September 17, 2019
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Executive Wing, Parliament Buildings,
Wellington, New Zealand
Dear Prime Minister:
We congratulate you for your thoughtful and civilized response after the terroristic hate crime attacks in Christchurch, NZ earlier this year: indeed, you richly deserve the award that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation plan to present to you in New York ten days from now. However, we are deeply disturbed to discover that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will also be giving an award to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi later this month. In this way, the Gates Foundation treats a notorious hate monger the same way as a champion for pluralism and coexistence who struggles against the power of hate. Why lend your presence and your credibility to this wrong-headed awards ceremony? Who will it benefit?
Certainly, your presence will not benefit the NZ Muslim community in the way your solidarity after the attacks did. Even generalized remarks about the importance of full social inclusion would not be sufficient unless, of course, you are explicit in your condemnation of Modi’s policies. The situation in India is that extreme, that it requires direct response instead of the usual diplomatic niceties.
Under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, religious and ethnic minorities have been demonized and disenfranchised and organized mobs have systematically attacked Muslims while elected leaders call for violence. India has descended into dangerous, deadly and divisive politics that has consistently undermined human rights and democracy.
The situation in the state of Assam and Indian-administered Kashmir is cause for grave concern as well. In Assam, 1.9 million Indians have been stripped of citizenship; in Kashmir, since August, 800,000 Indian armed forces have kept eight million Kashmiris without phone or internet service for the last month. Because of these human rights abuses, children in Kashmir from Kindergarten to college are unable to attend school. In 2016 (the year the most recent data has been available), schools in Kashmir were open for only four months out of the year.
Finally, scholars inside and outside of India have never cleared Prime Minister Modi of his involvement in the horrific 2002 massacre of Gujarat. As a result, Modi was banned from entering the United States, the UK, and Canada for 10 years until he acquired diplomatic immunity by becoming India’s Prime Minister. To be sure, his role in that crisis as the then Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat cannot be ignored.
In view of these facts – and your own reputation as promoter of cooperation and peace– we respectfully request that you ask the Gates Foundation to present the awards not to Prime Minister Modi but to others involved in development work in India. Doing so will send a clear and powerful message that the Foundation should operate on principle, and according to its founding values. Moreover, we are confident that the Muslim communities in New Zealand will agree: If the Foundation will not reconsider, in our view you should not participate.
Abdul Malik Mujahid
Chairman, Justice for All
Burma Task Force USA and Canada (Includes 38 Muslim American orgs)
Save Uighur and Faith Coalition Against Genocide at StopGenocide.org
Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)
Majlis Ash Shura of Metro New York
Interfaith Center of New York
Pax Christi USA (Catholic)
Pax Christi Metro New York
Pax Christi Metro DC/Baltimore.
South Asian Fund for Education, Scholarship & Training (SAFEST)
South Asian Solidarity Foundation
Labor Religion Alliance
Turning Point for Women and Families
US Campaign for Burma
World Rohingya Organization (WRO)
Rohingya Culture Center (RCC), Chicago
Rohingya American Society (RAS, Wisconsin)
Jewish Alliance of Concern Over Burma (JACOB)*
*Blaustein Center, American Jewish Committee
American Jewish World Service
The Anti-Defamation League
The Central Conference of American Rabbis
The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding
Hebrew College Rabbinical School
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
The New York Board of Rabbis
The Orthodox Union
The Rabbinical Assembly
The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
The Religious Action Center
The Shalom Center
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
The Union for Reform Judaism