Good Morning, Occupy Boston!

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, Boston

On December 8, Judge Frances McIntyre lifted the restraining order protecting Occupy Boston from being shut down. McIntyre said that while the protesters are exercising their rights to freedom of expression, the occupation of state land is neither speech “nor is it immune from criminal prosecution for trespass or other crimes.” This does not mean eviction is imminent, but the restraining order against the police no longer applies. Throughout the day, occupiers were handed a notice warning them that they would be subject to criminal trespass if they remained in the park. The ACLU of Massachusetts was actively involved in informing occupiers of their rights.

While some protesters packed up and went home on Thursday, others decided to stand their ground. A few even moved their tents to the middle of Atlantic Avenue just before 2am on Friday. Two protesters were arrested for blocking traffic, but there were no other police confrontations with the demonstrators who gathered at the site as the deadline loomed.

Expecting a possible police crackdown, thousands of supporters from nearby areas flooded into the campsite awaiting the midnight deadline, yet midnight came and went with no response from police officers, as they stood around the perimeter looking into the swelling crowd.

Occupy Boston’s newswire reports that the protesters “rallied at midnight, making circles two deep around tents, as the Veterans for Peace stood guard, white flags snapping in the wind.”

Police blocked off the streets surrounding Dewey Square just before 1am on Friday as hundreds of Occupiers and Occupy supporters packed the encampment. Boston Police Superintendent William Evans said that the police would not be moving in on Dewey Square early Friday morning. He stated that even though Mayor Thomas Menino set the deadline, he did not specify when the camp would be shut down.

As the news came in that no raid was coming, and no was eviction imminent, protesters danced in the streets to celebrate.

“I have no intention of leaving,” said 20-year-old Brandon Cloran of Lynn, Massachusetts, who has lived at the camp for the past six weeks.

FOX News reported that “the encampment site in Dewey Square in the city’s financial district looked noticeably smaller Friday than it had since the protesters first began occupying the site on Sept. 30. Only about 40 protesters and 35 tents remained, covering less than half the area the protest once did…

“Hours later, as dawn approached, the scene was markedly quieter, with only a handful of police officers keeping eye on the remaining protesters, a few of whom were still packing up tents and gathering belongings. One protester was raking part of the greenway that had been vacated by other members of the movement.”

While there is no obvious victory for the protesters as they continue their standoff with the City of Boston, it is clear that the voices of the many are influencing current events. Two weeks ago, a federal judge blocked a settlement between the Securities and Exchange Commission and Citigroup, saying that he could not be sure that it was “fair, adequate, or in the public interest,” while last week, a District Attorney announced she was suing the banks for fraudulent foreclosure practices.

MoveOn reports: “Senate Democrats are proposing an extension of small but helpful tax cuts for the 99%—paid for by a surcharge on millionaires… With votes on unemployment benefits, Medicare payments, and a Wall Street tax likely before the end of the year, this final month of 2011 will force every member of Congress to show who they really represent.”

The very next day after their feared eviction, on December 9, Boston Occupiers amassed against the Department of Housing and Community Development to demonstrate against the lack of affordable housing and ongoing evictions of homeowners, connecting it with the plight of their tent city, citing such statistics:

Each year, 600,000 families with 1.35 million children experience homelessness in the United States, making up about 30% of the homeless population over the course of a year

In any given day, researchers estimate that more than 200,000 children have no place to live

A full time worker earning minimum wage cannot afford a one bedroom unit priced at Fair Market Rent anywhere in the United Stated.

Federal Support for low income housing has fallen by 40% from 1980-2003

15% of all American families and 32% of single parent families live below the poverty line

During a visit to the site 8am Friday, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis wouldn’t say what the city plans to do about the remaining protesters.

“We have learned over the past ten weeks just how powerful the people can be,” stated a spokesperson for Occupy Boston. “Unproductive wealth struggles to justify its inefficiency, and deceit grows helpless before a truth that has found its people.”

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer. See karinfriedemann.blogspot.com

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Tariq Ali on The Jasmine Revolutions–Impact on Palestine?

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

sinkPart I–Oakland–Shortly before the beginning of the Civil Disturbances in the U.S.A. which broke out on the boulevards of this California city, the renowned literati and “rabble rouser” Tariq Ali, came to this town brought, as a fund-raiser for the Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance (MECA) to raise not only money for Palestinian and Iraqi children, but to educate the American public on the plight of Arabs in the Middle East – particularly those caught up in the Palestinian-Israeli imbroglio.  He came to address a totally non-academic American audience here.  

The Occupy Wall Street Movement(s) have been the  most serious challenge to American Capitalism from within for quite some time.  Now, Dr. Ali comes from within Islamic culture — although fully cognizant of the foibles of the West, which would put him at odds with the Euro-American financial system from the perspective of an outsider, but, simultaneously, an insider for his long residence in the West.

He began by declaiming that the legal foundation for the (Palestinian) Right of Return was legally delineated by the U.N. in 1948.  Thus, the “Right of Return” is, for politically exiled Palestinians citizens, guaranteed under International law!  He emphatically declaimed that “There can be no peace in the Holy Land without a “Right of Return!”  Speaking here in a hall nears the jewel of this city of the capital of Alameda County, Lake Merrit (an Arroyo from the Bay), that the oppressed people of Palestine were in solidarity with the revolt here against Metropolis and the repressive principles of Imperialism:  “It was great to be part of Occupy Oakland!”

Ali was born (1943) and educated in Pakistan (Lahore) shortly before Independence (1947 and Partition) from the British of a prominent “feudal” family of that nation, but, after becoming radicalized in his politics, he was exiled to the United Kingdom where he gained notoriety as a writer and an editor.

He opined that the fall of (the “Pharaoh”) Mubarak on the Nile would (begin to) transform the Middle East, and would blunt the U.S.’ pro-Israeli policy towards the imbroglio in the Levant.
Essentially, the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty had corrupted the great Nasser’s prior traditional principle of support for the Palestinian people on the other side of the Sinai from Alexandria.  Shortly before the outpouring in Tahrir Square, the American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton described the Mubaraks as “family.”  Presently, the Americans are holding talks with the mighty Egyptian army and the Muslim Brotherhood (who, as of this composition [the 3rd]) of the first part of this article) seem to be headed towards a plurality in the current election and may be the dominant political grouping of any coalition that could unfold (after the final tally of this drawn-out election is announced).

“It is not a black and white picture” there.  The masses must assuage their fear of death to politically succeed.  Yet, fraternization between Cairo’s military and their people has been developing.  Succinctly, though, this has weakened Washington’s influence there. 

Ali confirms a point your author on this page made in remarks within the previous month:  The Iraqi population was amongst the best educated in the Middle East – including opportunity for women – under the Baathist (i.e., a type of Arab socialism) regime.   (Of course, unfortunately, this was achieved at the expense of minority and religious rights.)

On the other hand, Khadafy presided over a tribal system.  Many in the West disliked the Colonel because of his eccentricity, and the intervention of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) can be seen as revenge for his perceived hostile saber-rattling against Brussels, etc., but, most of all, for suspected involvement in Lockerbie.

Despite Colonel Khadafy bizarre manner, he opened Libya to Modernism, but the Occident wished the mineral richness of his desert.  One of the problems that Moammer Khadafy’s regime had was its waffling and failure to develop a clear policy for governance.

Supposedly, New York (the U.N.) gave the commission for NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) to protect the non-combatants in and around Benghazi, but the Alliance extended their mandate to cover all the air space over the Libyan sands.  For Tariq Ali, “To prevent one massacre, they created a second one” of their own. 

The West wishes the Burghers to rule in post-“Revolutionary” Libya, but the Islamists have other ideas.  “Tyrants should be toppled organically,” but ultimately the language of violence is the determinant.  We, according to Tariq, find ourselves in a post-legal situation, also.  Succinctly, we are killing our own.

Ali Sahib deems that Obama has not come through, (but your correspondent senses the only other options for personalities in that position would impact the Islamic nation much worse.)   America recently has dealt crudely with Arab leaders in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria.  He rightly points out that the Mossed have been the leader in State terrorism (as have the ISI, and British intelligence) and now he asserts that the U.S. is mimicking them.  (That is true to a point, D.C. [the District of Columbia’s] Central Intelligence Agency [C.I.A.] has a long way to go, though, to free itself from its traditional bungling.    Further, to struggle within the Arab “Spring, the Saudis have been suppressing Bahrain for some time.  The Bahraini King was appointed by the Colonial British.  The Royal family is Sunni whereas the grand majority of their subjects are Shia.  Essentially, the King only represents his own tribe which leaves out most other traditional groupings.

This discussion will be develop and unfold in the future.

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Foreign Policy in Focus: The Under-Examined Story of Fallujah

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Hannah Gurman

Seven years after the U.S. invasion of Fallujah, there are reports of an alarming rise in the rates of birth defects and cancer. But the crisis, and its possible connection to weapons deployed by the United States during the war, remains woefully under-examined.

On November 8, 2004, U.S. military forces launched Operation Phantom Fury 50 miles west of Baghdad in Fallujah, a city of 350,000 people known for its opposition to the Saddam regime.
The United States did not expect to encounter resistance in Fallujah, nor did it initially face any in the early days of the war. The first sign of serious hostility appeared in April 2003, after U.S. soldiers  from the 82nd Airborne division fired into a crowd of protesters demonstrating against the occupation and the closure of their local school building, killing 17 civilians and injuring 70. The following February, amid mounting tensions, a local militia beheaded four Blackwater employees and strung their bodies from a bridge across the Euphrates River. U.S. forces temporarily withdrew from Fallujah and planned for a full onslaught.

Following the evacuation of civilians, Marines cordoned off the city, even as some residents scrambled to escape. Thirty to fifty thousand people were still inside the city when the U.S. military launched a series of airstrikes, dropping incendiary bombs on suspected insurgent hideouts. Ground forces then combed through targeted neighborhoods house by house. Ross Caputi, who served as a first private Marine during the siege, has said that his squad and others employed “reconnaissance by fire,” firing into dwellings before entering to make sure nobody inside was still alive. Caputi later co-founded the group Justice for Fallujah, which dedicated the week of November 14 to a public awareness campaign about the impact of the war on the city’s people.

