Yaya Toure Kept from Representing Country

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

tourx_yayaEnglish Premier League football club Manchester City has been granted special dispensation to delay Yaya Toure’s departure for the Africa Cup of Nations. The Ivory Coast international had looked set to miss out on the Football Association Cup third round match against Manchester United and the first leg of the League Cup (Carling Cup) semifinal matchup with Liverpool, but he will now be able to feature in both matches.

Although glad he can take part in two important matches, Toure admits to feeling indifferent about the situation, with his loyalties split between club and country. The star midfielder told reporters, “Our country needs people like myself and Didier Drogba because there is a war and it’s important we do what we can for our people, but this is also a crucial time of the season. There are two crucial months coming up and now I am going to miss one of them. The team, the club and the manager need me, but I will have to go away and play in a different competition. It’s difficult as I am very focused for City and we need all the players. I have to go because my country is going through some difficult things, but I am a little bit guilty and confused about it. My loyalties are divided and I do feel a little bit sad. But City will cope.”

The tournament, hosted in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, begins on January 21st, with Ivory Coast’s first match taking place in Malabo against Sudan on January 22nd. Meanwhile, Manchester City sit atop the English Premier League with 38 points, two points ahead of cross-town rival Manchester United.

13-51

Clogged Reforms a Speed Bump for Indonesia’s Economy

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Neil Chatterjee

2011-11-22T075418Z_373471803_GM1E7BM180L01_RTRMADP_3_-ECONOMY-INDONESIA-REFORM

Commuters standing in the doorways of a train and sitting on its roof, are seen as they travel to work in the capital Jakarta November 10, 2011. Indonesia’s economy has shown strong growth this year, but failure to improve a stifling bureaucracy, to end wasteful subsidies and to systematically curb graft, could derail a growth story that has made resource-rich Indonesia into Southeast Asian’s sweet spot. Doubts are growing that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono can deliver on promised reforms that improve creaky infrastructure and creating higher-value jobs for the young in the world’s fourth most populous country. Picture taken November 10, 2011.        

REUTERS/Supri

JAKARTA, Nov 22 (Reuters) – At a time when many countries are slipping off investors’ radar screens, Indonesia is a beacon with stable finances and the fastest growth rate in Asia outside China and India.

Yet its failure to improve a stifling bureaucracy, to end wasteful subsidies and to systematically curb graft could derail a growth story that has made resource-rich Indonesia into Southeast Asian’s sweet spot.

Doubts are growing that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who’s been in office seven years and has three left, can deliver on promised reforms that would improve creaky infrastructure and creating higher-value jobs for the young in the world’s fourth most populous country.

While Indonesia has had solid growth rates during Yudhoyono’s tenure, much of that is rooted in demand from overseas for the country’s coal and other commodities.

If there’s a major global slump that depresses demand, Indonesia could fail to get needed investment because it remains a difficult place to do business and one where personalities matter, not process.

There has been no real reform of the inefficient civil service – where bribery remains rife — and no sustained progress in building institutions that enhance the business climate such as credible courts.
“The political elite in the parliament and the government are busy with politicking, ignoring an urgent and important economic agenda that needs to be dealt with,” said Syamsudin Haris, senior political analyst at the government-funded Science Research Institute.

After getting improved grades in recent years as a place for business, Indonesia’s position has slipped. In the World Bank’s 2012 rankings for ease of doing business, Indonesia was 129 out of 183 countries, down from 126 a year earlier.

Re-elected by a landslide in 2009, Yudhoyono has so far squandered a mandate to drive reforms and, according to polls, has lost popularity. His long-awaited cabinet reshuffle last month reflected a desire to shore up political support more than to initiate real change before a presidential election in 2014 which he cannot contest.

“We haven’t seen any headline reforms done, which has led to some market disappointment and also to disappointment among voters,” said Prakriti Sofat, an economist at Barclays Capital in Singapore.

“If Yudhoyono and company don’t put things in order, and there’s not a good candidate coming through in 2014, then the risk will go up.”

Having solid GDP growth by itself does not mean trends are good. Just look at India: Although growth is still relatively strong, its image as an emerging market star is losing its shine as corruption scandals, high inflation and a flagging reform agenda have dented investor confidence. Business leaders openly fret that the government may be squandering India’s chance at the big time.

Azim Premji, billionaire chairman of outsourcing giant Wipro , summed up a sense of policy paralysis in India when he recently attacked a “complete absence of decision-making among leaders in government.”

The result has been investors fleeing from Mumbai stocks , making it one of the world’s worst performing major markets in 2011.

While Indonesia has been drawing investors, “long-term, if there are better opportunities elsewhere, money will go somewhere else,” said Sofat.

Yudhoyono’s government has been often commended for good macroeconomic policies. It has maintained fiscal discipline, steadily cutting the debt-to-GDP ratio and boosting foreign reserves, while lifting its budget for infrastructure by 28 percent this year.

But the government’s administrative mechanism is often clogged. Lifting budgets is not translating into spending in the real economy. Overall, government spending grew just 2.5 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, a slower pace than in the second quarter.

“The government has never shown any reliable track record of efficient budget spending and I don’t think that will change in the foreseeable future,” said Lanang Trihardian, investment analyst at Jakarta-based Syailendra Capital, which manages around $460 million. “The impact of that is I don’t believe Indonesia can grow above the 8 percent level as seen in China and India.”

Officials often rush to spend some of a budget overhang in the fourth quarter. A much-needed project to improve woeful drainage in Jakarta recently started on the main thoroughfare — just as the torrential rainy season began, causing gridlock terrible even by the capital’s traffic standards.

“You know what the bureaucracy is like for government projects — long and complicated,” the head of Jakarta’s public works office, Ery Basworo, told a press conference called to address complaints. “For us to even get the project started in September was an achievement.”

At one time, many Indonesians felt Yudhoyono was making good gains to combat the old, damaging problem of graft, but it remains entrenched. To some citizens, corruption has worsened, in part because of decentralisation since the era of strongman Suharto.

In the remote provinces of the scattered archipelago, greater regional autonomy has sometimes resulted in corrupt local authorities to siphon off resource wealth meant for development.

Yudhoyono has declared eradicating corruption a top priority and said no official is above the law. But his recent cabinet shuffle did not signal a tougher or more effective approach. Two ministers whom the Indonesian media alleged to be tainted retained their seats.

Meanwhile, political squabbles led to a demotion of the trade minister and the narrow survival of the finance minister, both well-respected internationally.

The reshuffle “was an opportunity for Yudhoyono to have a stronger team and he missed it,” said Erman Rahman, director of economic programs in Indonesia at The Asia Foundation, a San-Francisco-headquartered nongovernmental organisation.

Another longtime impediment to business, the bloated and inefficient bureaucracy, remains a source of big frustration. “It will take more than very strong leadership to change this,” Rahman said.
So far, there are no signs of planned reforms for the police department or justice system, which are often the source of complaints.

TRACKING SPENDING FLOWS

Polls show that many Indonesians, used to Suharto’s 32-year rule, want another military man to run the country from 2014. Yudhoyono, the first directly elected president, is a retired army general but is seen by many as unable to make bold decisions to promote institutional change.

Analysts say Vice-President Boediono, a former central bank governor, is trying to improve efficiency and governance by steps such as putting into ministries computer systems that track spending flows.

In the important area of infrastructure, investors have been waiting for a long-mooted land reform bill that would speed up the acquisition of land for state-backed projects, such as $150 billion of public-private partnerships the government wants to see.

But as the end of another year approaches, it has still not been passed by a cantankerous parliament, and Yudhoyono has been silent on the issue.

Another issue that needs addressing is subsidies. With inflation significantly easing this year, the government has missed an opportunity to phase out fuel subsidies for private cars, backtracking on a planned April move and delaying it indefinitely.

The government fears hiking gasoline costing just half the price of the market rate could dampen the domestic economy or spur the kind of riots that contributed to Suharto’s fall in 1998.

Yet not ending subsidies only stores up inflationary problems for the longer-term. The “ruinous middle-class subsidies”, as one economist has dubbed them, could instead go to building roads and ports, argue economists and rating agencies who see weak infrastructure and high inflation as key risks.

“Progress on structural reforms appears to have slowed in the past year. In particular, there has been limited progress in reforming the composition of spending,” said Andrew Colquhoun, head of Asia-Pacific sovereign ratings at Fitch.

($1 = 9050 Rupiah)

(Additional reporting by Andjarsari Paramaditha in JAKARTA and Matthias Williams in NEW DELHI; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

13-48

Crescent Moon, Waning West

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The decline of Western power in the Arab world

ShowImage.ashxAFTER a slow summer, the Arab spring has turned into a turbulent autumn. The past few days have seen the gruesome end of Muammar Qaddafi, the more edifying spectacle of an orderly and open election in Tunisia (see article) and the death of Saudi Arabia’s ancient crown prince Sultan amid demands for the kingdom to modernise faster. Egypt, by far the most populous Arab country, is poised to hold its first proper election next month. Revolts and civil strife continue across the region, from Syria to Yemen and Bahrain.

For the West, whose ties to Arab dictators once gave it great clout in the Middle East, events in the region have spun way out of control.

That fact was underlined this week by the Iraqis’ insistence that all American forces must quit the country by the end of the year. Yet the West should not regret this turn of events. The power that it has lost in the short term should, in the long run, be replaced by influence born of good relations with decent governments.

On balance, the Arab world is in far better shape than it was less than a year ago. For sure, the economies of all the countries affected by the democratic upheavals have slumped. That is true even of Tunisia, which has the best education and skills in the region. But dictatorship and state control suffocated the Arab economies—even those awash with oil. Once Arab countries’ borders open up and their governments become accountable to their citizens, they are likely to grow faster. And that will not happen until they have put in place a system of government that gives a far wider degree of participation than before.

It is beginning to happen. Tunisia has led the way. Egypt promises to follow, though the generals in charge of its transition have been horribly inept of late, raising fears that the country may slip backwards to disorder or military control. But a parliament is due for election next month. It is to choose an assembly that may take a year or so to write a constitution providing for the election of a new Egyptian president. Libya, too, should have elections within a year.

Everywhere risks lapsing into bouts of chaos and strife. But this trio of north African states looks set to give a democratic fillip to other Arab countries, including those such as Syria that seem destined for a time to be soaked in blood while they strive for liberation.

The rise of political Islam is not necessarily cause for alarm among democrats in the West and the Arab world. In Tunisia an Islamist party, Nahda (“Renaissance”), that was brutally banned for decades has won a stunning victory at the polls. Egypt’s Muslim Brothers are likely to do well too. In Libya the Islamists may also be gaining ground. This rattles secular-minded Arab liberals and many well-wishing Westerners.

But a more open and tolerant brand of political Islam better suited to the modern world seems to be emerging, especially now that its proponents must compete for the favours of voters who admire the Islamists’ hostility to corruption, but dislike the sectarian and conservative attitudes that many of them expressed when they were underground.

No one can be certain that if Islamists gain power they will give it up at the ballot box, but secular rulers sometimes fail that test. And, on the whole, the threat of religious extremism with which strongmen used to justify repression has not materialised. Barring a few ungoverned pockets in Yemen and on the fringes of the Sahara, al-Qaeda has failed to benefit from the democratic wind.

It’s a local show these days

The strength of these revolutions is that they have been almost entirely home-grown. Those in Egypt and Tunisia had no outside help.

Syria’s brave protesters are on their own and may, in time, triumph.

