Imran Khan: Man of the Hour

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Imran Khan: New Trouble Man for US in Pakistan The PTI leader criticized not only President Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif but also blasted US policies in the biggest-ever show of political power in Lahore in the past 25 years

By Hamid Mir

2011-10-30T180751Z_1187942809_GM1E7AV062Z01_RTRMADP_3_PAKISTAN

Imran Khan gestures after arriving to lead the Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) rally in Lahore October 30, 2011.    

REUTERS/Raza

ISLAMABAD — Imran Khan is no more a cricketer turned politician. He has suddenly become an important regional player in the US endgame in Afghanistan.

A mind-blowing public rally of Imran Khan in Lahore on October 30 made it very difficult for the Zardari regime to give new commitments or accept any demands from the US to push its decade-long war against terror. Imran Khan has not only become a threat for traditional political parties inside Pakistan but is also going to become a big hurdle in the implementation of demands made by US during the recent visit of Hillary Clinton to Islamabad.

The PTI leader criticised not only President Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif but also blasted US policies in the biggest-ever show of political power in Lahore in the past 25 years. The last time Lahore saw this kind of political tsunami was on April 10, 1986 when late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned after many years in exile. A big reception to the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was a bombshell for the then military dictator. Benazir Bhutto addressed a big rally in Iqbal Park, adjacent to the historical Lahore Fort. That rally was the beginning of General Zia’s end.

The October 30 rally by Imran Khan in the same Iqbal Park also looked like an end of pro-US policies started by General Pervez Musharraf ten years ago. Imran addressed US Secretary of State as “Chachi Clinton”

(Aunty Clinton) and said a big no to any more army operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas. It will now be impossible for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and its coalition partners to start new operations in North Waziristan or even continue the old operations from South Waziristan to Khyber Agency. Elections are close and no political government can take the risk of going against public opinion.

Hillary Clinton is these days desperately looking for someone who can become a bridge between Afghan Taliban and the US. Imran Khan can make some serious efforts in this regard but is more focused on the situation inside Pakistan. He has offered his services for the engagement of Pakistani Taliban but wants assurances that there will be no more military operations.

Imran said all this just one day before the meeting of President Asif Ali Zardari with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Istanbul. The US has arranged this meeting through Turkish President Abdullah Gull for the success of the Istanbul conference. Army Chief General Kayani also left for Turkey on Monday. Afghan officials will discuss the US endgame with Pakistan, India, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, UAE, Turkey, US and UK in Istanbul Conference from November 1.

The US wants some commitments from Pakistan at this conference and that is why the Pakistani Army Chief is also invited to this conference.

However, Imran Khan’s massive anti-American rally has made it very difficult for Pakistani leaders to oblige their friends from Saudi Arabia and Turkey who have became part of the process on the US request.

Imran criticized the Army operations in the tribal areas in very strong words. He clearly said some tribal elders had given him assurances that if US drone attacks were stopped and the Pakistan Army halted operations in the tribal areas they would control all militants. Imran Khan also arranged meetings of these tribal elders (mostly from North Waziristan) with his ex-wife Jemima Khan who is making a documentary against drone attacks.

Jemima and Imran are separated but often meet because of their two sons. An American lawyer Clive Smith is also helping Jemima and they are planning a big campaign against drone attacks in the Western media.

Jemima writes for Vanity Fair magazine. She is helping not only Imran but also Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, and Assange may also speak at the inauguration of documentary against drone attacks. The documentary is expected to have a lot of “WikiLeaks”. Imran Khan has repeatedly said, “Pakistan has changed”. He threatened, “I will not spare anyone who gave Pakistani bases to US and sold my people for dollars.”

Without naming Pervez Musharraf he sent him a message not to come back to Pakistan. He also said: “We want friendly relations with every country but we cannot accept slavery of America”. Imran Khan came out openly in support of the Kashmiris and advised India to withdraw its troops from Kashmir.

He tried to satisfy the central Punjab voters who are not happy with the soft stance of Zardari and Nawaz Sharif on India. This hawkish stance will definitely bring him closer to the military establishment but he opposes military action in Balochistan. He also criticized the role of Pakistan Army in former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in his recently published book “Pakistan a Personal History.”

According to the sources in Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) more than a dozen ambassadors from different Western countries wanted to see Imran Khan this week but he left for China immediately after addressing the mammoth public rally in Lahore on Sunday night. He will be a guest of the Chinese government. His opponents often declared him “Taliban Khan” or the “modern face of Jamat-i-Islami” but hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed the songs of many popular singers in the Lahore rally.

For some critics it became a grand musical show but the fact is that the crowd enjoyed the music at a public place after a very long time.

Pakistan has many popular pop singers but they cannot sing at public places due to fear of suicide bombings that started in 2007. There was a suicide attack on the musical show of Sono Nagam sometime back in Karachi and after that many pop singers were threatened not to sing at public places. Many singers like Adnan Sami, Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar tried their luck in India in recent years but now they can come back.

Imran Khan is bringing back not only the political activities on the roads but also encouraging many pop singers like Shehzad Roy to sing publicly who made songs against drone attacks. Roy presented his famous song ‘uth bandh kamar kya darta hey phir dekh Khuda kya karta hey” in the Sunday rally. Thousands of youngsters were dancing on this song and Imran was clapping with them.

Imran Khan is becoming the voice of the common Pakistanis who are neither religious extremists nor secular fascists. He is becoming a ray of hope for those disgruntled youngsters who have started hating democracy due to bad governance and corruption. These youngsters can now bring about a change in Pakistan through their vote power. Youth is the real power of Imran Khan and this youth belongs to the lower middle, middle class. This is the most disillusioned class in Pakistan but now the youth of this class is becoming active, which is a positive sign.

Dozens of sitting parliamentarians are contacting Imran Khan for joining his PTI. Former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and many political big shots will make some shocking decisions soon but Imran is more interested in young blood and well-educated minds.

He warned the government on Sunday that all politicians must declare their assets inside and outside Pakistan within a few months failing which his party would launch a civil disobedience movement and block all major cities with public support. For many analysts he is emerging as the third option after Zardaris’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N.

Some say he will ruin Nawaz Sharif in the central Punjab and PPP would be the ultimate beneficiary. Imran does not agree with this analysis.

He always criticizes PPP and PML-N jointly because one is ruling at the center and the other is ruling Punjab, which is more than 60 percent of Pakistan. Imran has definitely proved that he enjoys more political support in Lahore than Nawaz Sharif but it does not mean that he is going to get clear majority in the coming elections. He needs some winning horses not only in the central Punjab but also in south Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and Sindh.

He needs big rallies in Faisalabad, Multan, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta and then he can make some bigger claims. He will definitely make dents not only in the vote bank of PML-N but will also damage the PPP badly. There are 25 seats of national assembly in Lahore division of which PML-N has 20, PPP has 3 and PML-Q has one. Imran may snatch at least half of the PML-N and all the seats won by PPP and PML-Q in Lahore. Out of 23 seats in Gujranwala division PML-N has 13, PPP 8 and PML-Q has 2. Imran will damage PPP and PML-Q more than PML-N in Gujranwala. There are 20 seats in Faisalabad division – PML-N has only 4 while PML-Q has 8 and PPP has 7 seats.

Many sitting members of the national assembly from Faisalabad are pleading to Imran to accept them in his party. Some PPP, PML-Q and ANP members from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are also in contact with Imran, which means that his popularity is not confined to Punjab.

His biggest stronghold in the north is the tribal area where he is expected to make a clean sweep and more than 10 seats are in his pocket. This is the same area where he will not allow government to start any new Army operations.

If there is no operation then what will be the future of Pakistan-US relations? Zardari regime is at the crossroads. There is US pressure from one side and the PTI pressure from the other.

Nawaz Sharif was trying to play safe by targeting only Zardari and not the US but Imran Khan has suddenly changed the political dynamics in Pakistan. He is the new trouble man for US and also for the pro-US political elite in Pakistan. All the popular parties have no option other than to follow his anti-Americanism.

Hillary Clinton needs to realize the wave of change in Pakistani politics. She cannot understand this change without engaging Imran Khan. October 30 was just a beginning. World will see more changes on the political map of Pakistan and Imran Khan will play a leading role.