By the end of the campaign, Fallujah was a ghost town. Though the military did not tally civilian casualties, independent reports put the number somewhere between 800 and 6,000. As The Washington Post reported in April 2005, more than half of Fallujah’s 39,000 homes were damaged, of which 10,000 were no longer habitable. Five months after the campaign, only 90,000 of the city’s evacuated residents had returned.

The majority still lacked electricity, and the city’s sewage and water systems, badly damaged in the campaign, were not functional. A mounting unemployment crisis — exacerbated by security checkpoints, which blocked the flow of people and goods into and out of the city — left young residents of Fallujah especially vulnerable to recruitment by the resistance.

The Official Success Story

Although the initial picture of the devastated city looked grim, by 2007 Fallujah had become a key part of the emerging narrative of successful counterinsurgency in Iraq. At a press conference in April of that year, Marine Colonel Richard Simcock declared that progress was “phenomenal” and that Fallujah was an “economically strong and flourishing city.” According to the official narrative that has since crystallized, the second siege of Fallujah turned out to be a major turning point in the war. “By taking down Fallujah, the Marines denied a sanctuary for the insurgents,” said Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division during Phantom Fury, in an oral history published by the Marines in 2009. In contrast to the insurgents who relied on “brutal tactics,” he explained, the Marines were able to win over the good will of the people. This contributed to the larger “Awakening” in Anbar province, the linchpin of counterinsurgency’s “success” in Iraq.

Official “progress” narratives of war rarely tell the whole story, especially when it comes to the war’s long-term effects on the civilian population. Seven years after the second siege of Fallujah, despite lucrative U.S.-funded contracts to rebuild infrastructure, much of the city is still in ruins, and unemployment remains high. As terrorist attacks in Anbar and across the country have risen in the past year, security is increasingly tenuous. In August, a car bomb exploded at a police station near Fallujah, killing five officers and wounding six more.

Of the current problems in Fallujah, the most alarming is a mounting public health crisis. In the years since the invasion, doctors in Fallujah have reported drastic increases in the number of premature births, infant mortality, and birth defects — babies born without skulls, missing organs, or with stumps for arms and legs. Fallujah General Hospital reported that, out of 170 babies born in September 2009, 24 percent died within the first seven days, of which 75 percent were deformed — as compared to August 2002, when there were 530 babies born, only six deaths, and one deformity. As the years go by, the problem seems to be getting worse, and doctors are increasingly warning women not to have children.

Many residents have suspected a link between the drastic rise in birth defects and the weapons deployed by U.S. military during the war. The United States has admitted to using white phosphorus in Fallujah, a toxin in incendiary bombs that causes severe burns. But it denies targeting civilians or employing a class of armor-piercing weapons that contain depleted uranium, a byproduct of nuclear weapons used in the production of munitions and armory and known to cause mutagenic illnesses.

The Science and Its Critics

Two recent studies led by Dr. Christopher Busby, a chemistry professor at the University of Ulster who specializes in environmental toxicology, have attempted to document and explain Fallujah’s health crisis. The first was an epidemiological study conducted by a team of 11 researchers who visited 711 households in Fallujah. Published in the December 2010 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, it found that congenital birth defects, including neural tube, cardiac, and skeletal malformations, were 11 times higher than normal rates, and rose to their highest levels in 2010. The study also found a seven-to-38-fold increase in several site-specific cancers, as well as a drastic shift in the ratio of female-to-male births, with 15 percent fewer boys born in the study period.

. . .

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Eid Protests Across Syria Defy Tanks and Troops

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) – Security forces shot dead four demonstrators on Tuesday as people streamed out of mosques after prayers to mark the end of Ramadan and renewed protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, activists and residents said.

The victims, who included a 13-year-old boy, were killed in the towns of al-Hara and Inkhil in southern Deraa province.

Demonstrations broke out elsewhere across the country, notably in Damascus suburbs, the city of Homs, 165 km (100 miles to the north) and the northwestern province of Idlib, the sources said.

“The people want the downfall of the president,” protesters shouted in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, where activists said dozens of soldiers defected at the weekend after refusing to shoot at the crowds.

In the adjacent Saqba suburb a crowd held their shoes up in the air — an insulting gesture in the Arab world — and chanted anti-Assad slogans.

According to one activist group, troops have killed at least 551 civilians during Ramadan, the holiest period in the Islamic calendar.

Five months into the street uprising against his rule, Assad, from Syria’s minority Alawite sect, is facing more frequent demonstrations. Protesters have been encouraged by the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, with whom Assad had close ties, and rising international pressure on the ruling hierarchy.

The Obama administration froze the U.S. assets of Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem and two other Syrian officials on Tuesday in response to Assad’s increasingly bloody crackdown.

The Treasury Department also named Ali Abdul Karim Ali, Syria’s Ambassador to Lebanon, where Assad wields influence through the Shi’ite Hezbollah guerrilla group, and his adviser Bouthaina Shaaban.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States had imposed the sanctions on the three because of the “role that they play in propagating and advancing the reign of terror that Assad is exacting on their own people.”

Moualem and Shaaban have appeared in the media defending military assaults on towns and cities, saying Syrian forces were pursuing “terrorists.” They are not part of Assad’s decision-making inner circle, composed of his younger brother Maher, other family members and top security officials already on the U.S. sanctions list.

Opposition figures in Syria see international pressure as crucial to stripping Assad of legitimacy and in helping raise the momentum of peaceful protests.

Residents and activists are reporting increasing defections among Syrian troops, drawn mostly from the Sunni majority population but dominated by Alawite officers effectively under the command of Maher.

In the capital, YouTube footage showed soldiers from core units roaming the center in green public transport buses, their AK-47s hanging out from the doors, to prevent protests, which broke out nonetheless in Qaboun, Kfar Souseh, Rukn al-Din and Maydan districts, activists said.

Moral Ground

In a report published on Tuesday, the Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union grassroots activists’ group said Assad’s forces killed 551 people during Ramadan and that 130 others were killed on July 31, the eve of Ramadan, in a tank assault on the city of Hama, scene of a 1982 massacre by the military.

“The report does not include the number of martyrs who were not identified by name nor… bodies that were abducted (by security forces) and not returned to their families,” it said.

Amnesty International said that deaths in Syrian prisons and police detention had soared in recent months as Assad’s government tried to crush the protests.

The London-based human rights group said it had details of at least 88 people believed to have died in detention between April and mid-August. At least 52 of them had apparently suffered some form of torture that was likely to have contributed to their death.

Chibli Mallat, a professor of law at Harvard, and chairman of the Right to Nonviolence international group of public figures, said Syria’s death toll, although high, was still less than Libya, where the revolution turned into armed conflict and needed NATO’s help.

“It may be also the case in Syria today … But is it necessary to reach the point that arms are engaged?” Mallat said in an article published on Tuesday in Egypt’s al-Ahram online.

“Is it not wiser, albeit perhaps more frustrating, to keep the revolution pure in the tenacity of its nonviolence, rather than lose the absolute moral superiority against violent rulers?” said Mallat, who is Lebanese.

The official state news agency said state television had aired an audio recording of two “terrorists” who described themselves as activists.

It said the tape revealed “a full agenda of provocation and targeting police and army camps and terrorising peaceful citizens in the name of freedom and non-violence.”

The Syrian National Human Rights Organization, headed by exiled dissident Ammar al-Qurabi, said pro-Assad forces, including a loyalist militia known as shabbiha, had killed at least 3,100 civilians since the uprising erupted in March, including 18 people on Monday alone.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay said this month that 2,200 people have been killed, with Assad’s forces continuing “to employ excessive force, including heavy artillery, to quell peaceful demonstrations and regain control over the residents of various cities.”

Syrian authorities blame “armed terrorist groups” for the bloodshed and say they have killed 500 soldiers and police. They have also repeatedly denied that army defections have been taking place.

Foreign media were expelled after the uprising began in March, making verification of reports difficult.

(Additional reporting by Suleiman; al-Khalidi; Editing by Angus MacSwan and David Stamp)

In Libya, the Cellphone as Weapon

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nick Carey

2011-08-22T105041Z_1400415706_GM1E78M1GGG01_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA-REACTION

Libyans living in Turkey wave a flag of the Kingdom of Libya during a protest against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi outside the Libyan embassy in Ankara August 22, 2011. Libyan rebel fighters poured into Tripoli and on Monday morning controlled most of the capital, though fighting persisted in a few districts. The whereabouts of Muammar Gaddafi were unknown but the rebels held two of his sons, Saif Al-Islam and Mohammed.

REUTERS/Umit Bektas

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) – When Muammar Gaddafi’s government shut off the cellphone network in Misrata in the early days of Libya’s uprising, it wanted to stop rebel forces communicating with each other. But the power of a modern phone goes beyond its network.

Both rebels and government soldiers have used their phones to take pictures and videos of the conflict, a digital record of fighting from both sides. With the rebels now in Tripoli, the capital, and Gaddafi’s whereabouts unknown, those gigabytes of potential evidence may play a role in any war crimes cases.

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo made an appeal in February for “footage and images to confirm the alleged crimes”, after the United Nations Security Council referred the Libyan uprising to the court. A court filing applying for arrest warrants listed video evidence, mainly from media, but also from unspecified sources, in support of its claim.

In the Mediterranean city of Misrata, in particular, a group of rebel-allied lawyers has worked to gather evidence of what it calls war crimes committed by Gaddafi forces.

“In the beginning when there were snipers we had to move around carefully,” said Omar Abulifa, a former prosecutor and head of the Misrata-based Human Rights Activists Association. “It was hard to get the evidence, but we did what we could.”

As the rebels gained control of more of the city in April and May, the association set up a system to gather evidence after every incident, especially the continued bombardment of the city with Grad rockets by Gaddafi loyalists, which killed and injured many civilians. The footage they gathered includes videos taken from the cellphones of rebel fighters and from those of government troops captured or killed during the fighting. Other video and photographs came from citizens of the town.

Some of that film can be used as evidence, Abulifa says. “But not all of it because to be used as evidence it has to be from a trusted source and it has to be clear what is happening.”

Around 150 gigabytes of video gathered by the city’s media committee, which was set up after the uprising, has been provided to the association. A member of the committee gave a Reuters reporter who was in Misrata in July a large volume of that material.

“Everyone has stuff like this,” said Ali, 21, an off-duty rebel fighter, as he showed a Reuters reporter videos on his touch-screen phone, including one of government tanks entering Misrata and one showing a man he says was an unarmed doctor who had been shot by Gaddafi troops and bled to death in the street.

