Women & Islam: Rise of the Convert

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Richard Peppiatt

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Record numbers of young, white British women are converting to Islam, yet many are reporting a lack of help as they get used to their new religion, according to several surveys.

As Muslims celebrate the start of the religious holiday of ‘Eid today and hundreds of thousands from around the world converge on Mecca for the haj, it emerged that of the 5,200 Britons who converted to Islam last year, more than half are white and 75 per cent of them women.

In the past 10 years some 100,000 British people have converted to Islam, of whom some three-quarters are women, according to the latest statistics. This is a significant increase on the 60,000 Britons in the previous decade, according to researchers based at Swansea University.

While the number of UK converts accelerates, many of the British women who adopt Islam say they have a daily struggle to assimilate their new beliefs within a wider culture that both implicitly and explicitly positions them as outsiders, regardless of their Western upbringing.

More than three-quarters told researchers they had experienced high levels of confusion after conversion, due to the conflicting ways Islam was presented to them. While other major religions have established programs for guiding new believers through the rigors of their faith, Islam still lacks any such network, especially outside the Muslim hubs of major cities.

Many mosques still bar women from worship or provide scant resources for their needs, forcing them to rely on competing cultural and ideological interpretations within books or the internet for religious support.

A recent study of converts in Leicester, for example, found that 93 per cent of mosques in the region recognized they lacked services for new Muslims, yet only 7 per cent said they were making efforts to address the shortfall.

Many of the young women – the average age of conversion is 27 – are also coming to terms with experiences of discrimination for the first time, despite the only visible difference being a headscarf. Yet few find easy sanctuary within the established Muslim population, with the majority forming their closest bonds with fellow converts rather than born Muslims.

Kevin Brice, author of the Swansea study A Minority Within a Minority, said to be the most comprehensive study of British Muslim converts, added: “White Muslim converts are caught between two increasingly distant camps. Their best relationships remain with other converts, because of their shared experiences, while there is very little difference between the quality of their relationship with other Muslims or non-Muslims.

“My research also found converts came in two types: some are converts of convenience, who adopt the religion because of a life situation such as meeting a Muslim man, although the religion has little discernible impact on their day-to-day lives. For others it is a conversion of conviction where they feel a calling and embrace the religion robustly.

“That’s not to say the two are mutually exclusive – sometimes converts start out on their religious path through convenience and become converts of conviction later on.”

Another finding revealed by the Leicester study was that despite Western portraits of Islam casting it as oppressive to women, a quarter of female converts were attracted to the religion precisely because of the status it affords them.

Some analysts have argued that dizzying social and cultural upheavals in Britain over the past decades have meant that far from adopting an alien way of life, some female Muslim converts are re-embracing certain aspects of mid-20th-century Britain, such as rigid gender demarcation, rather than feeling expected to juggle career and family.

The first established Muslim communities started in Britain in the 1860s, when Yemeni sailors and Somali laborers settled around the ports of London, Cardiff, Liverpool and Hull. Many married local women who converted to Islam, often suffering widespread discrimination as a result.

They also acted as a bridge between the two cultures, encouraging understanding among indigenous dwellers and helping to integrate the Muslim community they had joined. Today, there is growing recognition among community leaders that the latest generation of female converts has an equally vital role to play in fostering dialogue between an increasingly secular British majority and a minority religion, as misunderstood as it is vilified.

Kristiane Backer, 45

Television presenter and author, London

I converted to Islam in 1995 after Imran Khan introduced me to the faith. At the time I was a presenter for MTV. I used to have all the trappings of success, yet I felt an inner emptiness and somewhat dissatisfied in my life.

The entertainment industry is very much about “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”, which is the exact opposite to the more inward-oriented spiritual attitude of my new faith. My value system changed and God became the center point of my life and what I was striving towards.

I recognize some new converts feel isolated but, despite there being even fewer resources when I converted than there are now, it isn’t so much an issue I’ve faced. I’ve always felt welcomed and embraced by the Muslims I met and developed a circle of friends and teachers. It helps living in London, because there is so much to engage in as part of the Muslim community. Yet, even in the capital you can be stared at on the Tube for wearing a headscarf. I usually don’t wear one in the West except when praying. I wear the scarf in front of my heart though!