The News (Pakistan)

13-46

Occupy W Street Growing

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Boston Correspondent Karin Friedemann reports on growing “Occupy Boston” phenomenon

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

abramSince the end of September, hundreds of protesters under the banner “Occupy Boston” have set up camp in downtown Boston, Massachusetts to support the ongoing “Occupy Wall Street” protests in New York. Their demands are varied, but seem to be focused on unemployment, rising food prices, and the unfairness of billions of dollars of tax money being spent on useless wars and bank bailouts while the American dream of home ownership and “a chicken in every pot” steadily dies, as ordinary citizens lose their financial security.

Tents have filled up a public park while crowds chant slogans such as “Tax the Rich,” hold up hand made signs and fill the air with music and drumming. Celebrities have come to perform, and the homeless have been receiving free food and clothing. Compared to the scene in New York, Occupy Boston is enjoying a festive atmosphere despite the chilly weather, free of tension without any hint of police brutality. Various people drop by with donations of money, food, blankets and kind words, while the number of campers continues to grow.

The mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino and the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick have decided that there will be no arrests of protesters and have in fact stated publicly that they support the right of citizens to express their opinions. The protesters have been told they are free to camp out as long as they choose.

Media criticism has focused on the cost upon taxpayers to pick up the garbage and provide the tent city with electricity. It is highly probable that the City of Boston has decided to avoid the bad press that comes along with police violence against angry mobs. It is also much cheaper to provide these very basic services to the protesters than to arrest and detain them and then pay for all of them to go to trial and provide them all with court-appointed lawyers. Furthermore, there might be some quiet agreement with the slogan “Tax the Rich” among many in the leadership, for this is one of the principles upon which the State of Massachusetts operates, as the only state in the US that provides free health insurance to the lower middle class.

Massachusetts is already well-known as the US state which takes the best care of its poorer citizens out of its wealthy tax base, providing government-subsidized child care starting from the age of one month, after school and summer programs for teens, nearly free sports programs, food and cash aid and reduced housing prices for the poor. Yet it is still not enough for everyone to feel secure. The working middle class is hardest hit by the economy since they do not qualify for most of these programs and often go into debt trying to provide for their families due to medical bills, childcare or the high price of gasoline.

Occupy Boston is not your usual group of punks and hippies with nothing else to do but complain. The movement has been joined by college students, nurses, pilots, and other workers. As I drove on the highway today past the electrical workers’ union I saw a fancy electrical sign reading “We the People Occupy Boston.”

America’s largest labor union, the AFL-CIO with 11 million members has backed the growing movement, stating: “The Wall Street banks and the largest corporations refuse to pay their fair share of taxes while our infrastructure crumbles. They sit on record profits while the rest of the country suffers, and they still refuse to put people back to work.”

The Boston Herald reports that many of the elderly are showing their support. A retired 71-year-old gentleman, who ran his own corporate headhunting firm, visited the tent village yesterday afternoon to advise the young people to focus on making clearer demands. “I’d like to see the group more focused on applying pressure to specific areas,” he stated.

Some feel it makes no sense using so much personal energy to speak out against such a vague term as “Corporate Greed” without actually naming names of bankers or lobbyists who should go to jail, for example, or demanding some specific reforms of the process of electing public officials. Specifically, Occupy Boston could use its voice to demand universal health care for all of Massachusetts, a measure that would even save the rich thousands of dollars a year. MassHealth is the best health insurance in America, with zero co-payments and even free replacements for broken eyeglasses. Preventing disease is so much less costly than treating it.

Occupy Boston is a unique and bizarre political situation, where banks and financial corporations have opened their doors to the hundreds of anti-bank anti-corporation protesters to let them use the toilet. The unrest seems to be good for local capitalism, since all these people have to eat. One of America’s leading pro-Israel advocates Rabbi Michael Lerner has been actively recruiting Jews to participate in the protests – perhaps to steer the conversation away from cutting US aid to Israel, which would be an obvious way to quickly make more money available to the masses of disgruntled Americans.

Even more contradictory are the conflicting views of the people involved. Right-wing Libertarian protesters demand an end to the credit-based economy and want to return to the Gold Standard, while the Leftists and Liberals simply want to steer more borrowed government money into improving and expanding welfare programs. But most are in agreement that jobs are more important than foreign wars and that the government needs to focus more on its citizens not the demands of corporate lobbyists.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer

13-42

Test of Faith

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Last year, Wellesley Middle School students on a field trip were filmed praying in a Roxbury mosque. After being battered by nationwide criticism, why is the public school still determined to stand by its religion curriculum?

By Linda K. Wertheimer

“REMEMBER, THE REASON WE’RE GOING TO THE MOSQUE IS TO CONTINUE OUR LEARNING,” Jonathan Rabinowitz tells his sixth-grade social studies students. Dressed in a button-down shirt and khakis, the lanky 38-year-old teacher stands in the aisle of a school bus idling behind Wellesley Middle School. He holds up a hand to quell chatter and giggles from the 11- and 12-year-olds. “I want to be proud of your behavior. Make us proud in how you ask questions.”

Katie Pyzowski, her hair pulled back in a headband, sits quietly in a window seat as the din of her classmates resumes. Just a few days earlier, the then 11-year-old, who sings in her Episcopal church youth choir, had felt conflicted about visiting other houses of worship. “I feel kind of like I’m intruding on the holy places,” she had said. “It makes me feel like I don’t belong there.” Now, though, she says she feels more excited than nervous.

A short drive later, the bus pulls into the parking lot in Wayland of the Islamic Center of Boston, a rectangular brick building that could pass for offices if not for a few touches of Middle Eastern architecture, such as triangular arches. A few greeters – including three women in hijabs, the traditional head covering of Muslim females – are waiting outside.

“I’ve never been to a mosque before,” Katie says. Neither have most of her classmates, which is part of the school’s reason for this trip – to bring course work to life with real-world examples.

For more than a decade, Wellesley Middle School has been an outlier among the country’s public school systems because it requires sixth-graders to study the world’s religions for a full semester. After years of uneventful field trips to mosques and temples, it drew a maelstrom of criticism in 2010 when a video was made public showing Wellesley boys on a field trip appearing to pray in a Roxbury mosque.

These days, the mere potential for controversy is enough to convince the average school to steer clear of teaching about religion. But just a year after the uproar engulfed Wellesley Middle School, it did something that makes it even more unusual among its peers: It took students to a mosque yet again.

“I felt it was important to establish we can teach about religion,” says Joshua Frank, the school’s principal at the time. “There is nothing like being inside a mosque, inside a temple. These experiences are powerful for kids. They are going to remember them long after they forget Mohammed was born in 570 AD.” (s)

But Diane Moore, a Harvard Divinity School scholar and author of Overcoming Religious Illiteracy, says Wellesley’s difficult experience affirmed her belief that public schools should avoid such field trips.

There are just too many risks, from giving students the impression all temples are the same as the one they visit, to crossing the constitutional divide between church and state. “You’ve got this very fine line,” Moore says. “There are so many opportunities for this to go awry.”

***

FOR THE PAST 50 YEARS, exposing children to religion in school has been a flashpoint in American public education. Schools and state governments have battled with parents and others over whether religious music could be sung at holiday concerts or graduation ceremonies could be held in a church. For years, schools have shied away from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance because of that problematic phrase “one nation under God.”

Administrators at Wellesley Middle School, however, believe the risks of teaching about religion are worth the potential rewards, which is why it takes the unusual step of making its class mandatory. Even though most US states now include world religions in their education standards, they rarely require that students take a class. According to state records, roughly two-thirds of Massachusetts school systems offer comparative religion courses, but those are usually electives.

Wellesley’s decision to create its class in 2000, says social studies department head Adam Blumer, came from a place of “intellectual angst.”

Even before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, teachers worried that their students weren’t grasping the importance of religion in international politics. Blumer recalls thinking, “Are we really preparing kids for the world they’re walking into?”

Over the half-year course, students spend roughly a month on each of three religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and then three weeks on Hinduism. They cover seven aspects of each faith, including “stories of origin” and “core beliefs,” and take field trips to places of worship. For the first several years, those trips went off without a hitch; then there was last year.