Hair slicked back, and impeccably turned out in western jeans, shirt and shoes, Ali speaks in the weary tone of a young man explaining modern technology to someone older.

“Just ask anyone and they’ll show you,” he said.

Grilled Fish

Technology has been vital to Misrata’s uprising since the beginning.

When his closest childhood friend invited him to a dinner in a fisherman’s hut on the beach last December, Ayman Al Sahli was puzzled. As the 31-year-old lawyer and six other men tucked into grilled fish, their friend, Mohammed Al Madani, explained why he had called the group together.

The accountant brought out a photograph of the old Libyan flag, which predates Muammar Gaddafi’s seizure of power in a 1969 coup. The red-black-and-green flag with its white crescent moon and star is now ubiquitous in the rebel-held city and other parts of Libya. But in December it was forbidden so a small, easily hidden photograph had to do.

Al Madani then used his mobile phone to play Libya’s old national anthem. The song dates back to the country’s independence in 1951 and was banned after Gaddafi seized power. None of the men present had ever heard it before.

“We spent the rest of the evening talking about the unrest in Tunisia,” al Sahli says, “and about what Libya would be like without Gaddafi.”

In the six months since they rose against Gaddafi, the 500,000 or so residents of Libya’s third largest city have remained close to one of the fiercest frontlines of the Arab Spring. The rebels seized Misrata in May after a bloody, three-month long battle against well-armed government militia and in the past few weeks forced the government troops west toward Tripoli.

With the rebels on the verge of victory, much is likely to be made of the NATO bombing raids, which have hammered Gaddafi’s forces since March, and the role of Qatar, which has financed the rebels. But just as important have been two things on show that night in the Misrata beach hut: a low-tech, make-do resourcefulness and mobile phones.

Facebook “Event”

A few days before Misrata’s first street protest on February 17, Mohammed Agila, 32, a bespectacled bank employee, took his heavily pregnant wife and two children to her parents’ house. He withdrew all the money from his bank account and gave it to his father-in-law.

“I did not know exactly what would happen when we went out in the street,” said Agila, one of 70 or so participants in that initial demonstration. “But I knew I could be arrested.”

In the preceding months, Agila and Jamal Sibai, who also took part in the first protest, joined small group meetings like the one at the fisherman’s hut.

“People met in groups of 10, 11, 12 and talked about going into the streets to demonstrate,” said Sibai, 25, a slender, bearded art student and now a writer for a new newspaper called Free Libya. “We talked about freedom and the need for a constitution. We talked about how we wanted a president who could only serve for four or eight years and then, ‘Thank you, goodbye.’

“We didn’t talk about fighting,” he added. “We just wanted the things a normal country should have.”

In January, two Facebook pages — “Amal Libya” or Hope Libya, and another calling for a “day of anger” on February 17 — helped protesters like Sibai and Agila realize they were not alone.

“Before the Facebook pages, we did not know exactly when or where we should go out into the streets,” Agila said. “But they told us when and where to do it. We didn’t create the revolution in Misrata,” added Agila, now a radio announcer as well as working at a bank. “Everyone here wanted to do what we did. We just happened to do it first.”

By this time Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak had already been toppled and protests were underway in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and other countries. Protests began in Benghazi on February 15, because of fears Gaddafi was preparing to send in his militia.

When protesters, most of them strangers to each other, showed up in the parking lot of Misrata’s technological college on February 17, they noticed cars carrying Gaddafi’s secret police and militia waiting for them. All the protesters were arrested.

“I was afraid,” Sibai said. “But I knew I had to do this anyway.”

Taking It In Turns

The first protests sparked off a series of increasingly large demonstrations in the city, Libya’s commercial and industrial heart some 200 km (124 miles) east of Tripoli. Government forces opened fire on protesters on February 19. Rebels armed with Molotov cocktails, hunting rifles and crude, home-made blades, took control of the city within a few days, but barely.

On March 17, the same day a United Nations resolution ushered in a NATO bombing campaign, Gaddafi forces began an artillery bombardment. Within a few days government tanks backed by snipers firing from tall buildings on Tripoli Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, had forced the rebels to hole up in the city’s seaport.

“We had no weapons, so we fought with what we could find,” says Abu Youssef, 55, a former caterer who recalls his amazement when he saw a teenager take out a tank in the early days of the uprising with just a Molotov cocktail.

On the ground, men like Youssef, 37, a former truck driver on the city’s southern front, joined small groups of men. The group Youssef joined had just one gun between them, a common situation in the opening days of the war before the city’s entrepreneurs, and mass fundraising efforts, brought weapons and ammunition.

Some weapons came from the temporary rebel capital of Benghazi in the east, but the fact that most were bought by locals is both a source of pride and a bone of contention with Benghazi.

“We would take it in turns to fire the gun,” Youssef says while taking shade from the fierce late July sun with his comrades. “The rest of us would help the man with the gun.”

Another fighter called Alim, 21, said rocket-propelled grenade launchers, a much-needed weapon against Gaddafi’s more heavily armed forces, were in particularly short supply. When a group without a launcher needed one for an attack they would ask other groups in the neighborhood to borrow theirs.

“Once we fired it, we returned it as promised,” Alim said as he sped toward the front line last month in a Chinese-made pickup, one of several thousand commandeered from the city’s port during the uprising.

Imported by the government a few years ago to sell to Libyans, the Toyota-lookalikes were rejected by consumers as too shoddy and sat idle at the port. Now they are a hot commodity. The trucks have to be hotwired to start, because no one knows where the keys are, and have a notoriously loose tailgate that pops open at inopportune moments.

“I’d rather have a Toyota,” Alim says, as he hotwires the truck. “Or any other half-decent truck. But I’ll make do with this.”

Dog Fight

The citizens of Misrata made do with whatever came to hand in a battle where, perhaps surprisingly, tanks were not the biggest threat the rebel fighters faced. “In the city, we could use the houses and buildings to get close to tanks,” says Ali, 29, a dentist on the western front line. “We found out that we could take out a tank at 80 meters.”

Far worse were the snipers.

On a tour around the damaged University of Misrata’s Faculty of Medical Technology, medical management lecturer Mahmoud Attaweil pointed to the holes knocked by government snipers in the roof of a five-storey building. Holes along the side of the building were caused by rebels trying to dislodge the snipers, said Attaweil.

“You can’t get a sniper out of a building with small arms,” he said. “The only way to persuade him to leave is to make him believe you will bring the whole building down if you have to.”

One group of rebel fighters attached flashlights to the heads of dogs at night then released them near buildings where they suspected a sniper was hiding. The sniper would open fire, almost invariably missing the fast-moving target presented by the running dog. Once the sniper had given away his position, the rebels would open fire with rocket-propelled grenades.

Gigabytes of Evidence

Mobile phones also became a weapon.

Much of the footage of fighting and its aftermath held by the rebels is too graphic for Reuters to show.

In one sequence, people run toward a car and open the door. The vehicle’s driver slumps out of the door, shot through the head by a sniper, his brains spilling out of a hole in his forehead. Many others, from the city’s hospitals and clinics — a trusted source of information — show injured children. One clip shows a bombed incubator room for infants where nurses pull glass out of the bloodied bodies of crying babies.

Another video, purportedly taken from the phone of a captured government soldier, shows what appear to be uniformed Gaddafi loyalists in the back of a truck trying to force a group of men mainly in civilian clothes to “Say Muammar!” and “Say something!”. Two of the civilians are assaulted — the first, a bearded man, is repeatedly slapped in the face, and pushed against the side of the truck by a man in a black coat. The second is slapped in the face. The men then all begin to chant “Long Live Muammar’s lions!”

The Misrata group says it has already started work on 150 war crimes cases against the Gaddafi regime, and Abulifa says it will add many more.

Gaddafi’s government has denied anything beyond firing at the “armed gangs” and mercenaries, and in June angrily rejected charges of crimes against humanity filed by the International Criminal Court against the Libyan leader, his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi.

While Abulifa says he welcomes the ICC’s war crimes charges, if the country’s longtime ruler is captured he says he wants him to stand trial in Libya. When asked why, he pauses, then leans forward in his chair and speaks slowly.

“The ICC does not have the death penalty,” he says. “Libya does. We want Gaddafi brought to trial. We want the world to see what he has done. And then we want him brought to justice.”

The ICC said the possible admissibility of mobile phone footage as evidence would be decided on a case-by-case basis. “If there is a conversation from the defense about certain evidence it is up to the judges to decide the admissibility of that evidence,” ICC official Fadi el-Abdallah said.

“The Revolution Did Not Kill Him”

The rebel flag flies everywhere in Misrata now. It is painted on lamp posts, empty oil drums and even the old cargo containers that serve at increasingly irrelevant checkpoints in the city. The people of Misrata boast of how quickly law and order has been restored to the streets — a feat more elusive for Benghazi, Libya’s second city and home to the National Transitional Council, the ruling body for the parts of the country under rebel control.

Today, too, everyone knows Libya’s old national anthem.

But while Ayman Al Sahli, who first heard that anthem on the mobile phone of his friend Mohammed Al Madani last December, says he still backs the revolution, he mourns the loss of his friend, who was killed near the frontline on April 27.

When the fighting began, the accountant who had arranged the beach hut dinner began working for the rebel-run radio station in Misrata, making frequent trips to the station to report on the latest events at the frontline. Al Sahli was sitting with him and other friends when a mortar fired by Gaddafi loyalists struck, killing Al Madani instantly.

“The revolution did not kill Al Madani, Gaddafi did,” Al Sahli said. “More than anything, I want Libya to be free. But I lost my joy the day my friend died.”

(Nick Carey reported from Misrata in July; additional reporting by Aaron Gray-Block in Amsterdam; Edited by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)

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Libya’s Misrata Hit; China Shifts Toward Rebels

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Robinson

LIBYA/
Rebel fighters sit at the frontline in Ajdabiyah June 22, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) – Libya’s rebels gained on the diplomatic front Wednesday by securing China’s recognition as a “dialogue partner,” but suffered on the battlefield where Muammar Gaddafi’s forces were able to shell their stronghold of Misrata.

Four months into the uprising, and three months since NATO war planes joined their fight to topple Gaddafi, the rebels are making only slow gains in their march on the capital Tripoli. But they have made steady progress winning support abroad and isolating Gaddafi on the international stage.