Libya’s new rulers could not have succeeded without NATO’s bombers, but the absence of Western ground troops and of proconsuls telling the locals what to do has been in salutary contrast to what happened in Iraq eight years ago, where democracy was crudely imposed on an unprepared people (see Lexington).

After the deaths of some 150,000-plus locals and around 5,000 Americans and other foreigners, Iraq has a freely elected government. But it has not developed the habits of tolerance between communities and the independent institutions that underlie all truly successful democracies. A decade of American hard power has been less effective than a few months of peaceful protest in setting countries on the road towards representative government.

Partly because of the Iraqi adventure, America—at least its foreign policy—remains heartily disliked by Arabs across the region. That is only slightly less true under Barack Obama than it was under George Bush. America’s unpopularity stems partly from its backing of Israel and the continuing humiliation of the Palestinians, partly from its willingness to use force to get its way and partly from its history of supporting useful Arab dictators. Prince Sultan’s death may make this last point particularly salient. If the reactionary Prince Nayef becomes the crown prince and de facto regent, America may struggle to maintain an alliance with him alongside friendships with the Arab world’s nascent democracies.

Yet in the decline of Western power lie the seeds of hope for healthier relations in the future. Although the Arab world’s revolutionaries in general, and the Islamists in particular, are unlikely to hail the West as a model, they seem to be moving towards open political and economic systems. Nobody in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya is arguing for a Saudi Arabian, Iranian or even Chinese model. Arab students, businessmen and tourists in their thousands still choose to go to the West for their studies, their deals and their fun.

The prospects for Western influence in the Arab world are good. But in the future it will be won through education, investment and, when requested, advice on building up institutions. Such levers do not work as quickly as those that were forged from deals with unpopular and unstable dictators. But, in the end, they are likely to prove more reliable.

13-45

Pakistan Awaits Boxing Championships

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Compiled by Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

boxing in pakistanThe Pakistani national boxing team, led by Haroon Khan, younger brother of junior welterweight champion of the world Amir Khan, has trained and is ready to take part in the World Boxing Championships scheduled to be held from September 25th through October 8th in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Three Pakistani boxers and three officials will depart from the country’s southern port city of Karachi for Azerbaijan on Thursday. Secretary of the Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF), Akram Khan indicated that Haroon Khan would directly reach Baku from London to join the Pakistani team.

The younger Khan will compete in the 52kg category, Mohammad Waseem in the 49kg category, Syed Mohammad Hussain in the 56kg category and Aamir Khan in the 64kg category. The boxers who qualify for the quarterfinals of this event will qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. The PBF secretary expressed optimism that the four national boxers would get at least a couple of berths in 2012 London Olympics by performing well in the world event.

None of Pakistan’s boxers were able to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Prior to that, Pakistan had five fighters – Mehrullah Lassi, Sohail Baloch, Asghar Ali Shah, Faisal Karim and Ahmed Ali Khan- competing in the 2004 Athens Olympics, but none advanced beyond the second round of the competition.

Pakistan won their only Olympic medal in boxing at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul when Syed Hussain Shah brought home the bronze medal in the men’s middleweight division. The 2012 Summer Games in London present a great opportunity for Haroon Khan to win a medal for the country of his heritage, Pakistan, and to shine in front of his adopted country, England.

13-39

Good Will to All, With a Side of Soft-Serve

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dan Barry

Choc medcone, 8/1/02, 12:22 PM,  8C, 3153x5809 (2046+858), 100%, chrome 6 stops,  1/60 s, R122.8, G89.6, B111.5KENHORST, Pa.—This American summer, the heat is the least of it. A pummeled economy. A credit-rating embarrassment. More tarmac ceremonies for dead war heroes. Tornadoes, floods and other disasters, including Congress.

Presidential aspirants stalking Iowa like Barbie and Ken zombies.

Clearly, the country needs to pull off the road and take a break. It needs to treat itself to a soft-serve cone, chocolate-dipped and melting so quickly as to demand a tongue’s sculpting attention, while tiny tree creatures sing their carpe diem serenade, and reassurance comes with a stray evening breeze.

A tasty-twirly-twisty place has to be around here somewhere. There always is.

There’s one. In the Kenhorst Plaza, just outside the small city of Reading, a Dairy Queen shares asphalt space with a Dollar Tree, a Sears hardware store, a Fashion Bug, a food market, a pawn shop and a few vacant storefronts. It is the neon beacon of comfort in a tired commercial tableau.

Inside, though, this Dairy Queen seems different from the 5,000 others lighting up the country’s summer nights. It has the standard freezer filled with Dilly Bars, and the black-and-white photographs evoking a past that includes the first Dairy Queen, in prison-centric Joliet, Ill., in 1940. But plaques and letters and children’s handwritten notes cover nearly every inch of available wall, all praising someone clearly without Pennsylvania Dutch roots; someone named Hamid.

The Cumru Elementary School thanks Hamid. The Mifflin Park Elementary School thanks Hamid. The Brecknock Elementary School thanks Hamid. The Governor Mifflin intermediate, middle and high schools thank Hamid. The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, the soccer leagues and the baseball leagues, the Crime Alert program, the home for adults with mental retardation — they all thank Hamid.
And here comes the owner, Hamid Chaudhry, in the midst of another 80-hour workweek, fresh from curling another soft-serve. As he makes his way to a corner table, customers hunched over chicken-strip baskets and sundaes call out his name, and he calls back theirs.

“Hi, Tracey; I have that check for you.” “Bye, Mrs. Brady. All good for the homecoming?” “Bye, Mr. Rush. How was the Blizzard? Want another one?”

With such familiarity, you might think that Mr. Chaudhry, 40, grew up rooting for the Reading Phillies and taking late-night rides up to the iconic Pagoda on Mount Penn. But in words inflected by his Pakistani roots and slight speech impediment, he explains that he has lived in southeastern Pennsylvania only since the uncertain year of 2002, not long after Sept. 11.

Then, as a couple of local officials he knows catch up by the window, and a former state police officer he knows picks up a frozen cake, and a Mennonite family, regular customers, eat his soft-serve out on the patio, Hamid from the Dairy Queen tells his American story.

He was the youngest of six in a Muslim family in Karachi. His father, an accountant, was physically and mentally damaged after being hit by a car; his mother, a schoolteacher, took care of her husband and insisted that her baby go to America for a better life. That meant Chicago, where a brother was driving a cab while studying to become a college professor.

Mr. Chaudhry took several years to earn a college degree in finance, partly because of language difficulties, and partly because he was always working — mostly at the celebrated Drake Hotel. He was the unseen busboy, working his way up to assistant manager for room service and minibars, serving Caesar salad to President-elect Bill Clinton, delivering unsatisfactory apple pancakes to Jack Nicholson, tending to the dietary needs of a guest named Lassie. The Drake became an immersion course in Western pop culture.

He became an American citizen and started a career in financial-accounting software, eventually moving to New York, where he got fired. (“Wall Street wasn’t for me,” he says.) But he did meet a medical student named Sana Syed. Their first meeting was with her parents; the second was for a coffee at Starbucks; the third a brunch at a diner; and, finally, a dinner date at an Outback Steakhouse.
After they married in 2001, she landed a residency at the Reading Hospital and Medical Center. While his wife worked 90 hours a week, Mr. Chaudhry mustered the nerve to ask the owner of the local Dairy Queen, at Kenhorst Plaza, whether he wanted to sell. When he heard yes, Mr. Chaudhry scraped, mortgaged and borrowed to meet the asking price of $413,000.

He completed his classroom training at Dairy Queen’s headquarters in Minnesota, where he studied everything from labor management to the proper way to hand a customer a Blizzard. On June 27, 2003, he finally opened the doors to his Dairy Queen, but he was so jittery, intent on making every customer feel extra, extra special, that one employee quit on the spot. Oh, and the soft-serve machine malfunctioned.

Once he found his footing, Mr. Chaudhry decided to give back to the community, and held an elementary-school fund-raiser in which he provided the parent-teacher organization with 25 percent of the sales.

Though the $450 seemed a generous amount, the publicity he received did not seem right to him.

“It felt like I got more in return than what I was giving,” he says.

Just like that, the Dairy Queen began to become the center of communal good, notwithstanding its contribution to the high obesity rate recorded among adults in Berks County. Mr. Chaudhry immersed himself in fund-raising, splitting everything 50-50 so that he only covered his costs. Good for promoting the business, yes, but also good for Hamid.

Fund-raisers for a father of four with cancer; for the Children’s Miracle Network; for soccer teams and Little League teams and the widow of a deputy sheriff recently killed in a shootout — he was a regular customer who liked Blizzards. Sponsorship of car washes and high school homecomings and blood drives four times a year. (Donate a pint of blood and get a $20 frozen cake.) Free parties held at every local elementary school, as well as at a Bible school run by the Mennonite church.

“My customers have made me well-to-do,” Mr. Chaudhry explains. “They patronize me, so why wouldn’t I give back?”

He gets up to hand a check to Tracey Naugel, the president of one of the local parent-teacher organizations who sits at a nearby table, enjoying a chocolate cone. Typical Hamid, she later says. She recently helped to organize a modest fund-raising event at Dairy Queen for a children’s swim team. “Hamid gave me a check for $1,000,” she says.

“And I know we didn’t make $1,000 that night.”

Every community has its magnetizing place: a post office, a diner, a coffee shop. Here it is the Dairy Queen, Ms. Naugel says, mostly because of Mr. Chaudhry. He randomly shows up at schools with frozen treats for teachers. He once set up a petting zoo outside his store. He even bought his own dunk tank to use on the patio. He tries.

“He knows everybody and everybody knows Hamid,” Ms. Naugel says. “We’re so lucky to have him.”

The soft-serve has been a welcome balm, but it is time to toss those balled-up napkins and get back on the nerve-rattling road. Time to say goodbye to Mr. Chaudhry, who can tell you that younger people prefer Oreo Blizzards and older people prefer dipped cones, but he cannot say more about his motives than that he is lucky, thank God.

Just living in Pennsylvania, he says, with a wife, two children, a thriving business, and many friends. Hamid at the Dairy Queen is home.

13-34

Palestine: “An Invisible Nation” at UC Irvine

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The University of California in Irvine held a week long educational event titled: Palestine: An Invisible Nation. Beginning on the 5th of May and lasting through the 12th, multiple events took place illuminating the plight of the Palestinians under the boot of Israel. Well known speakers including Alison Weir of If Americans Knew; Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, and University of California in Berkeley Senior Lecturer Hatem Bazian, spoke movingly to their audiences. Topics covered included Anti Semitism: The Zionist Facade; BDS: Apartheid ends Here, and Taking Bullets for Palestine.

The latter was particularly impressive. The presenter, a young Jewish Israeli citizen, Matan Cohen, spoke in a popular outdoor area known as The Flagpole. Shortly after he began to speak in front of the waiting audience others walking along this popular commons joined him. When he was about half way through his presentation a group entered the area carrying Israeli flags and placards supporting Israel. They walked in a circle around the speaker and the perimeter of his audience. A number of them spoke out during the presentation, and Mr. Cohen had to ask them to hold their comments until he was done, and he would enjoy addressing them during the question and answer session.

Mr. Cohen said that when one country occupies another, the occupied country becomes invisible. He called on young people in Palestine to march on Israeli roadblocks and roads marked “For Jews Only” on the 15th of May – the anniversary of the Nakba.

“As an Israeli Jew I stand with my Palestinian brothers”.