On May 27, 2010, some 200 students visited the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury, which had opened less than a year earlier. A commanding presence with its black dome and brick minaret, the mosque is part of a 68,000-square-foot complex that includes a cafe, a shop, and an Islamic elementary school. It offers prayers five times a day, which Blumer felt was important: Students could witness the full racial and ethnic diversity of worshipers.

On the tour, a female guide escorted the group into the mosque’s social hall and delivered a PowerPoint presentation about Islam. “You have to believe in Allah, and Allah is the one God, the only one worthy of worship, all forgiving, wise, knowing,” she said at one point.

“Everything we do is to please God because God has guided us to do these things.”

After the early afternoon call to prayer was piped over loudspeakers, the guide took a group to see the prayer hall, pointing out features such as a clock listing the five daily worship times. The students asked to watch, so she escorted them to the perimeter of the room, advised them to sit quietly, and left to pray in an area reserved for women.

When she was gone, a male worshiper looked over to five Wellesley boys.

“You guys can participate if you’d like,” he said, according to Jackson Posnik, one of the students. Jackson remembers thinking, “That’s, like, cool that we’re allowed to do that.”

None of the Wellesley boys were Muslim, but they copied the movements of the Muslims around them, bowing, kneeling, and prostrating on the rug. “I didn’t think I prayed,” Jackson says. “I just kind of mimicked the motions.”

School and mosque officials did not realize what had happened until the beginning of the next school year, when on September 15, 2010, a video titled “Wellesley, Massachusetts Public School Students Learn to Pray to Allah” turned up online.

Unbeknownst to teachers, students, and mosque officials, a Wellesley mother had videotaped the field trip. A Boston-based group called Americans for Peace and Tolerance then posted it on YouTube. The next day, TV news trucks surrounded the school and coverage appeared on local news, CNN, and Fox, as well as in newspapers and on blogs from around the nation.

The reaction to the video was split. Parent after parent in Wellesley praised the school’s program in interviews with reporters. In the meantime, though, a spokesman for Americans for Peace and Tolerance told Fox News Radio that if a Catholic priest had given students Communion on a field trip, “the furor would be visible from outer space.” An anonymous commenter on the Wellesley Townsman’s website wrote, “How idiotic to take our precious little ones into the lion’s den.”

Subsequent news reports said the mother, who has never been identified, took the video on behalf of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, which is run by Charles Jacobs, a columnist for The Jewish Advocate newspaper.

ScreenShot001
The controversial Youtube video of students who joined in to pray with the dhuhr prayer.

When the mosque was being built, Jacobs had alleged its financial backers had ties to radical Islam. Mosque officials have continued to strenuously rebut that claim and note that they have longstanding partnerships with federal and state law enforcement and interfaith leaders.

Today, Jacobs says he remains concerned about the boys’ praying and what he says students were taught by the guide in the mosque. “The five students prayed to Allah. As Americans, we shouldn’t be proselytizing each other’s kids. That’s just not right for any religion,” he says.

“American schools don’t know what to do about the ‘other.’ They take them to the mosque and accept as given the tall tales given to kids.”

Both mosque and school officials say the video was not an accurate portrayal of what happened, and the guide’s talk was not preaching, but an informational presentation about the beliefs and practices of Islam.

The tour guide, who asked not to be named for fear her family would be harassed, also says her comments were taken out of context on the video.

“As a mosque, we didn’t invite them to pray,” says M. Bilal Kaleem, the president of the Muslim American Society of Boston, which runs the mosque. “It is our clear policy not to invite visitors to pray.” But it is plausible, he says, that a worshiper invited the boys. (Guides now escort visitors to the balcony during prayer.) “This was a learning experience,” Kaleem says. “Once you take kids out of the school, there are challenges. They’re curious.”

After the video was released, Wellesley Schools Superintendent Bella Wong issued a mea culpa in a letter to parents. “I apologized for [the praying] part, because that to me crossed the line from observation to participation,” she says. “As a public institution or public school, we really have to honor the separation of church and state. While we can teach about religion, we really can’t do anything that would encourage the practice of religion.”

The border between observation and participation can be a subtle one.

Many Americans don’t realize that the First Amendment to the Constitution only bans public schools from endorsing or promoting religion, it doesn’t prohibit educators from teaching about it.

According to a 2010 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 89 percent of respondents knew teachers could not lead the class in prayer, but only 36 percent knew it was legal to offer a comparative-religion course.

“There’s still a great confusion in the public about what the First Amendment permits and where the lines should be drawn,” says Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C. Haynes believes taking public school students to houses of worship during prayer times is problematic, even if the kids are told they must only observe. “We have impressionable young people,” Haynes says, “and they are there as a captive audience.”

***

EVEN AS THE ROXBURY brouhaha shook up teachers and school district officials in Wellesley, it did not diminish their faith in the academic promise of the religion unit. “It’s a very rich experience,” says Wong.

“With appropriate guidelines, you can do this without breaking the separation of church and state. I wish other communities would step forward and say they’ll teach it, too. We’ll stay the course.”

To avoid another round of controversy, though, the school did make changes to its field trips. Teachers were instructed to be clearer with students about the difference between participation and observation. In addition, Wellesley earlier this year chose to visit the mosque in Wayland, a place that doesn’t offer regular prayers during the day. “We live, we learn,” says Adam Blumer.

Although Kaleem is disappointed Wellesley classes didn’t return to his mosque, he was pleased the field trip wasn’t canceled outright. “That really would have been sad,” he says. “I think visiting religious spaces should be a part of education in America so people have a better understanding of people of all different faiths.”

On a morning in mid-April, a month before the Wayland mosque visit, Jonathan Rabinowitz ends the unit on Christianity and reviews what students had already learned about Judaism. He posts a big question on a projection screen at the front of his classroom. “In what overall ways are Judaism and Christianity the same? Different?”

The teacher hands out work sheets with a Venn diagram; one circle is labeled “Christianity,” the other “Judaism,” and the overlap between them is “both.” Attached to the worksheet are 44 statements, such as “Believe that Jesus is the Son of God” and “Reading from the Torah at age 13 is a rite of passage for these people.”

“Get up and walk around the room. Talk to everyone,” Rabinowitz says.

“Does it belong in Christianity, Judaism, or both?”

The students huddle in groups, although a few approach Rabinowitz for hints to the trickier statements. Rabinowitz shoos them away. “I want them to debate,” he says. “The hard thing is kids want right versus wrong. There isn’t always a right.”

Rabinowitz has been teaching Wellesley’s religion unit since 2002, though he readily admits that doesn’t make him a religion scholar. But over the years he and his colleagues have worked hard to find effective and unbiased course material. To continue his own learning, he visited Jordan in 2005 as part of an exchange program with teachers from the Middle East.

Rabinowitz, whose students call him Mr. R, was born in South Africa to observant Jewish parents who wanted him to stay home on Friday nights, the start of Shabbat, rather than play soccer. After moving to the United States at age 6, he spent most of his youth and early adulthood in what he calls a “Jewish bubble” – he went to a Jewish day school and mainly socialized with other Jews. “Growing up, I never knew how to talk or even ask questions about Jesus Christ,” he says. He tells students that what they’ll learn in his class will help them discuss religion with others as they get older.

At the start of the Islam unit, Rabinowitz asks his students to name some common Muslim stereotypes. “All Muslims come from Saudi Arabia,” says one student. Rabinowitz shows a world map of areas where Muslims live: The country with the most is Indonesia. “All Muslims are terrorists,” says another student. Rabinowitz urges the class not to use the word “all.”

Another day, students watch a news clip about Muslims’ push to include their major holidays on New York City’s school vacation calendar. Then the class discusses what Wellesley should do. Zain Tirmizi, who also attends religious school at the Wayland mosque, and a boy named Anand Ghorpadey, who describes himself as an atheist, still debate after the bell rings.

Anand, who celebrates Hindu holidays with his family, points out the school’s scarcity of Muslims and Hindus. He says the school should not alter the calendar.

Zain disagrees. “I want my education,” he says, adding it’s hard to catch up after missing classes for his religion’s holidays.

Anand raises his eyebrows. “Hard to catch up three days?”