I always try to explain to people that I’ve converted to Islam, not to any culture. Suppression of women, honor killings or forced marriages are all cultural aberrations, not Islamic ones. Islam is also about dignity and respect for yourself and your femininity. Even in the dating game, Muslim men are very respectful. Women are cherished as mothers, too – as a Muslim woman you are not expected to do it all.”

Amy Sall, 28

Retail assistant, Middlesbrough

I’d say I’m still a bit of a party animal – but I’m also a Muslim. I do go out on the town with the girls and I don’t normally wear my headscarf – I know I should do, but I like to do my hair and look nice! I know there are certain clothes I shouldn’t wear either, even things that just show off your arms, but I still do. My husband would like me to be a better Muslim – he thinks drinking is evil – so it does cause rows.

I haven’t worshipped in a mosque since I got married, I find it intimidating. I worry about doing something wrong; people whispering because they see my blonde hair and blue eyes. Middlesbrough is a difficult place to be a Muslim who isn’t Asian – you tend to be treated like an outsider. Once, I was out wearing my headscarf and a local man shouted abuse. It was weird because I’m white and he was white, but all he saw was the scarf, I suppose. It did make me angry. My family were surprisingly fine with me converting, probably because they thought it would rein me in from being a bit wild.

Nicola Penty-Alvarez, 26

Full-time mother, Uxbridge

I was always interested in philosophy and the meaning of life and when I came across Islam it all just clicked. In the space of four or five months I went from going to raves to wearing a headscarf, praying five times a day and generally being quite pious – I did occasionally smoke though.

I felt very welcomed into the Muslim community, but it was a mainly white convert community. My impression of the Asian community in west London was that women felt sidelined and were encouraged to stay at home and look after the men rather than attend mosque. I think this was more a cultural than religious thing, though.

Non-Muslims certainly treat you differently when you’re wearing a headscarf – they’re less friendly and as a smiley person I found that hard. After a year-and-a-half of being a Muslim I stopped. I remember the moment perfectly. I was in a beautiful mosque in Morocco praying beside an old lady and something just came over me. I thought: ‘What the hell am I doing? How have I got into this?’ It just suddenly didn’t feel right. Needless to say my husband, who was a fellow convert, wasn’t impressed. He remained devout and it put a lot of strain on our relationship. We split up, but are on amicable terms now. I’m not really in contact with the Muslim friends I made – we drifted apart.

I don’t regret the experience. There is so much that I learnt spiritually that I’ve kept and I haven’t gone back to my hard partying ways.

Donna Tunkara

Warehouse operative, Middlesbrough

I was a bit of a tearaway growing up – drinking, smoking, running away from home and being disrespectful to my parents. I converted 10 years ago because I met a Muslim man but I’ve probably become more devout than him.

Sometimes, I miss going shopping for clothes to hit the town and then going home and getting ready with my mates, having a laugh. The thing is no one is forcing me not to – it’s my choice.

It did come as a shock to my family, who are Christian. They’ve not rejected me, but they find it difficult to understand. I feel bad because I don’t now attend weddings, funerals or christenings because they’re often at pubs and clubs and I won’t step inside.

There needs to be more resources for women who convert. I know some mosques that won’t allow women in. But in the Koran there is an emphasis on women being educated. I’ve learnt about the religion through my husband’s family and books – if you want support you have to look for it. It’s taken time to regain an identity I’m comfortable with. Because I’m mixed race and a Muslim ,people don’t see me as British – but what’s important is that I know who I am.

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Anders Breivik & Europe’s Blind Right Eye

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Praveen Swami

2011-07-26T181547Z_1238585719_GM1E77R06AP01_RTRMADP_3_NORWAY

A woman takes part in a march near Utoeya island to pay their respects for the victims of the killing spree and bomb attack in Norway, in the village of Sundvollen, northwest of Oslo, July 26, 2011. Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik is in all likelyhood "insane", his lawyer said after the anti-Islam radical admitted to bomb and shooting spree in Norway on Friday that killed 76 people. 

REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

There are important lessons for India in the murderous violence in Norway: lessons it can ignore only at risk to its own survival.

In 2008, Hindutva leader B.L. Sharma ‘Prem’ held a secret meeting with key members of a terrorist group responsible for a nationwide bombing campaign targeting Muslims. “It has been a year since I sent some three lakh letters, distributed 20,000 maps of Akhand Bharat but these Brahmins and Banias have not done anything and neither will they [do anything],” he is recorded to have said in documents obtained by prosecutors. “It is not that physical power is the only way to make a difference,” he concluded, “but to awaken people mentally, I believe that you have to set fire to society.”
Last week, Anders Behring Breivik, armed with assault weapons and an improvised explosive device fabricated from the chemicals he used to fertilize the farm that had made him a millionaire in his mid-20s, set out to put Norway on fire.