The Israelis say that BDS is destabilizing. They say that democracy is destabilizing. “How”, he asked, “can anyone living in a democracy say that?”

He said that Israel wants a democratic state for Jews and a Jewish state for Palestinians. While he referred to himself as an optimist, he warned that Operation Cast Lead might have been only the beginning.

“There seem to be a lot of hecklers” said one young woman.

“No” said a woman standing next to her. “They continuously circle the area to make themselves look like a larger crowd than they are”.

He spoke of the onslaught of repression within Israel against non-Jews.

After the event, students in the crowd spoke among themselves, discussing his speech and the calm and intelligent manner he used while addressing the hecklers. A recurrent theme was admiration for his courage in speaking  out and working for justice while living in Israel.

13-21

Pushing Freedom

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves”. 

~Abraham Lincoln

freedomThe word “freedom” is one that is being heard more and more often in the Middle East whether it is in the media or brought up in simple conversation.  Countries like Egypt and Tunisia have already tasted the sweet tang of freedom in recent months. Other countries, like Bahrain and Libya, are still waiting to savor even a morsel of freedom in their countries. While certain parts of the Middle East have yet to provide full throttle freedom for its denizens there is one country that has been a beacon of light for a primary liberty, freedom of speech, in the Middle East for many years.

The State of Kuwait has topped the annual Freedom House “Freedom of the Press Survey” for several years running and has been heralded as having one of the most free media sectors in the region. However, this year, Kuwait was toppled from first position by Israel and further pushed down a notch by Lebanon to take third position.

It’s not surprising that Kuwait lost the top spot given that the past several months have seen quite an amount of political turmoil in the country with some media outlets not only reporting the news but also becoming part of it. At least one television station was ransacked in the pasts several months and one writer jailed over public statements they made which were deemed to be inflammatory.

Members of the public in Kuwait have also been prone to having their freedom of speech impugned as of late. This past January a Kuwait-based blogger was sued by an international eatery over writing a negative food review. Fortunately, the blogger proved victorious as the case was thrown out of court.  However, this past week a group of Kuwait University students found themselves simmering in a pot of “hot water” over comments made about one of their teachers on the social-networking site Facebook.

According to the teacher, who chose to press charges, the students posted derogatory comments about her teaching methods on a personal page. Other students chimed in about their experiences and it snowballed from there. Authorities investigated the incident and the case was seemingly closed until the teacher demanded punitive measures from the university’s governing panel. All of the students, some of which are set to graduate in the coming month, involved in posting the comments online face expulsion. In a counterclaim, a spokesman for the student union known as ‘The Democratic Circle’ has retorted, “Freedom of speech is a fundamental right granted by the Constitution. The fact that a university instructor does not respect this premise signifies the existence of a larger issue and jeopardizes the university’s reputation as an educational institute.”

Only time will tell if Kuwait can regain its status as the exemplar for free speech in the region. But one thing is for sure, censorship and transgressions against freedom of speech are both meals best served up cold. 

13-21

Islamic Relief Malaria Conference

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

It is easy to forget that people suffer and die unnecessarily from disease as well as from natural and man made disasters, though the latter make the headlines. It is even easier to believe, as many in this country do, that the disease will never impact their lives. Fortunately their are organizations, impelled by their faith, that address this issue. One of them is Islamic Relief.

Islamic Relief USA, one of the world’s foremost charities, held its second annual Malaria Conference this past Sunday in Anaheim, Ca. Titled: Bite the Bug, the event included workshops with well known and informative speakers and an end of Conference dinner.

The Conference was both educational and a call to action. The theme of the Conference was: Educate, Communicate and Eradicate.

The event began with a welcome by Mohammed Mertaban. He told the audience that Malaria is a scourge that effects the entire world. Though its exact time of origin remains unknown, it has impacted mankind since the beginning of history. Children constitute a disproportionate number of Malaria’s victims.

Workshops were: Malaria: Beyond A Disease; Malaria Firsthand: Effect on Community and Family, and Eradicate Malaria: As little as $10 can Save A Life.

Dr. Faisal Qazi, a neurologist, began his address by thanking Islamic Relief for two reasons: first for embracing the cause of eradicating Malaria, and second, for recognizing the global impact. He said that one must not only address the epidemiological aspects of the disease – morbidity and mortality – but the economic and social burden the disease imposes.

He cited imperatives from the Holy Quran – tools in any battle fought by Muslims: wisdom, compassion, justice and excellence.

Imam Siraj Wahaj, one of the most revered Islamic figures today, cited some of the many instances of compassion on the part of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). “Let us have the same compassion as our Prophet (s).”

He asked the audience to study American history, particularly African American history. Imam Wahaj cited Medgar Evers, an African American killed in the early 1960’s for speaking out against the policy of the South which kept his people from voting.

With the Muslim vote “You have to power to do something about government”, he continued. Muslims have a right to guide this country and to demand more money for Malaria relief.
“I have learned so much about Malaria and its effects” said one young woman toward the end of the workshop.

Malaria, while it is a global concern, particularly affects people in Central and South America; Southeast Asia; Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean. Malaria can be cured, and it can be prevented. It is a blood disease caused by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. It only takes one bite to cause infection and probable, in the absence of treatment, death.

The United Nations has estimated that Malaria could be eradicated by 2015 with the proper international effort. Islamic relief would like to see that happen sooner.

Islamic Relief has offices around the world and works not only with people afflicted with disease but also with people who are the victims of natural and man made disasters. Islamic Relief partners with many other charities both international and local and has NGO status with the United Nations.. The group serves all people regardless of their nationality, race or religion. Islamic Relief has been in Haiti in the earthquake’s aftermath; Pakistan after the earthquake and floods; Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina; Libya during the current crisis; Republic of the Congo in the aftermath of the recent renewed decades old civil war, and Darfur with its many internally displaced people. The foregoing are but a small portion of the places and times where the presence of Islamic Relief has made and continues to make a difference in saving lives and improving the quality of existence.

To access Islamic Relief’s web site and find more about the organization, please visit: www.islamicreliefusa.org.  To learn more about Malaria and to donate to that cause or the numerous others on the web site, please follow the appropriate links.

13-19

Why We Won’t Leave Afghanistan or Iraq

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Yes, We Could… Get Out!

By Tom Engelhardt

2010-05-05T120909Z_1306706484_GM1E6551JSJ01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan man smiles after he received food aid in Kabul May 5, 2010. The Afghan Ministry of Defense distributed food aid such as wheat, cooking oil, sugar and beans to 220 poor families.        

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Yes, we could. No kidding. We really could withdraw our massive armies, now close to 200,000 troops combined, from Afghanistan and Iraq (and that’s not even counting our similarly large stealth army of private contractors, which helps keep the true size of our double occupations in the shadows). We could undoubtedly withdraw them all reasonably quickly and reasonably painlessly.

Not that you would know it from listening to the debates in Washington or catching the mainstream news. There, withdrawal, when discussed at all, seems like an undertaking beyond the waking imagination. In Iraq alone, all those bases to dismantle and millions of pieces of equipment to send home in a draw-down operation worthy of years of intensive effort, the sort of thing that makes the desperate British evacuation from Dunkirk in World War II look like a Sunday stroll in the park. And that’s only the technical side of the matter.

Then there’s the conviction that anything but a withdrawal that would make molasses in January look like the hare of Aesopian fable — at least two years in Iraq, five to ten in Afghanistan — would endanger the planet itself, or at least its most important country: us.

Without our eternally steadying hand, the Iraqis and Afghans, it’s taken for granted, would be lost. Without the help of U.S. forces, for example, would the Maliki government ever have been able to announce the death of the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq? Not likely, whereas the U.S. has knocked off its leadership twice, first in 2006, and again, evidently, last week.

Of course, before our troops entered Baghdad in 2003 and the American occupation of that country began, there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq. But that’s a distant past not worth bringing up. And forget as well the fact that our invasions and wars have proven thunderously destructive, bringing chaos, misery, and death in their wake, and turning, for instance, the health care system of Iraq, once considered an advanced country in the Arab world, into a disaster zone(that — it goes without saying — only we Americans are now equipped to properly fix). Similarly, while regularly knocking off Afghan civilians at checkpoints on their roads and in their homes, at their celebrations and at work, we ignore the fact that our invasion and occupation opened the way for the transformation of Afghanistan into the first all-drug-crop agricultural nation and so the planet’s premier narco-nation. It’s not just that the country now has an almost total monopoly on growing opium poppies (hence heroin), but according to the latest U.N. report, it’s now cornering the hashish market as well. That’s diversification for you.

It’s a record to stand on and, evidently, to stay on, even to expand on. We’re like the famed guest who came to dinner, broke a leg, wouldn’t leave, and promptly took over the lives of the entire household. Only in our case, we arrived, broke someone else’s leg, and then insisted we had to stay and break many more legs, lest the world become a far more terrible place.

It’s known and accepted in Washington that, if we were to leave Afghanistan precipitously, the Taliban would take over, al-Qaeda would be back big time in no time, and then more of our giant buildings would obviously bite the dust. And yet, the longer we’ve stayed and the more we’ve surged, the more resurgent the Taliban has become, the more territory this minority insurgency has spread into. If we stay long enough, we may, in fact, create the majority insurgency we claim to fear.

It’s common wisdom in the U.S. that, before we pull our military out, Afghanistan, like Iraq, must be secured as a stable enough ally, as well as at least a fragile junior democracy, which consigns real departure to some distant horizon. And that sense of time may help explain the desire of U.S. officials to hinder Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attempts to negotiate with the Taliban and other rebel factions now. Washington, it seems, favors a “reconciliation process” that will last years and only begin after the U.S. military seizes the high ground on the battlefield.

The reality that dare not speak its name in Washington is this: no matter what might happen in an Afghanistan that lacked us — whether (as in the 1990s) the various factions there leaped for each other’s throats, or the Taliban established significant control, though (as in the 1990s) not over the whole country — the stakes for Americans would be minor in nature. Not that anyone of significance here would say such a thing.

Tell me, what kind of a stake could Americans really have in one of the most impoverished lands on the planet, about as distant from us as could be imagined, geographically, culturally, and religiously? Yet, as if to defy commonsense, we’ve been fighting there — by proxy and directly — on and off for 30 years now with no end in sight.

Most Americans evidently remain convinced that “safe haven” there was the key to al-Qaeda’s success, and that Afghanistan was the only place in which that organization could conceivably have planned 9/11, even though perfectly real planning also took place in Hamburg, Germany, which we neither bombed nor invaded.

In a future in which our surging armies actually succeeded in controlling Afghanistan and denying it to al-Qaeda, what about Somalia, Yemen, or, for that matter, England? It’s now conveniently forgotten that the first, nearly successful attempt to take down one of the World Trade Center towers in 1993 was planned in the wilds of New Jersey. Had the Bush administration been paying the slightest attention on September 10, 2001, or had reasonable precautions been taken, including locking the doors of airplane cockpits, 9/11 and so the invasion of Afghanistan would have been relegated to the far-fetched plot of some Tom Clancy novel.

Vietnam and Afghanistan

Have you noticed, by the way, that there’s always some obstacle in the path of withdrawal? Right now, in Iraq, it’s the aftermath of the March 7th election, hailed as proof that we brought democracy to the Middle East and so, whatever our missteps, did the right thing. As it happens, the election, as many predicted at the time, has led to a potentially explosive gridlock and has yet to come close to resulting in a new governing coalition. With violence on the rise, we’re told, the planned drawdown of American troops to the 50,000 level by August is imperiled. Already, the process, despite repeated assurances, seems to be proceeding slowly.