“China sees you as an important dialogue partner,” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Mahmoud Jibril, diplomatic chief of the Benghazi-based rebel National Transitional Council, who visited Beijing. The comments were published in a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website (www.mfa.gov.cn).

“(The Council’s) representation has been growing stronger daily since its establishment, and it has step-by-step become an important domestic political force,” Yang said, adding China was worried about the Libyan people’s suffering.

The comments came hours after Gaddafi’s forces landed rockets in the center of Misrata for the first time in several weeks. No one was reported hurt by that strike, but it undermined a relative sense of security among residents who believed that a siege on the city had been broken last month.

NATO and the rebels hope that Gaddafi’s diplomatic and economic isolation will eventually bring his government down.

Exports of oil have ceased, depriving Gaddafi’s government of the funds it used during peacetime to provide the population with heavily subsidized food and fuel. Petrol queues in Gaddafi -held areas now stretch for miles.

In a sign of the increasing impact of the crisis on daily life, Gaddafi’s state media issued instructions ordinary people should follow “to deal with the fuel shortage.”

They called on people to use public transport instead of cars, avoid using air conditioning when driving and stick to 90-100 kph as the ideal speed. They also asked Libyans to be patient when queuing at petrol stations.

At least three explosions were heard in Tripoli Wednesday but it was not clear where or what caused them.

Rebels Seek Recognition

Winning international recognition could eventually help the rebels secure access to frozen Libyan funds, and the right to spend money earned by exporting the country’s oil.

China is the only veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that has yet to call for Gaddafi to step down, after Russia joined Western countries last month in calling for him to leave power.

Beijing, never very close to Gaddafi, hosted Libya’s Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi this month. Courting the rebels has marked a policy adjustment for China, which generally avoids entangling itself in other nations’ domestic affairs.

At least eight European and Arab governments have said they recognize the rebel council as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Other countries have allowed the rebels to set up representative offices.

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) — a Saudi-based grouping of 57 Muslim countries — said a delegation arrived Wednesday to mediate. It would meet the rebels in Benghazi and Gaddafi officials in Tripoli, a statement said.

Misrata Attack

Rebels drove loyalist forces out of the third-biggest city Misrata in mid-May and are using it as a base for an advance westwards on Tripoli. Gaddafi forces’ ability to hit it with shells early Wednesday is a setback in a city that had experienced relative calm after months of siege and fighting.

More rockets fell later in the day in the sparsely-populated El-Araidat neighborhood near the port. Residents said no one was hurt and a Reuters reporter saw only several dead sheep lying in a field after the attack.

“Everyone is worried. We don’t know where to go anymore. Only when I die will I be safe,” said Mohammed Mabrouk, who lives near one of two houses hit by the first rocket rounds. Two more landed in open areas.

Fighting has been largely on Misrata’s far western and eastern edges, where the rebel army is sustaining heavier casualties by the day from the better-equipped and better-trained government forces.
Rebels have been trying to advance west toward the town of Zlitan, where Gaddafi’s soldiers are imposing a tight siege. Libyan television said Wednesday that “dozens” of people were killed in Zlitan after NATO naval ships shelled the town.

The report could not be independently verified because foreign reporters have been prevented from entering Zlitan. NATO normally comments on its Libya operations the following day.
If the Libyan television report is confirmed, it could further complicate the mission of the NATO-led military alliance, whose credibility has been questioned after it admitted Sunday killing civilians in a Tripoli air strike.

Gaddafi’s government says more than 700 civilians have died in NATO strikes. However, it has not shown evidence of such large numbers of civilian casualties, and NATO denies them.

A rebel spokesman called Mohammed told Reuters from Zlitan that NATO had been hitting government military targets in the town on an almost daily basis. He said Gaddafi’s soldiers used artillery positions in Zlitan to fire salvoes toward Misrata.

“We hear the sound of artillery fire every night,” he said.

Four rebel fighters were killed and 60 others were wounded in fighting with government forces Tuesday in Dafniya, which lies between Zlitan and Misrata. Eleven rebel fighters were killed there a day earlier.

Rebels are trying to inch toward Tripoli from Misrata, east of the capital, and from the Western Mountains region to its southwest. The going has been tough.

“Gaddafi’s forces have moved forward about a kilometer,” Dr Mohammed Grigda said at the field hospital in Dafniya just outside Misrata. It was impossible to verify the information but a Reuters reporter in Dafniya saw that rebel mortar positions had pulled back slightly.

In the Western Mountains, where the rebels made significant gains in recent weeks, NATO launched four air strikes Tuesday against government forces outside the town of Nalut near the border with Tunisia, a rebel spokesman there said. Gaddafi’s soldiers fired 20 rockets into the town, but no one was hurt.

Gaddafi allies denounce the bombing campaign as a foreign attempt to force a change of government and seize the North African state’s oil. NATO states defend the operation as a U.N.-mandated mission to protect Libyan civilians.

(Additional reporting by Nick Carey in Tripoli, Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Souhail Karam in Rabat, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Joseph Nasr in Berlin and Ali Abdelatti in Cairo; Writing by Andrew Hammond and Joseph Nasr; Editing by Peter Graff)

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Obama Condemns Qur`an Burning

April 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama on Saturday condemned a US pastor’s burning of the Quran, after violent protests at what he called an act of “extreme intolerance and bigotry” left 17 dead in Afghanistan.

Ten people died amid fresh protests that began in the center of the main southern city of Kandahar and spread as police clashed with crowds on Saturday, a day after sevenUN staff were killed in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the worst attack on the world body in the country since the 2001 invasion.

“The desecration of any holy text, including the Quran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry,” Obama said in a statement honoring those killed in the attacks.

“However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity. No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act.

“Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity that we share, and that was so exemplified by the UN workers who lost their lives trying to help the people of Afghanistan,” he added.

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Istanbul’s Muezzins Get Voice Training After Complaints

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

BBC News

_47822399_istanbul_mosque It is meant to be a beautiful, melodic and spiritual start to the day.

But the morning calls to prayer by some of Istanbul’s muezzins and imams have had locals plugging their ears rather than reaching for their prayer books.

The problem is such that following a flood of complaints by locals, special classes for the tuneless culprits have been set up.

Imam Mehmet Tas, one of the school’s first pupils, said he was already feeling the benefits.

“I have so much more self-confidence now in my abilities to do all five calls to prayer in their correct tempos,” he said.

The improvement scheme was put together by Mustafa Cagrici, the city’s head of religious affairs, who is determined to make sure all of the city’s 3,000 mosques produce a beautiful call-to-prayer each morning.

“For some reason, these imams were hired even though their voices are not good, they just can’t sing!

“We’re doing our best to help our imams and muezzins to improve their singing.”

He says that since lessons started, complaints have dropped from hundreds a month to just dozens, an improvement that can be credited to the singing teacher, Seyfettin Tomakin.

“I personally find a badly sung azan [call to prayer] very disturbing,” he said.

“The azan is music, beautiful music that brings people to God, that’s why it’s so important to sing it well.

“Sure, there are some people who find it harder than others, that’s why some come here for a year. But my job is to find their voice to enable them to sing.”

Sadly, for some, no amount of teaching will ever be enough.

“There are some people who can’t improve – no matter how much training you give them,” said Mr Cagrici.

“So we connect their mosque, by radio, to a central mosque where there’s an imam who can sing.”

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Houstonian Corner (V12-I16)

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Census 2010

 

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Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia Hosted Media Round-table to Encourage the Community Participation in Census 2010: Very Crucial For the Enhancement of Local Resources & Living Standards…

Avoid the knock on your Door: You can still do it by April 16th, 2010: Sheriff Garcia

“We have a challenge. I and my department are ready for it to go out; block walk, attend different community events; and encourage the diverse communities residing in Harris County, Texas to fill out the simple, but most crucial Census 2010 Ten Questionnaire Form. If people mail in this form by Friday, April 16th, 2010, the forms can still be with the Census Department by the final deadline of April 19th, 2010. Two weeks after that, people can start to expect knock at their doors by enumerators.”

These were the sentiments of Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, as he met in his new office building located at 1200 Baker Street, with the members of local South Asian media and community persons, amidst Census Reports that by April 12th, 2010, 60% of Harris County population has responded to the Census 2010 (67% in Year 2000), as compared to 66% national response rate up till now in Census 2010 (72% in Year 2000).

In Census 2010 Data for the State of Texas, the response rate is 61%, while this rate in the Year 2000 was 68% and in the same Year 2000, the national response rate was 72%. As such less percent of the population is responding to Census Questionnaire up till now, which is the challenge Sheriff Garcia had mentioned. Five top States at present include Wisconsin 77%, Minnesota 75%, Iowa 74%, Michigan 72%, & Nebraska 72%.

Present at the Harris County Sheriff Round-Table were of course Sheriff Adrian Garcia; Alan Bernstein, Executive Bureau Harris County Sheriff Office; Christina Garza, Media Relations Manager, Bureau Harris County Sheriff Office; Bala Balachandran of the City of Houston Planning Department; Mustafa Tameez, President of Outreach Strategists, LLC (a certified 8(a), M/DBE, SBE company); and Huma Ahmed, Director of Program Development and General Counsel Outreach, Strategists, LLC. Prominent community members including Shaukat Zakaria, A. J. Durrani, Sajjad Burki, & Hasu Patel; and media persons like Tariq Khan, Jameel Siddiqui, Shamim Syed, Koshi Thomas, Haider Kazim, & ILyas Choudry, were in attendance as well.

“It will cost everyone as tax payers, if more populations’ doors have to be knocked. It has been estimated, that if 100% of the households in USA mail back their census forms by April 16th, 2010, taxpayers would save 1.50 BILLION Dollars, a huge amount in these economics times. Let’s all do our part in the Asian Community and mail back our forms,” added Mustafa Tameez of Outreach Strategists, who is liaison with the Harris County Sherriff Department for the South-Asian Community (he can be reached at 713-247-9600 or E-Mail: MITameez@OutreachStrategists.Com)

The 2010 Census is a count of everyone living in the United States. The Census informs critical decisions, from congressional representation to the allocation of more than $400 billion annually in federal funds, and helps governments make decisions about what community services to provide. South Asians have been undercounted in Census reports in the past. Sheriff said many individuals don’t respond because they are afraid to share confidential information.