“We should have both Hindu and Muslim holidays off,” Zain says.

As the pair walk out, Anand grins and shakes his head. He’s not convinced.

Rabinowitz watches his students leave. “I like when class spills out in the hallways,” he says.

***

RABINOWITZ LIKES it even more when class discussions continue at home.

His students can give a PowerPoint presentation on religion to friends and family during the unit. He also encourages them to have family discussions about a CNN special report he screens for class called Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door. The documentary is about the venomous opposition to the construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Protesters torched construction equipment, someone fired shots at Muslim leaders, and a lawyer for mosque opponents evoked 9/11 and said Muslims do not believe in God.

The video saddened Caitlin Gillooly, who discussed it with her mother.

“I’m really glad now that I’ve learned more about religion,” says Caitlin, an altar girl at her family’s Episcopal church. “One of these people could be me. I could be one of those people who misinterpret about religion.”

The class prompts families to have conversations they never would otherwise, according to the parents of Celia Golod, a Jewish student.

“These kids in sixth grade were infants during 9/11,” says Celia’s mother, Lisa. “It’s important that they understand the good and bad.

Religion sparks a lot of controversy, but there’s good in all of the religions.”

Her daughter, though, is skeptical about whether the course can really change students’ minds. In fifth grade, some kids interrogated her about why she did not believe in Jesus, she recalls. Last December, a classmate called her a “typical Jew” in a text message. “People who do tease people about [their religions] probably will never learn,” Celia says.

“But maybe you’re making a dent,” her mother says. “Do you think, Celia, the fact that you understand more about Christianity makes you more understanding?”

Celia nods. “Yeah,” she says. “I didn’t realize that Christianity came out of Judaism. Now we’re all related.” She crosses her fingers to indicate the connection.

Occasionally, Rabinowitz invites parents in to talk about their religions. On a Wednesday in late May, Ali and Hadia Tirmizi, Zain’s parents, arrive to discuss their experience. The couple, originally  from Pakistan, immigrated to the United States in the 1990s, before their children were born. They tell students that Muslims vary in their practices. “I have two kids,” says Hadia Tirmizi, who’s wearing a knee-length black dress and lavender sweater. “I’m a physician. I don’t pray five times a day.”

When Hadia mentions her son’s name means “leader” in Arabic, Celia’s hand shoots up. “We watched a movie, and it said, ‘Zain means beautiful.’ ” Hadia nods.

“So Zain means beautiful leader?” Rabinowitz says.

Zain laughs and ducks his head a little in embarrassment. “Zain is not going to like that,” his mother says.

Later, at the family’s home, Ali Tirmizi raves about the class: “To introduce that religion study class where he’s learning about Hinduism from Anand’s mom, and Judaism, and Christianity, and Islam, it opens up horizons.”

The couple originally resisted sending Zain to a public middle school for fear that he would be bullied. One day in fourth grade a boy approached him and said, “You’re a Muslim. I’m going to check you for bombs.”

But Zain still believes the religion class will affect how his peers treat others. “I believe the next time someone says ‘all Christians are,’ ‘all Jews are,’ ‘all blacks are,’ ‘all gays are,’ they’ll know to say, ‘Only some do this,’ or ‘That’s not true.’ ” But, he adds, that awareness might take awhile. For instance, he explains, after Osama bin Laden was killed, someone asked another Muslim student, “Aren’t you supposed to be at a funeral?”

“I get scared,” Hadia says of her son. “I’m so scared of him getting affected by all of this.” When the permission slip for the mosque field trip arrived, she was relieved to learn the class wasn’t going back to the Roxbury mosque. “If Wayland is a happy medium, there’s nothing wrong with happy mediums,” she says. “We don’t need any more controversy right now.”

***

IN CLASS before the May 9 field trip this year, Rabinowitz talks about Islamic worship practices and architecture. He passes around a prayer rug, a gift he received from a Saudi Arabian teacher during his exchange. He reviews terms. Mihrab? It’s the niche in the prayer hall that points toward Mecca, the direction Muslims face during prayer. He hands out laptops and asks the students to hunt for 20 mosques around the world. “Explore, explore,” he tells them. One student finds a mosque that has 24 domes and can hold up to 500,000 people.

On the morning of the visit, Rabinowitz and several teachers and parents stand outside the Wayland mosque with some 150 students (about 400 students in all will visit in three waves). With no dome and no minaret, the building doesn’t fit most students’ image of a mosque.

“This tour is going to be like one at an amusement park,” says their tour guide, Sepi Gilani, the mosque’s vice president. The students follow her single file up a set of stairs, where volunteers tell them about the center’s classrooms and library.

Before the students enter the prayer hall, they are asked to remove their shoes. They sit on a green and gold rug. Gilani points out the mosque’s mihrab and other architectural features and gives a PowerPoint presentation about Islam. A few students whisper and fidget, but most seem awe-struck to be here.

Why do we have to take off our shoes? a student asks during a question-and-answer period.

“We pray with our foreheads on the ground,” Gilani says. “If we kept on our shoes, we’d get our heads all dirty.”

When does Gilani wear her hijab? She responds that she, like many Muslim women, regards wearing the head covering in the mosque as a religious obligation. However, she does not wear it when she goes outside the mosque.

Gilani then asks a woman standing in the back to explain why she wears her hijab in public. The woman is Gilani’s friend, and the same person who had led the controversial tour of Roxbury’s mosque the year before.

“For me, not displaying a woman’s beauty in public is about modesty,” the woman explains. “It’s empowering not to be judged on the basis of physical appearance, but rather on the basis of one’s deeds.”

After Gilani’s talk, the students get 10 minutes to try different activities. Some browse books about Islam, while others get an outside tour of the building. They line up by the dozens to get their names written in Arabic. “Faster, faster,” urges Blumer.

Students are then rushed to their buses so they can make it back to school in time for lunch. There was no prayer to take part in. No mysterious videographer.

The next morning, Rabinowitz praises his students for asking thoughtful questions. “At the end of the day,” he says, “every one of you is able to say you’ve been to an Islamic learning center. You’ve been to a mosque.”

Most of Rabinowitz’s students say they probably won’t ever enter a mosque again, and that makes the class valuable. They might never have seen the inside of a Jewish temple, either, or heard so many different views on Islam from practicing Muslims.

“Before this unit, when I saw people wearing full Muslim clothing, I thought, ‘That’s kind of weird,’ ” says Anand Ghorpadey. “Now I understand how each religion is different.”

“Many people in America have stereotypes about Muslims. I’m glad they can teach about it,” says Zain Tirmizi. “I can say, ‘I’m Muslim. I do this.’ I’m very proud of it.”

A few weeks after school ends for the summer, Katie Pyzowski and her parents, Whitney and Paul, sit on their backyard deck. They talk about their strong connection to their Christian faith and their interest in other practices.

At her father’s urging, Katie brings out a photo album from their April vacation to Greece. They had seen burning crosses that were part of the Greek Orthodox celebration of Easter, and had even ducked into a monastery. There was no formal invitation, which made Katie a little nervous, but once inside, she felt as fascinated as she later would in the Wayland mosque.

“The key word to this unit is ‘about,’ ” Katie says. “They’re not teaching you the religion, they’re teaching you about the religion.

They’re not trying to make you do something, they’re trying to get you to learn.”

Sitting next to her, her mother asks, “Did it work?”

“Yeah,” Katie says. “It worked.”

Linda K. Wertheimer, the Globe’s former education editor, is a Lexington freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @Lindakwert. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

13-37

Valedictorian Asks Peers to Remember Families

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sarah Plummer

g258000000000000000d2c85b229be3c9af2ee04c841eb213f9850da061Every parking space was filled at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center Saturday for Woodrow Wilson’s 85th commencement ceremony. Cars lined Armory Drive and parked in median grass. Without even entering the venue, it was evident many friends and family members came to support the 323 graduates of 2011.

Although the crowd had gathered to praise the students’ achievements, each speaker at the event expressed gratitude to those in attendance — family, teachers and friends — who supported them through their education.

Valedictorian Sania Rahim said she and her peers had “matured together.”

She asked her fellow students to remember their families and the many sacrifices that allowed the graduates to be where they are today.