And yet, the thought that an American withdrawal should be held hostage to events among Iraqis all these years later, seems curious. There’s always some reason to hesitate — and it never has to do with us. Withdrawal would undoubtedly be far less of a brain-twister if Washington simply committed itself wholeheartedly to getting out, and if it stopped convincing itself that the presence of the U.S. military in distant lands was essential to a better world (and, of course, to a controlling position on planet Earth).

The annals of history are well stocked with countries which invaded and occupied other lands and then left, often ingloriously and under intense pressure. But they did it.

It’s worth remembering that, in 1975, when the South Vietnamese Army collapsed and we essentially fled the country, we abandoned staggering amounts of equipment there. Helicopters were pushed over the sides of aircraft carriers to make space; barrels of money were burned at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; military bases as large as anything we’ve built in Iraq or Afghanistan fell into North Vietnamese hands; and South Vietnamese allies were deserted in the panic of the moment. Nonetheless, when there was no choice, we got out. Not elegantly, not nicely, not thoughtfully, not helpfully, but out.

Keep in mind that, then too, disaster was predicted for the planet, should we withdraw precipitously — including rolling communist takeovers of country after country, the loss of “credibility” for the American superpower, and a murderous bloodbath in Vietnam itself. All were not only predicted by Washington’s Cassandras, but endlessly cited in the war years as reasons not to leave. And yet here was the shock that somehow never registered among all the so-called lessons of Vietnam: nothing of that sort happened afterwards.

Today, Vietnam is a reasonably prosperous land with friendly relations with its former enemy, the United States. After Vietnam, no other “dominos” fell and there was no bloodbath in that country. Of course, it could have been different — and elsewhere, sometimes, it has been. But even when local skies darken, the world doesn’t end.

And here’s the truth of the matter: the world won’t end, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in the United States, if we end our wars and withdraw. The sky won’t fall, even if the U.S. gets out reasonably quickly, even if subsequently blood is spilled and things don’t go well in either country.

We got our troops there remarkably quickly. We’re quite capable of removing them at a similar pace. We could, that is, leave. There are, undoubtedly, better and worse ways of doing this, ways that would further penalize the societies we’ve invaded, and ways that might be of some use to them, but either way we could go.

A Brief History of American Withdrawal

Of course, there’s a small problem here. All evidence indicates that Washington doesn’t want to withdraw — not really, not from either region. It has no interest in divesting itself of the global control-and-influence business, or of the military-power racket. That’s hardly surprising since we’re talking about a great imperial power and control (or at least imagined control) over the planet’s strategic oil lands.

And then there’s another factor to consider: habit. Over the decades, Washington has gotten used to staying. The U.S. has long been big on arriving, but not much for departure. After all, 65 years later, striking numbers of American forces are still garrisoning the two major defeated nations of World War II, Germany and Japan. We still have about three dozen military bases on the modest-sized Japanese island of Okinawa, and are at this very moment fighting tooth and nail, diplomatically speaking, not to be forced to abandon one of them. The Korean War was suspended in an armistice 57 years ago and, again, striking numbers of American troops still garrison South Korea.

Similarly, to skip a few decades, after the Serbian air campaign of the late 1990s, the U.S. built-up the enormous Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo with its seven-mile perimeter, and we’re still there. After Gulf War I, the U.S. either built or built up military bases and other facilities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, as well as the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. And it’s never stopped building up its facilities throughout the Gulf region. In this sense, leaving Iraq, to the extent we do, is not quite as significant a matter as sometimes imagined, strategically speaking. It’s not as if the U.S. military were taking off for Dubuque.

A history of American withdrawal would prove a brief book indeed. Other than Vietnam, the U.S. military withdrew from the Philippines under the pressure of “people power” (and a local volcano) in the early 1990s, and from Saudi Arabia, in part under the pressure of Osama bin Laden. In both countries, however, it has retained or regained a foothold in recent years. President Ronald Reagan pulled American troops out of Lebanon after a devastating 1983 suicide truck bombing of a Marines barracks there, and the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, functionally expelled the U.S. from Manta Air Base in 2008 when he refused to renew its lease. (“We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorian base,” he said slyly.) And there were a few places like the island of Grenada, invaded in 1983, that simply mattered too little to Washington to stay.

Unfortunately, whatever the administration, the urge to stay has seemed a constant. It’s evidently written into Washington’s DNA and embedded deep in domestic politics where sure-to-come “cut and run” charges and blame for “losing” Iraq or Afghanistan would cow any administration. Not surprisingly, when you look behind the main news stories in both Iraq and Afghanistan, you can see signs of the urge to stay everywhere.

In Iraq, while President Obama has committed himself to the withdrawal of American troops by the end of 2011, plenty of wiggle room remains. Already, the New York Times reports, General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in that country, is lobbying Washington to establish “an Office of Military Cooperation within the American Embassy in Baghdad to sustain the relationship after… Dec. 31, 2011.” (“We have to stay committed to this past 2011,” Odierno is quoted as saying. “I believe the administration knows that. I believe that they have to do that in order to see this through to the end. It’s important to recognize that just because U.S. soldiers leave, Iraq is not finished.”)

If you want a true gauge of American withdrawal, keep your eye on the mega-bases the Pentagon has built in Iraq since 2003, especially gigantic Balad Air Base (since the Iraqis will not, by the end of 2011, have a real air force of their own), and perhaps Camp Victory, the vast, ill-named U.S. base and command center abutting Baghdad International Airport on the outskirts of the capital. Keep an eye as well on the 104-acre U.S. embassy built along the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad. At present, it’s the largest “embassy” on the planet and represents something new in “diplomacy,” being essentially a military-base-cum-command-and-control-center for the region. It is clearly going nowhere, withdrawal or not.

In fact, recent reports indicate that in the near future “embassy” personnel, including police trainers, military officials connected to that Office of Coordination, spies, U.S. advisors attached to various Iraqi ministries, and the like, may be more than doubled from the present staggering staff level of 1,400 to 3,000 or above. (The embassy, by the way, has requested $1,875 billion for its operations in fiscal year 2011, and that was assuming a staffing level of only 1,400.) Realistically, as long as such an embassy remains at Ground Zero Iraq, we will not have withdrawn from that country.

Similarly, we have a giant U.S. embassy in Kabul (being expanded) and another mega-embassy being built in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. These are not, rest assured, signs of departure. Nor is the fact that in Afghanistan and Pakistan, everything war-connected seems to be surging, even if in ways often not noticed here. President Obama’s surge decision has been described largely in terms of those 30,000-odd extra troops he’s sending in, not in terms of the shadow army of 30,000 or more extra private contractors taking on various military roles (and dying off the books in striking numbers); nor the extra contingent of CIA types and the escalating drone war they are overseeing in the Pakistani tribal borderlands; nor the quiet doubling of Special Operations units assigned to hunt down the Taliban leadership; nor the extra State department officials for the “civilian surge”; nor, for instance, the special $10 million “pool” of funds that up to 120 U.S. Special Operations forces, already in those borderlands training the paramilitary Pakistani Frontier Corps, may soon have available to spend “winning hearts and minds.”

Perhaps it’s historically accurate to say that great powers generally leave home, head elsewhere armed to the teeth, and then experience the urge to stay. With our trillion-dollar-plus wars and yearly trillion-dollar-plus national-security budget, there’s a lot at stake in staying, and undoubtedly in fighting two, three, many Afghanistans (and Iraqs) in the years to come.

Sooner or later, we will leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s too late in the history of this planet to occupy them forever and a day. Better sooner.

Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”).

12-19

The Pakistani (Acting) Consul General For the West Coast of the United States

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Muhammad Khalid Ejaz

Los Angeles–April 10th–My last two articles came out of a discussion with the Indian (former) Ambassador to Afghanistan.  I was fortunate to hear a speech of the (Acting) Consul-General of Pakistan to the Western United State at the South Asian Studies Association (S.A.S.A) banquet here at U.S.C. (the University of Southern California).  His comments balanced those of Ambassador Maukapadya in Berkeley a month before.

Dr. Ejaz stated that Pakistan was the fifth most populous country in the world, but because of political disruptions over the land, (there has not been an accurate census since 1991, but it is safe to say that in early 1994, the inhabitants of Pakistan were appropriately estimated at 126 million, making it the ninth most populous country in the world although its land area, however, ranks thirty-second among nations.  Thus, Pakistan, then, had about 2 percent of the world’s population living on less than 0.7 percent of the world’s land. The population growth rate is among the world’s highest, officially assessed at 3.1 percent per annum, but privately considered to be closer to 3.3 percent for each year. Pakistan is assumed to have reached 150 million citizens ten years ago, and to have contributed to 4 percent of the world’s growth which is predicted to double by 2022.)  All this past paragraph demonstrates is that the  Consul-General’s approximation of Pakistan’s place in population today in relation to the demographics of the world probably is close to correct.

Strategically, his nation is at the intersection of four vital locales to the U.S. and to the developing world.  That is both Central and South Asia, and the Middle East and with China on its border connected by the Karkoram Highway.  Several of these regions are either oil/gas rich, or require Pakistan’s help to transport this energy to their ever-expanding economies.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Rawapindi was America’s most allied of (trusted) allies.  Now, NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) fulfills that function for Washington. 

In the 1980s, the two countries joined forces to help defeat the Russians in Afghanistan, but the District of Columbia deserted not only the Pakistanis, (but the Afghani and foreign fighters in the Hindu Kush Mountains. With the retreat of the Russians, and the collapse of their empire [the U.S.S.R, or [the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic], and [the whole “Second World” with it]), a five-way Civil War developed in Afghanistan, and eventually the rise of Taliban.) 

Thus, (your author consigns the blame the roots of 9/11 on the Reagan Administration ill-advised policy of not providing development aid and skills to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This, in turn, has lead to our current War in the Pakistani-Afghanistani Mountains.  That is why your writer designates Reagan to have been one of the worst of American Presidents instead of one of the best which the vulgar declare him to be in the Metropole [the Center of Empire] here.  Besides Washington’s airport being named after, there is a movement to put his face on the fifty dollar bill!).

After the ninth of 9th of September 2001 Islamabad was (forced) to become a front line State once again.  Ejaz asserted our allied relationship with the U.S.A. should evolve into a more equitable one.  We should have a “normalized” relationship with both those in the West, (and with the Taliban)!

We (Pakistan) are, also, under the threat of terrorism whose roots reside along the Durand Line.  It is a porous border that dives a subnationality (the Pashtoons) that should have a right to regularly cross that frontier to visit their relatives on the other side!  We cannot seal the borderland where the tribes exist in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It is true, though, many things that happen on the Afghani side of the border deeply impact the Northwest Frontier Provinces.

With this porous borderland, there are fighters who cross into our country for sanctuary.  Thus, despite the West’s accusations, Rawalpindi has suffered high casualties!  Muhammad Khalid Ejaz called on the U.S.A. to become more involved with development in the Af-Pak territories.  There is a serious problem between Pakistan and India, too, over water rights; the great powers could help negotiate this.  Still, Pakistan, as a nuclear power, has issues with nuclear India.  He affirmed that Kashmir can be settled!

He concluded that the U.S.A. has a role in the Afghan conflict, but the tribes have to have their traditional rights of cross-border movement.

12-19

Upgrade: Islamic Finance 2.0

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Rushdi Siddiqui, Gulfnews.com

sharia_finance_dollar Future of Industry lies in move from sharia-compliant to sharia-based approach

Dubai : We are at an important crossroads in Islamic finance and banking, and I want to explore, in this column, the future of Islamic finance.

