilets and showers are available. Water, electricity, and heating are also available.” However, the foreign guest workers who actually live in the dorm provide a very different account. As many as 10 workers are crowded into small rooms (approximately 12 by 14 feet), sleeping on double-level bunk beds. There is no shower. In fact, water is available only one or two hours each night. The workers have to save water, using small plastic buckets in order to take sponge baths in the morning. The water is also not potable. The bathrooms are filthy, give off a strong stench, and they have no doors or lights. The dorm’s roof leaks, and the shoddy electrical system frequently shorts out, burning wires. There is no proper kitchen. The workers cook within their small rooms. Contrary to the Ministry of Labor’s report, there is no heat or hot water available in dorms, despite winter temperatures that reach the freezing point. In fact, the few small portable room heaters in the dorms were purchased by the workers themselves. The workers pooled their money to buy them. There are also bed bugs in the dorm, which at times is so infested that the workers have trouble sleeping. The workers confirm that the primitive, substandard dorm conditions described above have been consistent for at least the last 2 ½ years. When the workers asked for and demanded regular access to water in their dorm, a supervisor warned them that “if they kept talking like that, he would cut off their penises.”… According to the Ministry of Report, “Food is provided three times a day—breakfast and dinner in the dormitories and lunch in the factory. The quality and quantity are considered to be sufficient.” Once again, the workers who actually have to eat the company food have a very different opinion, describing it as too little and tasting terrible. The food, provided by a subcontractor, is often just half-cooked on the outside and raw on the inside. Blood runs from the chicken when they cut it. For breakfast, the workers are fed a piece of pita bread and a cup of tea. As a special treat, three mornings each week, they also receive an egg. Lunch consists of small portions of fish, beef, chicken, or eggs with rice. Any worker daring to ask for a second helping is screamed at. The workers take their supper of vegetables and rice in the dorm. As the food provided is insufficient, the workers had to chip in their own money to purchase the cheapest meats or eggs to cook in their dorm rooms… Again, to quote from the Ministry of Labor report: “Workers indicated that they voluntarily work on public holidays and that payments for such work are correct…workers indicated they voluntarily work overtime almost every day. On average, they work 2-3 hours overtime each day. Payments for overtime are correct. Occasionally, workers work on Friday. If so, they work voluntarily and are paid correctly.” It is unclear what timeframe the Ministry of Labor is referring to, since for the last eight months or so, the workers at Musa have worked very little, if any, overtime. When the worldwide economic recession hit, as of December 2008 all excessive production and overtime work was basically shut down. Today, standard working hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 or 4:30 p.m. with Friday off. However, prior to December 2008, the routine shift at the Musa factory was 12 ½ to 13 ½ hours a day, from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. The workers also toiled on Friday, their supposed holiday, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. All overtime was strictly obligatory. The workers worked seven days a week. Anyone daring to miss an overtime shift was docked two or even three days’ wages as punishment. It is true, however, as the Ministry of Labor reports, that the workers were paid more or less correctly for both their regular and overtime hours. Prior to the downturn in December 2008, including their excessive mandatory overtime, the workers could earn 150 to 190 Jordanian Dinar ($211 to $268 U.S.) per month. The workers were also required to work on all Jordanian national holidays, but here the workers were cheated, as they were paid straight time and not the overtime premium legally due them. Since Jordanians will not work in their country’s garment factories, tens of thousands of foreign guest workers have had to be recruited. The guest workers come from Bangladesh, China, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and other countries. They all come for one reason only: to earn as much money as they possibly can to pay off the debts they incurred to purchase their three-year work contracts in Jordan, and to send money home to their families. At the Musa factory, prior to the recession and worldwide collapse of the apparel industry, the workers toiled seven days a week, racking up huge amounts of overtime. There were many illegal abuses, such as the excessive overtime, seven-day work weeks, work on national holidays, and so on, but the workers could put up with it all as long as they were supporting their families. This was their sacrifice… It is important to understand how these factories function. As mentioned above, it is believed that the Muse Textiles factory is owned by a Mr. Musa, an Israeli, who rarely visits the factory. The general manager of the plant is Mr. Riad, who is Palestinian. Given the large number of Bangladeshi workers at the factory, four out of five top supervisors are also Bangladeshi. There is actually a term, “head Bengali,” for the senior Bangladeshi supervisor, Mr. Rezaul. Another important supervisor is Mr. Mosharraf, who is in charge of production. These supervisors can earn four times what the workers do. Their job is to drive the workers as hard as they can and to spy on and control the workers.

Muslims enslaving other Muslims, and Allah Will NOT Change this condition until we, as a People and as Muslims, do it. It cannot be that the Bangladeshis are Cursed by their Lord, but rather they are the 21st century wage-Slaves, captured, kidnapped, imprisoned, even by their own brothers and sisters in Islam. How can Jordan, or any Arabs, justify the killings and oppression of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and yet ignore and never mention what is happening to Muslims in their own nations by the hands and direction of a Palestinian at the textile factory within its own borders. It is not just in Jordan, but throughout the Gulf Coast nations, Lebanon, and Egypt that people are treated as if they were merely beasts of burden. Muslims are erroneously carrying the label of being the best community while ignoring the critical thinking of men like Sayyid Qutb, who correctly wrote: Islam cannot fulfill its role except by taking concrete form in a society, rather, in a nation; for man does not listen, especially in this age, to an abstract theory which is not seen materialized in a living society. From this point of view, we can say that the Muslim community has been extinct for a few centuries, for this Muslim community does not denote a land in which Islam resides, nor is it a people whose forefathers lived under the Islamic system at some earlier time...If Islam is again to play the role of the leader of mankind, then it is necessary that the Muslim community be restored to its original form. 

Inshallah, on this Juma'ah, make du'a for those suffer under the actions and by the hands of those who claim to be Muslim, to love Allah and His messenger (SAAW), but allow, direct, and ignore these human rights atrocities. Make du'a for the 13 year old girl in Dhaka and Lahore that is forced to suck her 45 year old brother's penis on this day and the virgin being broken, vagina bleeding, just so she can ready herself for the next customer with the necessary amount of currency, for after all: IT ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS, BABY!! Then hold your children-sons and daughters both-tight to your chest. And then imagine you were a Bangladeshi mother and father. Subhnallah. Allahu Akbar. Alhamduilillah. Do not thank Allah you are who you are and that you do not know their pain. Just prepare to end it. 

Laugh less and weep much.

Isma’il ibn Bilal

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