She also requested that they acknowledge their teachers.

“They have seen us at our best and our worst,” Rahim said.

Salutatorian Emily Wright said the class has “spent the last 13 years heading toward their future.”

And after asking those present to think back on their first day of school, she told them what she has learned most was “to enjoy today while it lasts because the last 13 years have passed in a flash.”

Wright noted that each graduate has the opportunity to leave a mark on the world, “whether they become president of the United States or just volunteer locally.”

Another life lesson Wright said she has learned over the years is that “every bad experience is a chance to do better and learn from your mistakes.”

And finally, she said, she has learned, “some things do not have price tags — like love, honor freedom and peace.”

Woodrow Wilson High School’s 2011 honorarian is Tyler Bonnett.

Graduating seniors Leah Drumheller, Rebekah Stone and Morgan Wright sang “I’ll Always Remember You” with guitar accompaniment as a special musical selection.

Before presenting the senior class to Superintendent Charlotte Hutchens, principal Charles Maynard said his students achieved their recognition with “hard work,” and he asked them to leave knowing they had reached a great accomplishment.

“And I hope and pray that you continue to work hard to reach your goals.”

Hutchens added that, even though she has attended many graduations, she still enjoys them.

“I like graduations because it’s a time of excitement, anticipation and hope,” she said.

Board members Richard Jarrell and Jack Roop participated in the presentation of diplomas. Board member Larry Ford and Nelson Spencer, director of secondary education, were also present.

splummer@register-herald.com

Register-Herald

13-25

America After the Quiet Coup

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Edward L. Palmer, Robert N. Rhodes and Alice J. Palmer

“There has been a quiet coup in the US in which a financial oligarchy has gained hegemony over the government structure.” That seizure of power has resulted in devastation for Black America, where “48% of the children of middle class Black Americans border on poverty.” Among the general public, “70% of last year’s college graduates in the US did not receive job offers.”

“A financial oligarchy has gained hegemony over the government structure.”

America is on a path toward a savage capitalism that is already decimating the middle class and working people and swelling the ranks of the poor. Adam Smith never intended this.

The U.S. government has spent more than one trillion dollars of taxpayer money to resuscitate the financial services economy and restore the status quo while unemployment has grown by millions since January 2009, and all without developing the real economy: production, sustainable development, infrastructure, and social networks.

Unlike Germany, for example, where, faced with a similar economic downturn, Chancellor Angela Merkel, a conservative, chose to increase public spending on production, infrastructure and human capital. Or, as in Sweden, which took measures to reverse unemployment and the contracting gross domestic product by isolating bad debts, stabilizing their currency, and allowing some banks to fail.

Or, for that matter, the win-win strategy the Chinese favor, which pursues their national economic interests without seeming to threaten the national interests of other countries.

Americans should ask themselves the fundamental questions that Bob Herbert is asking over and over in his New York Times columns: How do you put together a consumer economy that works when the consumers are out of work, and when poverty, particularly among Black Americans, is alarmingly high.

“At least 30% of America’s children are poor; tent cities are now housing displaced and desperate families.”

The statistics about Main Street are distressing. At least 30% of America’s children are poor; tent cities are now housing displaced and desperate families. According to a recent Harper’s magazine monthly index, 70% of last year’s college graduates in the US did not receive job offers. Some 16% of the daughters and sons of White Americans are not as financially stable as their parents. Most disturbing is that 48% of the children of middle class Black Americans border on poverty as they earn little more than $23,000 a year. Their parents, whose incomes average $55,000, came of age in the 1960’s.

For decades, from the late 1940’s through the end of the 1980’s, Black men expected to find work in the plants that dominated industrial centers such as Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Steady work, no matter how initially back-breaking and low-level, afforded Black families adequate incomes to purchase homes and send their children to college from which a solid, often politically active, Black middle class emerged.

There is a “silent Black depression” in the United States, according to a 2008 report issued by the Institute of Policy Studies, in which 29.4% of Black households have zero or negative net worth as of 2004 compared with 15% of Whites; and Black males aged 16-19 have a 32.8% unemployment rate. People of color, in general, are more likely to be poor in the United States; yet, poverty is rarely discussed as an element of the country’s economic crisis.

“29.4% of Black households have zero or negative net worth.”

To gauge the consequences to America’s eroding consumer and family income economies we must look beyond spurious US unemployment and employment figures that do not adequately tell us how many new jobs are part time and how many workers are discouraged or under-utilized. Most European countries count the number of adults who are employed, which is a more realistic measure of consumer and family-economic well-being.

What does happen to a dream deferred? Job loss can also mean pension loss – a loss of family sustainability – which could cause a social crisis for decades to come, warns the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in its yearly report. During the vaunted 1990’s, employers, looking for savings to their companies, encouraged working Americans to choose market-driven defined contribution pension packages that hinted at easy-living wealth at retirement instead of the traditional defined benefit pensions that assured steady retirement incomes. In 2008, private pension funds lost more than 25% in returns; so thousands of retirees cannot make ends meet, and thousands of younger workers must start anew to build their nest eggs.

Yet corporate chief executives and their circle earn an almost unbelievable 400 times what the average employee earns; and, as we have seen recently, garner enormous bonuses in spite of failing companies.

If we say in this country that we believe in family values, then we should value the family with adequate and equitable work, education, pensions and health care policies that matter to their well-being.

The US is not just experiencing an economic crisis, this is a crisis of our social being; and there are no quick fixes. Simon Johnson, a former Chief Economist for the International Monetary Fund, pointed out that there has been a quiet coup in the US in which a financial oligarchy has gained hegemony over the government structure.

“In 2008, private pension funds lost more than 25% in returns.”

During the 19th century through c1929, it was common to experience economic panics roughly every 20 years, e.g., in 1819, 1837, and 1873. Since World War II, we have not had feast or famine years. Why? Perhaps because Keynesian principles were in practice that fostered the judicious use of government interventions to fine tune the economy to avoid crises that imperiled people and businesses alike.

At the start of the 1980’s, the size of the financial service sector, i.e., traditional banks, was 4% of gross domestic product; and the number of financial corporations on the stock exchange was 0%. It was against the law for the financial service sector to be listed on the stock exchange. The Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933, passed after the Great Depression, which prevented banks from underwriting stocks and bonds for companies, was annulled in practice during the 1980’s, and the practice became law in 1999. The financial sector, especially banks, became one-stop centers for selling insurance, questionable mortgages and other risky undertakings to an uninformed public.

What is the significance of this change? A recent Bank of International Settlement report from Switzerland shows that world GDP (the real economy of the world’s people) is about a tenth the size of the financial services sector alone, and the gap continues to widen.

Many respected economists are alarmed by such economic indicators, the direction the US is taking, and the toll on people’s standard of living. Joseph Stieglitz calls the present-day economy ersatz capitalism; Paul Krugman calls it crony capitalism. John Monks, Secretary General of the European Confederation of Trade Unions, calls the economy casino capitalism. By any name, ponzi schemes are proliferating.

“World GDP (the real economy of the world’s people) is about a tenth the size of the financial services sector alone.”

Of course America’s financial sector should be kept viable; but in the long run, its salvation depends upon the ability of Americans to participate in and benefit from the economy. Real capital uses money to buy raw materials and machinery, hire workers, and produce products that can be sold for more than the cost of their production. Moreover, investment in research and development should be ongoing as new technologies and new ideas lead to innovations and new productivity. Real capital does not hollow out the lives of the average American.

It is in the interest of the United States, its people, and its place in the world to promote a sustainable development model, which is comprised of a labor policy, deliverable industrial and infrastructural advancement strategies, and social policies that ensure human well-being in health, education, and the post-work and sunset years. Since these policies and practices are not self-generating, it is necessary for common-sense minded people to undertake decisive, principled, actions to forge the path to our well-being.

Edward L. Palmer is Senior Research Associate, retired, Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois, palmeredward@ymail.com; Robert N. Rhodes is Political Science Professor, retired, University of Ohio; Alice J. Palmer, PhD, is a former Illinois State Senator and current Associate Research Professor, University of Illinois aapalmur@yahoo.com.