We hear about 1.5 billion Muslims, but has Islamic finance benefited the ‘man on the street?’ What is so ‘Islamic’ about Islamic finance?

Have we simply been putting an Islamic wrapper around conventional structures and products and placing a blessing them?

I’ve been in Islamic finance for more than a decade. This inaugural article will set the non-technical tone for the important areas I want to explore in the future, and I encourage the readers to comment as the Islamic finance community’s collective psyche, experience and insight will benefit the industry.

We in Islamic finance want to see a group blueprint of the industry going forward, including the building of two-way bridges — be it with South-east Asia or with Group of 20 (G20) countries.

Islamic finance is, at one level, for all those interested in “boring finance”, asset or project backed/based financing and non-turbo-charged investing (without derivatives and excessive leverage) in selected real economic sectors.

Islam does not necessarily have a monopoly on ethics because these are common shared values with other religions and philosophies. However, the former has ‘codified,’ via scholars, screens and structures into financial contracts having links to permissible real economic activities.

Sharia compliance

Among the 57 Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) countries, not one Muslim country in the last 40 years has ‘Islamised’ its economy for general acceptance; not Sudan, Pakistan or Iran.

The $1 trillion (Dh3.67 trillion) industry operates in a world economy of inter-connected interest rates, debt and other similar factors, hence Sharia scholars have allowed a permissible amount of impurity as long as the industry moves towards removing such impermissibilities.

Put differently, scholars, as Sharia gatekeepers, are seeking progress and prosperity, which is different from modernisation. Thus the reference rates in Islamic mortgages, syndicated loans, sukuks and other financing are the efficient cost of capital credit of the London interbank offered rate (Libor) and/or the Treasury.
However, where is the industry with a methodology for an Islamic interbank offer rate (Ibor)?

There are over 555 Islamic funds with $35 billion (Dh129 billion) of assets under management, and, if we focus on Islamic equity funds, the question that comes to mind is this: ‘What is the link between a Sharia-screened company from any of the five index providers to Islamic finance or a Muslim country?’

The screening results in a universe that can be deemed as a style of investing — ‘non-financial, low debt social-ethical investing.’

Thus, some of the Sharia-compliant companies include Microsoft, BP Amoco, Pfizer (with a bias towards energy, health care, and technology), yet what is their link or connection to Islamic finance?

Could such companies and, in the aggregate, present day Sharia-compliant Islamic indices, be deemed an economic indicator of Islamic finance in a Muslim country? We now need to look at Sharia-based Islamic indices.

IFIs and sukuks

We hear and read about 300 Islamic financial institutions (IFIs) in 75 countries, and the need for larger balance sheets to compete against the ‘big boys’ on the project finance deal table for instance, hence, a call for the consolidation or the creation of established Islamic mega-banks.

A concern with such an Islamic mega-bank revolves round whether it poses a systemic and confidence risk in the home country as concentrated exposure without many compliant-hedging mechanisms?

Is there a need to think about safety nets and stress tests before central banks allows for an Islamic mega-bank?

The sukuk market, roughly equated to Islamic bonds, is now worth over $107 billion, having been the locomotive of Islamic finance during the petro-liquidity spike.

However, recent bankruptcies, defaults, and restructuring exercises, have been portrayed by western media as the beginning of the end of Islamic finance.

In an embryonic industry, like the 40-year-old Islamic finance, these growing pains are welcomed and will actually strengthen the industry, as precedents become known and down-side risk is better understood.

Sukuk growth and development appear to be following the ‘path’ of the Eurobond market, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and General Electric (GE) sukuk issuances in late 2009 underline the merits of such financing in turbulence.

Contribution factor

We have a number of Islamic finance conferences, and a number of Islamic finance awards.

It is often strange to see or read when different conference organisers or magazines have, for instance, a ‘best Islamic bank’ award, and each names a different bank.

It has been said in certain quarters that some of these awards are driven by sponsorships rather than actual votes or, ideally speaking, real contribution to the industry.

At this stage in Islamic finance, awards should emphasise ‘contribution’ and not ‘best,’ as that latter implies mature and connected Islamic financial institutions globally.

The foremost contribution to Islamic finance has been made by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Governor Zeti Akhthar Aziz, and, obviously, the real Sharia scholars, regulators like the United Kingdom’s FSA, central banks like the Central bank of Bahrain, and conventional banks with windows and subsidiaries.

Shaikh Mohammad, a standalone stakeholder, raised the profile of Islamic finance globally via the Dubai brand before oil reached $140 a barrel, and Zeti, as a globe-trotting ambassador, made her a separate asset class in Islamic finance.

They have established the awareness and macro framework, and now the industry has to move towards Islamic finance 2.0.

Pulse of Islamic finance

One of the serious issues the markets are tackling is to how to find an effective, overall pulse of Islamic finance. In most instances, numbers such as $1 trillion and the like are used to demonstrate the awesome potential of this industry.

However, how can we really gauge what’s happening to the industry on a daily basis?

The path to Sharia-based Islamic finance is expected to have speed-bumps, pot-holes, diversion road signs, construction vehicles with signs such as ‘do not follow’, but lets raise the issues from Sharia-compliance to get to the destination of Sharia-based.

The writer is the global head of Islamic Finance & OIC Countries for Thomson Reuters. The views expressed in this column are his own and should not be attributed to his organisation.

12-14

Democratization in the Former Islamic Majority Soviet Republics

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

The Case of Kazakhstan

In looking for a unique subject to write on, your author came upon some of his notes of a discussion with an ethnic Kazakh (or the citizen of the newly independent Kazakhstan).  The “new” nation is now the ninth largest country in the world in geographical area, but only the sixty-second in population because of the largess of its open spaces.  In this essay the name of the source, place and date of the interview will be kept anonymous because of the possible political ramifications of my interviewee’s comments.

The newly independent land in Central Asia, separated from its Islamic roots for several centuries, had been violently Russified (made in the image of the Slavs in Saint Petersburg), and secularized over a period of their captivity under the Russian Empire, and later under the policy of secularization after the Communist Revolution in the European Center of the U.S.SR.  It has only been recently (1991) that they have gained independence from Moscow, and have been able to connect with the remainder of the Islamic World, and for this reason Islam, tinged with the Soviet secularism currently found in Central Asia, is developing its unique Muslim modernism of its own.

Kazakhstan, because of Josef Stalin’s policy of internal deportation within the (former) Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, is an ethnically diverse Republic (where many of its contemporary citizens are descended from unwilling immigrants…much like Afro-Americans in the Western Hemisphere).  Therefore, religious freedom is granted to all.  Yet, Kazakh Muslims dominate the social landscape.  As in all the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose organization of the (now) independent (post-) Soviet (Colonial) States, the societal environment has been in a flux into the first decade of this new century.  In fact, Altmay, the then capital of the Kazakh Republic was the last to declare its sovereignty of the non-Russian territories (to do so far).  Many of these Central Asian and Eurasian States have often held on to the past U.S.S.R. political paths with its bureaucracy, and their methodologies still dominate although with the younger generation pushing for Western-style economic “liberalization” and (democratic political reforms are gaining interest).  The question that was being asked in this lunchtime meeting was is Kazakhstan the next Central Asian Republic to go down the path toward Western ways?

The dominant feeling amongst the Kazakhstanis was that political reorganization was absolutely necessary, but most other States in the region discouraged such restructuring because of the threat to the financial and procedural status quo.  Within Kazakhstan itself, the Russian period has exited with an enormous embedded corruption.  One of the hefty problems is the remaining clannishness within the culture – especially the ruling elite.  The strongest clan actors – whether blood relations or not — are those who owe their allegiance to the Executive and the Bureaucrats – especially in the new center, Astana.  These political actors make most of the States’s decision without any larger (more democratic) consultation.  “The Presidency is controversial,” since it supports an economic “liberalization” that is Neo-Ricardian in form, and has gained the imprimatur of most of the international organizations — who matter – as the way to stabilize their economy.  Although Kazasthan is struggling to rediscover its Islamic roots, its Civil Society has not protested its strategy of the development corrupt of a new un-Islamic State-controlled neo-Capitalism.  Kazakhstan’s government has opted for a similar market economy as most of the post-Marxist States of the old Soviet Union, and has not incorporated any Islamic financial procedures at all.  Both the Capitalist and Leninist theories have to be adjusted to fit into the Muslim monetary tradition.  “Our President is the founder of [the modern Kazakhi] ” predatory financing!  The current Administration is leading the country into a systemic process of privatization.

One of the post-Communist Republic’s largest challenges is that of political secession.  The ruler is an oligarch (one of a group of wealthy decision makers with the State itself).  There is a great possibility that his eldest daughter will succeed him into the State Executive’s office in time.  Officials and businessmen will grab “shares” of the Commonwealth while the bureaucracy, in classic totalitarian fashion has been employed to develop policy; and, thus, to maintain the rapacious State; and, consequently, to assist the elites to control and oppress, for the President is concerned over any feasible democratic opposition that may arise.  It is largely his peers within the Oligarchy who supports the status quo.  Yet contenders are arising, and Kazakhstan is nominally a two-party State, but, still, the laws have been crafted to discourage challengers.  In fact, two of the leaders of the “loyal” opposition have been persecuted as enemies of the State.

In this emergent nation, free again to dig deeply into its Muslimness, Islam itself is being discouraged through its Socialist past.

12-12

The Muslim Community in Chile

March 4, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

By  Salma Elhamalawy, The Society of Muslim Union of Chile

omar-ali-saifuddin-mosque the-new-abu-dhabi-mosque
Views of Al Salam mosque in Santiago, Chile  

The origins of Islam in Chile are not very clear. It is known that in 1854 two “Turks” resided in the country, a situation that was repeated in the censuses of 1865 and 1875. Their country of origin is not known, just that they were natives of some territory of the immense Ottoman Empire.

According to the 1885 census, the number of “Turks” had risen to 29, but there is no precise information on their origin and their faith, since religion was not included in that census. However, the census of 1895 registered the presence of 76 “Turks”, 58 of them Muslims. They lived mainly in the north of Chile in Tarapacá, Atacama, Valparaiso, and Santiago.

In the census of 1907, the Muslims had risen to 1,498 people, all of them foreigners. They were 1,183 men and 315 women, representing only 0.04 percent of the population. This is the highest percentage of Muslims in Chile’s history.

In 1920 a new census showed that the number of Muslims had decreased to 402, with 343 men and 59 women. The greatest numbers were in Santiago and Antofagasta, with 76 in each province.

In Santiago, the first Islamic institution of Chile, the Society of Muslim Union of Chile, was founded on 25 September 1926. Later, on 16 October 1927, the Society of Mutual Aids and Islamic Charity was established.

With the 1952 census, the number of Muslims had risen again to 956. The majority lived in Santiago, with others in the provinces of Antofagasta, Coquimbo, Valparaíso, O’Higgins, Concepción, Malleco, Cautín and Valdivia, without much organization among them.

Their numbers decreased again, so that by 1960 there were only 522, with the majority of 209 living in Santiago. A decade later, the number of Muslims had increased to 1,431. However, the census did not indicate whether they were men or women, nationals or foreigners. Nevertheless, they were spread throughout the country.

Through the 1970s and ‘80s, there were no religious leaders or centers for praying. Muslims who maintained the faith met in the residence of Taufik Rumie’ Dalu, a trader of Syrian origin.