“It is very important that everyone understands that the information collected is protected by law. The Census Bureau cannot share respondents’ answers with anyone, including the IRS, FBI, CIA or any other government agency,” stated Sheriff Garcia, so as to help ease confidentiality concerns surrounding the 2010 Census among some members of that community.

“Even provisions of Patriot Act cannot be used to get information from Census Data,” informed Mustafa Tameez.

All Census Bureau employees take the oath of nondisclosure and are sworn for life to protect the confidentiality of the data. The penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000 or imprisonment of up to 5 years, or both. The 2010 Census form is one of the shortest in U.S. history, consisting only of 10 questions and taking about 10 minutes to complete.

The Census 2010 matters extremely to our community, in that every year, the federal government distributes more than $400 billion to state, local and tribal governments based on census data. These funds:

• Help leaders determine where to build new schools, roads, health care facilities, child care and senior centers and more;
• Help fund important community programs important to the South Asian population; and
• Assist with planning for education, housing, health and other programs that reflect diversity in the community.

The census is a count of everyone in the United States. Everyone must be counted. This includes people of all ages, races, ethnic groups, citizens and noncitizens.

Households should complete and mail back their forms as soon as you receive it. Starting in May, Census workers will visit households that do not return forms to take a count in person.

A complete count is extremely important to the South Asian Community. Take the time to fill out the form and send it back. Just 10 minutes. 10 questions. We’re All Counting on You!

For more information about the 2010 Census visit www.2010.census.gov or call 1-800-923-8282.

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Islam in the Bahamas

April 1, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

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Jama’at Ahlus Sunnah Bahamas, Carmichael Road, Nassau

Introduction

Vacationing in the Bahamas, who would have thought that there are Muslims living in nice neighborhoods with a beautiful mosque. There are more than 300 Muslims in Nassau, Bahamas who are organized and have five daily prayers. Islam has come to the Bahamas more than 40 years ago via United States.

History

Which country is closest to Miami?  It is the Bahamas, only 40 miles from Miami to the east while Cuba is 80 miles to the south.  The Bahamas consists of more than 700 islands, well known for their gorgeous beaches, sea of colors, vivid flamingoes, and Poinciana trees that line the edge of roads and tantalize the senses with their fragrant aromas. Christopher Columbus discovered it on October 12, 1492 and named it Bahamas (low water or sea).  The British have controlled it until the Bahamians achieved their independence on July 10, 1973.  The thirteen colonies fought the British and won the island for few years but at the treaty of Versailles in 1783, the British traded Florida for the Bahamas.

Economy

Nassau, the capital, is the queen of archipelago, most densely populated consisting of two thirds of total population of 342,000. Eighty five percent of people are of African descent with literacy rate of 95 percent. City of Nassau is decorated with architecture of British, Spanish, Indian, Chinese and flavor of southern US. In 2008, 4.6 million people visited Bahamas, 85 percent from the USA.  Its economy thrives on four areas for income:  tourism, fishing, banking, and farming.  The Bahamas, because of it strict secrecy laws, is called the “Switzerland of the West.” It has no income tax, sales tax, capital gain tax, estate tax, or inheritance tax. The nation’s stable government and economy as well as its proximity to the U.S. make it one of the most attractive areas for investors all over the world. There are 110 US affiliated businesses operating in the Bahamas, mostly in tourism and banking.

Coming of Islam

According to the old records, some of the early Muslims were brought as slaves from North Africa. In the 1960’s a Bahamian called Bashan Saladin (formerly Charles Cleare) preached Islam and converted his home into Mosque. In 1974, Dr. Munir Ahmad who returned from US as Dental Specialist and Mr. Mustafa khalil Khalfani joined hand to establish Islam. They were later joined by Br. Faisal AbdurRahmaan Hepburn. There is only one central college in Nassau and no large university.  For all higher education, the Bahamians must travel to the United States.  After independence, many Bahamians converted to Islam while studying in the US.  Everyone you meet has connection to the US.  There are many South Asian Muslims from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, as well as Turkey and Guyana totaling to 20-30 people working as doctors, businessmen and teachers that visit the mosque.

Community Development

There are many Muslims from India, Pakistan and other countries that have helped develop this community. In 1978 when Jamaat-Ul-Islam, the Revolutionary Islamic Movement, was formed and Br. Mustapha Khalil Khalafani was chosen as its leader. The Muslims established Jamaat- Ul-Islam Mosque in Nassau runned  by Jamaat Management Consultancy Limited owned by Brother Faisal Abdurrahman Hepburn.

The Mosque

The Mosque rests on two acres of land, white in color with three domes (one large and two small) and one tall minaret.  It is surrounded by newly planted trees, a colorful courtyard and a parking lot.  Women area is separated by a perforated wooden partisan. The five daily prayers are performed punctually in congregation. Over 60 people attend the Friday sermon and prayer.  Other activities include brothers and sisters study circle as well as children’s Sunday school.

Conclusion

Islam in Nassau is growing with strong foundation for increasing the Dawa work in the area. Muslims are being ignored or marginalized in many ways, because of being a very small minority(less than 1% of the population). For example, the media refuse to air positive Islamic program and local newspapers are reluctant to cover events relating to Islam and Muslims. They are still facing problems in carrying on their activities. They could use some help and attention from US Muslims in order to energize their work. Muslims in the U. S. including doctors, engineers etc. can contribute by devoting their 1-2 week of vacation per year while doing seminars on Islam or having free medical clinics while still enjoying the scenery. The entire area is conducive to Dawa work due to high literacy, good command of English language, respect for people from US in general and religious background. The US national organizations of Muslims have special obligation to reach out and extend a helping hand. Any cooperation and coordinated activity will go a long way in establishing Islam in this part of the world. For more information about the mosque or the Islamic organization in the Bahamas, contact them at email: faisalhepburn@yahoo.com or visit their website: http:// www.jamaahlus-sunnah.com/.

Anis Ansari, MD,
Clinton, IA
Dr. Ansari is President of Islamic Society of Clinton County in Clinton, IA  and Board Certified Nephrologists. He can be reached at a.ansari@mchsi.com.

Lahore Shakes, with 7 Blasts in One Day

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mahvish Akhtar, MMNS

On March 12th 2010 the people of Lahore paid a heavy price for the decisions made by the leaders of the country. It was a day unlike any other. People of Lahore will never forget the events of that day. One bomb blast or even two the city and even the country is used to, but 7 blasts in one day are unheard of.

The first blast took place in R.A Market just before Friday Prayers and just a few moments after that a bigger blast shook the city. Since it is a cantonment area, the market is near sensitive military offices and installations which most likely were the targets of the attacks. There is confusion about the exact time distance between the 2 blasts. The reports were that they were only 15 seconds apart but then eyewitnesses claimed they were close to 2 minutes apart.

The reason given for the 2 blasts back to back was that after the first blast people started to gather to look at the damage and help the wounded. Another blast at this point would ensure much more casualties and it did.

According to reports around 57 people died and close to 120 were injured. However unofficial sources claim that the number of dead is up to 70.

The public was still trying to make sense of what had happened and were still trying to understand their circumstances when in the evening back to back 5, small fire cracker like, explosions took place in moon market at different times in the evening.

There were no casualties there but the scare was enough to put the whole city in extreme fear, anger and frustration. The public of Lahore could not comprehend what had happened and locked themselves in their homes for that evening.

Cantonment SP Investigation Umer Saeed said the bombers apparently came from the Northern Areas or Afghanistan, he also said that the suicide bomber’s fair complexion suggested that he was probably from South Waziristan. He said fingerprints of bombers would be obtained to verify them with NADRA record.

In a connected effort to hunt down people attached to these bombings 40 people from the same areas were arrested for not having ID Cards.

Even though many people did not come out on the streets that night as Lahoris do on a Friday night the roads were still filled with cars and people.

Seeing that many of the people did not stay at home and were out and about the very next day the media claimed that the people of Pakistan are brave and are not letting terrorists win by canceling their plans.

However, the area around R.A bazaar was closed on Saturday and people were in fear and grief along with shock.

All of the leaders of Pakistan condemned these attacks and said that the people of Lahore and Pakistan were brave and were crushing the plans of the enemy by resuming normal life right after the fact.

However when we spoke to people of Lahore there was a different view point. Shahbaz a father of 2 who works in a government office said that he has no choice but to get out because of work. He fears for his life but at the same time he cannot lose his job by staying at home.

Samina who works at a maid 50 minutes away from her house says the same thing. She told us that she works in Model Town, which is the area that was hit with the previous blast. However she has no choice but to leave the house and go there every day. Her children worry about her she says while she is gone but what can she do. Wiping her tears with her shawl she says, “I hate leaving my children behind because I don’t know what catastrophe might befall them that I cannot save them from”, but there are no other options for her.

So, it would be wrong to say that people of Lahore are coming out and ignoring these events because they are resilient. Of course the fact that the people of Pakistan have become immune to guns and bombs most are getting out of their homes because of necessity rather then courage.

Again I repeat that this is not to claim that people are not courageous in these parts of the worlds because to live here every day and to move on from events like these requires a lot of strength which the people of Pakistan have.

However, with that said it is important to keep in mind that this courage comes from the need to survive as well. If getting out in these situations where there are more than one bombs exploding all over town is dangerous, staying in and losing one’s job is even more dangerous for these people.

In short the people of Pakistan are stuck between bomb and striving to fill their stomachs.

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Mayor Anise Parker: South-Asian Community & Muslim Leaders For Census 2010

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Picture AY

Bureau Conference Room at the City of Houston this past Tuesday was brimming with the leadership from the local South-Asian and Muslim Community, as they got together with Mayor Anise Parker for the Houston South Asian Community Census 2010 Kick-Off Meeting. The event was arranged by Outreach Strategists with the help of Staff Members of Census Bureau, Texas.

Mayor Anise Parker and members of the South Asians Matter Coalition led this Census 2010 Kick-Off event today at City Hall. The event marks the beginning of a joint campaign amongst Houston’s South Asian community to raise awareness for the 2010 Census.

The 2010 Census is a count of everyone living in the United States. Mayor Parker reminded the group that the Census informs critical decisions from congressional representation to the allocation of more than $400 billion annually in federal funds and helps governments make decisions about what community services to provide.

“It is very important to the City of Houston that we have a complete and accurate count for the 2010 Census,” noted Mayor Parker. “Among other things a complete Census count in Houston will aid in the creation of two new Houston City Council Districts.”