12-11

Students Report on Islam in Unique Course

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Alexandra Carter, UPIU.com

img_3376_large_square geri zeldes

Left:  Students speak with Professor Geri Alumit Zeldes after the “Reporting on Islam” class at Michigan State University; Right:  Professor Zeldes distributes graded story revisions for the “Reporting on Islam” course.

Photos by Alexandra Carter

 

EAST LANSING, Mich., Dec. 11 (UPI) — A new course at Michigan State University teaches students how to deal with the complexities of reporting on Islam in a post-Sept. 11 world.

This semester, students wrote about holiday celebrations and about how Muslim students feel about American university life. They also analyzed news reports on Islam from around the world in the new, “Reporting on Islam” course at Michigan State University.

“[The course] definitely made me uncomfortable at times, but honestly, that is how I know it was worthwhile,” said Dan Redford, a student. “It helped me experience a part of the world and this country that I never had before.”

Students uploaded the stories they wrote and the photos they took to UPIU.com, a service of United Press International for university students. Professor Geri Alumit Zeldes said that she wanted the class to submit its stories to UPIU to “have an outlet, other than me, to share their stories.”

Of the 14 registered students in the course, half had at least one of their stories published online through UPIU. Student Andrew Norman’s story on Islamic punk music was featured in blog in The San Francisco Sentinel and Wall Street Journal.

Student Brian J. Bowe said that using Web tools such as Skype to talk to people in other countries helped “shrink the world,” an exciting aspect of the course.

“Those classroom interactions with people in places like Iraq, Iran and India enriched the experience for me,” Bowe said. “One of the problems in media portrayals of Islam is that we’re frequently talking about Muslims, but not to Muslims. Using technology, we were able to bridge cultures and have very profound dialogues.”

Students also talked to Muslims who live in Michigan as sources for some articles.

“I found our visit to [the Islamic Center of East Lansing] highly beneficial. I would have been timid about going there alone,” said student Jennifer Hoewe. “Since I was joined by my classmates and welcomed by those who attended the mosque, I felt comfortable enough to go again by myself later in the semester as part of an article I wrote.”

The new class comes as students across the United States are showing more interest in Islam and in academic topics affiliated with the faith. Three of the students in “Reporting on Islam” studied Arabic, two of them through the university’s Arabic department, which had roughly 150 students enrolled in classes this fall.

Several of the students in “Reporting on Islam” also are in the Muslim Studies specialization program, which was created by Professor Mohammed Ayoob after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The reporting course was just one of many offered this semester under this specialization, along with classes in arts and humanities, public affairs, religion, political science, anthropology and sociology.

“Reporting on Islam” is a good first step for many students to continue learning about the topic, said Zahkia Smith, a student.

“I think what’s most important coming out of this class is that the very best way to know how to report on Islam is to get involved and actually step into the Muslim community,” Smith said. “The class gives you the right tools. The completion of the class is the signal to dig further.”

“Reporting on Islam” is a pilot course offered jointly through Michigan State’s School of Journalism and its Muslim Studies program. It was started with a grant from the Social Science Research Council, a national non-profit group. In addition, the course is part of the Islam, Muslims, and Journalism Education program, a project on the Internet funded by the same grant that has a goal to generate accurate and balanced reporting.

Similar courses have been taught at other American university campuses, Zeldes said. For example, Marda Dunsky, instructor of Islamic World Studies at DePaul University, teaches the “Reporting the Arab and Muslim World” course.

11-53

Ladies’ Qur`an Class By Fatimah Murad

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

P1040696 A delighted chatter permeates the room, occasionally an effusive call of “Assalamu-alaikum,” or “Alhamdulillah,” rises above the general murmur as two sisters greet each other for the first time. The setting is the Qiyam-ul-Layl program, organized by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) sisters-wing’s Chicago-land unit.

The majority of the participants are the regular attendees of a Quran Tafseer Class, also organized by the ICNA sisters. The class takes place in the morning after fajr prayer in a conference call room, throughout the year it takes place every Saturday and focuses on select Surahs but during Ramadan it becomes a daily occurrence so as to complete the reading of the entire Quran, in English translation, within the blessed month. This is the third year that it is taking place and, where it started as a local meeting involving sisters from the Chicago metropolitan area, it has now grown to include sisters from various states including Michigan, Florida, Maryland, and North Carolina and even from as far as Bahrain. There is diversity not only of location but also of background, there are revert Muslimahs and born Muslimahs who hail from various different nations. Many are of African American or South Asian background but there are also sisters from the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and the Philippines.  

Every morning, the sisters take turns reading a few of the ayahs punctuated by brief explanations and insights into the Surahs by Huma Murad and Amina Jaffer-Mohsin, the two moderators. Roll is called every class by the ever reliable Amidah Burton, to acknowledge the nearly forty participants. Through sharing their love for the Quran and Allah, the attendees have come to know and love each other as well. One sister, Afsheen Khan summed up the shared sentiments of many participant in commenting that though she had physically attended similar classes before “…this was special because of meeting so many sisters and [feeling such] spirituality.” Sister Shahina Begg who has been a regular attendee for all three years continued in a similar vein when she commented that she felt blessed in being introduced to the class because it “brought me closer to Islam and my sisters,” she added that though she initially only met her fellow participant on phone she felt compelled to “keep in touch throughout my life and inshallah stay spiritually connected.”

It was in hopes of fostering this bond, and to reap the most benefits from the blessed odd nights of the last third of Ramadan, that the Qiyam-ul-Layl event was organized. The class participants are given a chance to meet face to face, some sisters travelling from out-of-town to take advantage of the opportunity, and share a night of spirituality and sisterhood. As sister Jameela Karim explained, “The Qiyam-ul-Layl is the glue of the class, and having the program helps us put it all together. Seeing the people you hear every morning, you are fully connected.” Many sisters said they felt it created something akin to family ties.

The program allowed the sisters to share food and each other’s company, but also to join together for congregational prayers of Taraweeh and Tahajjud, and group discussions on spirituality and remembrance of God. Revert sisters, who constituted a majority among the nearly fifty attendees, shared stories of their early struggles with their families in the way of Islam, while their companions reminded the group that the greatest struggle took place within and that we all had our own hurdles to overcome. One of the greatest examples of triumph that the sisters witnessed at the Qiyam-ul-Layl was in meeting sisters Habiba Castulo and Hina Altaf, both legally blind from birth, who regularly attend the class and diligently read the Qur’an in Braille.

Jamila Yusuf commented to great agreement how she was “inspired by Habiba and Hina’s dedication to the Quran.” It was one of many instances where the sisters felt their faith had been strengthened by their fellow Muslimahs.

Though initiated as a rather humble project in hopes of sharing the knowledge of God’s word, the Quran Tafseer Class has grown into something unique and transcendent. It is difficult for any of the participants to explain exactly why this class, among so many similar ones, feels special. Moderator Huma Murad has a theory that it is due to its timing, the Prophet (s) spoke many times on the blessings of reading Quran after fajr. The greatest factor in its success, however, is the dedication and enthusiasm of its members. Newcomer Vonzella Matin called being introduced to it the “best gift I could have been given,” by sister Amidah, but she and her fellow participants have, with the help of Allah, given this gift to each other many times over.

11-39

Iranian Elections: The ‘Stolen Elections’ Hoax

July 2, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Prof. James Petras, Global Research, Financial Times Editorial

“Change for the poor means food and jobs, not a relaxed dress code or mixed recreation… Politics in Iran is a lot more about class war than religion.”

Introduction

There is hardly any election, in which the White House has a significant stake, where the electoral defeat of the pro-US candidate is not denounced as illegitimate by the entire political and mass media elite. In the most recent period, the White House and its camp followers cried foul following the free (and monitored) elections in Venezuela and Gaza, while joyously fabricating an ‘electoral success’ in Lebanon despite the fact that the Hezbollah-led coalition received over 53% of the vote.

The recently concluded, June 12, 2009 elections in Iran are a classic case: The incumbent nationalist-populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (MA) received 63.3% of the vote (or 24.5 million votes), while the leading Western-backed liberal opposition candidate Hossein Mousavi (HM) received 34.2% or (13.2 million votes).