Even though a spatial universe separated the blonde, blue-eyed Mr. Breivik from the saffron-clad neo-Sikh Mr. Sharma, their ideas rested on much the same intellectual firmament.

In much media reportage, Mr. Breivik has been characterised as a deranged loner: a Muslim-hating Christian fanatic whose ideas and actions placed him outside of society. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Breivik’s mode of praxis was, in fact, entirely consistent with the periodic acts of mass violence European fascists have carried out since World War II. More important, Mr. Breivik’s ideas, like those of Mr. Sharma, were firmly rooted in mainstream right-wing discourse.

Fascist terror

In the autumn of 1980, a wave of right-wing terrorist attacks tore through Europe. In August that year, 84 people were killed and 180 injured when a bomb ripped through the Bologna railway station. Eleven people were killed when the famous Munich Oktoberfest was targeted on September 26; four persons died when a bomb went off in front of a synagogue on the Rue Copernic in Paris on October 2.

Little attention, the scholar Bruce Hoffman noted in a 1984 paper, had been paid to right-wing terrorists by Europe’s police forces. Their eyes, firmly focussed on left-wing organisations, had characterised the right “as ‘kooks’, ‘clowns’, ‘little Fuhrers’, and, with regard to their young, ‘political punk rockers’.” Less than four months before the Oktoberfest bombing, Dr. Hoffman wrote, an official German Interior Ministry publication dismissed the threat from neo-Nazi groups, saying they were “most armed with self-made bats and chains.”

Earlier this year, the analysts who had authored the European Police organisation Europol’s Terrorism Situation Report made much the same mistake as they had before the 1984 bombings. Lack of cohesion and public threat, they claimed, “went a long way towards accounting for the diminished impact of right-wing terrorism and extremism in the European Union.”

Zero terrorist attacks might have been a persuasive empirical argument — if it was not for the fact that no EU member-state, bar Hungary, actually records acts of right-wing terrorism using those terms.

Europol’s 2010 report, in fact, presented a considerably less sanguine assessment of the situation. Noting the 2008 and 2009 arrests of British fascists for possession of explosives and toxins, the report flagged the danger from “individuals motivated by extreme right-wing views who act alone.”

The report also pointed to the heating-up of a climate of hatred: large attendances at white-supremacist rock concerts, the growing muscle of fascist groups like Blood and Honour and the English Defence League, fire-bomb attacks on members of the Roma minority in several countries, and military training to the cadre.

Yet, the authors of the 2011 Europol report saw little reason for alarm. In a thoughtful 2008 report, a consortium of Dutch organisations noted that “right-wing terrorism is not always labelled as such.”

Because “right-wing movements use the local traditions, values, and characteristics to define their own identity,” the report argued, “many non-rightist citizens recognize and even sympathize with some of the organization’s political opinions”— a formulation which will be familiar to Indians, where communal violence is almost never referred to as a form of mass terrorism.

Thomas Sheehan, who surveyed the Italian neo-fascist resurgence before the 1980 bombings, arrived at much the same conclusion decades ago. “In 1976 and again in 1978,” he wrote in the New York Review of Books, “judges in Rome, Turin and Milan fell over each other in their haste to absolve neo-fascists of crimes ranging from murdering a policeman to ‘reconstituting Fascism’ [a crime under post-war Italian law]”.

“When it comes to fascist terrorism,” Mr. Sheehan wryly concluded, “Italian authorities seem to be a bit blind in the right eye.”

Political crisis

Europe’s fascist parties have little electoral muscle today but reports suggest that a substantial renaissance is under way. The resurgence is linked to a larger political crisis. In 1995, commentator Ignacio Ramonet argued that the collapse of the Soviet Union had provoked a crisis for Europe’s great parties of the right, as for its left. The right’s failure to provide coherent answers to the crisis of identity provoked by a globalising world, and its support for a new economic order which engendered mass unemployment and growing income disparities, empowered neo-fascism.

“People feel,” Mr. Ramonet wrote in a commentary in the French newspaper, Le Monde, “that they have been abandoned by governments which they see as corrupt and in the hands of big business.”