Former Councilmember M.J. Khan pointed out that the City loses an estimated $1,700 per person per year for everyone not counted. “Each of you here today has an opportunity to reach out to their networks and raise awareness so that South Asians are counted correctly.”

Judge Ravi Sandill also presented information to the group and touched on the confidentiality issues surrounding the Census, “By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents’ answers with anyone including other federal agencies and law enforcement entities.”

South Asian Community Organizer, Mustafa Tameez stated that, “In past years, South Asians have been undercounted. This year we must work to make sure that all South Asians fill out their Census forms to ensure that our community receives access to programs to better our communities.”

Guests received outreach materials, brochures, and posters translated into Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and Tamil to display at local businesses and community centers.

Language barriers often contribute to the undercount of many non-English speaking non-residents. The Census Bureau has established Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QAC) to assist those unable to read or understand the form.  Information about the in-language 2010 Census form can be found at: http://2010.census.gov/partners/materials/inlanguage.php

The 2010 Census form will be one of the shortest in U.S. history, consisting of 10 questions, taking about 10 minutes to complete.

Strict confidentiality laws protect the respondents and the information they provide. Partnerships with for-profit and non-profit organizations and government entities are vital to raising awareness of and increasing participation in this historic event.

For more information, one can also call Outreach Strategists at 713-247-9600.

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Those City Lights

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

Dance Club The party capital of the Middle East has long since been Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon. The tiny gulf emirate of Dubai has tried, but miserably failed, to win the hearts and minds of the jet set and party-hungry consumers. The wide open consumer market for clubbing in some parts of the Middle East is enticing and could be very lucrative, as the region was barely scathed by the current credit crisis affecting much of Europe and North America.

A new contender has thrown their hat in the ring to vie for tourists looking to spend their leisure time partying in the windswept deserts of the Middle East. And that country is Jordan. Most famous for its rose-colored city of Petra, one of the 7 new wonders of the world, Jordan is slowly emerging from its well-known lethargic  conservative atmosphere and morphing into a clubber’s paradise. Nowhere is this transformation more prevalent than in the capital city of Amman.

The city of Amman has undergone a total makeover thanks to a younger workforce of skilled workers with extra money to spend. As a result, an affluent class of partiers has surfaced, fully willing and able to party the nights away. Unlike most countries in the Middle East, alcohol is not illegal in Jordan and flows freely in Jordanian restaurants, dance clubs and bars. With names like, ‘Wild Jordan’, ‘Canvas’ and ‘Upstairs’ there are an abundance of high-end party venues for locals and tourists alike. Even conservative Muslims have found a comfortable niche within the party scene while not overstepping the bounds of Islam, opting for a round of Shisha or piping hot mugs of steamy Arabic coffee instead of alcoholic drinks that are forbidden for Muslims.

Quite notably there is also a dark side to the new party atmosphere in Amman, which is an increase in crimes of morality. Promiscuity and adultery are particularly on the rise in Amman. It is not uncommon for men and women partying together to engage in a ‘dangerous liaison’ for a couple of hours. There is even an underground network of clever businessman capitalizing on the need for privacy in this newly found culture in Amman, providing secret rooms for rent by the hour. Even married people are getting in on the indiscriminate action, as a popular steakhouse in Amman called ‘Whispers’ has become a popular meeting place for cheating spouses.

Not to be outdone by their heterosexual counterparts, there is also a thriving homosexual party scene in Amman, a city that often turns a blind eye to homosexual activity. Homosexuals are treated less severely in Jordan than in other Middle Eastern countries. Well-known and openly gay establishments are littered between the ones specifically created for heterosexual clientele. Two of the most famous gay hangouts in Amman are called ‘Fame’ and ‘Books@Café’. However, it’s not uncommon to find people from all sexual persuasions partying together in Amman regardless of the theme of the venue.

And while there have not been any fatwas condemning the newly forged party ethos in Amman, several businesses seeking to serve alcohol have struggled with governmental ‘red tape’ in obtaining the necessary permits. Many business owners have complained that the slowing down of the permit process or denying permits altogether, has been a major and purposeful tactic of some devout Muslims city officials, who are against the whole party culture in Amman, seeking to put a damper on the celebratory scene.

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Houstonian Corner (V12-I4)

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Friends of Gubernatorial Race Candidate Shami Organized Unity Dinner Meeting

Picture AP

Ahmad AL-Yasin, Muzaffar Siddiqui and other friends of Farouk Shami, candidate for the Democratic Party Nomination for Texas Governor, organized a dinner at the Arab Cultural Center, for Mr. Shami to speak to the community about his candidacy and campaign issues. It was termed as “The Unity Dinner”, since it was attended by people from all the diverse communities, including Caucasians, Europeans; African-Americans; South-Americans; Africans; Middle-Eastern; South-Asian; and South-East-Asians. Mr. Shami was accompanied by Jerome Ringo, one of his campaign consultants, who is an avid advocate for environmental justice, clean energy, and quality jobs. Present on the occasion was Paul Lynch, Consul General of England in Houston.

After his inspiring speech, Farouk Shami had a special meeting with President of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) Dr. Aziz Siddiqi to discuss his campaign. Dr. Siddiqi assured him that as candidate, he has all the chance to visit ISGH Masajids and meet with people: However ISGH being 501 (c) does not canvass for any candidate.

In his stirring and honest presentation after lavish Middle Eastern dinner, Farouk Shami said that both his rival Former Mayor of Houston Bill White and competing party’s candidate Rick Perry have bragged in the recent past about bringing job into Houston, Texas and USA: If one looks closely, one easily find out that majority of these jobs were brought by his company CHI Farouk Systems.

“I know how to balance billions of dollars of budget, while my main contender has recently left the City of Houston in huge budget deficit and $103 millions of dollars short. I have always run by company debt-free and this is how the State of Texas should be run,” said Mr. Shami.

“Vote for me and I will bring resources and opportunities to diversify Texas economy with the development of new market sectors through tax & other incentives, job growth, clean energy resources, rehabilitated transportation infrastructure, initiatives for food sufficiency in Texas and much more. I have good working relationship with high level businesspersons and government officials in more than 100 countries and I will use that leverage for a most prosperous Texas,” added Farouk Shami.

For more information, one can visit his website at: http://www.faroukforgovernor.org/

Helping Hand Organizing Medical & Relief Missions to Haiti

Executive Director of International Projects for Helping Hand For Relief & Development (HHRD) Irfan Khurshid reached Port-Au-Prince on Wednesday, January 20, 2010 to place all the logistical systems and base camp to start providing assistance to thousands of Haitians’. With American forces occupying most of the airport in Port-Au-Prince, Mr. Khurshid had to reach Haiti from Canada, going first to Havana – Cuba, then to Santa Domingo – Dominican Republic, and then by land into Haiti. He has already started the food distribution in Haiti.

With this humanitarian crisis of massive proportions in Haiti, HHRD is in the process of setting up a base camp. Once the camp; systems, logistics; and procedures are in place, HHRD will need services from doctors and medical staff, as well as relief-&-social workers. To register for this Haiti Earthquake Recuperation Program 2010, one can reach ILyas Hasan Choudry, who is coordinating Medical and Relief teams for HHRD to go to Haiti. He can be reached at ILyas.Choudry@HelpingHandOnline.Org or call 1-832-275-0786.

In a communiqué received from HHRD, it has been learnt that HHRD, a leading US Muslim Community International Relief organization, has launched a $1.5 Million Haiti Earthquake Recuperation Fund. HHRD is one of the leading international NGOs of USA Muslim Community [501 (c) (3) - Federal IRS Tax Exempt ID: 31-1628040] and their motto is “Muslims For Humanity”, meaning wherever humanity will need assistance, HHRD will try the best possible way using all resources and networks to help our fellow beings.

HHRD has a matching donation program, so when someone donates to HHRD, they can ask their employer to fully or partly match that giving. For all updates and more information, one can visit www.hhrd.org or call Farrukh Raza, Chairman HHRD at 1-732-593-7017 and/or Shahid Hayat, Executive Director at 1-347-400-1899.

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Houstonian Corner V12-I3

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Bereavement for the Khan Family

We announce with immense pain and sorrow that Yasmeen Khan (Parro), wife of President of the American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI) Shaukat Khan and sister of former City of Houston Councilperson Masrur Javed Khan, passed away after bravely battling with cancer for almost two years. Her funeral prayers were held at Hamza Masjid.

A special program of prayers was held for her on Saturday, January 16th, 2010 at 12:30pm. at the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) Main Center located at 3110 East Side Street, Houston, Texas 77098. For more information, one can call 832-867-2522 / 713-398-4829.

Staff members and their families of our media institute would like to extend our heartiest condolences’ to the whole Khan Family, pray for the departed soul to enter into the highest paradise and that God gives strength to the whole family to bear this immense loss (Aameen).

Public Service Does Not Need Any Portfolio: M. J. Khan

Picture AO

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Friends of Former City of Houston District “F” Councilperson M. J. Khan arranged a dinner to recognize and appreciate the services rendered by termed-out Councilman. Special congressional recognition was given by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee on this occasion. Also present and who gave tremendous tributes to M. J. included Congressman AL Green, Former Mayor of Houston Bill White, City of Houston Councilperson District “A” Brenda Stardig; Harris County Judge Candidate Gordon Quan, Azam Akhtar; Ghulam Chisti; Ghulam Bombaywala, Ali Riza Candir (Turkish Community); Dr. Asaf Qadeer; Shamshad Wali; Haroon Shaikh; Dr. Yaqoob Sheikh; Attorney Nomi Hussain; Ahmad El-Yaseen; Mohammad Zaheer; Attorney Neiyyar Izfar; and others. Everyone said that people will soon see M. J. Khan at a high public service post.

M. J. Khan with heavy heart informed everybody that doctors have given up hope for his sister to recover from cancer, which she had been daringly fighting for 2 years and then proudly informed that God has given him a grandson Yousuf only two weeks ago. He said these are real life struggles and then joyous stories: Winning or losing elections have no meaning in front of the real life.

He said he never ever imagined that a stadium full of people like 70,000 would ever vote for him in his life. Masrur Khan informed about a saying of Gordon Quan: “A stadium full of people voted for me. But just as information, my opponent also got a stadium full of voters balloting in his favor.”