Iran’s presidential election drew a record turnout of more than 80% of the electorate, including an unprecedented overseas vote of 234,812, in which HM won 111,792 to MA’s 78,300. The opposition led by HM did not accept their defeat and organized a series of mass demonstrations that turned violent, resulting in the burning and destruction of automobiles, banks, public building and armed confrontations with the police and other authorities. Almost the entire spectrum of Western opinion makers, including all the major electronic and print media, the major liberal, radical, libertarian and conservative web-sites, echoed the opposition’s claim of rampant election fraud. Neo-conservatives, libertarian conservatives and Trotskyites joined the Zionists in hailing the opposition protestors as the advance guard of a democratic revolution. Democrats and Republicans condemned the incumbent regime, refused to recognize the result of the vote and praised the demonstrators’ efforts to overturn the electoral outcome. The New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, the Israeli Foreign Office and the entire leadership of the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations called for harsher sanctions against Iran and announced Obama’s proposed dialogue with Iran as ‘dead in the water’.

The Electoral Fraud Hoax

Western leaders rejected the results because they ‘knew’ that their reformist candidate could not lose…For months they published daily interviews, editorials and reports from the field ‘detailing’ the failures of Ahmadinejad’s administration; they cited the support from clerics, former officials, merchants in the bazaar and above all women and young urbanites fluent in English, to prove that Mousavi was headed for a landslide victory. A victory for Mousavi was described as a victory for the ‘voices of moderation’, at least the White House’s version of that vacuous cliché. Prominent liberal academics deduced the vote count was fraudulent because the opposition candidate, Mousavi, lost in his own ethnic enclave among the Azeris. Other academics claimed that the ‘youth vote’ – based on their interviews with upper and middle-class university students from the neighborhoods of Northern Tehran were overwhelmingly for the ‘reformist’ candidate.

What is astonishing about the West’s universal condemnation of the electoral outcome as fraudulent is that not a single shred of evidence in either written or observational form has been presented either before or a week after the vote count. During the entire electoral campaign, no credible (or even dubious) charge of voter tampering was raised. As long as the Western media believed their own propaganda of an immanent victory for their candidate, the electoral process was described as highly competitive, with heated public debates and unprecedented levels of public activity and unhindered by public proselytizing. The belief in a free and open election was so strong that the Western leaders and mass media believed that their favored candidate would win.

The Western media relied on its reporters covering the mass demonstrations of opposition supporters, ignoring and downplaying the huge turnout for Ahmadinejad. Worse still, the Western media ignored the class composition of the competing demonstrations – the fact that the incumbent candidate was drawing his support from the far more numerous poor working class, peasant, artisan and public employee sectors while the bulk of the opposition demonstrators was drawn from the upper and middle class students, business and professional class.

Moreover, most Western opinion leaders and reporters based in Tehran extrapolated their projections from their observations in the capital – few venture into the provinces, small and medium size cities and villages where Ahmadinejad has his mass base of support. Moreover the opposition’s supporters were an activist minority of students easily mobilized for street activities, while Ahmadinejad’s support drew on the majority of working youth and household women workers who would express their views at the ballot box and had little time or inclination to engage in street politics.

A number of newspaper pundits, including Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, claim as evidence of electoral fraud the fact that Ahmadinejad won 63% of the vote in an Azeri-speaking province against his opponent, Mousavi, an ethnic Azeri. The simplistic assumption is that ethnic identity or belonging to a linguistic group is the only possible explanation of voting behavior rather than other social or class interests.

A closer look at the voting pattern in the East-Azerbaijan region of Iran reveals that Mousavi won only in the city of Shabestar among the upper and the middle classes (and only by a small margin), whereas he was soundly defeated in the larger rural areas, where the re-distributive policies of the Ahmadinejad government had helped the ethnic Azeris write off debt, obtain cheap credits and easy loans for the farmers.

Mousavi did win in the West-Azerbaijan region, using his ethnic ties to win over the urban voters. In the highly populated Tehran province, Mousavi beat Ahmadinejad in the urban centers of Tehran and Shemiranat by gaining the vote of the middle and upper class districts, whereas he lost badly in the adjoining working class suburbs, small towns and rural areas.

The careless and distorted emphasis on ‘ethnic voting’ cited by writers from the Financial Times and New York Times to justify calling Ahmadinejad ‘s victory a ‘stolen vote’ is matched by the media’s willful and deliberate refusal to acknowledge a rigorous nationwide public opinion poll conducted by two US experts just three weeks before the vote, which showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin – even larger than his electoral victory on June 12. This poll revealed that among ethnic Azeris, Ahmadinejad was favored by a 2 to 1 margin over Mousavi, demonstrating how class interests represented by one candidate can overcome the ethnic identity of the other candidate (Washington Post June 15, 2009). The poll also demonstrated how class issues, within age groups, were more influential in shaping political preferences than ‘generational life style’. According to this poll, over two-thirds of Iranian youth were too poor to have access to a computer and the 18-24 year olds “comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all groups” (Washington Porst June 15, 2009).

The only group, which consistently favored Mousavi, was the university students and graduates, business owners and the upper middle class. The ‘youth vote’, which the Western media praised as ‘pro-reformist’, was a clear minority of less than 30% but came from a highly privileged, vocal and largely English speaking group with a monopoly on the Western media. Their overwhelming presence in the Western news reports created what has been referred to as the ‘North Tehran Syndrome’, for the comfortable upper class enclave from which many of these students come. While they may be articulate, well dressed and fluent in English, they were soundly out-voted in the secrecy of the ballot box.

In general, Ahmadinejad did very well in the oil and chemical producing provinces. This may have be a reflection of the oil workers’ opposition to the ‘reformist’ program, which included proposals to ‘privatize’ public enterprises. Likewise, the incumbent did very well along the border provinces because of his emphasis on strengthening national security from US and Israeli threats in light of an escalation of US-sponsored cross-border terrorist attacks from Pakistan and Israeli-backed incursions from Iraqi Kurdistan, which have killed scores of Iranian citizens. Sponsorship and massive funding of the groups behind these attacks is an official policy of the US from the Bush Administration, which has not been repudiated by President Obama; in fact it has escalated in the lead-up to the elections.

What Western commentators and their Iranian protégés have ignored is the powerful impact which the devastating US wars and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan had on Iranian public opinion: Ahmadinejad’s strong position on defense matters contrasted with the pro-Western and weak defense posture of many of the campaign propagandists of the opposition.

The great majority of voters for the incumbent probably felt that national security interests, the integrity of the country an d the social welfare system, with all of its faults and excesses, could be better defended and improved with Ahmadinejad than with upper-class technocrats supported by Western-oriented privileged youth who prize individual life styles over community values and solidarity.

The demography of voting reveals a real class polarization pitting high income, free market oriented, capitalist individualists against working class, low income, community based supporters of a ‘moral economy’ in which usury and profiteering are limited by religious precepts. The open attacks by opposition economists of the government welfare spending, easy credit and heavy subsidies of basic food staples did little to ingratiate them with the majority of Iranians benefiting from those programs. The state was seen as the protector and benefactor of the poor workers against the ‘market’, which represented wealth, power, privilege and corruption. The Opposition’s attack on the regime’s ‘intransigent’ foreign policy and positions ‘alienating’ the West only resonated with the liberal university students and import-export business groups. To many Iranians, the regime’s military buildup was seen as having prevented a US or Israeli attack.

The scale of the opposition’s electoral deficit should tell us is how out of touch it is with its own people’s vital concerns. It should remind them that by moving closer to Western opinion, they re moved themselves from the everyday interests of security, housing, jobs and subsidized food prices that make life tolerable for those living below the middle class and outside the privileged gates of Tehran University.

Amhadinejad’s electoral success, seen in historical comparative perspective should not be a surprise. In similar electoral contests between nationalist-populists against pro-Western liberals, the populists have won. Past examples include Peron in Argentina and, most recently, Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and even Lula da Silva in Brazil, all of whom have demonstrated an ability to secure close to or even greater than 60% of the vote in free elections. The voting majorities in these countries prefer social welfare over unrestrained markets, national security over alignments with military empires.