In the mid-1990s, fascist groups reached an electoral peak: Jorg Haider’s Liberals won 22 per cent of the vote in Austria; Carl Igar Hagen’s Progress Party became the second-largest party in Norway; Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance claimed 15 per cent of the vote in Italy; while the Belgian Vlaams Blok gained 12.3 per cent in Flanders, Belgium. In France, the centrist Union for French Democracy was compelled to accept support from the National Front in five provinces.

Europe’s mainstream right-wing leadership rapidly appropriated key elements of the fascist platform, and successfully whittled away at their electoral success: but ultimately failed to address the issues Mr. Ramonet had flagged.

Now, many are turning to new splinter groups, and online mobilisation.

Mr. Brevik’s comments on the website Document.no provide real insight into the frustration of the right’s rank and file. His central target was what he characterised as “cultural-Marxism”: “an anti-European hate-ideology,” he wrote in September 2009, “whose purpose is to destroy European culture, identity and Christianity in general.”

For Mr. Breivik, cultural Marxism’s central crime was to have de-masculinised European identity. In his view, “Muslim boys learn pride in their own religion, culture and cultural-conservative values at home, while Norwegian men have been feminized and taught excessive tolerance.”

He railed against the media’s supposed blackout of the supposed “100 racial / jihadi murder of Norwegians in the last 15 years.” “Many young people are apathetic as a result,” Mr. Brevik observed, “others are very racist. They repay what they perceive as racism with racism.”

Mr. Breivik, his writings suggest, would have been reluctant to describe himself as a fascist — a common feature of European far-right discourse. He wrote: “I equate multiculturalism with the other hate-ideologies: Nazism (anti-Jewish), communism (anti-individualism) and Islam (anti-Kaffir).”

These ideas, it is important to note, were echoes of ideas in mainstream European neo-conservatism. In 1978, the former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, famously referred to popular fears that Britain “might be swamped by people of a different culture.” In 1989, Ms Thatcher asserted that “human rights did not begin with the French Revolution.” Instead, they “really stem from a mixture of Judaism and Christianity”— in other words, faith, not reason.

In recent years, key European politicians have also used language not dissimilar to Mr Brevik. Last year, Angela Merkel asserted that multikulti, or multiculturalism, had failed. David Cameron, too, assailed “the doctrine of state multiculturalism,” which he said had “encouraged different cultures to live separate lives.” France’s Nicolas Sarkozy was more blunt: “multiculturalism is a failure. The truth is that in our democracies, we cared too much about the identity of the migrant and not sufficiently about the identity of the country that welcomed him.”

Mr. Brevik’s grievance, like Mr. Sharma’s, was that these politicians were unwilling to act on their words — and that the people he claimed to love for cared too little to rebel.

The Norwegian terrorist’s 1,518-page pseudonymous testament, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, promises his new “Knights Templar” order will “seize political and military control of Western European countries and implement a cultural conservative political agenda.” He threatens an apocalyptic war against “traitors” enabling a Muslim takeover of Europe: a war, he says, will claim up to “45,000 dead and 1 million wounded cultural Marxists/multiculturalists.”

For India, there are several important lessons. Like’s Europe’s mainstream right-wing parties, the BJP has condemned the terrorism of the right — but not the thought system which drives it. Its refusal to engage in serious introspection, or even to unequivocally condemn Hindutva violence, has been nothing short of disgraceful. Liberal parties, including the Congress, have been equally evasive in their critique of both Hindutva and Islamist terrorism.

Besieged as India is by multiple fundamentalisms, in the throes of a social crisis that runs far deeper than in Europe, with institutions far weaker, it must reflect carefully on Mr. Brevik’s story — or run real risks to its survival.

Posted by c-info at Sunday, July 24, 2011, The Hindu

13-31

The Enemy is Washington: An Economy Destroyed

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Craig Roberts

Recently, the bond rating agencies that gave junk derivatives triple-A ratings threatened to downgrade US Treasury bonds if the White House and Congress did not reach a deficit reduction deal and debt ceiling increase.  The downgrade threat is not credible, and neither is the default threat.  Both are make-believe crises that are being hyped in order to force cutbacks in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

If the rating agencies downgraded Treasuries, the company executives would be arrested for the fraudulent ratings that they gave to the junk that Wall Street peddled to the rest of the world. The companies would be destroyed and their ratings discredited. The US government will never default on its bonds, because the bonds, unlike those of Greece, Spain, and Ireland, are payable in its own currency. Regardless of whether the debt ceiling is raised, the Federal Reserve will continue to purchase the Treasury’s debt.  If Goldman Sachs is too big to fail, then so is the US government.