He said although he did not win City Controller Elections, it does not mean he has lost or he will sit on the sidelines. “One does not need a portfolio to serve fellow human being,” added M.J.

Talking generally to the Muslim Community, M. J. Khan said history is a proof that wherever Muslims went, they left beautiful legacy of human service and that is what the community needs to do in USA: We need to serve everyone without any discrimination.

M.J. mentioned about one internal challenge the Muslim Community is facing and that is the Youth in the community need good guidance and should not fall to misinformation of the extremists, who have capability of sending their message inside USA using various new technology and media. “Muslim Youth need to follow the middle path specified by God and His Messenger Mohammad and avoid any extremist inclinations. Allah SWT in Quran clearly has stipulated that if someone saves a life, it is as if he or she has saved the whole humanity; while if someone kills one innocent person, it is as if he or she has killed the whole humanity.”

At the same time, M. J. Khan mentioned that one of the biggest external challenges the Muslim Community has to face is the false propaganda of few that wrongly attribute violence with Islam. “If Muslim Community is openly involved in what Islam has asked us to do and that is we have to be at the forefront of the public service, we can take care of this tirade of propaganda. We may be students in schools & colleges; entrepreneurs; professionals; politicians; and so on: Our main task in life is to serve the humanity,” said M. J. Khan.

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Muslim City Councilmen Elected in Hamtramck

December 31, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nargis Hakim Rahman

Two new Muslim faces have joined Hamtramck City Council on November 3, making the city council 50 percent Muslim.

According to the Detroit Free Press the number reflects the most Muslims, “in a municipality in the United States.”

Kazi Miah, 30, won with 1652 votes, the highest votes. Mohammed Kamrul Hassan, 42, received 1390 votes, 40 more than he expected. 

Hassan said he did not campaign a lot during the general election as he was working 12-hour shifts and did not take any days off from his job as a manufacturing expert at Faurecia Automotive Seating Inc.

“I had confidence. I knew I was going to get 875 votes in the primary, and 1350 votes would get me a seat,” Hassan said.

Hassan ran for city council after seeing discrimination to immigrant populations by police officers and city officials.

“I have been seeing the city administration and corruption and discrimination from police officers, how they talk when immigrant people go to the city hall,” said Hassan.

He said the city is not going in the right direction, and has changed since his move to Hamtramck in 1994.

Hassan moved from New York to Michigan to pursue his education. He holds a Bachelors of Science, with honors, and Masters in Mathematics from the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh.

Miah, a 10-year-resident of Hamtramck, works at National City Bank in Hamtramck. He ran for office to make local government more citizen-oriented, and to encourage the youth to run for public office.

Miah holds various board positions around Hamtramck, and is the founder of Bangladeshi American Youth Action. The youth group is focused on advancing in education, engaging in community service and having recreational activities for youth.

Miah said serving city council is his way of giving back. He said he was inspired to run for government by Sayu Bhojwani, founder of a similar youth group in New York.

Hassan said taxes, budget utilization and cutting salaries are on the top of his list.

He said everywhere in the world people are cutting salaries.

“I’d like to cut salaries to survive,” he said.

Miah said the city will face tough times ahead with economy.

“This city has been in a deep end before, as far as financial stability, but we can get out of it,” he said.

Hassan said spending money better and reassessing the budget will help the city.

Miah said his priorities include being a voice for the Census. Immigrant populations are often reluctant to fill out the forms, fearing the government will come after them. He wants to stop that trend.

The Census is correlated to taxes, government funds, and public safety, as police officers are assigned based on city populations, he said.

“We have 20,000 Muslims, Bengalis, Yemenis. The Census doesn’t tell us that,” Miah said.

He said higher numbers will make politicians pay attention.

Miah’s website, www.voteforkazi.com, has a poll, asking for public opinions on local matters. He said he wants to be as accessible as possible, following the Obama campaign, where he served as Captain of the Voter Registration Drive.

“I’m not trying to take anything away from Hamtramck. I’m trying to add to the richness this city has,” Miah said.

“If we fail, we’ll be failing as a whole.”

Hassan said he is proud to be a Muslim city councilman.

“Some people questioned me because I was Muslim. This is not a Yemeni city, a Bangladeshi city, or a Polish city. This is the city of Hamtramck.”

He said the city is his first priority, but he will not go against his religion.

“I’m going to respect my religion 100 percent,” Hassan said.

He said Islam is the religion of peace. It’s always going to be good decisions for politics.

“Our prophet Muhammad (s) got respect from all religions. He helped everybody. I’m going to treat everyone equally.”

Miah said Islam taught us to be good to your neighbors, not only Muslim neighbors. He said he wants to be a voice for everyone.

“Throughout the election no one asked me what religion I was. I sincerely believe citizens of Hamtramck just want to be taken care of,” Miah said.

Miah and Hassan are Bangadleshi Muslim Americans. They are married with two children.

Both said they are looking forward to working with the new council.

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Community News (V11-I52)

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Muslim women celebrated in new calendar

EDMONTON, Canada–A Grade 3 teacher with a passion for kickboxing is one of 13 Edmontonians featured in a new calendar celebrating local Muslim women.

Noreen Bashir will be seen in the calendar wearing boxing gloves and a sports hijab at the gym where she works out almost everyday. The martial arts champion first took up the sport as a way to exercise while recovering from a car accident.

“I’ve … never been part of any kind of project like that before especially in our community and I’m actually very proud to represent the Muslim women of Edmonton,” said Bashir.

The calendar is the brainchild of local photographer and filmmaker Shazia Javed. The women featured in the calendar were nominated by the local Muslim community and include medical students at the University of Alberta, a local youth worker and a pizzeria owner who raised triplets on her own. Some, but not all, wear head coverings.

“I chose the women which represented a wide spectrum,” Javed said. “To me, it’s all about what they do, rather than for what they wear, and whatever they choose to wear doesn’t hinder them from doing anything.”

Having Bashir in the calendar was important to the project, Javed said.

“This is a very, very important image and a very strong image to send out there, that Muslim women are active. They are fit and you know they’re into sports and they’re strong.

“So I think it’s inspiring to a lot of us in ways if we want to go in sports that yes, we can do it. It’s not against our religion or anything.”

Javed produced the calendar in collaboration with Islamic Family and Social Services Association (IFSSA), with the help of a grant from the Edmonton Arts Council. She hopes the stories of the women in the calendar will inspire Muslim girls.

“I hope it works for the youth in boosting their self esteem in seeing, you know, other Muslim women on (a) calendar for their contributions and also I hope to create some role models for them to say, ok, you know, this woman, she’s a boxer, you know, or this woman, she’s a scholar … so I can be too,” she said.

The calendar will be launched on Dec. 18th. Proceeds will go to the IFSSA food bank.

Support for Naperville Muslim Center

NAPERVILLE, IL–The development committee of unincorporated Naperville on Tuesday reaffirmed its support for a conditional use permit for the Irshad Learning Center. The plan as submitted by the center will go as it is to the Dupage Country Board, the Naperville Sun reported.

The committee heard from both supporters and opponents of the proposal. Neighbors of the property expressed concerns about noise, intensity of use and extending the usage of hours.

Dr. Mojtaba Noursalehi, a Naperville resident, Irshad trustee and one of five applicants on the zoning petition, said he and his fellow board members have complied with the county’s requests and urged the committee to consider the petition solely on its own merits.

The request will go before the County Board at its next meeting Jan. 12

Crescent Bancshares to raise $15m for bank acquisition in Chicago

Crescent Bancshares Inc. announces the kick-off for its capital raise process. The bank focused on the needs of minority communities in the Chicago-land area, plans to open doors for operation in 2010. “ We hope to operate our first branch in the City of Chicago in early to mid 2010” said Fawad Butt, the Managing Partner of Zeus Capital Advisers. Mr. Butt’s company is tasked with the overall project management for the Crescent bank initiative.

“The recent economic slowdown and the resulting financial crises created significant asset quality problems for many community banks in Chicagoland and across the country. The Money Center banks (such as) BOA and Citi are riddled with asset quality concerns” said Rohail Khan, an initial contributor in Crescent Bancshares. “This represents an opportunity for locally connected, locally owned community banks, to gain market share, and to differentiate themselves from the larger banks.”

Crescent bank shareholders, board of directors and the management team, will service all customers and carry a specific focus to develop products and services for the South Asian, South Eastern European and Muslim Communities.

The acquisition of the bank asset is underway. The group plans to finalize the acquisition after the end of the capital raise process.

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Houstonian Corner (V11-I52)

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Parker & Green Win in Low Turn-Out Elections

Picture AI Only 17% of the registered voters, i.e. 155,312 voted, in a population of over 2 million, in the City of Houston Mayoral Run-Off Elections, to elect the termed-out City Controller Annise D. Parker, as the 61st Mayor of the Third Largest Metropolis of USA. Her victory by 8,638 votes over her opponent Gene Locke, became headlines of various worldwide news agencies and national newspapers across the globe, because she will be the first openly gay Mayor of one of the largest cities of USA, when sworn in January 2010.

In another race for the second most powerful position in the City of Houston after Mayor, the Controller race was won by the termed out City Councilman Ronald Green, who was 4,271 ahead of termed out City Councilman Masur Javed Khan. Interestedly total number of voters in Controller Elections was 144,253, which is 11,059 voters less than the Mayoral Race, meaning a little over 11 thousand voters did not bother to vote in the Controller Election. In mail-in ballots and actual voting day, M. J. Khan got more votes than Ronald Green, while the winner Ron Green got most of the votes during actual early voting at various stations.

After the victory, the first openly gay Mayor of Houston, Annise Parker said: “The voters of Houston have opened the door to history…I know what this win means to many of us who never thought we could achieve high office…But now, from this moment, let us join as one community. We are united in one goal in making this city the city that it can be, should be, might be, will be…I promise to give to citizens an administration of honesty, integrity and transparency…The only special interest will be the public. We are in this together. We rise or fall together.”

Parker will face a $130 million budget deficit when her term as mayor begins in early January. Mayor-Elect Parker was opposed by conservative religious groups and anti-gay activists. However, gay and lesbian political organizations all over the nation rallied to support Parker by raising funds for her campaign and making calls to urge people to vote.