The consequences of the electoral victory of Ahmadinejad are open to debate. The US may conclude that continuing to back a vocal, but badly defeated, minority has few prospects for securing concessions on nuclear enrichment and an abandonment of Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas. A realistic approach would be to open a wide-ranging discussion with Iran, and acknowledging, as Senator Kerry recently pointed out, that enriching uranium is not an existential threat to anyone. This approach would sharply differ from the approach of American Zionists, embedded in the Obama regime, who follow Israel’s lead of pushing for a preempti ve war with Iran and use the specious argument that no negotiations are possible with an ‘illegitimate’ government in Tehran which ‘stole an election’.

Recent events suggest that political leaders in Europe, and even some in Washington, do not accept the Zionist-mass media line of ‘stolen elections’. The White House has not suspended its offer of negotiations with the newly re-elected government but has focused rather on the repression of the opposition protesters (and not the vote count). Likewise, the 27 nation European Union expressed ‘serious concern about violence’ and called for the “aspirations of the Iranian people to be achieved through peaceful means and that freedom of expression be respected” (Financial Times June 16, 2009 p.4). Except for Sarkozy of France, no EU leader has questioned the outcome of the voting.

The wild card in the aftermath of the elections is the Israeli response: Netanyahu has signaled to his American Zionist followers that they should use the hoax of ‘electoral fraud’ to exert maximum pressure on the Obama regime to end all plans to meet with the newly re-elected Ahmadinejad regime.

Paradoxically, US commentators (left, right and center) who bought into the electoral fraud hoax are inadvertently providing Netanyahu and his American followers with the arguments and fabrications: Where they see religious wars, we see class wars; where they see electoral fraud, we see20imperial destabilization.

James Petras is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by James Petras

11-28

The American Empire Is Bankrupt

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Chris Hedges

This week marks the end of the dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency. It marks the start of a terrible period of economic and political decline in the United States. And it signals the last gasp of the American imperium. That’s over. It is not coming back. And what is to come will be very, very painful.

Barack Obama, and the criminal class on Wall Street, aided by a corporate media that continues to peddle fatuous gossip and trash talk as news while we endure the greatest economic crisis in our history, may have fooled us, but the rest of the world knows we are bankrupt. And these nations are damned if they are going to continue to prop up an inflated dollar and sustain the massive federal budget deficits, swollen to over $2 trillion, which fund America’s imperial expansion in Eurasia and our system of casino capitalism. They have us by the throat. They are about to squeeze.

There are meetings being held Monday and Tuesday in Yekaterinburg, Russia, (formerly Sverdlovsk) among Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The United States, which asked to attend, was denied admittance. Watch what happens there carefully. The gathering is, in the words of economist Michael Hudson, “the most important meeting of the 21st century so far.”

It is the first formal step by our major trading partners to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. If they succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value, the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket, interest rates will climb and jobs will hemorrhage at a rate that will make the last few months look like boom times. State and federal services will be reduced or shut down for lack of funds. The United States will begin to resemble the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe. Obama, endowed by many with the qualities of a savior, will suddenly look pitiful, inept and weak. And the rage that has kindled a handful of shootings and hate crimes in the past few weeks will engulf vast segments of a disenfranchised and bewildered working and middle class. The people of this class will demand vengeance, radical change, order and moral renewal, which an array of proto-fascists, from the Christian right to the goons who disseminate hate talk on Fox News, will assure the country they will impose.

I called Hudson, who has an article in Monday’s Financial Times called The Yekaterinburg Turning Point: De-Dollarization and the Ending of America’s Financial-Military Hegemony. “Yekaterinburg,” Hudson writes, “may become known not only as the death place of the czars but of the American empire as well.” His article is worth reading, along with John Lanchester’s disturbing exposé of the world’s banking system, titled “It’s Finished,” which appeared in the May 28 issue of the London Review of Books.

“This means the end of the dollar,” Hudson told me. “It means China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran are forming an official financial and military area to get America out of Eurasia. The balance-of-payments deficit is mainly military in nature. Half of America’s discretionary spending is military. The deficit ends up in the hands of foreign banks, central banks. They don’t have any choice but to recycle the money to buy U.S. government debt. The Asian countries have been financing their own military encirclement. They have been forced to accept dollars that have no chance of being repaid. They are paying for America’s military aggression against them. They want to get rid of this.”

China, as Hudson points out, has already struck bilateral trade deals with Brazil and Malaysia to denominate their trade in China’s yuan rather than the dollar, pound or euro. Russia promises to begin trading in the ruble and local currencies. The governor of China’s central bank has openly called for the abandonment of the dollar as reserve currency, suggesting in its place the use of the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights. What the new system will be remains unclear, but the flight from the dollar has clearly begun. The goal, in the words of the Russian president, is to build a “multipolar world order” which will break the economic and, by extension, military domination by the United States. China is frantically spending its dollar reserves to buy factories and property around the globe so it can unload its U.S. currency. This is why Aluminum Corp. of China made so many major concessions in the failed attempt to salvage its $19.5 billion alliance with the Rio Tinto mining concern in Australia. It desperately needs to shed its dollars.

“China is trying to get rid of all the dollars they can in a trash-for-resource deal,” Hudson said. “They will give the dollars to countries willing to sell off their resources since America refuses to sell any of its high-tech industries, even Unocal, to the yellow peril. It realizes these dollars are going to be worthless pretty quickly.”

The architects of this new global exchange realize that if they break the dollar they also break America’s military domination. Our military spending cannot be sustained without this cycle of heavy borrowing. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion, before we add on things like nuclear research. The next closest national military budget is China’s, at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

There are three categories of the balance-of-payment deficits. America imports more than it exports. This is trade. Wall Street and American corporations buy up foreign companies. This is capital movement. The third and most important balance-of-payment deficit for the past 50 years has been Pentagon spending abroad. It is primarily military spending that has been responsible for the balance-of-payments deficit for the last five decades. Look at table five in the Balance of Payments Report, published in the Survey of Current Business quarterly, and check under military spending. There you can see the deficit.

To fund our permanent war economy, we have been flooding the world with dollars. The foreign recipients turn the dollars over to their central banks for local currency. The central banks then have a problem. If a central bank does not spend the money in the United States then the exchange rate against the dollar will go up. This will penalize exporters. This has allowed America to print money without restraint to buy imports and foreign companies, fund our military expansion and ensure that foreign nations like China continue to buy our treasury bonds. This cycle appears now to be over. Once the dollar cannot flood central banks and no one buys our treasury bonds, our empire collapses. The profligate spending on the military, some $1 trillion when everything is counted, will be unsustainable.

“We will have to finance our own military spending,” Hudson warned, “and the only way to do this will be to sharply cut back wage rates. The class war is back in business. Wall Street understands that. This is why it had Bush and Obama give it $10 trillion in a huge rip-off so it can have enough money to survive.”

The desperate effort to borrow our way out of financial collapse has promoted a level of state intervention unseen since World War II. It has also led us into uncharted territory.

“We have in effect had to declare war to get us out of the hole created by our economic system,” Lanchester wrote in the London Review of Books. “There is no model or precedent for this, and no way to argue that it’s all right really, because under such-and-such a model of capitalism … there is no such model. It isn’t supposed to work like this, and there is no road-map for what’s happened.”

The cost of daily living, from buying food to getting medical care, will become difficult for all but a few as the dollar plunges. States and cities will see their pension funds drained and finally shut down. The government will be forced to sell off infrastructure, including roads and transport, to private corporations. We will be increasingly charged by privatized utilities—think Enron—for what was once regulated and subsidized. Commercial and private real estate will be worth less than half its current value. The negative equity that already plagues 25 percent of American homes will expand to include nearly all property owners. It will be difficult to borrow and impossible to sell real estate unless we accept massive losses. There will be block after block of empty stores and boarded-up houses. Foreclosures will be epidemic. There will be long lines at soup kitchens and many, many homeless. Our corporate-controlled media, already banal and trivial, will work overtime to anesthetize us with useless gossip, spectacles, sex, gratuitous violence, fear and tawdry junk politics. America will be composed of a large dispossessed underclass and a tiny empowered oligarchy that will run a ruthless and brutal system of neo-feudalism from secure compounds. Those who resist will be silenced, many by force. We will pay a terrible price, and we will pay this price soon, for the gross malfeasance of our power elite. 

11-27