In 1990 the construction of the Al-Salam Mosque began, the first of the country. In 1995 another mosque was inaugurated in Temuco, and 1998 a new one in Iquique. Sources of the Islamic community indicate that at the moment, in Chile, there are 3,000 Muslims. Many of those are Chileans who, as a result of their conversion, have even changed their names. In spite of the small number of believers, they are not a homogenous community. The majority are Sunnis, and the rest are Shiites. Sufi groups have also arisen, but their members are mainly of non-Arab origin.

“I’ll never forget that day,” says the imam of Al-Salam Mosque, Sami Elmushtawi. “The day of the mosque’s inauguration was a day where the dreams of the Muslim community became true.” The Egyptian imam says further, “For us this was a unique opportunity, because not every day we are visited by kings, nor mosques are inaugurated either.” Apart from the fact that the King of Malaysia inaugurated the mosque on 1 October 1995, the mosque is considered one of the three best ones of Latin America, after those of Venezuela and Brazil.

The mosque, built to welcome 500 people, consists of three floors. The first has reading rooms, multipurpose hall, baths and cafeteria. The second contains the prayer hall, and the third has the office of the imam and rooms for guests.

“There are some people who come to pray during the day, but due to work the majority come to the mosque in the evening,” indicated Sami Elmushtawi.

However, Santiago is not the only place where Muslims can practice their faith. The Islamic Chilean Corporation of Temuco, founded in October 2001 in the city of Temuco, has the mission of spreading the Islamic culture and traditions. In addition, today it tries to open more channels to spread the moral values of Islam, overcoming the prejudices after 11 September 2001.

Muslim women pray at the mosque and in their houses. Chileans converted to Islam describe how they live as Muslims in a country which is dominantly Catholic, and how they are perceived. The attack of 11 September generated insults and practical jokes against them.

Karima Alberto, a 35-year-old housewife married to a Syrian merchant, has two children. She met her husband in his store. “He was the reason I converted to Islam, he told me marvelous things about Islam so I began to go to the mosque and learned more about Islam. It was like self-discovery,” she says.

Karima says that some people started treating them differently because of the 11 September attack. Although she is yearning to go to Makkah, she has already met her husband’s relatives in Damascus. “It was not difficult to stop eating pork or drink alcohol. It’s God’s will, and it’s stated in the Qur’an. Although some people think it’s a big sacrifice, I don’t look at it that way at all. Islam has given me a new vision.”

Carla Olivari, an 18-year-old student in a mixed school, says, “Now I do not feel pressured to drink alcohol at parties or to lose my virginity.”

At the age of 16, she used to pass by the mosque until one day she decided to enter. She left the mosque as a Muslim. “I feel that Allah chose me.” Her parents, who are Catholic, did not oppose, but her brother did. “When he sees me praying in my room, he calls me a lunatic.” However, she not only fasts during Ramadan, but on other days as well. “Above all, I pray for the victims in Palestine and Iraq.”

Carla wants to marry a Muslim. “My husband has to be a Muslim. I want my children to grow up in a Muslim family that teaches them important family values. Then I will get veiled permanently, not like now, when I only use it in the mosque.”

Habiba Abdullah, 40 years old, is a doctor at Roberto Del Río Hospital. She emphasizes that she carries the surname of her father, “Because Islam permits us to conserve our surname and not to be Mrs. Somebody.”

A member of a family of six brothers, she has a single son who is 18 years old. All her family is Muslim. “I was born a Muslim, and I’m proud of it. I remember my father taking us every weekend to the mosque. We would learn the Qur’an, and we would study Arabic. Although it was difficult when I first wore my veil at work, but little by little people started accepting me. Now people are not very surprised to see me with veil.”

Still, these women are a minority in Chile. “There are always people coming to the mosque out of curiosity,” states Imam Sami Elmushtawi. “Nevertheless, it is very satisfactory when I see their faces after leaving the mosque, or when they return again. Some people come to learn Arabic, and some come to learn more about Islam. But definitely it gives me greater joy that the Muslim community is increasing in Chile.”

Salma Elhamalawy contacted at: salma_elhamalawy@yahoo.com.

12-10

Terrorism: the Most Meaningless and Manipulated Word

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Glenn Greenwald

Yesterday, Joseph Stack deliberately flew an airplane into a building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas, in order to advance the political grievances he outlined in a perfectly cogent suicide-manifesto.  Stack’s worldview contained elements of the tea party’s anti-government anger along with substantial populist complaints generally associated with “the Left” (rage over bailouts, the suffering of America’s poor, and the pilfering of the middle class by a corrupt economic elite and their government-servants).  All of that was accompanied by an argument as to why violence was justified (indeed necessary) to protest those injustices:

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual” . . . . Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.

Despite all that, The New York Times’ Brian Stelter documents the deep reluctance of cable news chatterers and government officials to label the incident an act of “terrorism,” even though — as Dave Neiwert ably documents — it perfectly fits, indeed is a classic illustration of, every official definition of that term.  The issue isn’t whether Stack’s grievances are real or his responses just; it is that the act unquestionably comports with the official definition.  But as NBC’s Pete Williams said of the official insistence that this was not an act of Terrorism:  there are “a couple of reasons to say that . . . One is he’s an American citizen.”  Fox News’ Megan Kelley asked Catherine Herridge about these denials:  “I take it that they mean terrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to?,” to which Herridge replied: “they mean terrorism in that capital T way.”

All of this underscores, yet again, that Terrorism is simultaneously the single most meaningless and most manipulated word in the American political lexicon.  The term now has virtually nothing to do with the act itself and everything to do with the identity of the actor, especially his or her religious identity.  It has really come to mean:  “a Muslim who fights against or even expresses hostility towards the United States, Israel and their allies.”  That’s why all of this confusion and doubt arose yesterday over whether a person who perpetrated a classic act of Terrorism should, in fact, be called a Terrorist:  he’s not a Muslim and isn’t acting on behalf of standard Muslim grievances against the U.S. or Israel, and thus does not fit the “definition.”  One might concede that perhaps there’s some technical sense in which term might apply to Stack, but as Fox News emphasized:  it’s not “terrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to . . . terrorism in that capital T way.”  We all know who commits terrorism in “that capital T way,” and it’s not people named Joseph Stack.

Contrast the collective hesitance to call Stack a Terrorist with the extremely dubious circumstances under which that term is reflexively applied to Muslims.  If a Muslim attacks a military base preparing to deploy soldiers to a war zone, that person is a Terrorist.  If an American Muslim argues that violence against the U.S. (particularly when aimed at military targets) is justified due to American violence aimed at the Muslim world, that person is a Terrorist who deserves assassination.  And if the U.S. military invades a Muslim country, Muslims who live in the invaded and occupied country and who fight back against the invading American army — by attacking nothing but military targets — are also Terrorists.  Indeed, large numbers of detainees at Guantanamo were accused of being Terrorists for nothing more than attacking members of an invading foreign army in their country, including 14-year-old Mohamed Jawad, who spent many years in Guantanamo, accused (almost certainly falsely) of throwing a grenade at two American troops in Afghanistan who were part of an invading force in that country.  Obviously, plots targeting civilians for death — the 9/11 attacks and attempts to blow up civilian aircraft — are pure terrorism, but a huge portion of the acts committed by Muslims that receive that label are not.

In sum:  a Muslim who attacks military targets, including in war zones or even in their own countries that have been invaded by a foreign army, are Terrorists.  A non-Muslim who flies an airplane into a government building in pursuit of a political agenda is not, or at least is not a Real Terrorist with a capital T — not the kind who should be tortured and thrown in a cage with no charges and assassinated with no due process.  Nor are Christians who stand outside abortion clinics and murder doctors and clinic workers.  Nor are acts undertaken by us or our favored allies designed to kill large numbers of civilians or which will recklessly cause such deaths as a means of terrorizing the population into desired behavioral change — the Glorious Shock and Awe campaign and the pummeling of Gaza.  Except as a means for demonizing Muslims, the word is used so inconsistently and manipulatively that it is impoverished of any discernible meaning.

All of this would be an interesting though not terribly important semantic matter if not for the fact that the term Terrorist plays a central role in our political debates.  It is the all-justifying term for anything the U.S. Government does.  Invasions, torture, due-process-free detentions, military commissions, drone attacks, warrantless surveillance, obsessive secrecy, and even assassinations of American citizens are all justified by the claim that it’s only being done to “Terrorists,” who, by definition, have no rights.  Even worse, one becomes a “Terrorist” not through any judicial adjudication or other formal process, but solely by virtue of the untested, unchecked say-so of the Executive Branch.  The President decrees someone to be a Terrorist and that’s the end of that:   uncritical followers of both political parties immediately justify anything done to the person on the ground that he’s a Terrorist (by which they actually mean:  he’s been accused of being one, though that distinction — between presidential accusations and proof — is not one they recognize).

If we’re really going to vest virtually unlimited power in the Government to do anything it wants to people they call “Terrorists,” we ought at least to have a common understanding of what the term means.  But there is none.  It’s just become a malleable, all-justifying term to allow the U.S. Government carte blanche to do whatever it wants to Muslims it does not like or who do not like it (i.e., The Terrorists).  It’s really more of a hypnotic mantra than an actual word:  its mere utterance causes the nation blindly to cheer on whatever is done against the Muslims who are so labeled.

UPDATE:  I want to add one point:  the immediate official and media reaction was to avoid, even deny, the term “terrorist” because the perpetrator of the violence wasn’t Muslim.  But if Stack’s manifesto begins to attract serious attention, I think it’s likely the term Terrorist will be decisively applied to him in order to discredit what he wrote.  His message is a sharply anti-establishment and populist grievance of the type that transcends ideological and partisan divisions — the complaints which Stack passionately voices are found as common threads in the tea party movement and among citizens on both the Left and on the Right — and thus tend to be the type which the establishment (which benefits from high levels of partisan distractions and divisions) finds most threatening and in need of demonization. Nothing is more effective at demonizing something than slapping the Terrorist label onto it.

12-9

True Love for the Divine

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Azher Quader

i-love-allah As Americans go about serenading their sweethearts on Valentines Day each year in the middle of February, love often arrives gift wrapped as a box of chocolates or shows up as a vase filled with roses. Sometimes for the more adventurous ones it may announce itself through pajama grams or for some imaginative ones through cuddly teddy bears. Clearly this money-making commerce of love is good for the industry. How much good it does to strengthen commitments, affirm affections or even heal some hurts is of little consequence to our society which thrives on the make believe, where the outer is more important than the inner, where the image is more compelling than the reality and where the transient is more attractive than the enduring.

Indeed the joy of true love is far more elusive than what the commercials tell us or what the romantic creations of Hollywood depict, where the plays of passion as shown on the silver screen dominate our imagination and describe the way to live and love.

For true love is not so common, is very special, a lot more demanding and indeed life changing. It empowers the week, enriches the poor and transforms the ordinary to become the extraordinary.

True love for a spouse is in the exercise of unconditional love that gives without asking, that seeks no strings, that provides much while receiving little.

It is sitting near a bed holding hands when speech is lost to the silence of stroke. It is a commitment to nursing when sickness overtakes, when Alzheimer devastates, when cancer strikes and yes to caring even when cure is said to be not possible.

It is to do the chores that come at the end of a tiring day, with a smile. To do the dishes, to make the meals, to change the diapers and so much more without raising a brow, without voicing a complaint. It is to make time when there is little time. To listen when arguing is easier, to practice patience when tempers are hot, to forgive when the moment has passed.