There is no budget focus on the illegal wars and military occupations that the US government has underway in at least six countries or the 66-year old US occupations of Japan and Germany and the ring of military bases being constructed around Russia.

The total military/security budget is in the vicinity of $1.1-$1.2 trillion, or 70 per cent -75 per cent of the federal budget deficit.

In contrast, Social Security is solvent.  Medicare expenditures are coming close to exceeding the 2.3 per cent payroll tax that funds Medicare, but it is dishonest for politicians and pundits to blame the US budget deficit on “entitlement programs.”

Entitlements are funded with a payroll tax.  Wars are not funded. The criminal Bush regime lied to Americans and claimed that the Iraq war would only cost $70 billion at the most and would be paid for with Iraq oil revenues. When Bush’s chief economic advisor, Larry Lindsay, said the Iraq invasion would cost $200 billion, Bush fired him. In fact, Lindsay was off by a factor of 20. Economic and budget experts have calculated that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have consumed $4,000 billion in out-of-pocket and already incurred future costs.  In other words, the ongoing wars and occupations have already eaten up the $4 trillion by which Obama hopes to cut federal spending over the next ten years. Bomb now, pay later.

As taxing the rich is not part of the political solution, the focus is on rewarding the insurance companies by privatizing Medicare at some future date with government subsidized insurance premiums, by capping Medicaid, and by loading the diminishing middle class with additional Social Security tax.

Washington’s priorities and those of its presstitutes could not be clearer. President Obama, like George W. Bush before him, both parties in Congress, the print and TV media, and National Public Radio have made it clear that war is a far more important priority than health care and old age pensions for Americans.

The American people and their wants and needs are not represented in Washington. Washington serves powerful interest groups, such as the military/security complex, Wall Street and the banksters, agribusiness, the oil companies, the insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, and the mining and timber industries. 

Washington endows these interests with excess profits by committing war crimes and terrorizing foreign populations with bombs, drones, and invasions, by deregulating the financial sector and bailing it out of its greed-driven mistakes after it has stolen Americans’ pensions, homes, and jobs, by refusing to protect the land, air, water, oceans and wildlife from polluters and despoilers, and by constructing a health care system with the highest costs and highest profits in the world.

The way to reduce health care costs is to take out gobs of costs and profits with a single payer system.  A private health care system can continue to operate alongside for those who can afford it.
The way to get the budget under control is to stop the gratuitous hegemonic wars, wars that will end in a nuclear confrontation.

The US economy is in a deepening recession from which recovery is not possible, because American middle class jobs in manufacturing and professional services have been offshored and given to foreigners.  US GDP, consumer purchasing power, and tax base have been handed over to China, India, and Indonesia in order that Wall Street, shareholders, and corporate CEOs can earn more.
When the goods and services produced offshore come back into America, they arrive as imports. The trade balance worsens, the US dollar declines further in exchange value, and prices rise for Americans, whose incomes are stagnant or falling.

This is economic destruction. It always occurs when an oligarchy seizes control of a government. The short-run profits of the powerful are maximized at the expense of the viability of the economy.
The US economy is driven by consumer demand, but with 22.3 per cent unemployment, stagnant and declining wages and salaries, and consumer debt burdens so high that consumers cannot borrow to spend, there is nothing to drive the economy.

Washington’s response to this dilemma is to increase the austerity! 

Cutting back Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, forcing down wages by destroying unions and offshoring jobs (which results in a labor surplus and lower wages), and driving up the prices of food and energy by depreciating the dollar further erodes consumer purchasing power.  The Federal Reserve can print money to rescue the crooked financial institutions, but it cannot rescue the American consumer.

As a final point, confront the fact that you are even lied to about “deficit reduction.”  Even if Obama gets his $4 trillion “deficit reduction” over the next decade, it does not mean that the current national debt will be $4 trillion less than it currently is.  The “reduction” merely means that the growth in the national debt will be $4 trillion less than otherwise.  Regardless of any “deficit reduction,” the national debt ten years from now will be much higher than it presently is.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury, Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, and professor of economics in six universities. His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, was published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com/Counter punch.