Here are the various results in the Run-Off Elections:

Mayor of Houston

Annise D. Parker 81,975 (53%) — Gene Locke73,337 (47%)

City of Houston Controller

Ronald Green 74,262 (51%) — M. J. Khan 69,991 (49%)

Houston City Council District A

Brenda Stardig 9,258 (57%) — Lane Lewis 7,103 (43%)

Houston City Council District F

AL Hoang 4,681 (53%) — Mike Laster 4,180 (47%)

Houston City Council At Large Pos 1

Stephen Costello 67,842 (52%) — Karen Derr 62,249 (48%)

Houston City Council At Large Pos 2

Sue Lovell 68,676 (54%) — Andrew C. Burks, Jr. 58,317 (46%)

Houston City Council At Large Pos 5

Jolanda “Jo” Jones 69,763 (51%) — Jack Christie 68,080 (49%)

Bellaire City Council Pos 3

Corbett Daniel Parker 1,296 (72%_ — Roseann Rogers 511 (28%)

Bellaire City Council Pos 5

Andrew Friedberg 971 (53%) — James B. Jameson 869 (47%)

Houston ISD Trustee District I

Anna Eastman 4,959 (51%) — Alma Lara 4,766 (49%)

Houston ISD Trustee District IX

Lawrence “Larry” Marshall 6,295 (51%) — Adrian Collins 6,012 (49%)

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When the Floodwaters Rose

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

floods

This past week, just prior to the Eid al Adha holidays, the Gulf regions of the Middle East saw exceptional rainfall that caused massive flooding, death and destruction. Nowhere was the rain more violent than in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Meteorologists have estimated that approximately 90 millimeters of rain fell in just under six hours.

The Red Sea port city of Jeddah was affected the most by the sudden and unexpected burst of showers. More than 100 people died, with that number expected to rise as the murky waters recede and possibly reveal more bodies beneath the mud. A lot went wrong on what is being touted as ‘The Wednesday Disaster’ and most of it could have been prevented.

Financial corruption, big business and living above the laws are just a few of the charges that angry Saudi Arabian citizens are leveling at their own government. However, the city of Jeddah is a low-lying area, which is prone to flooding. Questions are now being raised about whether or not the areas hardest hit should have been inhabited at all. New projects in the region have also come under scrutiny, such as the ‘Abdullah Bridge and Tunnel’, which was completely inundated by the floodwaters. The lack of drainage maintenance has also been an ongoing problem in Jeddah for more than three years as most drains and sewers are inoperable, clogged with debris.

Citizens had little to no warning about the impending rainfall and flooding. The majority of those who died were trapped inside cars or buses and drowned to death. Those who survived were left stranded for hours, as civil authorities did not have the appropriate equipment, skills or training to launch a massive search and rescue operation. The entire incident is reminiscent of the emergency services fiasco following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

By all calculations, Saudi Arabian security personnel may have been spread a bit too thin as the Kingdom hosted an estimated 3 million pilgrims during the recent Hajj season. The government put most of its energy and resources into ensuring that worshippers were safe while performing Islam’s most holy rituals. All measures were taken to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus with medical staff on alert around the clock. Security forces also had to keep a watchful eye as pilgrims tested out a new bridge meant to diversify traffic from congested areas to prevent stampedes, which have plagued past Hajj seasons. The clouds opening up and unleashing waves of fury upon unsuspecting residents took most everyone by surprise.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has ordered an all-inclusive investigation into the flooding disaster. The governor of Makkah, which includes the city of Jeddah, Prince Khalid bin Faisal will head up the inquiry. According to the state-run news agency, King Abdullah was quoted as saying, “We cannot overlook the errors and omissions that must be dealt with firmly.” King Abdullah has also stepped in to ease the suffering of the flood victims. He has ordered the Ministry of Housing to make available more than 2,000 apartments for flood victims whose homes were lost or damaged due to the flooding. King Abdullah has also earmarked more than $260,000 compensation for each flood victim’s family.

However, despite the Saudi government’s attempts to make things right, public sentiment is still turning sour. Since public protests are banned in the Kingdom, disgruntled citizens have taken their complaints to the Internet. The social-networking media mogul, Facebook, has been the heir apparent for the Saudi Arabian people and their supporters to vent some good old-fashioned anger. The most popular page on Facebook is the ‘Popular Campaign to Save the City of Jeddah’. Within in only days of the page’s creation, more than 11,000 users joined and an estimated 22,000 comments were written. One of the cyber protestors wrote, “We’ve been talking about this issue for years. Everybody knew this disaster was coming. There’s only one reason: it’s corruption.”

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Houstonian Corner (V11-I50)

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Helping Hand For Relief & Development Has Started Office in Royal Center Houston

   

Eminent Islamic Scholar Sheikh Mohammad Yousuf Islahi inaugurated the US South Central Region office of Helping Hand For Relief & Development (HHRD), which is located at 11945 Bissonnet, Houston, Texas 77099, Phone: (713) 984-4558, Fax: (713) 429-1421, Webpage: www.HHRD.Org.

Sheikh Mohammad Yousuf Islahi met with several people from the community, as they kept coming to the OPEN HOUSE of HHRD from 1:30pm. till 4:30pm. Also present on the occasion were ILyas Hasan Choudry, Coordinator of HHRD for US South Central Region; and Maaz Adil, Administrative Assistant of HHRD for US South Central Region.

HHRD is considered most proficient in the field of Basic Healthcare & Disaster Relief Services (Emergency; Short-Term; & Long-Term Recuperation) and are still involved in the field works of Tsunami 2004-2005 (Sri Lanka & Indonesia); Earthquake 2005 (Kashmir & NWFP, Pakistan); Floods of Bangladesh 2006-2007; Earthquake 2008 (Ziarat, Baluchistan, Pakistan); Floods 2008 (NWFP, Pakistan); & IDPs 2009 (Swat & now Waziristan, Pakistan).

Due to the works of HHRD, they have recently received grants of over $3-Million from the World Food Programme of UNO and World Health Organization (WHO).

This year HHRD crossed the record 8,000 mark in the performance of Qurbanis, booked by people from USA and Canada in 60 different countries.

HHRD most famous project is “Orphan Support Program”, where with just $365/Year (or automatic deduction of $30/Month), one can sponsor an orphan (age 0 till 19), to bring food, clothes, education and much happiness to his or her life. These orphans are in about 15 countries, including Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya, Palestine, and Iraq.

In his communiqué, the Executive Director of HHRD Farrukh Raza has remarked: In recent years, HHRD works have been recognized by Americans and International Relief Agencies. This has been due to the Blessings of God; most generous donations by people of USA & Canada of various backgrounds; hard-work of our field & office staff and our partner agencies; and so on. HHRD Office in Houston has brought opportunities of benevolence near the people living in the South Central Region of USA. Our office and programs need the moral & monetary support from all the members of the society. With the end of year approaching us, this is a reminder that general public, professionals as well as businesspersons; need to start thinking and consulting experts to determine their tax status, so that they are able to mutually benefit by donating to a 501 (c) organization. In this case, they must strongly consider HHRD for their contributions in our “Orphan Support Program”; “Water For Life” Wells Projects; “Give the Gift of Eyes” Surgery Program; “Wedding Box” for Needy & Orphan Girls; and Ongoing Disaster Relief Projects. They must consider HHRD because of our credible work in the field and track-record of delivering competent services, due to the Grace of God. Visit www.HHRD.Org for this purpose.”

Cold Front Could Not Stem the Heat in the Run-Off Elections

Temperatures are expected to hover between low 40s and high 50s as the first week of Early Voting started on Monday, November 30th, 2009 in the City of Houston Run-Off Elections, with the last day of Early Voting being Tuesday, December 08th, 2009; and Saturday, December 11, 2009 is the actual voting day. For all election details, one can visit: www.harrisvotes.com.

Despite the cold weather, the Mayoral Race got heated up on the first day of Run-Off Elections, as Candidate Gene Locke launches a damaging commercial against his opponent Annise Parker, who promised to retaliate in kind. Earlier at his fundraising event, City Controller Candidate M. J. Khan said he is very lucky to have got a candidate, who has Federal Liens on his Properties.

Before the end of the first day of Early Voting, Annise Parker did hit back, with an E-Mail Press Release from her Campaign Staff Sue Davis, asking Gene Locke to come clean on several charges of Conflicts of Interest.

Now in the negative commercial, Mr. Locke has criticized Parker for saying she would “take apart the police department”. Ms. Parker has made such remarks on several occasions, including recently at the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Monthly Luncheon, where she said she would not only change the face of METRO, but also change HPD Chief.

Locke defends this advertisement, saying it is accurate and gives chance for voters to reflect on the number one issue of the campaign (Public Safety).

Parker said this Ad is deceptive, and said it shows desperation in Gene Locke’s Campaign.

Later on in the afternoon, Annise Parker Campaign for Mayor called on Gene Locke to say whether he will take himself out from voting on lucrative city contracts that his law partners will bid, if elected mayor.

“Lawyer-Lobbyist Gene Locke continues to demonstrate his disdain for open and transparent government and his disrespect for the voters,” said Adam Harris, Parker’s Campaign Manager. “He still refuses to say whether or not he will vote on millions of dollars of city contracts for his law partners if elected mayor.”

Locke is a partner in the politically connected law firm of Andrews Kurth. The firm has made more than $17 million in the last six years alone from the City of Houston, METRO, the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and the Port Authority of Houston, the same public agencies whose board members Locke would appoint as Mayor – while his law firm, Andrews Kurth, continues to bid for contracts from the city and each of those agencies.

Locke has billed local government agencies like METRO at rates of up to $640 an hour. He billed $574,000 in fees to the Sports Authority alone in the last 30 months.

Gene Locke has refused to release his tax returns for weeks after Ms. Parker voluntarily released hers, and agreed to release them only after being cornered by a Texas Watchdog reporter the week before Thanksgiving.

In one setback to Annise Parker Campaign, the Houston Police Officers’ Union has come up with a stark question for voters’: How would you feel if someone had stolen your identity? The Today, the Houston Police Officers’ Union (HPOU) put out an all-points “press” bulletin asking Houston voters to be wary of false and misleading radio and television ads by mayoral candidate, Ms. Annise Parker. HPOU, Houston’s largest and most respected police officer organization, is warning Houston voters not to be misled by Parker’s radio and television ads, which falsely imply she has the police group’s endorsement. The police organization has endorsed Gene Locke for Mayor in the upcoming runoff election.

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