It is the love built on trust. It is the love that is not threatened by the embrace of other affections. It is the love that triumphs over the tragedies of life. It is the love that lingers through good times and bad times. It is the love that never dies.

True love for country is in the willingness to fight for its freedoms, to bear arms against its enemies, to make the ultimate sacrifice if need be, in the defense of its borders.

It is to speak truth to power, to abide by the law, to preserve the peace. It is to demand representation, to practice civic engagement, to look for the common good. It is in the willingness to dialogue and seek common ground. It is in the ability to see the big picture, let go of personal agendas and promote the national interest. It is to recognize that whether we live in the north or the south, in the east coast or in the west coast, whether we are black, white, brown or yellow, whether we are new immigrants from distant shores or old natives, inhabitants of the soil, whether we came here in chains or we came here by choice, our lives are now inseparable, we now share a common destiny.

True love for country is not the special claim of one ideological group or another, whether they be on the right or on the left or anywhere in between. True love for country is found in those patriot souls whose loyalty is not divided, who march to a single drummer and who carry a single flag.

True love for the Divine expresses itself through submission to His Will in all aspects of our living. It is a love that transcends our love for family and country. It frees us from our tribal allegiances, it liberates us from our national bondages. It makes us citizens of a global village. It is a love that connects man to fellow man, indeed to all creation. It is a love that unites mankind by reminding us of our essential humanity.

True love for the Divine is engaging not reclusive. It is best manifest in society amidst people and problems, not in the mountains amidst solitude and tranquility.
True love for the Divine is more than the pursuit of devotional practices that lead us into a life of self-absorption. It is to reach out and make a difference in the lives of others. It is to feed the hungry, care for the ailing, and speak for the silent. It is to spend for the welfare of the poor and needy, to teach and educate, to be good neighbors. It is to build trust among the distrusting, show compassion to the hateful.

True love for the Divine is a lot more than singing His praises or twirling in His remembrance. It is much more than memorizing His Words and reciting them every day. True love for the Divine is a state of being, a life of doing. True love for the Divine is tremendously empowering and life changing.

This Valentine Day let us find true love.

Azher Quader, Executive Director, Community Builders Chicago (CBC), www.mycommunitybuilders.com

12-8

Islam in Haiti

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

haiti Haiti is a benighted country that your author knows well having made working journeys there, and serving on a Committee in my home State of California to support that nation in her struggles (the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere) for over a decade now. 

The information your essayist is to relay was a surprise to me, too, although I had intended to write about a slave rebellion that a Muslim led during the early history of Creole Hispaniola for the Observer a year and a half ago, but I could not trace the references down even in the largest academic library in Western North America which is literarily down the street from me.  With the Internet, though, I have been able to trace the history and condition of the religion on the western half of that nation’s island.

Islam came at the earliest period of the then Colony by the importation of slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa.  As the current distressing rioting in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims demonstrates, there is a significant population of Muslims from West Africa.  From an historian’s point of view, the fact that the middle men in the slave trade were Arabs (Muslims) is most disturbing.

Much of the early accounts are confused by 200 years of oral tradition (many times relayed memory), legend and mythology.  There are two mangled accounts of rebellion, but they were in another French isle in the Caribbean, Martinique, that became associated with the Haitians.  One says that the leader still wanders around Saint-Dominique, as Haiti was called then.  This is no more than mythology.

Many Muslim slaves from West Africa were forcibly baptized, but there is a belief that the Maroons (any group of slaves descended from fugitive slaves from the Seventeenth through Eighteenth Centuries) mainly held onto their Islamic beliefs.  One such slave, Dutta Boukman, who was smuggled in from Jamaica, received his name because he could read, and his French masters reported he read upside down which indicated he most likely was reading Arabic and, at that, feasibly, the Koran.  This description is an unquestionable fact although legend claims he was a Voo-Doo priest, but “revisionist” Haitian scholarship suspects that he was a Muslim.  Nonetheless, his death by decapitation in a 1791 rebellion, which he commanded, raised the demand, again, that led for freedom and the finally successful Black Haitian Revolution for Independence in which the Muslims, who were instrumental in that War,  spoke Arabic to confuse their enemies!

Before Dutta, another Maroon leader, a Marabout warrior in the Islamic tradition, François Macandal, too, attempted a rebellion, but was burned ghastly at the stake in 1758.  The Mandingos, a distinct linguistic group, from West Africa, provided much of the leadership during the Haitian Revolution, and many of them were most definitely Muslims.              

Islam had a vital impact at the birth of the Republic, and now it is beginning to assert itself once again.  Various estimates are that the Muslim population in this Creole motherland is between 3500 and 7000.  Most of the adherents to the faith live in Port-au-Prince earlier this month, where the majority of the death and destruction befell and the Mosquee Al-Fatiha stands (stood?), and the Bilal Mosque and an Islamic Center in the second largest city in the country, Cap Haitian, on the north coast is situated. (Cap Haitian, fortunately, was not impacted as much.)  There are other places of worship locally maintained throughout the land mass although your writer has not been able to confirm the comprehensive condition of the community after the disaster on January 12th. 

In the 1920s an influx of Arab immigrants entered Haiti from the Middle East – especially from Morocco although ethnically the largest of the Haitian Muslim population today are indigenous to their Caribbean country.  Your researcher did trace down some individual North American Muslims, but not their demographics within the populace.  Being an impoverished mixed assemblage, they were not able to construct their first Mosque until 1985.  It was a built from a converted residence.  The first minaret was built in 2000.  Whether that minaret is standing has not been determined by your journalist, also.

Politically, the first Muslim to enter the Chamber of Deputies (i.e., their Congress) was Nawoon Marcellus on the Fanmi Lavalas ticket, the Left-leaning party led by President Aristide. 

Your writer, who has gotten encouraging press releases from Islamic charities benefiting the citizens irrespective of belief, it is important to know that your Zakat is, further giving succor to your Muslim brothers and sisters.  The figures (0.4of the population) and institutions your writer has mentioned may have drastically been decimated.  After the situation has been solidified, rebuilding this small but burgeoning religious society remains.

12-5

Alert: India Preparing for Nuclear War?

January 21, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Zaheerul Hassan

Reliable sources stated that Pakistani authorities have decided to move her forces from Western to Eastern border. The move of forces would start soon. The decision has been taken after receiving the threat from Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor to strike Pakistan on November 22, 2009. Indian Chief warned that a limited war under a nuclear overhang is still very much a reality at least in the Indian sub-continent. On November 23, 2009 Pakistan Foreign Office Spokes man Abdul Basit asked the world community to take notice of remarks passed by the Indian Army Chief. He also said that India has set the stage and trying to impose a limited war on Pakistan. There are reports that Indian intelligence agencies have made a plan to hit some Indian nuke installation, alleging and then striking Pakistan. It is also added here that India has started purchasing lethal weapons. According to the careful survey a poor Asian country (India) has spent trillions on purchasing of Naval, Air force and nuke equipments.

Thus, Indian preparation simply dictates that she is preparing for nuke war. The Kashmir conflicts, water issue, borer dispute between China and India, American presence in Afghanistan, Maoist movements, Indian state terrorism, cold war between India and regional countries would be contributing factors towards Next third world war.

Indian Chief’s statement by design came a day earlier to Manmohan Singh visit to USA. The purpose of threatening Pakistan could also be justifying future Indian attack on Pakistan. Therefore, Islamabad concern is serious in nature since any Indian misadventure will put the regional peace into stake and would lead both the country towards nuclear conflict. Islamabad probably conveyed her ally (USA) regarding danger of limited war against Pakistan; she has to cease her efforts on western border for repulsing Indian aggression on eastern border. In fact, Indian government and her army chief made a deliberate try to sabotage global war against terror. In this connection Pakistan Army Spokesman Major General Athar Abbas time and again said that India is involved in militancy against Pakistan and her consulates located in Afghanistan are being used as launching pad.

It is worth mentioning here that Pakistan has deployed more than 100,000 troops on the border with Afghanistan and is fighting a bloody war against terrorism. Her security forces are busy in elimination of foreign sponsored militancy. Thousand of soldiers have scarified their lives not only for the motherland but to bring safety to the world in general. Pakistan is a key ally in the war on terror and the threat of withdrawal would alarm the USA as it could seriously hamper NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan. Pakistan is a nuclear power too and is able to handle any type of Indian belligerence.

In this context, earlier Pakistan Army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has categorically expressed at number of occasions that Indian attack would be responded in full strength while using all types of resources. On November 25, 2009 General Kayani stated that the nation would emerge as victorious in the on-going war against extremism. While addressing a ceremony at Police Lines he paid rich tributes to the Frontier police for their valuable sacrifices in the war against terrorism. At this occasion General Kayani revealed that Pakistan was founded in the name of Islam by our forefathers and each one of us should work for strengthening the country and should made commitment towards achieving the goal of turning the country into a true Islamic state. He also announced Rs.20 million for the Frontier Police Shuhada Fund.

In response to Indian Army Chief’ statement he also put across the message that the protection and solidarity of the country are our main objectives as our coming generation owes this debt to us and resolved that any threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the country would not be tolerated. The General made it clear that Pak Army has the capability and the capacity to fight the war against terrorists and adversary too. He praised the sacrifices rendered by the security forces and high morale of the troops. Lt General Masood Aslam, Commander 11 Corps, IGFC Major General Tariq and IGP NWFP Malik Neveed Khan were also present at this historic moment.

Pakistan Army Chief visits of western border reflect his commitment to root out the foreign sponsored militancy from the area. This rooting out is directly helping global war on terror, whereas on the other hand his counter part (Indian Chief) keep on yelling and dreaming of striking Pakistan. He probably has forgotten that Pakistan is a responsible nuke power and capable to defend and strike. In 2001 and 2008 at the occasions of attacks on parliament and Mumbai, both the nations close to a nuke war, this was averted by interference from the world community India and USA. At that time too security officials have also told NATO and USA that they will not leave a single troop on the western border incase of Indian threat.

12-4

U.S. Bangladeshis Track Climate Changes Back Home

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By New America Media, Ngoc Nguyen

Mohammed Khan was a child when the deadliest cyclone ever recorded struck Bangladesh (at the time East Pakistan) in 1970. The cyclone brought torrential rains and winds stronger than those seen during Hurricane Katrina. As many as half a million people were killed. Then river waters rose and claimed the land.

“My family lives on an island called Bhola,” Khan recalls. “They have some land, but a lot of the land was taken by the river during a great flood.”

Khan, 51, who now lives in Queens, N.Y., has a daughter and more than 200 family members in Bangladesh. He’s worried about how his large extended family will fare when the next cyclone strikes, and he fears climate change will worsen such disasters.

“As the water levels rise in the next few years, much of southern Bangladesh will go into the womb of the river,” he says.

Concern about climate change among the public has waned, but the issue is foremost among many Bangladeshi Americans, because of the vulnerability of Bangladesh to climate change. Some community members are organizing seminars to learn about how rising seas and extreme weather will play out in their home country, and they’re making their voices heard on the political front.

Bangladesh is often considered ground zero for climate change. Crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers, much of the country is a massive flat delta, extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise. As global warming pushes sea levels higher, Bangladesh would have the most land inundated among its South Asian neighbors, according to the World Bank. If sea levels rise by one meter, as much as a fifth of the country could be submerged, displacing about 20 million people.

In the last few years, awareness about climate change has grown among Bangladeshi Americans.