13-31

Muhammad Yunus

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Syed Aslam

imgresMuhammad Yunus was born in 28 June of 1940 in the village of Bathua, near Chittagong,  what was then Eastern Bengal.  He studied at Dhaka University, East Pakistan now Bangladesh, and graduated with MA degree in economics.  He qualified for  Fulbright scholarship to study economics at Vanderbilt University and received his Ph.D. in economics  in 1969. The following year he became an assistant professor of economics at Middle Tennessee State University. Returning to Bangladesh in 1972 Dr.Yunus headed the economics department at Chittagong University.

His father was a successful goldsmith who always encouraged his sons to seek higher education. But his biggest influence was his mother,  who always helped any poor that knocked on their door. This inspired him to commit himself to eradication of poverty. In 1974, Professor Muhammad Yunus,  led his students on a field trip to a poor village. They interviewed a woman who made bamboo basket, and found out that she had to borrow the equivalent of 10 cent to buy raw bamboo for each basket made. After repaying the middleman, sometimes at rates as high as 10% a week, she was left with a few cent in profit. Had she been able to borrow at lower rates, she would have been able to make some money and raise herself above subsistence level.

Dr.Yunus took matters into his own hands, and from his own pocket lent  money equivalent $27 to  basket-weavers. He found that it was possible with this tiny amount not only to help them survive, but also to create the spark of personal initiative and enterprise necessary to pull themselves out of poverty.

Against the advice of banks and government, Yunus carried on giving out micro-loans, and in 1983 formed the Grameen Bank, meaning village bank founded on principles of trust and solidarity. In Bangladesh today, Grameen Bank has 2,564 branches, with 19,800 staff serving 8.29 million borrowers in 81,367 villages. On any working day Grameen Bank collects an average of $1.5 million in weekly installments. Of the borrowers, 97% are women and over 97% of the loans are paid back, a recovery rate higher than any other banking system. Grameen methods are applied in projects in 58 countries, including the US, Canada and France.

Muhammad Yunus has shown himself to be a leader who has managed to translate visions into practical action for the benefit of millions of people, not only in Bangladesh, but also in many other countries. Loans to poor people without any financial security was an impossible idea. From modest beginnings three decades ago, Yunus has, first and foremost through Grameen Bank, developed micro-credit into an ever more important instrument in the struggle against poverty.

Dr. Muhammad Yunus was the first Bangladeshi to  get a Nobel Prize in 2006. After receiving the news of the award, Yunus announced that he would use part of his share of the $1.4 million award money to create a company to make low-cost, high-nutrition food for the poor; while the rest would go toward setting up an eye hospital for the poor in Bangladesh. He has earned many prestigious awards.

Aslamsyed1@yahoo.com

13-30

Iraq Awaits Election Results

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The first results of Iraq’s parliamentary elections are expected to be released on Wednesday, officials have said, in a vote seen as a test of democracy in the country.

But none of the political blocs contesting Sunday’s vote are expected to win a decisive victory, and talks to form a coalition could take months.

Figures showed that more than 60 per cent of eligible voters took part in Sunday’s elections, despite numerous attempts to disrupt the process.

The independent electoral commission, IHEC, said on Monday that roughly 11.7 million voters had cast their ballots on election day.

The 62.5 voter turnout did not include ballots cast by security forces and others in early voting or the 275,000 Iraqis voting abroad.

Hamdiyah al-Husseini, a senior official with IHEC, told reporters that turnout was particularly high in the country’s autonomous northern Kurdish region, with 80 percent of voters in Dohuk casting ballots.

Informal tallies showed prime minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition had polled well in Shia provinces while a secular, cross-sectarian bloc led by former premier Iyad Allawi appeared to be strong in Sunni areas of the north and west.

Sami al-Askari, a member of Maliki’s coalition, said his coalition took about 45 per cent of the vote in Baghdad, the capital, and would win about half the seats in the Shia holy city of Najaf. He added that it was running third in some northern areas behind Iraqiya and the Kurdish Alliance, he said.

“We will be the biggest bloc in the next parliament and according to the constitution we will be the bloc that will nominate the next prime minister,” he said. “But definitely we will need to ally with one or two other lists.”

Mike Hanna, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Baghdad, said the first preliminary results would be based on just 30 per cent of the votes and may not be that representable.

“The prime intention is to get a governing bloc within the parliament which has 50 per cent plus one seat, which would then enable that particular bloc to form a government and nominate a prime minister.”

Final results, certified by the supreme court after hearing appeals, were expected within about a month of the election.

More than 6,000 candidates from 86 political groups were competing for the 325 seats in parliament.

Despite tight security arrangements, the vote was marred by violence as a series of explosions left at least 38 people dead and 89 others wounded in the capital.

The bloodiest toll was from an explosion that destroyed a residential building in the Shaab district of northern Baghdad, killing 25 people and wounding at least eight more.

Source:     Al Jazeera and agencies

12-11

Surprising Results of CFR Survey

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

What the U.S. Elite Really Thinks About Israel

By Jeffrey Blankfort, Counterpunch

The Council on Foreign Relations is always near the top of the Left’s list of bogeymen that stand accused of pulling the strings of US foreign policy. It is right up there with the Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission, right? Wrong. If that was the case,  those arguing that US support for Israel is based on it being a “strategic asset”  will have a hard time explaining a Pew Research Center survey on America’s Place in the World, taken of 642 CFR members between October 2 and November 16. The Pew poll  not only reveals that the overwhelming majority, two-thirds of the members of this elite foreign policy institution, believes that the United States has gone overboard in favoring Israel, it doesn’t consider Israel to have much importance to the US in the first place.

What can be concluded from the answers to questions that dealt with the Israel-Palestine conflict is that the general public forms its opinions from what it hears and reads in the mainstream media which are largely biased towards Israel while CFR members have greater access to as well as interest in obtaining more accurate information and are less susceptible to pro-Israel propaganda. That apparently not a single US newspaper saw fit to report on the opinions of CFR members, under those circumstances, is not surprising. The evidence:

(1) That on a list of countries that will be the “more important as Americas allies and partners” in the future, just 4 per cent included Israel which placed it in a tie with South Korea and far behind China, 58 per cent, India, 55 per cent, Brazil, 37 per cent, the EU, 19 per cent, Russia, 17 per cent, Japan, 16 per cent, the UK and Turkey, 10 per cent, Germany, 9 per cent, Mexico, 8 per cent, Canada, Indonesia, Australia and France at 5 per cent. CFR voters were allowed to make up to seven selections.(Q19)

(2) When asked which countries would be less important to the US, Israel, at 9 per cent  was behind 22 countries including Canada and Mexico and in the region Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.(Q20)

(3) What was particularly revealing is that “in the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” only 26 per cent of the CFR sided with Israel, compared with 51 per cent of 2000 members of the general public who were polled over the same period. While but 16 per cent of CFR members sided with the Palestinians compared to 12 per cent of the public, 41 per cent of the CFRers sided with “both equally” as opposed to 4 per cent of the public. Supporting neither was 12 per cent of the CFR and 14 per cent of the public. (Q33)

(4) That the CFR has not had a major hand in making US Israel-Palestine policy nor is it in agreement with those who did is strikingly revealed by the response of its members when asked their opinion of US Middle East policies. The problem, according to 67 per cent of CFR members (as compared to 30 per cent of the public) is that the US favored Israeli too much, while only 2 per cent (as opposed to 15 per cent of the public) believed that US policy overly favored the Palestinians.. Twenty-four percent of the CFR believed US policy “struck the right balance” as did 29 per cent of the public. (Q34)

(5) The overwhelming majority of CFR members, 69 per cent, think that Pres.Obama is “striking the right balance” between the Israelis and Palestinians as compared with a slim majority, 51 per cent of the public. Thirteen percent of the CFR believes that Obama is “favoring Israel too much,” as compared with 7 per cent of the public, while 12 per cent thinks he is siding with the Palestinians, a position taken by 16 per cent of the public. (Q35)

Regarding Iran, one detects the same gap between the CFR and the public. Whereas a 64 per cent-34 per cent majority of the polled CFR members see Iran as a major threat to US interests, compared with a 72-20 per cent per cent  majority of the public, only 33 per cent of the CFR  would support an attack on Iran should it get a nuclear weapon as contrasted  with 63 per cent of the public. (Q7)