Hasan Rahim, a software engineering consultant based in San Jose, says Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” was a wake-up call for him and many Bangladeshis in Silicon Valley. Rahim, who also teaches math and statistics at San Jose City College, says he organized screenings of the film in his community.

Rahim connected the film’s dire predictions about climate change to his homeland. “We live here, but we have roots there,” he says. “We are connected and we have got to become more aware of [climate change impacts].”

More than a dozen rivers, including the mighty Ganges, Brahmaputra, Jamuna and Meghna, flow across Bangladesh, emptying into the Bay of Bengal. The southern part of the country is a massive delta, with its fertile land known as the country’s rice bowl.

“It’s really a concern. We’re a small country with 150 million people, so lots of people would lose their houses, land, and become homeless,” says Abu Taher, editor of the newspaper Bangla Patrik, in New York. He says people want to know the future consequences of climate change on the country so they can tell family members to take precautions.

When he travels to Bangladesh, Khan says he notices changes in the environment. There used to be three crop seasons, he says, but now there’s one. “Normally, we would have floods during the rainy season, but now there is no one season for floods anymore,” Khan adds.

A construction worker, Khan also heads up a group made up of immigrants from Barisal, a southern province that is frequently hard hit by cyclones and flooding. The group has organized seminars to learn more about how climate change will affect Bangladesh. From the United States, Khan says he sometimes feels powerless to help his family back home.

“There’s nowhere for them to go. Bangladesh is a small country,” he says. “Where would they get the land? Who will give us the money? I can just advise them to use the deep tube wells to get clean water.”

Khan says his group wants to share the information with U.S. elected officials, and tell them they want the United States to curb its own pollution and help vulnerable nations.

“America as a leader should help all the poor and affected countries, including Bangladesh,” Khan says. “Affected families are dying without food, without a roof over their heads. We should provide financial assistance and even bring them here.”

In the last two decades, Bangladesh suffered the most deaths and greatest economic losses as a result of extreme weather events, according to Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2010.

At the climate change summit in Copenhagen in December, the United States and other developed nations pledged $100 billion in aid to countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

“It would make all the difference in the world if the aid were used not to buy finished products like solar panels, but to develop local indigenous talent,” says Rahim.

Bangladeshis have already had to adapt to higher sea levels, Rahim says.

“People who raised chickens are now raising ducks,” he says, and farmers are experimenting with “floating seed beds” to save crops during floods.

Until more funds are directed to helping people adapt to climate change, more frequent and more intense storms and floods will create more environmental refugees.

Queens resident Sheikh Islam says refugees have already poured into the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, which the World Wildlife Federation ranked as the city most vulnerable to climate change impacts out of 11 Asian coastal cities.

Islam says there’s more recognition now that climate change is causing the refugee surge into the city.

“They thought the migrants who came to the city were just jobless and landless. Now, the government is mentioning that they are jobless and landless because of climate change,” he says.

Islam says there’s also a growing perception that Western developed countries bear more responsibility for the problem because they contribute the most to carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

“Now, people know about climate change and they are talking about it,” Islam says. “Three to five years ago they don’t talk about it. They thought it was our problem. Now they think it is a global problem.”

12-4

The Story of ‘Skateistan’

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

skate

Australian skateboard enthusiasts Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan started a quiet revolution in the Afghan capital of Kabul back in 2007 simply by riding their skateboards around the dusty war-ravaged city. The looks on the faces of the Afghan kids that happened upon them would be the catalyst that would drive the couple to create the very first skate park in the country. The Australian duo’s first skate park venture began with a small patch of land near an old fountain, three skateboards and a handful of interested kids.

Yet, as interest in skateboarding grew and the dangers of the reality of surviving in Kabul set in, both Percovich and Nolan knew that they needed something bigger and better. Thanks to help from donations adding up to over $650,000 and support from the Afghan Olympic Committee, ‘Skateistan’ recently opened its doors to any Afghan youth interested in learning to skateboard. The indoor skateboard arena measures a hefty 1,800 sq m (19,380 sq ft) and is composed of several dizzying obstacles for the Afghan skateboarders to learn and master.

The first obstacle is the ‘baby ramp’ which beginners can learn to skateboard on and perfect their balance. The intermediary obstacles include a set of wooden stairs with a rail and curb followed by a mini ramp with extension. For advanced skateboarders there is the ‘rocket wall’, which is the park’s signature obstacle, and the ‘Afghan gap’ that is made up of two large quarter ramps with a gap in the middle for tricks. There are also novel obstacles littered in between the main attractions, which ensures that every skateboarder has somewhere to ride their board.

More than 200 Afghan skateboarders have already signed up for the skate park roster. Boys and girls from all socio-economic classes learn to skateboard together in a whole new world far removed from the atrocities that years of Taleban rule and the U.S.’s war have wreaked on the country. According to Skateistan’s official website, the founders mission statement declares that, “Skateboarding is a widely-loved platform through which young men and women from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds can engage positively with each other. Considering the country’s recent political history, not to mention its longstanding social barriers, we believe that the community-building effects of skateboarding will be especially visible in Afghanistan. Skateistan’s mission is to build cross-cultural understanding and develop youth confidence, leadership, and life skills.”

Not everyone is happy about the success of the skate park. Sports in Afghanistan are considered to be exclusively for males. Women and girls are often deemed to be unsuitable for playing sports. But since skateboarding is so novel in Afghanistan, girls are enjoying the sport well under the radar. However, there have been some reports that a couple of female skateboarders have been beaten by male relatives to deter them from going back to the skate park.

The skateboard services of Skateistan are free for all Afghan children and include the free use of equipment, such as a helmet and skateboard. Off the ramps and obstacles, Afghan skateboarders are also privileged to the opportunity of receiving an education. Classrooms are located in the back of the skate park with subjects like English and Computer skills being offered. Due to the variety and expense of services the skate park offers there is an ever-growing need for volunteers and donors, which are actively sought on the official Skateistan website (www.Skateistan.org ).

While the location of Skateistan might be remote and not easily accessible for non-Afghans, the skate park is already gaining international recognition. This past December founder Oliver Percovich accepted the award for ‘Best Non-Governmental Organization of the Year’ in Monaco, which was presented under the auspices of His Highness Prince Albert II.

12-2

In Yemen, Locals Worry About Obama Policy on Al-Qaeda

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michael Horton, The Christian Science Monitor

78244074WM004_Supreme_Court
Yemeni family. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr)

From smoky halls to the rugged mountains of Yemen, locals are worried that their country – threatened more by poverty and water shortages than terrorism, they say – could turn into another Afghanistan.

Sanaa, Yemen – Amid an intensifying US effort to curb Al Qaeda activity in Yemen, locals in this impoverished country are worried that a focus on military aid alone could backfire – spawning a more robust militant movement and potentially drawing the US into an Afghanistan-like war.

In a smoke-filled hall in the capital of Sanaa, where men gather to chew the mildly intoxicating leaves of the qat tree and smoke water pipes, most of the talk is about Al-Qaeda and American intentions in Yemen.

“By God, they want to turn this country into Afghanistan,” declares Mohammad al-Jaffi, a young man who says he fled the Arhab area, a mountainous region just north of Sanaa, after a recent attack on a suspected Al Qaeda hideout. On Monday, the government said it killed two Al Qaeda members in the Arhab region.

“We are not radicals here,” Mr. Jaffi adds, his cheek bulging with the pulpy green leaves that strict Salafis — the Muslim sect that Al Qaeda members belong to — consider forbidden. Holding up a qat branch, he yells, “Look at this. We all chew this here – in Afghanistan, in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabis would kill us for chewing qat.”

But US and other foreign diplomats are clearly concerned. France, Germany, and Japan all closed their embassies Monday, following US and British closures the previous day, amid reports that a significant amount of explosives had gone missing from the Yemeni army.

“Exclusive Focus on Al Qaeda a Mistake”

With the reported surge in Al-Qaeda activity in Yemen, the Obama administration has reiterated its “partnership” with the increasingly vulnerable regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who faces a rebellion in the north and secessionists in the south. Gen. David Petraeus, who as head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) is overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, announced on Jan. 1 that the US would double military aid to Yemen after allocating a reported $70 million in 2009.

It has been widely reported that the US is also providing the Yemeni government with intelligence and military trainers. Britain, meanwhile, has announced that it will fund an antiterror police force. Such a sole focus on suspected terrorism is seen as a mistake by some experts as well as locals.

“I think an exclusive focus on Al Qaeda to the exclusion of every other threat in Yemen is a mistake,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Princeton PhD candidate who was recently in Yemen for his research on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). “Viewing this threat only through the prism of Al Qaeda induces exactly the kind of result the US is hoping to avoid.”

Locals in two provinces often cited as Al Qaeda strongholds, Al-Jawf and Marib, are more concerned with severe poverty – an issue they say the central government has done little to alleviate.

“This government does not care about us. Everything we have, we have to fight for – to get money for a school or medicine we have to block the road. This is all they listen to,” says Ahmad al-Nasri. “By God the tribe is all we have, it is what protects us.”

Mr. Johnsen says that development aid is “crucial” in Marib and Al-Jawf, but disputes the popular depiction of Yemen as a place with large areas that are totally ungovernable.

“The government doesn’t appear to be able to constantly control these areas,” he acknowledges, citing recent flare-ups between tribal leaders and the government. “But the image of Yemen being a Wild West … is not necessarily accurate.”

Yemeni government offices in Sanaa were closed and the Yemeni embassy in Washington was unable to comment before press time.

Water Shortages

A potentially greater destabilizing influence than militancy in Yemen is water shortages, which are already the root of a large percentage of the inter-tribal fighting that plagues the country.

The UN has ranked Yemen as one of the most water-scarce countries, and one local geology professor has estimated that Sanaa’s wells will go dry by 2015 at current usage rates. The country is in desperate need of investment in new drip irrigation systems and water conservation measures.

“Look at these apricot trees,” says Mohammad Faris, who owns an orchard on the outskirts of Sanaa that once flourished. “Half of them are dead from lack of water.”

“We don’t need more guns in this country,” declares Mr. Faris as he stands among the parched remains of what used to be fertile ground. “This village needs a new water pump and we need new trees that drink less water.”

Increased Sympathy for Al Qaeda?

Many locals emphasize that the country’s primary need is development aid, which has in the past been hampered by international concerns about government corruption. But some say they’re ready to fight if the US comes – a prospect that as yet looks unlikely, though Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut recently suggested that without preemptive action a future war may occur.

“We have a long history of fighting invaders here,” says Ismail Hadi, a village elder in the rugged mountainous province of Hajjah, not far from the sectarian war being fought against Houthi rebels. As he looks out over his terraces of qat trees that cascade down towards a deep canyon, he adds, “We fought the Turks, we fought the Egyptians, God willing we will fight the Americans when they come.”

Back at the Sanaa qat hall, Uithman al- Ansi echoes that sentiment.

“If the Americans want a fight they will get it,” says Mr. Ansi as he grabs the hilt of his jambiya, the traditional dagger carried by many men here. Another man who says he is from Marib, one of the two frequently cited Al Qaeda strongholds, suggests that US attacks or support for attacks on suspected militants could increase the number of Al Qaeda sympathizers in Yemen.

“The Americans don’t know our customs,” says the man. “When they attacked al-Harithi [a suspected Al-Qaeda member who was targeted by a US drone in November 2002] on our lands, his people became our guests. We have long memories.”

Christa Case Bryant contributed reporting from Boston.

12-2

Next Page »