The percentages are almost reversed when it comes  to Pakistan with 63 per cent of the CFR supporting US military action were “extremists…poised to take over Pakistan,” whereas only 51 per cent of the public would approve such a move. (Q24). This is another indication of the success of Israel’s  porte-paroles in the mainstream media  in  building up the Iran threat while downplaying the potential threats to the stabilty of nuclear-armed Pakistan. The entire Pew survey can be viewed here: http://people-press.org/reports/questionnaires/569.pdf

[Jeffrey Blankfort is a long-time pro-Palestinian activist and a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He an be contacted at jblankfort@earthlink.net]

US ‘Biggest’ Threat, Say Pakistanis

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Owen Fay, Al Jazeera

2009-08-09T151039Z_01_AAL113_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN

Men pray during rally in the northwest Pakistan city Peshawar August 9, 2009. Over 500 supporters of the Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami gathered in a park in Peshawar to protest against military operations in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. 

REUTERS/Ali Imam

A survey commissioned by Al Jazeera in Pakistan has revealed a widespread disenchantment with the United States for interfering with what most people consider internal Pakistani affairs.

The polling was conducted by Gallup Pakistan – a separate organisation affiliated with the US-based Gallup Inc – and more than 2,600 people took part.

Interviews were conducted across the political spectrum, and represented men and women of every economic and ethnic background.

The resentment was made clear when residents were asked if they support or oppose Pakistan’s own military offensive against Taliban targets.

Keeping with recent trends a growing number of people, now 41 per cent, support the campaign.

About 24 per cent of people remain opposed, but an additional 22 per cent of Pakistanis remain neutral on the question.

That number changes quite significantly when people were asked if they would support government-sanctioned dialogue with Taliban fighters if it were a viable option.

The same 41 per cent said they would still support the military offensive. But the number of those supporting dialogue leaps up to 43 per cent.

So clearly, Pakistanis are, right now, fairly evenly split on how to deal with the Taliban threat.

However, when asked if they support or oppose the US military’s drone attacks against what Washington claims are Taliban and al-Qaeda targets, only nine per cent of respondents reacted favorably.

A massive 67 per cent say they oppose US military operations on Pakistani soil.

“This is a fact that the hatred against the US is growing very quickly, mainly because of these drone attacks,” Makhdoom Babar, the editor-in-chief of Pakistan’s The Daily Mail newspaper, said.

“Maybe the intelligence channels, the military channels consider it productive, but for the general public it is controversial … the drone attacks are causing collateral damage,” he told Al Jazeera.

The consensus of opinion on US military involvement is notable given the fact that on a raft of internal issues there is a clear level of disagreement, which can be expected in a country of this size.

When asked for their opinions on Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, 42 per cent of respondents believe he is doing a bad job. Around 11 per cent approve of his leadership, and another 34 per cent have no strong opinion either way.

That pattern was reflected in a question about the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Forty-one per cent of Pakistanis say they support the offensive against the Taliban

Respondents were asked if they thought the PPP is good or bad for the country.

About 38 per cent said the PPP is bad for the country, 20 per cent believe it is good for the country and another 30 per cent said they have no strong opinion.

Respondents were even more fractured when asked for their views on how the country should be led.

By far, the largest percentage would opt for Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, as leader. At least 38 per cent back him to run Pakistan.

Zardari received only nine per cent support, while Reza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, has the backing of 13 per cent.

But from there, opinions vary greatly. Eight per cent of the population would support a military government, 11 per cent back a political coalition of the PPP and Sharif’s PML-N party.

Another six per cent throw their support behind religious parties and the remaining 15 per cent would either back smaller groups or simply do not have an opinion.

Babar told Al Jazeera that Zardari’s unpopularity was understandable given the challenges that the country had faced since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

“Any president in Pakistan would be having the same popularity that President Zardari is having, because under this situation the president of Pakistan has to take a lot of unpopular decisions,” he said.

“He is in no position to not take unpopular decisions that are actually in the wider interests of the country, but for common people these are very unpopular decisions.”

The level of diversity disappears when broader questions of security and military intervention are posed.

In the same way that most Pakistanis right now reject what they see as US military interference, they strongly oppose US policies as a whole.

The respondents were asked what they consider to be the biggest threat to the nation of Pakistan: 11 per cent of the population sees the Taliban as the largest threat, while 18 per cent believe it comes from India.

But by an overwhelming margin, 59 per cent of respondents said the greatest threat to Pakistan right now is, in fact, the US.

That is a number worth bearing in mind the next time the US claims its military campaign is succeeding.

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